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- subtext 193 – ‘stay home and read subtext’
- SHOWING YOU CARE
- THE (UNOFFICIAL) COURT REPORT
- SOME THOUGHTS ON TONY MADELEY
- EMAIL SIGNATURE NEWS
- WE’RE STILL THE RECORD HOLDERS
- SUBTEXT PRESENTS: A SOLUTION TO TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE
- LANCASTER UCU TEACH OUT – SELECTED REVIEWS
- WIDDEN’S REVIEW – CONCERT FOR REFUGEE CRISIS
- DEMISE OF THE PIE
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’
- A TALE OF TWO UNION MEETINGS
- CASUALISATION NEWS
- PREVIEW – LANCASTER EXCHANGE II
- STUDENT DEMOCRACY UPDATE
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’, December 13, 2019
- subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’, November 1, 2019
- subtext 189 – ‘ imaginative thinking subtext’, June 28, 2019
- subtext 188 – ‘eurobants subtext’, May 23, 2019
- subtext 187 – ‘yet another meaningful subtext’, April 2, 2019
- subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’, March 1, 2019
- subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’, February 1, 2019
- subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’, December 17, 2018
- subtext 183 – ‘(white man) in lancaster sugarhouse’, November 23, 2018
- subtext 182 – ‘better late than ever’, November 8, 2018
- subtext 181 – ‘mean as you start to go on’, October 11, 2018
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- November 2019 (12)
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Category Archives: news
News reaches subtext that, in an email to line managers on Wednesday 25 March, the Vice-Chancellor has announced a complete freeze on all external recruitment at Lancaster. Where an offer has already been made, this will be honoured, but all other appointments and vacancies are to be frozen.
The VC informs managers that ‘we are having to review our short to medium position regarding staff recruitment and all other costs in light of the significantly altered financial and operating position. You will be aware that we communicated last week a deferral of the most significant capital projects; i.e. the next phase of the LUMS development, the refurbishment of the east estate, and the construction of the new Engineering building. Other changes to the capital programme will follow.’ As a result, ‘all external recruitment (including through ERS) with immediate effect is being placed on hold until further notice.’
The existing vacancy control process for Professional Services staff will now apply to all roles, including ERS (the University’s in-house employment agency that lets them hire people on zero hours contracts while pretending not to have any staff on zero hours contracts) positions and proposed extensions to fixed term contracts. The process will assess whether vacancies are ‘strategically critical roles’ where the freeze should not apply.
There is some reassurance: ‘we need to ensure we are, where possible, providing job security to our existing staff and mitigating the cessation of fixed term contracts. This will require us to think differently and creatively as we redeploy staff and share our resources.’ Furthermore, ‘we will automatically place all fixed term contracts due to come to a natural end on the redeployment register.’
Fixed term staff awaiting transfer to indefinite status, as promised by the University’s new policy, are likely to be disappointed: ‘we are mindful that work is due to start in respect of the new Fixed Term Contracts Policy and this work will continue as best it can do in light of COVID-19 context. However, managers should still keep fixed term contracts under review as normal.’
This announcement will hardly have come as a surprise to anyone – after all, how many overseas students do you think we’re realistically likely to recruit for the coming year? Your subtext drones wonder how equipped the university would be, or more likely would not be, to weather a significant one-year drop in student numbers without redundancies.
We should perhaps be grateful we are not at the University of Sussex, which reportedly announced on Wednesday 25 March that all temporary contracts should be ‘terminated where possible’:
As subtext goes to press, 44 vacancies are still being advertised at: https://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/
Some of you may be familiar with the ‘Clap for Our Carers’ campaign, which has recently spread across social media with the speed of, well, some sort of virus. The idea was that the people of the UK would, at 8pm on March 26th, take to their windows, porches, gardens, etc. to deliver a nationwide round of applause for those NHS staff currently on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus.
Alas, we still haven’t got around to removing the soundproofing we installed in the subtext warehouse during the recent campus construction works (subtexts passim). However, reports reach us from those on the receiving end of this display of gratitude – reports of banged pots and pans, car horns, fireworks and applause. Suffice it to say they were extremely grateful for the show of support; good on you to those subtext readers who took part!
Twenty seven people, including students, staff, former staff and city councillors, gathered in the impressive surroundings of the Council Chamber at Lancaster Town Hall on Thursday 12 March for the unofficial 2020 session of the Lancaster University Court. Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, city councillor for the University & Scotforth Rural ward, took the chair and told those present that Lancaster University had contacted the City Council that day to complain about the Court meeting, emphasising that it was not officially sanctioned by the University. The meeting noted this and continued.
Having agreed subtext 172’s report as an accurate record of the final official Court in 2018, the Court proceeded to business.
Marion McClintock, Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist, gave a brief history of the Court. As the first governing body of the University, it set up the Council in 1964. With around 350 members, its main significance was to make Lancaster accountable to the local region. Motions passed by the Court were sent to the Council, who were required to take note of them. The minutes were all extant.
In the absence of the Vice-Chancellor or the Director of Finance, Sunil Banga of Lancaster UCU introduced a discussion on the University’s current priorities. Rather than investing in staff and students, the University was focusing on capital projects, many of these financed by loans. These were arguably putting Lancaster’s finances at risk, with interest payments of £5m per annum. Meanwhile, college funds were depleted, visa support was ‘negligible’ and the University had brought in vacancy controls for Professional Services staff.
The University was focused on increasing its adjusted net cash flow via more bums on seats (or sitting on the floor, or watching materials online). Measures of cash flow did not include the University’s mounting private debt, including debts to two US companies totalling £65m. The arrangements that set up UA92, and the deal with Navitas to establish a Leipzig campus, were largely hidden. These decisions were largely taken by the Finance & General Purposes Committee of the Council, but the minutes of this committee were not, in general, available to the public.
Andrew Williams noted that UPP, Lancaster’s provider of student accommodation, was the largest outsourcing project on campus, operating 4437 rooms. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Lancaster’s credit rating from AA- to A+ due to the University’s exposure to UPP’s risk.
We continued to expand our overseas partnerships, with BJTU in China, Sunway in Malaysia, the Ghana campus and, coming soon, our Leipzig campus. Their students would get Lancaster University degrees, but quality assurance was ‘questionable’ and in some cases there was a lack of respect for democratic rights. The trade union representative at our BJTU campus has been told he ‘can’t be called that’ and the local authorities won’t communicate with him.
How had democratic procedures changed? Twenty years ago, the Court elected a significant number of lay members of the Council, the University’s senior governing body. Following reforms, a Nominations Committee had been set up to select lay Council members but, importantly, the Court retained the right to elect a significant number of Nominations Committee members (see subtext 4). Following the abolition of the Court, these Nominations Committee members had been quietly forgotten, meaning that the majority of members of the body charged with selecting suitable members for the Council were members of the Council!
Joe Thornberry, former Principal of Bowland College, observed that when the proposal to abolish the Court was discussed by the Senate, the proposers’ key argument was that the Court was ‘unrepresentative of the community’ – ironic when the Court was far more representative as a body than either the Council or the Senate. The abolition of the Court was the final stage of a 12-year process. Might our incoming Vice-Chancellor, Andy Schofield from Birmingham, change things? The Court thought not – Birmingham has a pretty bad reputation and had abolished its Court at the same time as Lancaster’s.
Cllr O’Dwyer-Henry, reporting on the Students’ Union, felt that the current culture there was one of acquiescence to management. Two full-time officers had resigned so far this year and a petition of no confidence in the President had recently been opened. Four trustees of the union had resigned in the last year. The AGM had passed some good ideas but these had not been acted on.
Emily Heath gave a wide-ranging report on the Climate Emergency – there was an informal working group on campus. A petition to senior managers asked them to declare a climate emergency, appoint a senior manager to deal with the issue and manage the University’s land in the interests of sustainability. Simon Guy had been given responsibility and he came across as someone who wanted to listen. However, a ‘Big Conversation’ with staff had taken place on a strike day (students had not been allowed in) and the student version that week had been ‘more of a Q&A’. Our new Health Innovation Campus was not sustainable and based on fossil fuels.
A motion calling upon the Council to discuss bullying, commercialisation and the erosion of democratic governance at Lancaster, expressing no confidence in the senior leadership team, was proposed by Mr Banga and passed by a large majority, but not without opposition from Mrs McClintock, who felt that the proposal was ‘the sort of motion that management would expect’ – asking for a different approach to governance would, she thought, be more likely to get a response.
Finally, when should the Court meet again? The meeting agreed that, whenever a Lancaster Exchange was scheduled to happen, a Court meeting should happen, as an alternative forum for debate. It was suggested that the city councillors for campus should continue to convene these meetings, to give them legitimacy. The University community should build for the next time.
And so the unofficial Court ended, as members joined the queue for drinks in the Borough.
As coronavirus fever first gripped the country, and as the government prepared to enact emergency laws to postpone all public elections, one solitary local council by-election took place on Thursday 19 March 2020, for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry City Council. Other by-elections had been scheduled for that day, but called off unilaterally by their returning officers, and no further by-elections are likely to take place anywhere in the UK for the foreseeable future.
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Labour) won the Upper Stoke ward with 639 votes, out of 1214 who cast ballots, 651 of whom were postal voters. A shockingly low turnout of 9.02%.
Surely this pandemic-affected turnout must be a record low for recent public elections? Apparently not, commentators concluded – there was another council by-election, in 2016, where the turnout had been even lower, 7.12%, and the winning candidate had been returned with just 98 votes. Where could that have been?
You’ve guessed it. The University & Scotforth Rural by-election for Lancaster City Council (see subtext 156), held on 8 December 2016, continues to defeat all comers in the apathy stakes. It’s comforting to know that even the fear of catching COVID-19 has nothing on our students’ tendency to avoid the polls on a cold day.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
‘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
Working hours: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9am to 4pm
Personal Assistant: Ms Jane Bloggs: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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’.
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:
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:
Readers with other tales of anti-HK censorship on campus are encouraged to contact subtext at the usual address.
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.
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’:
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.
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.