PLUNDERING THE PENSION
The VC opened his report with some good news. Applications are up, including a 9% increase from EU countries, while the sector average is down. Research grant income continues to be strong. Work has at last started on the new £41M Health Innovation Campus. Now for the not-so-good news. The level of university fees was now being questioned by the government (yes, that same government that increased them to over £9K in the first place). This was not good for universities, and while students might raise the odd cheer, the VC was scathing, especially about Lord Adonis’ suggestion that fees be pegged at £6K.
The big issue was the pensions dispute. The VC gave a succinct account of the recent history of USS pensions, showing how the various changes over the last few years had steadily reduced their value. There was a dispute about the size of the scheme’s current ‘deficit’ but he had thought that an agreement was close until the intervention of the Pensions Regulator. This, he believed, was political. The Regulator had been publicly lacerated over its laxity in the BHS and Capita pensions scandals and needed to show that it was on the case with USS. (Of course, an alternative interpretation might be that, as with Carillion, the Regulator was only too willing to support the employers’ interest). So this was how we got to where we are now.
At this point Senators might be forgiven if they thought that the VC was about to announce that he would be joining the picket lines himself the next day. Alas, this was not to be the case. When asked if he would be supporting LUSU’s and other Vice-Chancellors’ calls for an immediate return to national negotiations, he said emphatically that he would not. He denied the report in that day’s Times that he had joined ten other VCs in calling for a resumption of negotiations. The two sides were too far apart – he used the word ‘chasm’ – and as such there would be nothing to negotiate about. Besides, Lancaster could not afford the UCU demand for a 2% increase in the employer contribution to the pension fund. It would cut into our annual surplus, and everyone knows that our surplus is for Spine embellishments, football universities, and golf courses, not for frittering away on staff. Was there any chance of students’ getting any compensation for lost contact time, as is their right as consumers? Hardly! What about the strikers’ pay deductions? Would the money the university saved be donated to the student hardship funds, as had happened with previous strikes? Yes, of course, but only after certain university expenses had been covered. And what were these? Why, the cost of providing pensions advice to staff who would have to grapple with the complexities of a new defined contributions scheme. You can’t say that our VC doesn’t think ahead.
ALL POWER TO THE COUNCIL!
The big agenda item for the day was a raft of constitutional changes for Senate to approve. The Chief Administrative Officer opened by stating that the proposed changes followed from the recent Council Effectiveness Review and the abolition of Court, and it was largely a tidying up operation. She would not go through these in detail as she presumed that everyone had read the papers. It soon became clear that most Senators had not read the papers. Some had, though, and the claim enshrined in the proposals that Council was ‘the supreme governing body and final decision-maker’ was challenged. According to the CAO, this was required by the Code of Practice that all university governing bodies had to observe. Not so, said some Senators, with one reading aloud what the Code actually stated. To which the CAO responded with an irrefutable alternative fact – that this is what the new Office for Students might in the future require us to do. Senate seemed happy to accept this line of reasoning. One Senator seemed particularly troubled by the proposal to give Council the sole authority to make and amend Statutes and Ordinances, ‘Henry the Eighth powers’, as he called them. Against this the VC deployed his ultimate debating weapon – the Warwick Clincher. His old employer had done this, therefore so should Lancaster. Senate duly voted in favour. However, there was by now enough disquiet about the future position of Senate in terms of academic governance that the rest of the proposed changes were withdrawn for further working. But the VC had achieved what he wanted – Council now had the sole right to make, change and remove Statutes. Lancaster can now look forward to having a much smaller Senate – just like they have at Warwick, where they don’t have colleges.
BEST OF THE REST
The Dean of LUMS presented the formal proposal to close the Department of Leadership and Management, and split its activities between the departments of Organisation, Work and Technology, and Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation. It would seem that the process to bring this about was a model of best practice, with a ‘consultative approach’ throughout ‘the project’, ‘clear communication given to staff’, and ‘consistent’ involvement with the unions. For what really happened, see subtext 169.
A proposal from the PVC (Education) for the establishment of an ‘Institute for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching’ (InELT) was warmly received, its safe passage ensured by the promise that it wasn’t going to cost any money. However, it was felt that the acronym was insufficiently cumbersome for a Lancaster University institute so it was agreed that ‘curriculum’ should be inserted somewhere in its title. Perhaps it could be called something like ‘CELT’. Now that name rings a bell…
Finally, a paper from PPR and the Deputy VC for the establishment of an ‘Interdisciplinary Research Centre focused on China’. Now this one would cost money, so the paper was a testing of the waters rather than a definite proposal. Senate rather liked the idea, and agreed that the sponsors should go ahead with putting together a more detailed proposal.