Category Archives: news

CASUALISATION NEWS

Casual readers may be forgiven for thinking that subtext’s drones are embittered cynics whose philosophy can be summed up as ‘D Floor bad, HR enablers of bad’. In an effort to challenge this notion, here’s a vote of thanks for the new ‘Fixed-term Contracts and Casual Working Policy and Procedure’, drafted by a working group involving the campus unions and approved by the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) on 4 November 2019. It isn’t easy to find online, and hasn’t yet been put on HR’s page of policies and procedures, but can be accessed on the intranet here:
The Director of HR comments that the new policy ‘underlines our commitment to making sure staff feel secure and supported at this university.’ It’s been lauded in the House of Commons by Cat Smith MP, who invited the Minister of State for Universities and Science to ‘join me in welcoming the changes at Lancaster University’ (Commons Hansard, 20 January 2020). In short:
1) Fixed-term contracts will only be used in these circumstances: cover for temporary staff absence; cover for one-off peaks in demand; recognised and time-limited training programmes; and if a staff member requests it (the latter includes situations where an external funder stipulates that their funding is conditional on the position being fixed-term).
2) ‘All staff currently employed on fixed-term contracts will be automatically moved onto indefinite contracts,’ unless their role falls into one of these four cases.
3) Casual (in other words hourly-paid) contracts will only be used in these circumstances: very short term roles up to 12 weeks in duration; and ad hoc roles with no regular pattern of work and no obligation between the parties to offer or accept work (i.e. zero-hour contracts).
The unions offered particular praise to HR Service Delivery Manager Matt Ireland for overseeing the drafting and approval process. All in all, a good news story…
…except that doubts are now setting in amongst union activists regarding HR’s commitment to implementing it. Mr Ireland has now left Lancaster to work for an NHS Trust in East Lancashire.
Let’s look at the current list of vacancies. Among them is an advert for a Business Analyst in Admissions and Outreach (ref N2348), who ‘will focus on the implementation of a new postgraduate admissions system.’ This is ‘a fixed term role, initially until 31st October 2020.’ There’s also a role as Business Relationship Officer for the Lancashire Cyber Foundry (ref N2347), part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which seeks to develop ‘a unique business support programme for small to medium enterprise businesses across a range of industrial sectors.’ This is ‘a fixed term post until 30 September 2022’ – note that, according to the new policy, ‘time-limited funding, in itself, will not be justification to place an individual on a fixed-term contract.’ Maybe you’d like to be a Disability Advisor (ref N2338), leading on ‘support for disabled students on the new Frontline postgraduate Social Work programme.’ This is ‘a two year fixed term appointment.’
Have recruiting managers just not got the memo, or has the memo not been sent in the first place?
What about those currently on fixed-term contracts – can they expect to receive letters confirming their indefinite status any day now? It seems unlikely: HR’s page on ‘ending fixed-term contracts’ has not been updated since March 2019 and still claims that, ‘if you wish to extend a fixed-term contract, you need to submit a Manager Request using Core MyHR. Alternatively, a request to Transfer to Indefinite Contract can be made. If managers are awaiting authorisation so that further employment can be offered it is strongly advised that a case for redundancy is made in parallel as a precautionary measure. Any such proposal can be withdrawn once authorisation has been received.’
It may, then, be some time before Lancaster is, to quote the policy, ‘using indefinite contractual arrangements wherever possible and reducing the use of fixed-term and casual arrangements.’ But the policy is there – subtext would be interested to hear any evidence of it actually being used.

PREVIEW – LANCASTER EXCHANGE II

The second annual Lancaster Exchange, the replacement for our much-missed University Court, will be on Thursday 12 March 2020 in Lancaster Town Hall, from 5pm until 8pm.
subtext was optimistic after the first Lancaster Exchange, concluding that ‘it was more like a pilot episode than an experiment, but if management really publicises next year’s meeting, makes the topics for discussion a little less boilerplate, and involves the students a lot more, it could be really very good indeed’ (see subtext 187). How are preparations for Lancaster Exchange II going?
According to the draft agenda, the first subject will be Eden Project North, after which ‘we will be exploring the University’s role in contributing to the development of the region as a healthy, prosperous and sustainable place.’ Important topics, true, but arguably more boilerplate than a plumbing convention.
Publicity seems better than last year; 2019’s attendees have been emailed with an invitation and the event even has a website:
The local Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District are promoting the event; the Exchange is clearly seen as a good way to ‘engage with the local community.’
Unfortunately, calling the meeting for a Thursday night has put the kibosh on alumni attending in significant numbers, and the event isn’t even currently listed as an event on the University’s alumni page. Many students and staff will still be in lectures and seminars at that time – and even those lucky enough to finish by 5pm are unlikely to be attracted by an immediate three-hour meeting in town. It’s a shame this problem wasn’t noted at the planning stage.
Oh, except…
…they’ve called the event during the strike! Any students and academic staff looking for a constructive way to raise their concerns with management, in a comfortable city-centre setting, now have the perfect opportunity to do so – just head to the Eventbrite page and reserve your place, before it’s too late:
Suddenly the event is looking a lot more exciting than at first glance.

STUDENT DEMOCRACY UPDATE

Back in December 2018, subtext 184 reported on the Students’ Union’s unsuccessful referendum to change the make-up of its Full-Time Officer (FTO) team – a narrow majority voted ‘yes’ to the changes (yes 438, no 396, abstain 58), but the turnout failed to clear the 10% threshold needed for the decision to be binding. We speculated that the changes would be ‘rapidly booted into the long grass.’ We were wrong.
One of the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign back in 2018 was George Nuttall, now the Students’ Union President. The current FTOs have clearly learned from their experiences in 2018: if you want to make contentious changes, don’t ask the students to endorse them, just ram them through!
Thus it was that in January 2020, a new proposal to change the make-up of the FTO team was passed, by a vote of the Students’ Union Executive Committee (yes 7, no 5, abstain 1), without calling a referendum at all:
Well there we are.

GO AWAY, OLDIES

subtext’s recent reports on the removal of IT and email access from hundreds of former staff members (see subtexts 190 and 191) continue to provoke the ire of readers (see letters, below). One subtext correspondent, a life member of the university, recalls their correspondence with the Director of ISS last summer. The Director clarified that formal membership rights, as determined by the Charter and Statutes, do not include any right to access IT services, even though the University has offered this to continuing members in the past. When the Council discussed this issue in 2015 (see subtext 128), it noted that IT provision for continuing members would be reviewed over time; UMAG duly reviewed this provision in August 2019 and resolved that, henceforth, IT access would be offered to continuing members on the same basis as it is offered to other staff leavers, i.e. it would only be provided when the relevant Head of Department confirmed that the member was continuing to work and contribute to the University. Most continuing members no longer have a formal contract with the University – hence no IT services will be offered.
Some good news: after much effort, our correspondent was finally granted an appeal to the Pro-Chancellor, and it has now been agreed to extend their IT access for at least another year, subject to the condition that they continue to publish. This is still far short of the lifetime access which all continuing members thought they were being given, but it shows that persistence pays off.

GENDER STEREOTYPING MASTERCLASS

‘Our emails display our brand just like a letterhead or a business card,’ noted a news item on 14 February, launching Lancaster’s new email signature template files:
Four templates are provided at:
There’s plenty of advice and guidance: email signatures need to be useful, lawful and, of course, accessible to screen readers. Moreover, ‘Lancaster University is an inclusive place to work and learn and therefore, we would encourage people to include their gender pronouns on their email signature.’
Righty-ho. Let’s look at this template text, then:
Jo Bloggs | Postgraduate Programmes Officer
Linguistics and English Language | Lancaster University
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Working hours: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9am to 4pm
Personal Assistant: Ms Jane Bloggs: j.bloggs@lancaster.ac.uk
Excellent, so we have Mr Jo Bloggs the officer and his loyal personal assistant, Ms Jane Bloggs. That Athena SWAN renewal’s going to be a doddle, eh?
And yes, we know that equality is about a lot more than email templates. We’re sure that the imminent equal pay audit will show how much the Gender Pay Gap at Lancaster is closing, given the institution’s work to actively improve it.

BUILDINGS NEWS

Congratulations to the Department of Engineering, which on 12 February announced details of major investment by the University, including another new building, next to the previous new building, featuring a ‘3D lecture theatre’  (the third dimension makes all the difference, we hear) and several new labs:
Some might wonder whether a truly far-sighted organisation would have predicted the need for a large dedicated lecture theatre back in 2013, when the soon-to-be-old new Engineering Building was being constructed, but hindsight is 20:20.
One thing the new building will need is a name – it was confusing enough when there was the old Engineering Building (now known as the FST Building, despite our attempts to give it a more exciting name in subtext 130) and the new Engineering Building, but now there will be two new Engineering Buildings, one of them is going to need a suitably well-engineered title – we’ll pass on any suggestions we receive.

FEARLESSLY SPINELESS

Readers feeling starved of information due to subtext’s relative infrequency these days (the more contributions and contributors we get, the more issues we’ll put out – don’t be shy!) can sate their hunger by visiting Spineless (https://spineless.uk/), an online publication in the tradition of Lancaster’s radical past, full of news, gossip and opinion, written by an anonymous (ish) collective of Lancaster students.
In the last three weeks they’ve published items on campus bullying (including a revealing interview with the acting VC), the strike, developments at Caton Court (see subtext 190) and the increasingly rancorous debate on LUSU democracy. subtext doesn’t necessarily endorse all they say, nor how they choose to say it, but what they do say is usually at least interesting and it’s always nice to have some fellow muckrakers about.
By the way: whatever has happened to SCAN? The copies currently available are still talking about ‘general election fever’.

RETURN OF THE ANGRY DUCKS

It was pure picket line déjà vu. Not just the buses and cars queuing on the main drive, trying to avoid running anyone over. Not just the hand-made banners and placards, the angry ducks and the picket discos. No, what most made it seem like February 2018 all over again was that staff had downed tools (or keyboards, in most cases) for pretty much the exact same reason as before: to protest against higher pension contributions, after employers refused to fully implement the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel convened after the last strikes.
There were some differences this time around, however. Rather than just being about pensions, this was the first industrial action at Lancaster over pay and conditions for quite some time – no doubt helped by the focus on workload and equality (in particular Lancaster’s massive gender pay gap). Unlike last time, this strike seems to have enjoyed widespread student support, including from the previously rather apolitical Students’ Union. Successively more senior managers visited the picket lines to chat with the unwashed masses. When the interim VC eventually found his way there, he faced some difficult questions, but was not subjected to quite as thorough a grilling via megaphone as the previous incumbent (see subtext 175).

Rather than striking for an increasing number of days each week spread over a month, this strike was a contiguous period of eight working days. UCU activists were said to be split over the purpose of this different pattern, with some claiming that the current structure was not conducive to negotiation. And in fact, on a national level, there seems to have been very little movement by employers. It seems likely at this point that the pickets will return in the new year, ducks and all.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?

In classic Parliamentary style, MPs are not technically allowed to resign their seats. A member who, say, wants to retreat into a shed to write a self-congratulatory memoir after calling a disastrous referendum in a misguided attempt to unify their party is instead said to have ‘taken the Chiltern Hundreds’, accepting the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of an ancient region (or manor) that no longer exists. The role has no responsibilities and provides no benefit to the holder.
On an unrelated note, news reaches us that LUSU CEO Claire Geddes has stepped down from her role and is now ‘working on a strategic project for the university on secondment’, according to a brief LUSU press release. The LU intranet contains no mention of this, and the University declined to comment when asked by SCAN.
SCAN has characterised Ms Geddes as yet another casualty of the recent Sugarhouse sale affair (see article ‘Sugar Plot Timeline’, Week 9 issue), a list that so far includes the former LUSU VP (Activities) and a number of Trustees. We can neither prove nor disprove a connection, but we note that the timing of the announcement and the silence from the University might lead one to wonder.

We wish Ms Geddes all the best in her stewardship of what will surely prove to be a very exciting, albeit vague, ‘strategic project’.

HONG KONG PHOOEY

Lancaster University does not seem to be showing a lot of solidarity with its Hong Kong students at the moment. Private Eye and SCAN reported recently on the college accommodation manager who ordered a student to remove a display of sticky notes in a kitchen window which spelled out ‘Stand with Hong Kong’ – SCAN’s story is online at:
https://scan.lancastersu.co.uk/2019/12/04/hong-kong-posters-raise-free-speech-questions-on-campus/
This was not the only recent incident of censorship. On 13 November, a reader wrote to let us know that, at 8:50am that morning, three members of Security were taking down pro-Hong Kong posters. Our reader made enquiries and was told that the University was removing all such posters because they were ‘against the Students’ Union’s rules.’ Lancaster Poster Code 1, Freedom of Speech 0.
On a related note, a group of Hong Kong students came down to the Sports Centre picket line on the first day of the UCU strike to share their stories and to show their solidarity:
https://twitter.com/ZoeFLambert/status/1198982862013370368

Readers with other tales of anti-HK censorship on campus are encouraged to contact subtext at the usual address.

TIERS 4 FEARS

Contributed article
Many have found fault with the recent efforts of the Student Registry to track postgraduate research (PGR) students’ attendance by ‘provision in Moodle PGR Records to record supervisory meetings’ (email to supervisors, 16.10.19).
This new online system of recording all meetings between PGR students and their supervisors is being touted as a way of protecting the rights of students from negligent supervisors, as well as complying with UK Visas and Immigration’s increased scrutiny of students on Tier 4 visas.
Since the new online system offers a non-obligatory notes section in which to log the content of meetings, all the process appears to achieve is a numeric record of dated meetings. Quite how this ensures the quality of engagement from either party is unclear.
Thus we arrive at the secondary premise: surveillance of international PGR students. Students who already register with the Police, the Home Office, the University (through appraisals, registration and DNA tests) and their Departments. Students who are already the object of intense scrutiny by a Home Office intent on making life for them in the UK as uncomfortable as possible.
Caoimhe Mader McGuinness from Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) says these schemes are often presented as safeguarding students’ experience or health:
‘It is sold to lecturers as a way of making sure that the student is taken into account and sees someone, but this is also the sort of data that is used by the Home Office to, if they so wish, declare that that student hasn’t been to enough contact points and then potentially deport them.’
(See Guardian article – Hostile Environment: how risk-averse universities penalise migrants, dated 5.6.18)
It now appears the University’s need to maintain its license to recruit foreign national students (how else would we pay for all the new buildings?!) is, ironically, making it an accomplice to the Home Office, contributing to the UK’s increasingly hostile environment towards our foreign students.
I hope the readers of subtext need no wordy exposition on the intellectual and cultural benefits of a diverse PGR student population. This new system is yet another stumble down a slippery path towards exclusion, alienation and infringement of the rights of those from abroad who choose to enrich Lancaster University’s community through postgraduate research. Shame on management for their capitulation. Philip Pullman had it right: we need some scholastic sanctuary.

APART-OH-NO

Everything was supposed to be sorted. UK students accepted to Lancaster through Clearing had not been allocated on-campus accommodation this year, but they needn’t worry – plenty of ‘Lancaster University Approved Off-Campus Accommodation for First Year Students’ would be available, all of it ‘Lancaster University Homes APPROVED’. The glossy leaflet set out three recommended choices: 1 to 3 Cable Street (built and in use, run by The Student Housing Company); St Leonard’s House (refurb of an existing building, run by Homes for Students); and Caton Court, between Back Caton Road and Bulk Road (a new build, run by Aparto). The first two options were occupied without a hitch, but Caton Court? Ah.
According to the leaflet handed out to applicants attending Clearing open days, Caton Court would offer a mix of 10-bed townhouses and flats with en suite rooms, starting from £120 and rising to £150 per week. The artist’s impressions looked attractive and there’d be on-site support, a gym, a sky lounge and a cinema space. Everyone was confident it would be completed on time.
Of course, it wasn’t. Come the start of term, we understand that those destined for the top two floors were required to stay in hotels for Welcome Week before finally being able to occupy their rooms, and the block as a whole resembled a building site. Flyers were handed out on the Spine, noting ‘power cuts’, ‘laundry not open’, ‘frequent false fire alarms’, ‘unmarked fire escapes’, ‘leaking windows’, ‘broken tables’, ‘broken kettles’ and ‘microwaves in place of ovens’. All this, the (anonymous) flyer noted, was ‘proudly advertised by Lancaster University Students’ Union’.
The city councillors for the University were quickly on the case, detailing residents’ complaints in excruciating detail through a press release, complete with pictures of holes in ceilings, traffic cones blocking access to non-functioning lifts, and a fire curtain with ‘a hole cut through it to enable residents to escape if it is lowered again’:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/19eyI2gfV2EXkZs4pn2bPGxSFUdvQE84wNJ6BLB_mqCw
The ‘Living’ office on campus, whose sign had been advertising that it worked in partnership with Aparto, has now covered up the Aparto logo with a sheet of red plastic. Caton Court was one of many subjects discussed at this week’s Students’ Union AGM, with one of the successful motions noting that LUSU Living ‘had a lucrative agreement (until its suspension on 17 October) to advertise Caton Court, an Aparto property, which has had serious concerns around its fitness for habitation. Aparto is a trading name for Hines, a US property giant.’
It would be very easy indeed to load the blame onto Aparto and their contractors the Eric Wright Group, but in their defence – delays happen, and these are often unforeseen. The staff working for Aparto (locally, at least) are working hard to solve their students’ problems. Any new build is going to resemble a building site for weeks, or even months, after it initially opens, and there will always be ‘snagging’ issues. Things now seem to be settling down.

If subtext were advising a disgruntled Caton Court resident, we might suggest they direct their annoyance instead at the University which promised them luxury accommodation in Caton Court, without mentioning anywhere on its publicity that at the time of printing, Caton Court didn’t actually exist.

WHEN I’M UA64

After all the hype, UA92 is now open and teaching inside a refurbished Kellogg’s cereal factory in Stretford, where we hope the students are all having a ‘grrreat!’ time.
The staff-student ratio is certainly looking impressive – almost Oxbridge-like – although this seems to owe more to the under-recruitment of students rather than the generous recruitment of staff. The subtext drones have picked up the number ’64’ on several occasions, which seems borne out by stories in the press such as ‘Ex-Manchester Utd stars’ university shunned by students after only recruiting 64 — despite promising 650 places’ in the S*n on 27 September. Due to such low numbers, very few teaching staff have been directly employed by UA92 – ‘maybe 8 or 9’, we hear.
During August and September, UA92 was aggressively marketing itself to students who found themselves in Clearing. How tricky was it to get in via that route? Prospective students needed the equivalent of three ‘D’s at A Level to get on to one of UA92’s degree schemes, whilst if they didn’t quite have those grades, they could still enrol for a 1-year Certificate of HE (with the possibility to switch onto the degree scheme later) with the equivalent of three ‘E’s.
Despite these worrying figures, it *is* possible to start a UA92 degree in November or January, so we may yet see the student numbers creep up. The links with Trafford College seem to be yielding a decent trickle of applicants, and UA92’s publicity – which if we’re honest is starting to grow on us – is emphasising how students can combine study at UA92 with work and caring responsibilities. And, hey, what’s not to like about being on a degree scheme with (very) small class sizes and a (very) spacious refurbished building?

Anecdotes from any current UA92 students or staff on ‘how it’s all going’ would be much appreciated.

PAINTING BY NUMBERS

How much would you charge for an official portrait? As part of Mark E. Smith’s leaving celebrations the University commissioned, as is standard practice, an official portrait of our former leader. The painting by Nathalie Beauvillain Scott can be viewed on the staff intranet, alongside a link to a ‘goodbye’ interview by Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist Marion McClintock, at:
https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/news/article/farewell-to-vice-chancellor-professor-mark-e-smith
Scott has regularly been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the BP Portrait Awards:
https://www.murals-portraits.co.uk/portraits
One of subtext’s readers was intrigued, and submitted an FOI request – ‘Please can you disclose how much the portrait of Prof Mark Smith, published on the 19th of September, cost the University?’ The University’s response: ‘The total cost of the portrait including the framing was £12,910.’
Is this excessive? According to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ website, fees for a portrait can be ‘substantial’, rising to £100,000, but equally ‘their starting point can be less than £2,000.’

In these times of austerity and Professional Services recruitment freezes, subtext readers may wonder whether next time, given the world-class talents of our Fine Art students, we might considering enlisting their services instead. Or maybe one of our readers would be interested? If you’d like to have a go at painting an enduring image of MES, we’ll happily publish it on our Facebook page for free.

JUTE, JAM AND RENT DISPUTES

Our former Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s tenure as Principal of Dundee University continues to go from strength to strength. The following appeared in The Herald on 30 October 2019:
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18004372.professor-andrew-atherton-removed-office/
According to a Dundee spokesperson, ‘Professor Atherton, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, was suspended from office on September 13, pending an investigation which remains to be completed. That process includes an investigation carried out by someone external to the University.’ There will be no further comment from Dundee until the investigation is over.
According to The Courier on 31 October 2019, this could relate to unpaid rent:
https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/dundee/1010699/298k-a-year-dundee-university-principal-suspended-for-allegedly-not-paying-rent/

The Courier understands that, ‘Professor Atherton, 53, had been staying at University House on Perth Road but had refused to pay the full amount of rent due on the property.’

IP UNDER PRESSURE

Lancaster’s new intellectual property (IP) policy has been unveiled, effective from 1 August 2019:
https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/research/research-enterprise-services/ip-support/
Well done to Research & Enterprise Services, who have put in a lot of work to create a policy and webpage that looks very helpful for staff. Some students may not be so happy, though.
As a reminder, here’s a rough primer on IP law: when an employee creates something in the course of their employment, the thing is the intellectual property of their employer (benevolent employers may, of course, seek to share the benefits). When a student creates something in the course of their studies, the thing is the intellectual property of the student (and they decide whether to share the benefits). Attempts in the 90s to require Lancaster students to sign their IP rights over at registration led to loud and vocal protests – and a climbdown by management.
Our new policy agrees that students own what they create, but some of the ‘circumstances where the University will require the student to assign their IP’ should be raising eyebrows. In particular, we now require research students to sign over their IP rights if they have ‘received significant financial support from the University (for example stipend or fee waiver) to undertake the research.’ For the avoidance of doubt, ‘this does not include any hardship or widening participation financial support.’ Readers may wonder whether this would stand up in court, unless the University is now claiming that university-funded research students should be classed as staff – in which case surely they should be granted employment protection and pension rights?
Similarly, any student who ‘builds upon existing IP generated by University staff’ or ‘participates in a research project funded by the University’ is required to sign over their IP. This might be acceptable practice for a principal investigator taking on new research associates, but research students are not the same as postdocs.

Lancaster already has a questionable reputation for making some of its funded research students carry out teaching – for no pay and no recognition of employment rights – as a condition of funding. Will be also be known as the place where funded research students are required to sign their intellectual property rights over – again, for no pay and no recognition of employment rights? subtext hopes very much that the PG Board was consulted about this.

GOODBYE EMERITI!

Sad news reaches subtext from a retired member of staff. The University has decided to delete his email account, along with the email accounts of many other retired and honorary staff, with effect from the beginning of November. A curtly-worded email from ISS informs those about to lose their accounts that, no, you can’t export your emails, and no, you can’t have your emails forwarded to another address.
subtext has reported on the rather curmudgeonly way Lancaster treats its former staff, particularly when they want to retain access to email or the library, before (see subtext 128). What has prompted the latest cull? Reportedly it’s partly to do with the way Microsoft prices its services. Since the shift to Office365 and other subscription-based services, it’s possible for Microsoft to know exactly how many users are making use of its services, and bill the University accordingly.
What’s more – it’s no longer possible to ‘just have an email account’ at Lancaster these days. Every account carries a cost, because as part of the package you’ll get ‘Apps Anywhere’, the handy package which enables Lancaster account holders to access hundreds of apps, well, anywhere. So to all the extra Office365 licences required for emeritus staff with email you can add dozens of licences for software they probably never use, but they could if they wanted.

One silver lining – we’re assured that it is still possible for retired and honorary staff to retain library access, even without an email account, and it is still possible to access online journals (although you will need to come into the library to view them). So we do still value our former staff – as long as they don’t incur any licence costs.