Wednesday, 30 September 2009

To the barricades!

It's all go on the institutional front: my union has issued a press release and the university is distinctly rattled. They've also objected to us contacting the Governors as 'unconstitutional', which is utter nonsense given that they're meant to be the public's oversight body…

UCU Press statement 25 September 2009

University academics demand Vice-Chancellor takes public accountability for financial mistake

Angry academics at the University of Wolverhampton have called for the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline Gipps, to take public responsibility for a serious mistake that will lose the University money and threaten up to 250 jobs. The University over-reported the number of students who had completed their studies for the year and now the Higher Education Funding Council is expected to seek a repayment that could run into millions of pounds. The losses to the university’s finances from this mistake, on top of the restrictions on higher education funding that affect all universities, could lead to 10 per cent of jobs being slashed across the university’s sites in Wolverhampton, Walsall and Telford.
At packed meetings of the University and College Union, academics called for the widest possible campaign to oppose redundancies. With youth unemployment rising in the Black Country to the highest levels for a generation, they argued that it was irresponsible to reduce opportunities because of mistakes made by the University Executive. Furious speakers pointed to the way that Executive pay in the university had increased and performance bonuses been paid, even as those in charge seemed to be losing a grip on where the university is going.
UCU, the lecturers’ union, and UNISON, representing administrative, professional, technical and manual staff, are meeting with local MPs to discuss the issue and to make representations to the government about the university’s plight.

Meanwhile, the V-C of Birmingham, David Eastwood, is warning against the macho competition between v-c's about how much they can cut:

I overhear, in the margins of events, one savant saying "We're modelling 5% cuts". Another intervenes: "5%, oh, we used to dream of 5%, we're modelling 10%"; and then another, "10% – luxury! We're modelling 15%". And so it goes on, until someone says, without apparent irony, that they are modelling 25%.
Of course, all this might be going on, but is it real and is it helpful to parade it? The cuts to the system in the 1980s were 15%, from a higher baseline of funding, and the consequences were devastating.
Indeed, last week's report from the CBI's higher education taskforce was unequivocal: "Heavy cuts in the public funding of teaching and research would damage the long-term competitiveness of the UK."

Moreover, there is a world of difference between "modelling" 15% cuts, or any other number, and delivering them. This modelling inhabits the most ideal of ideally typical worlds. A world in which the modellers' wish is everyone's command. At a stroke, and without cost, under-performing staff, over-costly subjects, inefficient parts of the estate disappear. A new university is created with no transactional cost and little trauma.
In reality, we all know that the costs of restructuring are considerable, and the cash reserves of many institutions are modest. Achieving such a restructuring would deplete those reserves, and may require further borrowing.

The sector has argued, rightly, that teaching remains underfunded. Investment in HE as a proportion of GDP in the UK hovers between 1.3% and 1.4% below the OECD average, and cripplingly below that of the US (at 2.9%). Moreover, our competitors are increasing their relative investment in HE as we slip back.
When ministers and their shadows criticise the sector for deficiencies in the student learning environment, or too few contact hours, they are, like it or not, making the case for increased investment or higher fees.

We should be clear that further reductions in funding will affect quality and capacity. Reducing funding for teaching, eroding the unit of resource, will ineluctably erode quality.

So we plan and we model locally, because we must. But that should not obscure our real message. This is not the time to cut funding to higher education. To do so would have baleful and swift consequences.

I hope this place takes note.

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