Monthly Archives: November 2017

subtext 169 – ‘Their tongues are silver forks. There’s a lack of wisdom, you can hear it on their breath’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

In this issue: editorial, disability cuts, subscriptions, hods, senate report, short stuff, rent pasta, stretford surveys, dept merge, UA92 bodies, VC twitter, shart, zionism review, letters



In today’s issue, we report once again on the proposed gutting of University Court. The body, which is Lancaster’s largest and most diverse stakeholder gathering, has already been pushed close to being merely a ceremonial gathering, but D Floor’s clear ambition is now to abolish it entirely and replace it with a PR event. Not that subtext expects top table to meet much resistance – there was little opposition to the idea of abolition at Senate last week, and now, we assume, we just wait for the University Council to drop the axe.

What are the implications of this? Well, it means in no uncertain terms that our alumni, dignitaries, and other external stakeholders will now receive no say whatsoever in any part of the University’s operations. The Court – our last truly democratic governing body, which elects large numbers of its members and is responsible for approving our Chancellor and, until recently, Pro-Chancellor – will cease to exist, depriving stakeholders from whom we rarely hear of the chance to offer unique perspectives and propose policies that the Senate and University Council are mandated to, at the very least, discuss. Attending the University Court, especially for alumni and external stakeholders, is a labour – members travel from miles around to be in attendance, and they do so because there is a sense of duty to the University as well as the opportunity to be involved in Lancaster’s decision-making. Is anybody going to swell with a sense of social responsibility at the thought of traveling 245 miles to listen to a drab presentation from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on financial performance and hear Roger Liddle shouting ‘long may the University prosper’ before retiring to the lobby for some ‘light refreshments’?

The ‘pitfalls’ of having a University Court, as outlined by the Chief Administrative Officer, are vanishingly small. At this stage in the Vice-Chancellor’s tenure, it is easy to draw patterns between meetings that have put his nose out of joint or embarrassed him and proposals to make those meetings suddenly disappear. Make no mistake – the abolition of University Court would be an act of petty isolation, and a means of senior management keeping a tighter grip on just who gets to be involved in decision making. The role of Bath University’s own Court in bringing their overpaid VC to book admirably demonstrates the value of having such an independent minded body with the ability to intervene. Maybe this is why so many Vice-Chancellors are so keen to get rid of them.


Lancaster University Disability Service released a statement yesterday (22 November) about the use of Educational Psychology Assessments:

‘The university recognises that assessments for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) (including dyslexia) can be expensive and we currently provide funding towards the cost of assessments undertaken on campus. Due to limited funds and the numbers of students seeking diagnosis the university contribution towards the cost of an SpLD assessment will be reduced to a 50% contribution from January 2018. This change will allow us to continue to support as many students as possible with the cost of an assessment. However as the total financial contribution towards these assessments each year is limited, there will be no financial contribution available once all funds for the academic year have been used. We will still be able to arrange an appointment for an SpLD assessment, but no financial contribution will be available.’

Disability and equality representatives and LUSU and UCU have not been consulted and we are not aware of any equality impact assessment taking place regarding this decision to cut funding for assessments. Obviously, disabled students who can’t afford the assessment will be worst hit, and losing this support can have a massive impact on their life chances. While we recognise the current scarcity of financial resources, what with the essential new lighting and fountains on campus, it seems a highly dubious decision to make disabled students take the brunt of it. We are very familiar with the old ‘non-disabled fraudsters mean cuts for real disabled people’ myths, and we hope that that tired old nonsense isn’t playing a part in the decision.

There are other ways to triage need and provide lower cost assessments than the ones provided by expensive for-profit dyslexia consultants. Even if we had to make cuts, and the case for that has not been explained or backed up with figures or evidence, then there are a number of people in this University who would be very happy to work with the University to advise them on a more sensible path to follow. The way the University has gone about this is not good and looks unintentionally discriminatory at best.


Now that Lancaster’s glorious new email list server software seems to have overcome its initial glitches and be running fairly smoothly, we thought it was high time we updated our subscription information. Any readers who wish to share the love and encourage their friends, colleagues or enemies to subscribe, are advised to do the following:

If the person in question has a Lancaster University email account, they should visit, log in using their normal uni username and password, and click ‘join’ at the top of the page.

If they are external to the university, please ask them to send an email to, and we’ll sort it.


As the muted rows about the new processes for appointing heads of academic departments rumble on, it is worth reflecting on just how fundamental those changes are. The traditional Lancaster approach was, broadly, to allow departments to devise their own procedures, with the expectation that at some point all senior members should take their turn at the helm. The new process, which follows on from last year’s HoD Review, introduces two new features: that the HoD should ‘normally’ be a professor (if necessary, an external one), and that final approval of the candidate is to be made, not by the department or the faculty, but by a central appointments panel chaired by the VC.

While Lancaster is second to none when it comes to the quality of its professoriate, it does not follow that exemplary scholarship brings with it the skills and understanding required to run an academic department. (Why, we know of some professors… but that’s another story). There is also an equalities issue to consider. Currently, there are 295 professors in the university, of whom 69 (23%+) are women. However, the academic workforce is 36% female, so there is more chance that a professor will be a male. It follows that if the opportunity to head a department is restricted to an unrepresentative professoriate, there is indirect discrimination against women academics.

The situation becomes more worrying when one considers the composition of the HoD Appointments Panel. In a recent case, the panel included the Chief Administrative Officer and the HR Director. They were not there ‘in attendance’, but as fully-participating panel members. This is unprecedented. Never in the past have senior administrative officers had a direct say in academic appointments. There is the argument that a departmental headship is a management post, not an academic one. If that is the case, then there should not be a requirement that the holder be a professor, an academic title. The role of the HR Director in the process is particularly problematic. HR has the responsibility for monitoring and reporting on compliance with the University’s diversity and equality policy. If a complaint of discrimination should arise, who could be confident of the impartiality of an HR investigation if the boss was directly involved in making the decision? Finally, there appear to be no arrangements for oversight, as there are with other appointing bodies. Is the VC to report to himself?


The November session started with a written question to the VC asking if there were any plans to build lecture theatres capable of accommodating larger groups of students. The lack of such space was causing major problems for the larger teaching departments. Replying on behalf of the VC, Deputy VC Andrew Atherton said that indeed there was a plan for just such a facility, for up to 500 students. However, this was only a partial solution to the problem. As student numbers increased in line with the University’s strategic plan, other approaches would need to be adopted to deal with larger cohorts. These could include more flexible timetabling and extending the teaching day to enable more double-teaching. All this, of course, would have to happen without any detriment to the ‘student experience’. Nothing, though, was said about the detriment to the staff experience, a point made by a number of Senators during the ensuing discussion.

On next to the Vice-Chancellor’s report on current issues. There were plenty of positives – the record student intake this year (in contrast to much of the HE sector), becoming University of the Year and moving up to 6th place in the Times league table, the first LU Ghana graduation and the positive impact we’d made in that country. There was also a mention of the launch of UA92 (which he clearly believed was a positive development) and the current consultation on the plans in Manchester. The VC stated that he had been pleasantly surprised by the generally positive reception from local people and that any opposition was more to do with ‘Manchester politics’ than the merits of the plans. (Oh really? See letter from a local resident below – eds).

On the gloomier side, the VC had just received a consultation copy of the draft new regulatory framework for HE. The proposals, he reported, are overly heavy-handed and appear to put into regulation what the government had been unable to achieve in Parliament just before the last general election. Then there was the matter of what he termed ‘the pensions squabble’. The USS Board was seeking to change the pension from a defined-benefit scheme to what was essentially a savings scheme. This was being resisted by UCU and as a result the university was likely to be facing industrial action beginning next February. ‘But we are not the enemy’, protested the VC, who happens to be the current chair of UCEA, the employers’ group which has not opposed these changes. Lancaster staff facing major reductions in their pension benefits, while having to make increased contributions, may beg to differ.

Senate then went on to discuss the Court Effectiveness Review. This was to be an opportunity for Senate to make any final comments to the Review Group before it made its final recommendations. One of the LUSU Senate reps made a strong plea for Court to retain its role in university governance, and for its single annual meeting to be given more support and prominence by the university. He took issue with the Chief Administrative Officer’s briefing document which stated that there was a lack of diversity in the Court membership but did not offer any evidence to support this claim. He pointed out that Court was far more diverse and representative than the membership of University Council or the senior management team. He also questioned whether Court required ‘a considerable amount of resource’ to support its function, as was claimed in the document. The Chief Administrative Officer responded by restating what she had already said in her briefing paper. There were some further contributions in favour of the current Court arrangements but the discussion was effectively ended when the VC declared that his preference was to remove all governance responsibilities from Court and to retain its annual meeting as only ‘a stakeholder event’. So that, we must presume, is that.

There then followed a report on the institutional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for 2016/17. The VC indicated that overall, we were doing well against targets, though he was concerned that Lancaster is not doing as well as it should in retaining its students. Mental ill-health was identified as a major factor but for too many students there is no information on why they drop out. They simply leave without telling anyone why. Finally, there was that bit of the agenda covering written reports not presumed to warrant discussion. Thankfully, one eagle-eyed senator spotted a hugely important issue that was about to be nodded through without discussion- a reference to the Review of Part 1 which appeared to suggest that proposed changes would now be implemented after consultation with departments. Senate, of course, has yet to discuss and approve these changes. It was agreed that the report would be amended to make this clear. Just goes to show that careful reading of Senate papers is always worthwhile.



In the Management School Hub. A young man obviously very thrilled to have been offered a job at Lancaster University. ‘I am so pleased, fantastic, and they told me I don’t have to wear a suit every day to work but under no circumstances must I ever wear jeans to work’. Obviously not a teaching post then.



In subtext 167, we reported on the ill-advised letter from Chris Heaton-Harris MP, sent to large numbers of Vice-Chancellors asking for all educational materials relating to Brexit, and the academics involved in its teaching. We were unsure at the time whether our own Vice-Chancellor had received Mr. Heaton-Harris’s pleasant little missive, and if so, what the response had been. Since then, SCAN has reported ( that the VC did receive the request from Mr. Heaton-Harris, that it was considered under FOI procedures, and that the ruling followed the precedent set by Arkell v. Pressdram. It was to be expected, but pleasant to learn all the same.



As one of subtext’s drones was returning from a trip to the balmy South [they get holidays now?? -ed], imagine its surprise when it saw, as it was cruising up the A6 and passing the field immediately north of the current Lancaster University campus, the label ‘Lancaster Science Park’ emblazoned over a large grey rectangle to the right of the road on its sat nav screen. There may be no buildings, paths, lights, or any activity whatsoever on the field between Bailrigg Village and campus as yet, but at least someone is preparing for Lancaster’s bold northward expansion!



Here in the warehouse we are always pleasantly surprised when we learn how widespread and diverse our readership is. Following our story on the overcrowded bus (subtext 168) it cannot be a coincidence that your correspondent witnessed a Stagecoach driver, in the underpass, stood outside of his bus counting the passengers on so not to exceed the legal numbers of standing passengers. The power of the press!



Following our trip down memory lane (see subtext 168) a number of readers have expressed interest in knowing a little more about the Lancaster Social Education Project during the miners strike (1984/85). subtext would like to hear from readers who involved with the project or indeed the children and grandchildren of people who were active during that time and know of any ‘tales from the campsite’.


Visitors to campus in recent days may have been rather baffled by the amount of pasta being handed out to passers-by. Those in the know, however, may well have been pleased to see some protest activity from the Students’ Union around an issue that clearly matters to students. The issue in question? On campus rents are set to increase by 4% – up to £249 per year – and LUSU officers highlighted the real terms of cost of this by setting up a stall with £249 worth of pasta (although we do wonder if £249 worth of beer might have been more relatable).

In response to the uproar, the University released a very brief statement, citing the usual ‘increasing costs’ and the fact that we consistently are voted ‘Best University Halls’ in the National Student Housing Awards. And, incomparable though we are, the usual opportunity to point out that we are better than our comparator institutions (which are, of course, chosen by us and are subject to change). Oddly, the statement does not offer the usual defence that comes up, which is that our agreement with UPP requires us to increase our rents above the rate of inflation year on year.

The institutional memory at any university is short, and by now the vast majority of students who were around in the 14/15 academic year will have gone in an almost complete change of blood. That’s a great shame, because it means that few are aware of the almighty year long war that raged between the SU and the University over a 2% rent increase – a series of protests that culminated in the first occupation of University House in over 2 decades, and forced the University’s hand in getting back around the table with the SU to agree on how to approach rent increases in the future.

It was ‘agreed’ during these negotiations that there would be greater student representation on any bodies that discuss and implement rent increases, as well as greater consultation. That the SU has responded so viscerally to the rent increase suggests either that they weren’t consulted, or that they weren’t listened to. Indeed, the response from the SU should be commended, given that such information has historically been imparted to SU officers on a ‘commercial in confidence’ basis. LUSU’s ‘Pay More, Get Less’ campaign highlights an increase in the cost of living, as well as a decrease in the block grant that they receive from the University to provide services to students. Couple this with the 2% cuts that all non-academic departments have had to make, as well as the multi-million pound risk that Lancaster is taking by involving itself in the ridiculous Gary Neville University and the costs of the campus redevelopment, and the message is clear – the University’s wild spending on vanity projects and commercial adventures is being placed on the shoulders of students. The students are Lancaster’s biggest single source of income, with around 47% of income coming from tuition fees in the last year for which records are available (15/16). This percentage has steadily increased over the past years, but perhaps the continued expenditure on projects that seem to do little to improve things for students shows that top table is rather unashamedly ignoring this.

The subtext collective wishes the SU well in its campaign, and we encourage our readers to involve themselves in it: 


The VC is said to have been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception given to the plans for UA92 by the people of Stretford. We have to wonder how he gained that impression. At a recent public consultation, Gary Neville and our own Professor Sharon Huttly experienced at first hand the frustration felt by local people at the lack of information from Trafford Council, the Class of 92 and Lancaster University (staff here will no doubt fully sympathise in this regard). Reports from the meeting suggest that they were in fact taken aback by the strength of the opposition.

Perhaps the VC was relying on the results of an online poll conducted by Trafford Council, which apparently showed that 75% of local residents were in favour of the scheme. However, doubts arose about the reliability of this poll when it emerged that respondents were presented with four options for each survey question, three of which could be interpreted as positive responses. This is an approach to assessing opinion familiar to anyone who has ever completed a Lancaster staff satisfaction survey. Oh, and it was possible to fill in the survey as many times as you wanted. We must hope that further decisions on UA92 will be informed by better research. Perhaps if we are really lucky, they will create a word cloud (see subtext 160)!


Some colleagues in Leadership and Management, facing the imminent dissolution of their department and their transfer – if they’re lucky! – to Organisation, Work & Technology or Entrepreneurship, Strategy & Innovation, have expressed disappointment at what they see as the thin business case presented by the Dean of LUMS, Prof Angus Laing, to justify this restructure. Perhaps the Dean should have consulted some experts in organisational change within business schools . . .

. . . like, for example, the experts at Nurture Higher Education Group,, a consultancy firm founded in January 2017 which provides ‘ongoing longer-term support to assist schools in working through major change programmes’ and can offer ‘unrivalled guidance geared towards enhancing the competitiveness and sustainability of their institutions.’ They’ve got offices in Covent Garden – well, they’ve got an address in Covent Garden, managed by Garden Studios at 71-75 Shelton Street – and an impressive array of associates. Anyone wishing to avail themselves of Nurture’s consultancy services should contact its Chairman, Prof Angus Laing.


It is with sadness that subtext noted that the authors of the letters in subtext 168 regarding the plans for UA92 all wished to remain anonymous, implying concern about expressing views other than that lending our collective academic credibility to this scheme is a fantastic idea.

It is noticeable that the ubiquitous propaganda screens which have appeared all over the refurbished areas of campus portray only one acceptable body type for anyone associated with UA92 i.e. beautiful, young, muscular, athletic and healthy, combined with a Serious Expression* (presumably indicative of ‘academic excellence’).

It would be a great shame if the repeated reinforcement of the message that ‘the university’ welcomes this association with the world of sport has also led to a perception that there is also only one acceptable mindset for anyone associated with Lancaster University i.e. blind agreement with the leaders’ decisions.

*if you haven’t clocked this expression on the UA92 PR machine then imagine a cross between Einstein, the Curies, de Beauvoir and Confucius at their most contemplative. Now forget that, and instead combine a lot of boredom, a touch of bewilderment and just a hint of belligerence.


Obviously inspired by subtext’s recent embracing of technology, the Vice Chancellor has decided to bring his particular badinage of vernacular to Twitter, and you can follow him at:

Amongst pictures of him mingling at conferences, praising speakers and announcing his speaking engagements, we noted that the VC recently retweeted a WonkHE columnist’s list of the ‘dumbest university rankings’, which included the Spiked Online ‘Free Speech’ league table and the People and Planet’s green ratings as its top two. Neither of which Lancaster does particularly well in, but to be fair they are both admittedly dumb tables – what causes us to pause for thought is how the VC feels about some of the other ‘dumb’ rankings we’ve received that have featured prominently in the University’s marketing.


FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U).
TO: Jacob Woolly, President, LuVE-U Student Experience Coordination Unit.
CC: Hewlett Venkklinne, Lead Negotiator: External Cognizance.
SUBJECT: Rent increases.

Dear Jacob,

Please see attached the official university response to the rent complaints.


LuVE-U has some of the best student accommodation in the North West of Lancashire, taking the title of Best University Halls in the Karaganda Architectural Gazette for seven of the last eight years.

In order to maintain the minimum standards expected by our students, we need to continually refurbish the entire campus and make the necessary investments – the rent rises present students with the opportunity to pay for more expensive and therefore better electricity and water, as well as a happier cleaning and portering workforce. You don’t want us to not pay the cleaners, do you?

These costs have been rising and it has been necessary to bring about an increase in student rent to reflect that cost. Rent at LuVE-U’s incomparable accommodation remains lower than at comparator accommodation providers, such as the Ritz, Emirates Palace, and the Westin Excelsior.


I also notice that you were complaining about the fact that we reduced your block grant this year. We figured that since you streamlined yourself and released 65% of your workforce last year that you wouldn’t be needing the money, and if you’re going to squander it on £249’s worth of lentils and ponce around campus with it, it’s clear that you don’t.

Kind regards, and I hope to continue our harmonious working relations,


Review – Robert Cohen on Balfour, May and the ‘wrong kind of Jew’, Cornerstone, Lancaster, Wednesday 15 November

The people who booked Robert Cohen to give a talk on 100 years since the Balfour Declaration probably thought that the small meeting room at the Cornerstone Café would be ideal – it can comfortably fit an audience of 40, after all. Well, by the time subtext arrived, the numbers had reached 70 and rising, so your correspondent squatted cross-legged on the floor. Several latecomers couldn’t get into the room at all, and experienced the talk in audio only.

So was he any good? Very. This was a well-observed political history talk, coupled with personal reflections on how Cohen has found himself labelled, as he calls it, ‘the wrong kind of Jew’. Cohen described the Jewish East End in 1917, whose political figures included Communists, Socialists and Anarchists as well as Zionists, and compared that time with now, when ‘political Zionism and Judaism have undergone a seamless merger.’ Cohen’s hero is the Jewish theologian Marc H Ellis, who like Cohen is fascinated by modern Jewish identities.

Cohen wondered whether political Zionism had truly brought Jewish safety, forecast that Jews and Arabs would both be part of the future landscape of the Middle East and unveiled, instead of the Balfour Declaration, his own ‘Boris Declaration’, in which he optimistically imagined our foreign secretary declaring one day that ‘Her Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine/Israel of a safe and secure home for all who live there.’

There was just one thing. Cohen was billed as outlining ‘the prospect of Jewish opposition to Zionism today,’ and he certainly mentioned Zionism dozens of times, telling us at one point that he was not a Zionist, ‘even of the moderate, liberal variety.’ But he declined to define Zionism, and at one point openly challenged those who regarded it as ‘just an expression of racism and colonialism,’ stressing that ‘if that’s all you see you are failing to understand its historical and political context.’ So what was it? During the Q&A afterwards, he finally offered a definition – a homeland for the Jewish people. Was that so different from his ‘Boris Declaration’?

At the start of the talk, Cohen wryly noted that he had ‘yet to receive a single invitation from a Jewish organisation to speak’ – not surprisingly, given the declared anti-Zionist theme. Cohen’s vision for the Holy Land is one which many in Israel’s peace camp would support, so why the focus on a single word? subtext hopes Cohen returns to Lancaster soon – he lives relatively nearby, in North Yorkshire – so we can try to find out.


Dear subtext,

Why is it that every time I contact the central Travel team for some bookings I find that they cost much more than I thought they would? I’ve been consistently finding the quotes that Travel get to be more expensive than what I could find anywhere online. This is especially true for airline tickets, which are at least 10%-20% more expensive booked through Travel than through any respectable airline website.

Corridor conversations always stumble upon them providing ‘additional care’, but I did not find this to be true at all. I recently needed help during 2 conference trips where there were misunderstandings about the booking with the hotel. It was extremely difficult to get in touch with either Travel or Key, their provider, which resulted in frustrating experiences that required many non-fun hours of undoing with Travel and the Expenses admin team upon return.

Furthermore, I find that many times the bookings Travel make are expensive but not necessarily better. Even when I do the homework of researching hotels, flights, etc, I often end up with a sub-optimal itinerary from Travel that costs much more than expected. So on top of wasted time, I find that my hard-earned research funds are unnecessarily depleted by an aloof team that seems indifferent about spending taxpayers’ money.

Name withheld


Dear subtext,

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it? Your drones could assist Lancaster’s current management a little by unearthing the story of Lancaster’s first experiment in importing a head to a thriving department.

In an attempt to suppress the young revisionists in Sociology (such as Nick Abercrombie, the late John Urry and John Hughes) in 1972 Vice Chancellor Carter recruited Michelina Vaughan, an author of a letter to The Times attacking the 1968 LSE student protesters, to the first chair and to take over as head of department.

The rest is history…

John Wakeford


Dear subtext

Show me the way to go! How exciting the new high-tech, illuminated maps that have popped up all over campus are! I’ll be even more excited when the second phase is completed – and the magnifying glasses are attached so I can read the text…

Joanne Wood


Dear subtext,

Regarding your piece on sedentary professions (subtext 168). Television weather presenters. I have never seen, in this country or abroad, anyone present the weather forecast sitting down. I wonder why this is?

Best wishes

Cheryl Simmill-Binning


Dear subtext,

Lancaster University Contracts of Employment have referred to ancillary documents relating to sabbatical leave entitlement. With that detail ever changing, a request went from the VC’s forum on sabbatical leave (May, 2015) for a time-line of contractual changes. Having kept no records, HR was unable to provide that information, so leaving it for individuals to inform HR of their contractual terms. Effective from August 2017, this ‘embarrassment’ has been resolved. All earlier statements are now void. For example, an entitlement to sabbatical leave ‘as of right’ (PS/97/782 March 2007) is replaced by ‘the granting of Academic Research and Education Leave which is not an automatic right’ ( That it is still possible to download ‘Sabbatical Leave – 10 Question and Answers’ and ‘Lancaster University Application for Sabbatical Leave (HR111)’, shows that there is some tidying-up to do. The legal implication of losing an entitlement ‘as of right’ is beyond the layperson, whose best guess (in the case of this writer) is that the change is analogous to an individual being ‘innocent until proven guilty’, to one who is ‘guilty until proven innocent’. That the presumption of leave in the absence of any contrary argument is gone; replaced by the presumption of no leave without the approval of an HOD.

Gerry Steele


Dear subtext

You may be interested to learn of the recent UA92 meeting (9 November) for Stretford residents. I attended in that capacity.

Your own Prof Sharon Huttly was in attendance as well as Gary Neville. They both gave bland presentations then we proceeded to question.

The background is that as part of UA92 they want to put high rise student accommodation on a small site which is currently a well-used car park. The proposed building would be out of scale with the rest of the area and right next to our two listed buildings, Stretford Public Hall and the Essoldo building. It is true that some people support the idea, and Gary Neville’s fame no doubt contributes to that. We also have a dated shopping centre with a high vacancy rate, so some people believe the student accommodation will give that a boost. The whole project is being sold by the council as ‘regeneration’.

There is also much opposition among people who think the building will be far too overbearing in the proposed location and that it will have a detrimental effect on the area in terms of amenities, etc. It seems to be these people who are attending the meetings, including myself. Both Gary and Prof Sharon looked a little shocked at the negative reaction from locals.

Since that meeting, there has been a change of tone from the council in my opinion. There has been another meeting (21 November) to discuss Stretford Town Centre, were it was stressed that nothing is decided. There was more listening, and less of the ‘selling of their plan’ approach we had initially. There are, however, obvious concerns. The council will be landlords of the student accommodation, so there’s an obvious financial incentive for the proposed site to be as densely populated as possible. It is in a Labour ward of a Conservative held council, so there’s no political backlash for the majority of Councillors to worry about. We are now coming towards the end of the consultation so we will soon find out if the Council have listened to locals. To reiterate, neither I nor the locals I speak to are against students coming here. The concerns are the very high density accommodation proposed, and the prospects for the area if this is built and UA92 does not succeed.

Best regards,


subtext 168 – ‘giving our graduates the tools to make subtexting happen’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

In this issue: editorial, part one, part one part two, social media, football, football, more football, university of the year, shakin’, big brother, correction, memory lane, buses, lul, queen albert, concert review, letters



In subtext 166, we alluded to plans within FASS to undertake external searches for several Heads of Department. The subtext drones are doing some digging to unearth some of the rationale behind this, but in the meantime, we are moved to comment on the implications of such a radical policy-change. Long-toothed Lancastrians might remember the ‘Deansgate’ scandal. No, not the Mancunian thoroughfare – the move by the University to cease the democratic selection of Faculty Deans, leaving us free to externally appoint our Deans if needs be (subtext 42). We said at the time that this would prevent faculty staff from having a say in who their leader would be.

While HoD appointments have never been democratic, they have at least guaranteed that the appointee would be well-known to the staff they were to lead, knowledgeable of a department’s processes, strengths and failures, and (importantly) not permanent. Any potential HoD is required to have reached a certain level of seniority, which guarantees that your Head Honcho is going to have an intricate knowledge of the department, faculty, and university in general.

If the VC and the Dean of FASS are serious about making external HoD appointments, then what does this mean for morale across our departments? It is perfectly possible that a number of our academics are itching to take on the role of HoD. It’s an extra workload, but it can be an excellent bit of career development; leadership, survival, and self and peer group analysis skills if you will. If an external search becomes policy, then that’s a whole lot of academic staff being actively prevented from ‘boosting their CV.’ Furthermore, the potential cost of this has to be considered – if every department (or even a great deal) is now expected to make an external appointment, then that’s an additional professorial salary per department.

Astute readers will have realised by now that the subtext collective is extremely concerned about the proposals, and suspects that their sudden emergence isn’t something that ‘just occurred’ to the top table. We advise any readers who share our concerns to lobby their Heads of Department about this should it come to Senate – not that turkeys voting for Christmas is a rarity on that body…

It’s a kick in the teeth for serving and former Heads of Department, who are essentially being told that their service has been so bad as to necessitate a new way of doing things. But it must surely be ten times worse for anybody currently in the running to take over a department – the message being that the prospect of their leadership is so horrifying that the VC is willing to completely overhaul a policy that has served us well for over half a century just to keep them away.


Are the days of Part I at Lancaster as we know it numbered? The paper ‘A proposal for radical improvement’, drafted in July 2017 by the Dean for Academic Quality and recently seen by subtext, would have required very rapid change to be implemented in time for an October 2019 start. The response from many departmental heads of teaching was not positive – ‘it can’t be done!’ said one – and the whole matter has gone out to a working group.

The basic idea is easy to state. In place of three Part I subject options (which in faculties other than FASS usually means two subjects in your major and one in your minor), the student would study:

– Only major courses in the first ‘core’ term; then

– A mix of major and minor courses (usually one-third major for a single honours student) in the second ‘exploratory’ term; then

– Back to your major subject for the third ‘bridging’ term.

Final assessment of courses would take place at the start of the following term, so there would be no end-of-year examinations, except for the third term’s courses which would be assessed by coursework. The emphasis moves towards the programme, and away from the department or the module. This approach to assessment, moving away from the end-of-year exam as main arbiter of success, shows the influence of recent educational research and the team in OED.

So could it work? In terms of content, staffing and timetabling, the main change would see first years studying just their major in the first term, in order to help them ‘become inducted and assimilated into their academic disciplines at an early stage, as well as beginning to learn some of the most important material for their degrees’ and ‘speed up progress towards a feeling of belonging to students’ academic disciplines, programmes and departments.’ This frontloading of core content is contentious. For many of our programmes, the deep learning occurs in the second term, after everyone is hopefully settled in, but this approach may no longer be feasible under the new proposals. Some departments have suggested that professional accreditation would not be possible under the new system.

The description of second term options envisages an ‘anything goes’ mix. There might be non-standard options in a student’s own discipline, alongside courses designed to broaden the horizons (Physics’ former Part I in ‘The Universe as an Art’ is mentioned approvingly) and double-weighted ‘switching modules’, designed specifically to enable those thinking of ‘switching’ to move into that subject more or less straight away, so their third term courses could be in their new subject.

For departments that currently offer minor-only Part I courses, this might not be too great an increase in workload, but for departments that currently mix major and minor students together, it could represent a significant hike . . . unless of course your current major class is so big that you’re on the verge of double teaching anyway, in which case, so the thinking goes, why not offer two slightly different streams?

It’s not entirely clear how combined honours degree schemes – which can currently be run efficiently with relatively small numbers due to the sharing of modules with single honours students – would fit into the new model, especially during the core term. Natural Sciences gets mentioned, as a consortial scheme for which ‘programme teams have little flexibility and find their students’ requirements can be subservient to those of departments,’ but there’s no mention of how Natural Sciences could fit into the new Part I structure.

Methods of assessment and concerns over timetabling aside, the end result might turn out to be, well, not entirely dissimilar to the educational experience at several other universities. A traditional course at a redbrick might include 75% of compulsory courses in the first year, alongside a variety of options, including for most students the opportunity to study courses in other departments. Lancaster’s approach to the first year, by contrast, is now rare in England and Wales. Scotland has always done things differently of course.

When you look beyond the thoughtful proposals on teaching styles and assessment methods, these ‘radical’ proposals for our Part I start to look rather like what everyone else is doing. Maybe the truly radical option would be to keep Part I largely as it is?


As well as the implications for departmental workloads, these proposals also carry major financial implications that seemingly haven’t figured in any of the plans. Departments or degree schemes with small student numbers are very dependent on the revenue that Part I minor students provide. DeLC and Sociology, for example, might not survive the loss of income, nor would they survive losing the students who opt to switch into their degrees after enjoying minoring their subject during Part I. It is proposed that the Senate be consulted on the implementation of these changes at its next meeting – not whether it should happen or not, we hasten to add, but the implementation.

There are some very angry and upset members of staff in a number of departments. We have already reported on various departments being asked to slash their budgets (subtext 165), and a struggling degree scheme being berated and threatened with closure if things don’t turn around (subtext 167). Has the prospect of a mass exodus of smaller departments figured as an issue in the proposals, or, to be conspiratorial, is something being pre-empted here?