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SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION
Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
ONE SUGAR, PLEASE
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
THE CASE FOR COUNCIL
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.
Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.
Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands.
Readers of subtext will have been pleased to learn that Lancaster University is currently enjoying a flurry of coverage in the national press. Has Cary Cooper received another knighthood? Did someone devise a formula for the perfect twerk?
‘Students face probe over t-shirts daubed with swastikas.’
As reported by the BBC, Independent, Sun, Daily Mail, Newsbeat and Lancaster Guardian, Lancaster University Snow Sports (LUSS) was investigated by the Students’ Union (LUSU), after photographs emerged of their members partying at the Sugarhouse wearing T-shirts covered in swastikas, far-right slogans, and shock humour: ‘Gary Glitter was innocent’, ‘Free Tommy Robinson’, ‘Sandyhook woz bantz’, ‘I’ve got muscles cus dad raped me’, and various assorted ‘edginess’.
One member of LUSU’s Code of Conduct panel, Black & Minority Ethnic Officer Chloe Long, grew frustrated with the time it was taking for them to reach an agreement, as well as the growing probability that a ‘soft sanction’ would be imposed, and posted the photographs (which had been removed from the Sugarhouse’s Facebook page) online, denouncing them as hate speech and deriding LUSU for not taking a firmer stance against the activities.
Within 48 hours, Long was suspended from her role and is now the subject of an investigation by LUSU for breaching the Code of Conduct, endangering an investigation, and leaking confidential information.
Factions quickly formed as debates erupted on many of Lancaster’s online spaces. Dividing lines were drawn roughly between: 1) people who felt that LUSU and the University management didn’t care about hate speech, were utterly ineffectual in tackling it, and seemed more upset at the lack of publicity and more interested in punishing the officer responsible for going public; and 2) people who felt that this was all a publicity stunt, heaping unmanageable culpability on the shoulders of LUSU and making a mountain out of a molehill.
As expected, the Free Speech Bores – you know the ones, the people who want Nazis to have free speech so they can debate them, but never actually debate them – were quick to wade in by accusing LUSU of Orwellian tyranny for suspending the society and investigating the claims.
However, since this has nothing to do with free speech whatsoever, we can dismiss this as the customary anal wind from the usual tedious suspects, and delve into the actual questions, untruths, and scandal of this story…
The information about LUSU’s investigation into LUSS was made public because it was felt that the sanctions would be inadequate. Looking at LUSU’s past record on tackling hateful speech, it’s easy to understand why.
Throughout 2017/18, subtext documented the behaviour of an extremist right wing group on campus that was vying to attain official society status and affiliation to LUSU (see our year-end fascism roundup at http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/09/13/fascism-on-campus/ and subtext 182 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/11/08/shredded-posters-make-good-snowflakes/). The group’s Facebook page regularly posts fascist philosophy, while its members openly express far right wing and oppressive beliefs in person and online, and have disrupted seminars and public events by rattling off half-baked fascist viewpoints and bad faith questions at tutors, speakers, and peers.
As the LUSU societies committee was struggling to agree whether or not to fund avowed fascists (!), the LUSU Executive of elected, paid full-time officers decided to speed things up by approving their incorporation, with a number of two-bit toothless caveats (see subtext 176 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/04/26/sufferin-succofash/) thrown into the mix. Of course, this decision was quickly overturned by a senior member of LUSU staff, as behind the scenes the University was sharing information about the group with the police (who in turn sought guidance from the Counter Terrorism Branch and the CPS). Ultimately, LUSU rejected the group’s application, and while this was a good outcome, it took many months to come about, LUSU never ever publicly condemned their activities and rhetoric, and generally didn’t tell them to ‘f*ck off’ nearly as hard as they could have.
With that track record, and the recent Code of Conduct panel seemingly leaning towards quietly sending LUSS on its way with a clip round the ear, one can see the value in lighting a bomb under LUSU to wake them up a bit. LUSU’s slowness to act is still an issue – as they themselves admitted in a public statement, the panel had convened twice without coming to a decision on sanctions, and was due to meet a third time before BME officer Chloe Long decided to go public with the evidence.
By contrast, LUSU was far faster to action when dealing with Ms Long. The investigation into LUSS lasted ten days, with a gap of nearly two weeks between the end of the investigation and the meeting of the Code of Conduct panel. subtext understands that Ms Long received notice of her hearing date, 20 November, within a day of her suspension. Certainly, being seen to act more efficiently in an investigation of a whistleblower, than into the original issue, isn’t a good look. It appears that Ms Long declined to attend her hearing.
The sanctions themselves seem, at first glance, to be proportionate. The society will be placed ‘on probation’ for a period of two years, during which time they will also have to attend various equality training sessions, and submit notice of future socials. They will also not be permitted to run events that aren’t training based… for five weeks.
But on closer inspection these are almost as feeble as those proposed for the campus fascists. The club will have to apologise publicly, which is fair enough, although we’ve yet to hear it – we also wonder if the rumours are true that the group is receiving staff support to put together their statement. Interestingly, their next event, a trip to Val d’Isere on 14 December, inhabits something of a legal grey area. On the one hand, it promises ‘loose activities, shenanigans and mental nights out’, ‘ludicrous themes’, a ‘festival night’ and a ‘pool party with a bar and DJ’. We can’t imagine anything untoward happening there. On the other, it does also offer ‘beginner and intermediate lessons.’ What a quandary!
What’s interesting is that LUSU has, regardless of how appropriate (or not) the sanctions are, been harsher than it was initially planning to be after a public backlash, and this raises a question: was the investigation prejudiced by the court of public opinion? Who knows. The LUSS executive still should probably have been hung out to dry, as we’ll get to below.
While the SU could have shaken a leg and done a bit more to show that it doesn’t take hate speech lying down – especially in light of its performance last year – there is also no denying that blaming them for absolutely everything that took place on the t-shirt social is an easy get out. People have tried to hold the Sugarhouse staff accountable for allowing this sort of rhetoric into the venue in the first place. This is less than cast-iron for a number of reasons, the main one being that it’s still unclear whether the t-shirts were graffitied before or after they’d got in to the Sugarhouse. But even if they did queue up with those slogans written on them, it may not be reasonable to expect staff to closely inspect clothing which may have been covered at the time of entry and then was displayed in a busy nightclub.
It may also be difficult to establish the intent of the people wearing the shirts. The whole point of a white t-shirt social is to invite OTHERS to daub you with obscenities, and you can imagine that a drunk and bewildered fresher on their first social could use this to distance themselves from the slogans by claiming that they weren’t their views, that they were too drunk to know what was being written on them, and that they don’t remember who wrote what, ‘honest guv’. But there is likely to be overlap between those that wore the t-shirts and those that wrote on them. We can say for certain that SOME of the people at the event wrote these slogans, and all of them must have known they would be viewed by sober people as either racist or misogynist or condoning paedophilia. It’s unlikely that the identities of those writing them will ever be known.
There can be no sympathy for the LUSS executive, who, if they had the brains of a centipede, would have briefed their members against walking into a public place with antisemitic, racist, misogynist and paedophilic slogans smeared on their shirts, and made sure someone was on sober duty to keep things in check. It is the club’s executive that bears the most responsibility, which makes it all the more baffling that LUSU has allowed the existing executive to continue running the show.
This incident has at least provided an opportunity for LUSU and the Sugarhouse to develop a policy of checking what sort of materials people are bringing into their venue.
A great deal of the blame for this incident has been apportioned to the senior management. Lancaster UCU recently wrote publicly to the Vice-Chancellor, demanding to know why LUSU was investigating the incident (which was perpetrated by their members in their venue and photographed by their photographers), and not the University itself. As it turns out, the top table has been attentive to the case, and LUSU has now passed the case file over to the University Deanery to deal with. UCU remains unhappy, and accuses the University of shirking its responsibilities.
Behind the scenes, the University has quite rigorously pursued allegations of hate speech on campus, having referred the hijacking of Ruth Wodak’s public lecture to the police, who worked in collaboration with the CPS and the Counter Terrorism Branch to reach a conclusion. The Vice-Chancellor cannot be blamed for the decision not to proceed with this case, nor can he be expected to go on Twitter and name and shame his students (at least, not before the University Deanery has finished deliberating). That’s not to say that proactivity isn’t sorely lacking in the University’s internal and external communications – aside from a few assurances to the national press, they could do more to placate and assure the community when something like this happens, rather than waiting for the UCU to demand answers. If you’re a Jewish student on a night out and you see an antisemitic slogan written on someone’s shirt, you’re not going to stop and think ‘no biggie, Lancaster has a commitment to the Race Equality Charter!’ It also wouldn’t do us much harm to publicly emphasise our support of equality and opposition to fascism and extremism, what with our public image currently painting a slightly different picture. After all, however much the free speech bores emphasise that no-one present at the Sugarhouse that night complained about what the LUSS members were wearing, the reaction from (mostly) white (mostly) men to the online dissent from women and BAME students gives you an idea as to why.
While it is perhaps unlikely that this will end up being treated as a crime, one hopes that the University Deanery takes a broad-minded, moral approach to its deliberations with case, and considers not only the reputation of the University but the impact this has had on minority groups among its membership.
SNOW END IN SIGHT
This is not a lone incident. Footage has surfaced of another (allegedly) recent social, where students in the shirts of a specific college were filmed in the Sugarhouse adorned with bulletins like (apologies to those who don’t like reading this stuff): ‘F*ck the Jews’, ‘I watch nugget porn’, ‘Saville (sic) is innocent’, ’96 wasn’t enough’ (yeah, try wearing that at The Sandon), and ‘Consent is overrated’.
Clearly we need to bring this to a stop. Prevention, education and the public, institutional denunciation of hateful ideologies are the best solutions. If nothing else, this sorry affair will surely encourage society executives to know how to avoid being publicly humiliated, and venue staff to know what to look out for when people show up with their clothes covered in ink. Until then we can only hope that people try to understand the isolating impact that such behaviour has on the targets of hate speech.
GARY ON AT YOUR CONVENIENCE
In subtext 179, we reported on the somewhat embarrassing lack of solid information on simple things like UA92’s disability provision, placements, and whether or not they’ll be taking international students. Thankfully, a public consultation with Stretford community stakeholders was held last Monday (18th June), and there were high hopes that the community liaison representative dispatched by the council to answer to concerned residents would be able to bring some much needed clarity.
UA92 is a done deal that was signed off by Trafford’s Conservative administration before the Tories were replaced by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. While the conversion of the Turn Moss green space into a training facility for UA92 students was immediately torpedoed, it remains to be seen how readily the new administration will nod through Gary’s plans. The only accepted planning application thus far is to convert the old Kellogg’s building into educational and office space, and two more ‘masterplans’ – one for Stretford town centre and one for the Trafford ‘civic quarter’ – are to be put forward for consultation in the coming months. Furthermore, plans to hand Stretford’s leisure centre over to Gary have been mooted.
So, we know what isn’t happening, and what is definitely probably going to hopefully happen. At present, there is no information on what sites, apart from the old Kellogg’s building, are in place. Stretford residents were sympathetic to the human shield that the council had dispatched to the meeting, who was clearly poorly briefed, working on little information, and was not joined and supported by any figures with direct involvement in the planning and implementation of UA92. To surmise – UA92 has teaching and office space confirmed, partnerships with Microsoft and Lancashire Cricket Club and… that’s it. We wonder if things are going to be any clearer come the UA92 open day in July. subtext understands that two Lancaster student staff are being deployed as ambassadors to answer questions. Have they been warned, in the two non-compulsory training sessions, that many of the attendees are likely to be concerned Stretford residents masquerading as students and parents with a wad of questions that thus far haven’t been adequately answered either by council liaison officers or full time staff at the university?
The fact that, as reported in subtext 171, no-one has been willing to release the market research that lead everyone to decide that UA92 was a cracking idea is important to remember. If no-one wants to come to the party, there is the chance that UA92 might end up as a white elephant. And yet, they have so little to offer right now, be it provision, accommodation, or any of the superb facilities that are promised in the hype videos, that it’s hard to see why anyone WOULD come to UA92.
Only four months until applications open!
The promotional video of what UA92’s ‘campus’ is going to look like (or to use the exact quote, ‘might’ look like) consists of shots of Manchester Piccadilly Station, the Manchester skyline and Old Trafford football ground, overlaid by an intense dubstep beat and meaningless slogans to make up for a lack of content. Oh, the camera also soars through a CGI rendition of an extremely red, cavernous building that looks like a cross between a 60s themed American diner and a missile launch facility. For those still wondering what UA92 is even going to offer, it’s better than nothing, and the start of the video reminds us to ‘speak to a member of the UA92 team for the latest information.’ Ahem. https://youtu.be/vhULu8sD1Is
We are also told that ‘designs continue to be developed and further details will be available in 2019.’
Only four months until applications open!
PLACES FOR PEOPLE
At a recent meeting of the Stretford & Urmston Constituency Labour Party, it was noted that the Labour administration has asked that the office space being sold off as accommodation for potential UA92 students be made viable as 1 or 2 bedroom flats for general use in case the Students Don’t Come. This could prove problematic: at the moment, building student accommodation is hugely attractive to developers because student houses don’t have to meet the same regulations as normal housing. Less red tape and fewer regulations, coupled with a potentially huge market, means more money in the pockets of the developers. This presents some interesting questions – will developers take the risk and refurbish the old office blocks to a minimum standard, confident that the Students Will Come? And if they don’t, will they even be able to convert the empty student housing into normal housing that satisfies the additional regulations, or will logistics, money, and disinclination leave more disused space in Manchester?
Only four months until [we get it – eds.]
SETTING THE BAR
As we’ve established, Gary is having difficulty finding buildings to house the millions of students and partners falling over themselves to work with him.
By a sheer stroke of luck, his ‘Polynesian cocktail bar,’ ‘Mahiki’, is to close after less than a year of trade. The Manchester branch of the London venue (a famous celebrity haunt which has even attracted royals), which charges a tenner for entry, £12 a cocktail, hosts parties for celebrities and whose opening night was attended by David Beckham, was promised by Gary to be ‘the opposite of pretentious.’ It was also the opposite of ‘good’, and attracted scathing reviews variously describing the venue as ‘tragic’, the staff as ‘rude’, and the experience the ‘worst night out in Manchester ever.’ Since Gary has already signed a 20-year lease on the building, there is no reason not to see if he can’t squeeze a couple of 3G pitches in there.
It’s hard to keep up with how Gary Neville is getting on with his university, UA92, what with the lack of information or active verbs on its website. We usually rely on the national press, local election results, and Twitter meltdowns (subtext 177) to keep abreast of what he’s up to. Since his plan to colonise the Turn Moss open green space and turn it into a bunch of football pitches was torpedoed, Gary has retreated, presumably to regroup and thrash out the finer details of running a university. Details like ‘where will the students live?’, ‘who is going to be in charge of the university?’, and ‘where is our university going to be?’ subtext decided to seek answers straight from the horse’s mouth, and called UA92’s general enquiries number.
subtext’s sleuth made three phone calls under three different guises to get some fundamental questions answered. Before we start, subtext wishes to make clear that the staff at the other end of the line were at all times helpful, friendly, professional, and working very, very hard with very little material. Here’s what we learned.
Our first ‘caller’ wanted to know about provisions for disabled students. Basic things, like disability support services, SpLD assessments, provision for targeted learning support, that any university worth its salt is going to have. At present, nothing whatsoever is in place to deal with any of these issues. UA92 does ‘aim to be’ an inclusive university that does not discriminate against students based on their abilities (although its obsession with physical fitness using lean, athletic looking types in its marketing might be somewhat alienating to those of us who can’t ‘Feel The Burn’ quite as easily as others), and is ‘sure’ that all of this will be in place by the time applications open. This suggests that the senior management team hasn’t even begun to think about it, and while they do ostensibly have over a year to put it in place before students arrive, UA92’s call handlers surely don’t want to have to be speaking in terms of ‘plans’ and ‘aims’ two months before applications open. Such a vague set of aims and objectives in the place of a robust strategy is also not going to go down well with Trafford’s new local administration, who are seeking to review all of Gary’s plans before giving him the nod to lay the first brick.
Our next caller, seeking to study journalism, wanted to know what sorts of placements Gary had to offer him.
The first issue, not to put too fine a point on it, is that UA92 does not have even close to enough exciting placements to offer to prospective students. At present, they are only able to confidently state that Microsoft and Lancashire Cricket Club (both of whom are partners) will be offering placements. Is somebody with an interest in studying journalism going to be enticed by the opportunity to cut their teeth at Lancashire Cricket Club? No, and our ‘caller’ made that clear. At present, UA92 has no relationship to boast of with any of the innumerable media organisations operating within Manchester, and given that other universities in the area already have direct lines and fruitful relationships with the big swingers in media city, it’s not going to be logistically easy to get busy media organisations like the BBC to take a plethora of students on placements, let alone to ask them to help design the curriculum …
… Yes, UA92’s partners are expected to have a hand in ‘designing the curriculum’, although how anybody can be helping to develop the curriculum either at present or in the future, given that our curriculum was supposedly submitted for approval earlier this year, is anybody’s guess. subtext understands that QAA accepts curricula on a rolling basis, but it would be really helpful if the curriculum was set in stone before September, when UA92 is meant to start accepting applications.
Another logistically challenging (read: ill thought out) promise is that all students will undertake a paid placement. Unlike paid placements at Lancaster, which are taken up during sandwich years, UA92 placements will be woven into the course. It’s not quite up there with a paid year in industry, but it’s not uncommon for a work placement to form part of a module. What is uncommon is for vocational placements woven into a course to be paid. This adds an extra layer of complexity to Gary’s already vexing workload – he not only has to convince a hell of a lot of people to take on his students as part of a course and provide an experience in line with a curriculum and learning outcomes, he’s going to have to convince them to pay students for the privilege.
Each call handler we spoke to was keen to stress that Microsoft and Lancashire Cricket Club are ‘Not The Only’ organisations they have on board, and they are planning to ‘drip through’ numerous big names over the coming months. That sounds like code for ‘they are the only people we have on board right now.’ subtext understands the value of a slow burn marketing campaign, but if a university is three months away from accepting actual UCAS applications from actual people who want to know if they are worth being their top choice, everything should be in the window. Students take their choices very seriously, and while Gary can get away with buzzwords and cliches while he’s hyping without consequence, he’s going to have to have something far more substantial to offer when potential students, income, and business partners are riding on his verbiage.
In subtext 177, we reported that the Home Office rejected Gary’s application to be able to sponsor of Tier 4 visa students. In subtext 178, we reported that our ‘cunning plan’ was simply to sponsor Tier 4 visa applicants ourselves. The people manning the phones at UA92, meanwhile, have come up with a compromise – apparently, Tier 4 applicants will be ‘co-sponsored’ by both UA92 and Lancaster University. We’re not entirely sure if this is allowed. But anyway. What would our being the sponsor of Tier 4 visa applicants at UA92 mean? Potentially, UA92 would have to become a satellite campus. Does this mean that, by extension, we would also have to bear their NSS and TEF scores which, in any new institution, are likely not to be perfect? The conflict between UA92’s explicitly profit-oriented approach and Lancaster’s Royal Charter constituted status as a public body could also cause us some interesting constitutional and legal crises.
Ultimately, though, the greatest risk is borne by the Trafford taxpayers. UA92 is, as Gary’s original business plan stressed, utterly financially reliant on a strong international student intake. Existing universities all but acknowledge that their wheels would fall off without their investment. If Gary doesn’t deliver on his promises to bring foreign lucre to the local economy, UA92 runs the risk of becoming the academic equivalent of the Mr. Blobby amusement parks of the late 1990s.
We will be extremely surprised if UA92 looks anything like a serious university come September 2018 when it opens for applications, and the responsibility lies with senior managers, who should know better than to coast on slogans and clichés rather than solid strategies.
AND ANOTHER THING
If readers think phoning UA92 is going to leave them none-the-wiser, they should see the website…
In order to understand what makes UA92, which is promoted more like a Jordan Peterson talk than a university, such a ‘game changer’, it might be worth visiting the ‘our philosophy’ section of the website. Since the page is so difficult to find, however, subtext is happy to reproduce its contents:
‘No page has been found.’
MORE TIER 4 TEARS
In subtext 177, we reported that the Home Office has rejected UA92’s application to become a Tier 4 Visa sponsor for international students. Now, word reaches us that Lancaster has come up with a cunning plan. It’s really quite simple. We will use our own Tier 4 sponsorship licence to recruit international students to study at UA92. After all, it is argued, don’t we do the same for some Study Group International students, who belong to a separate organisation? It is certainly the case that many Study International students come here under Lancaster’s Tier 4 licence, though some are also eligible under Study Group International’s own licence. They follow foundation or pre-sessional programmes to prepare for Lancaster degrees, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. They live on the same campus as other students, are covered by the same rules, and have access to the same library, IT facilities, sporting, and social facilities. All the structures to support their learning and welfare are in place in order to meet Home Office requirements. By contrast, UA92 is still awaiting planning permission to lay the first brick.
The Home Office is unlikely to be impressed by Lancaster’s special pleading. In its latest guidance on ‘Sites and teaching partnerships’ issued earlier this month, it is made clear that there has to be ‘a direct relationship between a sponsor and the student they are sponsoring’. Furthermore, ‘an institution which teaches Tier 4 students must take responsibility for sponsoring them’, a requirement that would rule out Lancaster – the whole point of UA92 is that it will be responsible for delivering its own degree programmes.
If Lancaster really is considering this approach to Tier 4 approval, we should be aware of what we may be risking: ‘Arrangements or partnerships that circumvent the Immigration Rules or this guidance will be considered to be an abuse of the Tier 4 sponsorship system, and compliance action may be taken against the Tier 4 sponsor and/or its partner in such circumstances’. In other words – don’t take the piss. It’s not as if the Home Office is renowned for its flexibility or sensitivity to individual circumstances when it comes to migration matters (see above).
LET IT GO, GARY
In subtext 177 we reported on Gary’s rather graceless responses to the probable demise of his development plans for the Turn Moss green area as a result of the Conservative loss of Trafford Council. He said then that he would put this behind him and seek new areas where his valiant efforts would be more appreciated. But, rather like that other thin-skinned self-obsessive across the Atlantic, it seems that he just can’t leave it alone, and continues to air his hurt feelings on Twitter and in the local and national media.
He told the BBC that he ‘was “insulted” by the suggestion that the club wanted to take anything out of the community’, and that the local opposition was ‘selfish’ and ‘politically motivated’. The Mirror reported him as saying to local campaigners: ‘Once this campaign ends you will fade into your old world again’. He gave a long self-justifying interview to local listings guide Manchester Confidential, whose write-up was described by one Trafford resident as being ‘so far up GN’s arse it should come with a free Davy lamp’. The same article was re-tweeted approvingly by Sean Anstee, the ousted Conservative leader of Trafford Council, who accused the local resistance of creating ‘a highly politicised angry environment to the detriment of today’s young people’. Clearly, that’s the last thing that’s needed in Manchester – politics in election campaigns!
In the meantime, Trafford Labour has done a deal with the Lib Dems and has now formed an administration. The Turn Moss plans are now dead in the water, and the main UA92 campus plans will be called back in for review. UA92’s future is not bright.
WHERE’S THE LEADER?
Folk in Lancaster and Manchester are asking what’s happened with the appointment of the ‘Principal/Chief Executive Officer’ for UA92. As we reported in subtext 175, the post was advertised with much fanfare by fancy recruitment agency Anderson Quigley, and interviews were scheduled for 27 April. That was four weeks ago and since then, silence. Did the interviews even take place? If they did, was anyone appointed? If so, have they changed their mind? Given the growing uncertainty of UA92 ever getting off the ground, it wouldn’t surprise us if someone currently in a secure position would be having second thoughts about heading up such a risky enterprise. In the meantime, it looks like Professor Simon Guy will just have to soldier on as Acting Principal/Chief Executive Officer. But for how long? He is due to return as FASS Faculty Dean in August, and it is not clear how much longer he will be willing to put his academic career on hold just to help Gary.
This Saturday, all eyes will be on the final of the European Champions League, as Liverpool seeks to wrest the trophy from Real Madrid. If things go Liverpool’s way, then Gary Neville is in line for a well-deserved break from his current UA92 tribulations. Last week, he declared: ‘If Liverpool win the European Cup and Chelsea beat United in the FA Cup Final, I might go travelling for a year – somewhere where there’s no wifi or mobile phone signal’.
Thanks to a Chelsea penalty goal at Wembley, it now falls to Liverpool to make Gary’s dream come true. But you can never underestimate Real Madrid, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Ronaldo’s boys will be doing their utmost to ensure that the world of academia is not deprived of Gary’s Vision. Should be a cracking game.
TRAFFORD ELECTION TREAT
As predicted in subtext 176, opposition to Gary Neville’s plans to colonise Turn Moss, the Stretford open green area, proved to be crucial in overturning the Conservative majority on Trafford Council, with Labour gaining four seats and the Greens (unexpectedly) gaining two seats. One of Labour’s first announcements after the result was that they would honour their pledge to withdraw Gary’s application to build training pitches for Salford City FC on Turn Moss. This means that there will be no shared sports facilities for UA92 students to use, despite the fact that they are promised in the prospectus. A bit tricky, that, for a sports university.
Gary took the news in sportsmanlike fashion by going on Twitter and berating concerned residents in a series of angry tweets, declaring that ‘we had been called liars, insulted and harassed on this project’, and that ‘we will be welcome everywhere else we offer the same solution’. In response to an activist who had queried the rigour of the local public opinion surveys (commissioned by one of Gary’s own companies), he tweeted ‘xxx is a Lecturer, and likes to Lecture people!’. Lancaster colleagues currently toiling to make sense of UA92’s ‘Target Talent Curriculum’ take note – Gary doesn’t like it when academics contradict him.
Gary will no doubt find another area for his football pitches – some place where people will be more appreciative of his generosity, unlike those ingrates in Turn Moss. However, what is potentially much more serious for the UA92 project is another Labour pledge concerning the main campus site in central Stretford. Although Labour supports the principle of establishing a university, they will want to ensure that it will be of benefit to all local young people, and accordingly will institute ‘a review of all existing proposals in full, completed alongside extensive consultation with local residents’. At best this will ensure yet further delay, making it highly unlikely that UA92 will be able to open its doors to students in 2019. At worst, it could result in the scuppering of the whole plan, as the academic viability of UA92 will come under much closer scrutiny than it did when the Conservatives ruled Trafford.
And for Gary, the ultimate question might be how much longer his billionaire financial backer Peter Lim will be prepared to bankroll what is increasingly looking like a failed – and expensive – enterprise.
TIERS 4 FEARS
As if that wasn’t bad enough, word has reached subtext of what could be another major setback for UA92. It would appear that its application for a licence as an educational sponsor for Tier 4 visa applicants has been rejected by the Home Office. Currently there are over 1200 educational institutions who hold such a licence, including all the recognised universities. This allows them to sponsor international students to come to the UK under Tier 4 of the Points Based System, and to charge them extortionate fees for the privilege.
Why UA92 may have been turned down (if this is the case) is unclear. Most of the criteria for acceptance relate to the probity and good record of the institutions and individuals applying for a licence. We would have thought the outstanding reputation of Lancaster University in this regard would have pretty much guaranteed a successful application, but we can’t vouch for the *ahem* other partners in the bid. What is most likely is that UA92 has fallen foul of the requirement that ‘the provider has systems, policies and processes in place that enable it to meet its sponsor duties (under the Immigration Rules and/or the sponsor guidance)’. This will probably come as no surprise to Lancaster staff who have been seconded to try to turn Gary’s ‘vision’ into a reality.
There is no appeal against Tier 4 decisions, but institutions can reapply after six months, so long as they can demonstrate that they have put right the deficiencies that caused their application to be turned down. Should a 2nd application be rejected by the Home Office, the opening of UA92 in September 2019 could still go ahead, but without any international students. As it was envisaged that a third of students would come from overseas, lured to Manchester by the footballing fame of Gary and Co., this knocks a rather big hole in the UA92 business plan.
The subtext collective continues to investigate this story, and aims to report on the reasons for our rejection in subtext 178.
In subtext 176 we reported that a Stretford resident recently obtained a lot of useful information from the UA92 stand at a recruitment fair. One such nugget concerned the relationship between ‘University Academy 92’ (Gary’s lot) and ‘Undergraduate Academy 92’, part the rival UCFB operating out of the Etihad Stadium complex down the road. As subtext 174 revealed, UCFB is owned by Brendan Flood of Burnley FC, who set up a football university before Gary thought up UA92. To complicate matters further, the title ‘UA92’ is owned by the same Brendan Flood, who registered it with Companies House shortly after Gary went public with his plans.
Our Stretford sleuth was told that legal action was being taken against Brendan Flood over his use of the UA92 title in UCFB advertising. What makes this particularly intriguing is the fact that Mr. Flood is also a business partner of Gary’s and sits on the board of his Jackson’s Row development company, currently seeking to build Manchester’s tallest ever high-rise block. It should make for a very interesting courtroom confrontation, if it ever gets that far. And let us not forget that Lancaster University would also be a party to this legal action and would be expected to pay its whack towards legal fees. Just as well that university management had the foresight to shave 2% off departmental budgets last year.
Lancaster is set to make history, this time as the first university to be named in a class action lawsuit over a breach of contract due to industrial action.
The Law Gazette reports that the consumer and human rights firm Leigh Day has notified our Vice-Chancellor of a claim for lost tuition time. The student who instructed the firm has set up a crowdfunding page to fund the case, and has, at the time of writing, raised £490 of its £10,000 target (this has been reduced from the original, more ambitious target of £30,000).
So, are we doomed? Is Lancaster going to be the first domino to fall, sparking off a national frenzy of universities shelling out hundreds of thousands of pounds to outraged consumers *ahem* students? Your correspondent consulted his 1987 A-Level law textbook (and a couple of highly qualified legal professionals) for some answers.
The case is almost certainly unprecedented – class action suits against universities are rare in the UK, with cases tending to be individuals suing for academic failure. In the case of a class action suit, it is nigh on impossible to determine how to recompense the students, since one student will have lost more or less contact time than the other, meaning everyone would be ‘entitled’ to a different amount in ‘compensation.’ On that basis, the case is highly unlikely to succeed, and plaintiffs would stand more of a chance if they sued individually for the amount of contact time that they themselves have lost.
This isn’t to say that a plaintiff would be likely to enjoy any luck whatsoever if they were to bring individual action against the university. Given that each subject, and therefore each student, is different, the university will no doubt have some sort of clause to obfuscate what is promised in terms of classes – as far as we’re aware, there isn’t a separate contract for every degree scheme. Furthermore, a firm would have to demonstrate how a few missed sessions in a three year degree programme is going to make a difference to how ‘educated’ the student is. It’s not as though you can measure how ‘educated’ somebody is at the end of the degree – you might hold up a Physics student with a 3rd class degree as an example of how the missed contact time has held the student back, but you only need one student in the same cohort with a 2:1 to blow that theory out of the water entirely.
In unprecedented cases such as this, courts are highly conscious of what they are unleashing on the public, and whether or not opening floodgates is in the public interest. Since granting credence to this sort of case would likely lead to the bankruptcy of every university in the UK and an appetite to curtail trade union rights, subtext’s legal experts were doubtful of the case standing any sort of chance.
It really wouldn’t be at all difficult for the university to defend itself in court over this. All students have had the opportunity to catch up on missed contact time – they have access to the reading lists that they are required to consume in order to understand key theories and concepts, their fees pay for an entitlement to utilise facilities in which to study and libraries and online archives replete with educational materials, as well as lecture slides and handouts. Since the university has provided plenty of ways for students to work around the industrial action, it could easily be argued that students are to blame for not taking the initiative.
We also have to consider whether or not students are entitled to any kind of financial recompense whatsoever.
Why would any student come out of this lawsuit with a few hundred quid in their pocket, when most have taken out a loan from the taxpayer?
Will universities write off a fraction of the debt that wasn’t going to be paid off in the first place?
Is the hardworking British taxpayer going to enjoy a little more on top of their rebate come the end of the tax year?
Is there a planet where this case isn’t a waste of time orchestrated by some students who think they’re going to get rich quick, and a law firm which when mentioned to our legal expert elicited the response ‘Leigh Day is a bunch of publicity seeking ambulance chasers in my opinion and a lot of lawyers regard them as a disgrace to the legal profession’? This is the same legal firm that recently suspended some of its employees for touting for business after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and earned significant scorn from the mainstream media and the general public for representing members of a Shia Militia in a murder compensation case against members of the British Armed Forces.
The subtext collective is confident that the case will come to nothing, and that those who have donated to the legal fund have done so wastefully. We wish the university well in dealing with this nonsense, and hope that it doesn’t prove to be too much of a distraction or financial burden.
After all, we’ve football universities to fund!
When asked if Gary Neville had ‘shopped around’ other universities before settling on Lancaster as his business partner, the Vice-Chancellor didn’t ‘believe’ this to be the case. It turns out that this actually was the case, and that Gary had had extensive talks with Salford University about a partnership. Indeed, it was a surprise to many observers that Salford University was not the partner of choice. As it turns out, Salford had enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Class of 92 stretching over several years, culminating in a formal partnership agreement in 2014. Gary stated at the time that the partnership was ‘a central part of our vision and we’re really lucky to be able to make the most of the enthusiasm and skills of some fantastic students and the incredible facilities at the University.’ Professor Amanda Broderick, the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Salford Business School Dean who had brokered the partnership, said that the ‘internship, placement and research opportunities for our students through our exclusive partnership with the Class of 92 are incredible.’
The deal was sealed with the award of an Honorary Doctorate to Gary ‘for his work promoting the importance of sustainability in the sports and property development industries’. Yes, the same Gary Neville whose property development company plans to disfigure the Manchester skyline with the tallest high-rise ever built in the city, and whose Salford City FC development is set on colonising the Turn Moss open green space (see subtext 175), was given an academic award for environmental sustainability.
Over the next 18 months the partnership blossomed. Salford students got to work and develop their skills with a group of high-profile football celebrities, while the Class of 92 got… quite a lot. Nearly 70 pieces of art, ‘hand-picked by Manchester United legend Gary Neville’, were produced by students to adorn the bedrooms and public areas of the newly-opened Hotel Football. Design students helped develop the Class of 92 brand, Fashion students designed their high-end sportswear, and Film students were responsible for filming key scenes for the BBC documentary about Salford City FC, ‘Class of 92: Out of Their League’. It is not known if the students were paid for their efforts. The partnership’s future looked so rosy that Salford began recruiting extra staff to support it, creating two new professorships in Sports Business and Sports Enterprise. Prior to this, Salford University was notorious for wholesale staff-cutting in order to reduce costs. The most recent instance had been just months earlier, when modern language degrees were axed and teaching staff made redundant.
This happy period culminated in a proposal by Gary to create ‘Academy 92’. This envisaged a major local regeneration project based on building a new stadium for Salford City FC and would involve Salford City Council, Salford NHS Trust and Salford University as major stakeholders. Based in teaching facilities at the new stadium, university staff would deliver sports science, sports rehabilitation and physiotherapy education as components of existing Salford degree programmes. The partnership looked all set to go on to even greater things.
And then it all went pear-shaped.
In December 2015, Gary was appointed manager of Valencia FC, owned by his friend and financial backer Peter Lim, and where brother Phil already had a coaching role. Then Professor Amanda Broderick left Salford to take up a new post as CEO of Newcastle University’s London campus. With these two driving forces off the scene, the project lost momentum. One might have thought that another member of the Class of 92 would have taken up the baton. Alas, it appears that nothing much happens with their various enterprises unless Gary is directly involved.
Neville returned the following March after his brief and inglorious reign at Valencia to announce that the Class of 92 would be withdrawing from its Memorandum of Understanding with Salford to develop the new stadium complex. To use a technical footballing term, this was a bit of a sickener for Salford. In vain did they try to win back Gary’s favour but the reality was that his thinking about ‘Academy 92’ had moved on and, as we understand from Salford insiders, he did not believe that Salford as an institution had the necessary academic strength and reputation to further his ambitions. By now he was no longer thinking of his Academy as a mere adjunct to Salford City FC but as being a university in its own right, hence his approach to Lancaster. He may have been guided in his thinking by Professor Amanda Broderick, who continued her association with him long after she left Salford. In January 2016 she became a director of the newly-formed Education 92 Ltd, (75% owned by Gary Neville) which was to become the holding company for UA92. She left in December 2016 and received a fulsome joint tribute acknowledging her key role in the thinking behind UA92 from Gary and our very own Mark E Smith:
‘We would like to thank Amanda for her considerable work in progressing this project to the point of launch. She has played a leading role in the development of the core education innovation which is the foundation upon which UA92 is being built.’
subtext is confident that we have not heard the last of Professor Broderick’s contributions to UA92 and look forward to her again taking an active part in its development. As to her old employer, all they can do is sigh and reflect on what might have been. As they say, a sickener… or maybe a bullet dodged?
TWO DAYS SHALT THOU LABOUR
New light has recently been shed on the UA92 curriculum, thanks to some nifty undercover work at a recent UCAS recruitment fair by an activist from the Save Turn Moss campaign in Stretford. According to a UA92 representative, all teaching is to be packed into the first two and a half days of the week, with Wednesday afternoons given over to sport, and the remaining two days for work placements and for part-time students to get on with their day jobs. Yes, it will be nothing but fun! fun! fun! if you are lucky enough to become a UA92 student and join Gary’z matez.
Unfortunately, there was no information forthcoming on how the 5 compulsory ‘Target Talent Curriculum’ modules would be delivered under this split-week format. These modules make up 40% of the curriculum so a little clarity for prospective students would have been helpful. The UA92 Prospectus doesn’t assist much either. It states that students ‘can expect traditional workshops and lectures, alongside hands-on sessions, internships, placements and volunteering’ but with no information as to how these are to be weighted. The only information given on assessment for the Target Talent Curriculum is that it will be portfolio-based and ‘assessed on your individual development journey’. Imagine trying to get that one past a QAA audit in the old days.
SEND THEM TO COVENTRY
Our Stretford sleuth, who works in a university, raises an interesting point regarding the UA92 split week. If teaching is confined to half a week, and UA92 is to be a teaching-only institution, this implies fractional contracts for teaching staff. No doubt this is an issue that will be of concern to UCU Regional Officer Martyn Moss, currently engaged in discussions with UA92 about trade union recognition. It may be a surprise to readers that this is not already covered by UCU’s current agreement with Lancaster but as UA92 is a separate entity (although 40% owned by Lancaster) there is no obligation to recognise any union. This is the line that has been taken by Coventry University and its wholly-owned subsidiary, CU Coventry. The latter offers ‘no-frills’ degrees at reduced fee levels and pays its staff below the nationally-agreed pay scales and on inferior conditions of service. Its management has refused to recognise UCU or any other union and instead has set up a ‘Staff Consultative Group’ and signed a union recognition agreement with it (see https://www.ucu.org.uk/CovUniShame) An indication of things to come down Stretford way?
TURNROUND FOR TURN MOSS
Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, has at last come off the fence and given her support to those objecting to Gary Neville’s plans to take over large tracts of green space for his Salford City FC expansion plans. Stretford residents (and some local Labour councillors) have been frustrated by her previous support for the Trafford Masterplan, which has the development surrounding UA92 as its centrepiece. Indeed, after her meeting earlier this year with Lancaster VC Mark E Smith, she declared herself to be ‘reassured’ by what he had said about the quality of the enterprise (see subtext 171).
So why the change of heart? Could it be that, after many years of Tory control, Trafford could be taken by Labour in the forthcoming local elections? Kate Green certainly thinks so, as reported in a recent article in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/15/labour-sets-its-sights-on-trafford-the-only-tory-borough-in-greater-manchester
It seems that the Save Turn Moss campaign has had a significant impact in the area, including in the more well-heeled, traditionally Tory-voting parts. The current Tory-run Council has done itself no favours with its cack-handed and insensitive responses to the genuine objections of residents concerned about their dwindling stock of public green space. The indignation sparked by the opposition to the money-making plans of a gang of millionaire footballers may just tip the balance come election time on 3 May. The Class of 92 have often been quoted as ‘wanting to give something back’ to the area. Wouldn’t it be ironic if what they gave back to Trafford was its first Labour administration in fourteen years?
The casualisation and precarious working practices of academic staff are issues that universities are loath to acknowledge, let alone address, and are a far bigger issue than they would admit. However, as universities become more competitive for students, reputation becomes more important, and they are vulnerable to charges of sacrificing quality by employing their staff on contracts that hinder their ability to deliver the best for their students.
It doesn’t help that the figures collected and disclosed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and by universities are obfuscatory. HESA claims that figures, as they are currently gathered, don’t give a straight answer on the level of precarious employment in academia, making it impossible to understand the real scale of the problem. However, a 2016 report in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/16/universities-accused-of-importing-sports-direct-model-for-lecturers-pay) found that 53% of academics in British universities were on some form of insecure contract, leading to accusations that vice-chancellors had imported the ‘Sports Direct model’ into British universities.
So, how does Lancaster fare? Well, on the minus side, we’re up there with the Russell Group, ranking 14th most insecure out of the 50 respondents, in a league table calculated by adding 2013/14 HESE data to the results of a UCU FOI request on zero hour contracts. On the other minus side (there isn’t really a plus to this, as far as we can see), 65.9% of our academics are designated as being on precarious contracts.
It does not have to be like this. The University of Glasgow has agreed a new employment policy which should rule out putting zero-hours contracts on teaching staff, as well as limiting the use of casual ‘worker’ contracts. Recent reports in the THES (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/universities-under-pressure-scrap-use-nine-month-contracts – paywall) suggest Durham will no longer use 9-month contracts for Teaching Fellows, after a sustained campaign by the so-called ‘Durham Casuals’, a group of staff fighting against precarity and casualisation.
There is still a long way to go before the sector as a whole reverses the damaging tide of precarity, but these small gains indicate that the onward march towards precarity may be slowing.
PRECARITY AND THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT
Lancaster University likes to think of itself as ‘a global university, which operates on a human scale’. But is it?
Lancaster’s Strategy for 2020 clearly articulates that its ‘core strength’ is ‘its people’. Yet an increasing number of highly skilled professionals, who contribute to Lancaster’s international reputation, face challenges conveniently obscured by the global ethos. In the UK today, more than a quarter of researchers are from abroad, as are more than a third of PhD students. In a 2017 survey of 1,300 ‘international’ researchers working in Higher Education Institutions, 79% expressed uncertainty about the future of research and their profession post-Brexit, and doubts about their long-term financial security. International researchers reported feeling unwelcome in the UK through the perceived increase in xenophobia and the uncertainty around the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK. A survey conducted by YouGOV for UCU found that: 44% of respondents know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit, and that 76% of non-UK academics are considering leaving UK higher education.
The situation of non-EU academics on Tier 2 Visas is even more stringent. Universities – in line with hospitals, schools, and municipalities – are asked to participate in border control. A new requirement of academics, for instance, is to monitor the attendance of overseas students, while heads of departments screen ‘suspicious’ unauthorised absences of ten days or more in a row of international staff and students. The compiled data is available to the Home Office.
STRIKE IT LUCKY
A significant number of international lecturers and researchers at Lancaster (and other institutions) did not participate in the recent strikes, fearing deportation. As one informant explained to subtext, ‘I support the action but I cannot afford any hassle from the Home Office, most of my department is not on strike and I did get an informal ‘warning’ that my sponsor is required to report unauthorised absence. It took me months to secure this longer contract and even longer to get my family here. I simply can’t risk it.’
While bullying of this type is unacceptable, and technically illegal, both the university management and the government have failed to provide an unequivocal, written guarantee to international academics that days spent taking legitimate strike action will not put their immigration status at risk.
This threat to the right to participate in strikes is but one example of hostility from the Home Office, which thus far has not been adequately challenged by our sector for its treatment of international staff and students. Applying for permanent residency is an expensive (costs for visa applications range from £500 to £10,000) affair of Kafkaesque complexity. One form runs to 85 pages and requires forms of proof that one professor said ‘makes acquiring Catholic sainthood look simple’.
Post-study work visas have been abolished, with universities tacitly discouraged from hiring foreign academics – even those trained in the UK – through the imposition of a series of arcane challenges targeting non-EU citizenship. The 12-month ‘cooling-off’ period, as it is now called, is essentially a bar to foreign early career academics establishing themselves in the UK (the Tier 2 cooling off period prohibits a Tier 2 visa holder from returning to the UK for a period of 12 months after the expiry of their contract). Rather than challenging this, universities are swiftly replacing year-long positions with nine or ten-month contracts.
MOTHER MAY I
As precarious as international academics and other university staff and students may feel, they are usually relatively affluent and have access to information and resources that others can only dream of. The Lancaster Guardian recently reported (https://www.lancasterguardian.co.uk/news/lancaster-man-faces-deportation-1-9158001) on the case of Lancaster resident Solomon Yitbarak, who was threatened with deportation for the heinous crime of ending a relationship that originally provided the basis for his spousal visa. Despite last-minute attempts to halt his deportation to Ethiopia, where he faces persecution for his political activism, it appears he has been forced to leave the country, much to the consternation of his local network of friends and acquaintances.
These shocking actions by the Home Office are not restricted to those outside academe, however – in the fall-out following the BBC Panorama investigation into cheating at a Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) test centre in 2014, then Home Secretary Theresa May is said to have illegally deported tens of thousands of students (https://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/theresa-may-wrongly-deported-48000-students-after-bbc-panorama-exposes-toeic-scam-a6958286.html), and there are multiple reports of academics from other EU countries receiving ‘pack your bags and leave’ letters from the Home Office after applying for permanent residency documentation using the aforementioned 85-page form. Despite new Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s assurances that it is over, the hostile environment is as prevalent as ever.
In the fortnight since the last edition of subtext, there has been a considerable amount of strike-related activity, both in Lancaster and at the national level.
THE LOCAL FLAVOUR
The campus picket lines have been busier than ever, with a head count of over 160 on Tuesday this week, along with music and dancing every day (Zumba being particularly popular) and even some protest poetry on Wednesday. The VC ‘visited’ on the 8th March, but received a markedly less positive reaction than the several HoDs who did their stint on the lines. A video of his visit, with added commentary by the local UCU branch, is available here: https://youtu.be/lfSTLmdnRVE
Compared to previous disputes, the staff on strike are spread across the whole range of departments in the University, with somewhat less representation from LUMS. Meanwhile, the teach out events, featuring everything from a personal history of the 84/85 miners’ strike to yoga, have also been well attended – see below.
Numerous colleagues involved in the strike have remarked what a sense of solidarity and community is emerging from being thrown together in these adverse circumstances, while the lack of day-to-day work schedules seems to have unleashed all kinds of creativity and willingness to engage in activities that we never normally have time for. Union members were particularly heartened by the strong support from students, some of whom have been coming to the picket lines and teach outs every day.
STRUCK DOWN IN ANGER
At the national level, the past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Universities UK (UUK) initially refused to negotiate with UCU, then agreed to meet but not reopen the decision on the pensions proposal (raising questions about what exactly they were proposing to discuss). When one VC after another came out publicly in favour of open negotiations, UUK were eventually forced into a humiliating climbdown and agreed to talks without preconditions at ACAS.
Following a few quiet days last week, and then an announcement that negotiators would be working through the weekend, Monday evening saw the announcement of a so-called agreement between UCU and UUK. This represented an improvement of sorts on the original UUK proposal, but included a worse accrual rate (1/85th of salary for each year of service vs the current 1/75th), an increase in both employee and employer contributions, and a cap of 2.5% on the rate that pensions could increase annually with inflation, meaning that if prices rise by more than this amount, pensions would lose value in real terms.
The reaction from UCU members was… not good. Very quickly, UCU Twitterati took the proposal apart, and an open letter in opposition to the proposal had collected around 3000 signatures by midnight on Monday, while a further 4000 signed by 11am the following morning.
Above all else, members were incensed by the proposal that teaching that had not taken place as a result of strike action should be rearranged. Colleagues argued that this would effectively mean doing work they had already sacrificed pay for. And in any case, there was not nearly enough time to fit 14 days’ worth of teaching into the few remaining days of term.
Throughout Tuesday, members of the union’s Higher Education Committee were subject to a frenzy of social media and email lobbying, overwhelmingly urging rejection. A meeting of branch delegates from all over the country decided almost unanimously to reject what they felt represented a betrayal of the sacrifice that members had made by being on strike.
In the end, the reject camp prevailed, perhaps helped by the large demonstration outside UCU headquarters in London, whose chants could be heard by the delegates arguing inside. The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, later explained that the negotiators had been tightly constrained by the ACAS process in what and how they were allowed to communicate.
So the strike continues today and tomorrow, with the fourteen further strike days set to hit assessment season, with exam marking and exam boards likely to be a particular target for local branches. This will undoubtedly have a bigger impact on students than just missing a few lectures, possibly even delaying graduations for final-years. Action short of a strike also continues: UCU members are ‘threatening’ to only do the work they are contracted to do, rather than contributing the massive amounts of unpaid overtime that normally keep universities going on a day-to-day basis.
UUK are blaming the dire situation on UCU for walking away from negotiations, while UCU’s line is that the employers could stop the strike at any point by making a fair offer. Students at Lancaster, for now, seem to be largely supportive of their local staff, though whether this solidarity will continue for a further 14 days of disruption remains to be seen.
As reported in subtext 174, UCU have been running a series of ‘teach out’ events during the strike – a different way of engaging with staff and students and anyone else who is interested in what the industrial action is about, as well as a number of other somewhat related topics.
While teach outs resemble the form of the labour that staff have withdrawn from their employer, the sessions do not necessarily follow the expected conventions of university teaching. The inherent radicalism of such a venture comes from the enforced interdisciplinarity of the project: colleagues, students and members of the public may come from any academic background, or not be involved in academia at all. It is teaching for interest’s sake, not for ‘knowledge-transfer’, measuring, testing, or satisfying government ‘key information sets’.
Lancaster UCU, together with a host of other branches, organised an alternative education experience for every day of the strike action. Most of the sessions took place at the Gregson Community Centre and were largely well attended, with many packing the Gregson Centre’s modestly-sized hall to the rafters. The curriculum features a mixture of debates, interactive workshops, informal lectures featuring some outside speakers as well as Lancaster academics, film showings, a couple of musical gigs and away from the Gregson some ‘walk and talk’ happenings. In the final days of the current round of strike action, sessions with a more restorative agenda were planned i.e. yoga and craft making.
All the sessions were open to University staff, students, and other folk from the wider community. There was a strong student presence at some sessions and even some members of the public at some events. However, it was staff from the University that made up the bulk of the attendees.
Many of the sessions focussed on the question: ‘what kind of university do we want?’ Yes, pensions were discussed, but within a wider understanding of the changing nature of the sector. Attendees remarked that they felt particularly empowered by speaking with other members of the University who they would not normally meet at work. This prompted a lot of talk about the future and how the this strong feeling of solidarity could be maintained after the dispute.
Readers may have ideas on how this ‘new space’ that the striking community has built can be maintained, and what its purpose would be once work resumes. subtext would welcome contributions on this fascinating development at Lancaster, and would be happy to play a part in future conversations.
RADICAL OR MERELY YOUNGER? A REVIEW
It seems appropriate that on Monday 12 March, midway through Lancaster’s longest period of industrial action in decades, UCU’s teach out at the Gregson played host to an event that seemed to shout, ‘Call that radical? Ha!’ Marion McClintock, Honorary University Archivist and former Academic Registrar at Lancaster, and Alison Lloyd Williams of Global Link’s Documenting Dissent project were our guides as they took us through Lancaster’s radical past, both on and off campus.
According to Mrs McClintock, Lancaster University in its early days was characterised by very conservative Heads of Department, many of whom were ex-military, alongside younger, more radical staff, who pioneered Lancaster’s distinctive degree programmes: Religious Studies (not Theology), Independent Studies, Creative Writing, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Marketing, and Systems Engineering. Students were given the chance to ‘grapple with subjects they’d not studied before.’ Above all, Lancaster was shaped by its first Vice-Chancellor, Charles Carter, who actively encouraged this interdisciplinary approach. We were a university that ‘was taking a fresh look at society, was taking nothing for granted and was questioning norms.’
Publications of the time, like John O’Gauntlet and Carolynne, reflected this mood and encouraged debate on drugs, sex and gay rights, although some of their editorial choices, such as pin-up girls in Carolynne, seem archaic today.
Among the many disputes of the early years were ‘the mixed bedrooms argument of 1968’, the David Craig affair (see subtexts 8 and 9) and the 1975 rent strike which lasted over 12 months. Student involvement in these disputes was strong.
Lancaster’s college system played an important role in Lancaster’s free-thinking tradition; Sir Noel Hall, one of the university’s founders, was formerly Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford and had insisted that the colleges must form an integral part of Lancaster’s governance.
Why are things not like that any more? Lancaster’s rising research reputation in the 1980s meant that staff and students no longer had as much time to spend on innovative teaching or political discussion, and even Prof Carter was subject to the same pressures as everyone else.
Ms Lloyd Williams gave a history of the Documenting Dissent project, which was inspired by Lancaster Castle and its status as a symbol of state power and the location of Lancashire’s most important court. Many dissenters, including several chartists, had been tried there.
Lancaster is particularly significant in LGBT history, given the number of people prosecuted for homosexuality at the Castle, but more happily due to the significant presence during the 1970s of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) on campus, and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in town. Lancaster University pioneered women’s studies and radical feminism, while the very first CHE Conference took place in Morecambe.
More recently, the case of the George Fox Six, where six students and ex-students disrupted a conference in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 and were promptly prosecuted for aggravated trespass, shows both that the dissenting tradition is still there … but that the university is no longer as tolerant as it was. The Documenting Dissent website includes an account of the affair, including an interview with Matthew Wilson, one of the six.
Contributions from the floor included comments from several people who have been encouraging the radical tradition at Lancaster for decades, including city councillor Andrew Kay, who remembered long campus debates on ‘this house will not give a platform for racist and fascist speakers’ and ‘this house is glad to be gay’, and former city councillor Tony Pinkney, who thought two years stood out in particular – 1886, when William Morris’s talk in the town led to the founding of the Socialist League, and 1999, when Lancaster elected its first ever group of Green Party councillors.
The Documenting Dissent project’s website is at: http://www.documentingdissent.org.uk/
DEMOCRACY IS THRIVING … ELSEWHERE
There have been many Vice-Chancellorial U-turns on USS and risk recently, but the most notable ones have come from the VCs at Oxford and Cambridge, both on 7 March. Given that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all treated as separate institutions in Universities UK’s September 2017 survey of attitudes to institutional risk, this is a major shift.
Why the change? Of course, we are happy to accept that both VCs will have reached their decisions sincerely. But Oxford’s VC, Prof Richardson, has probably been helped by the meeting of Oxford’s Congregation on 6 March, at which a resolution seeking to overturn Oxford’s existing stance on pensions was first blocked controversially, and then discussed outside, where it passed 442 to 2.
Likewise, Cambridge’s VC, Prof Toope, doubtless had his mind sharpened by the impending ballot of Cambridge’s Regent House, on a motion submitted by 501 members, which seeks to amend Cambridge’s official view on USS.
For readers not familiar with how Oxford and Cambridge work, the Oxford Congregation and Cambridge Regent House are the supreme governing bodies of those institutions, made up of all academic staff. They can, and occasionally do, overrule the University Council.
True democracy in action! But wait. Surely these forms of governance must violate the Committee of University Chairs’ Higher Education Code of Governance, the document which our Chief Administrative Officer in particular is very fond of (see subtext 174 and other subtexts passim)?
Well … yes. But they seem to be doing OK, all things considered.
Now that our Court has met for the final time, and our Senate has willingly handed its power to amend statutes over to our Council, perhaps we should start advocating something similar here? After all, our VC’s usual answer when challenged about centralising power is ‘the Warwick clincher’ – they do it at Warwick so it must therefore be a good thing – so perhaps we should start playing ‘the Oxford gambit’ in response.
TRAINING GROUND MOVES
News from Manchester of continuing local opposition to the onward march of Gary Neville’s Barmy Army (subtexts passim ad nauseam). The campaign this time is to protect Turn Moss, a stretch of open green space on the outskirts of Trafford. The Council is backing Gary’s plan to turn this public amenity into the headquarters and training ground for Salford City FC, owned by Gary and his billionaire financial backer Peter Lim.
According to local opposition group Save Turn Moss, this will involve ‘building a new floodlit 3G football pitch with 4.5 meter enclosed fence, building sports changing facilities; the development of a new football training facility including 3 enclosed (fenced off) training pitches for SCFC, goalkeeper training pitch, running mounds, changing/office facility, gym; removing healthy mature trees, drainage, extension of car parking area, highways alterations, erecting bollards at the entrance and other works’. This would then be leased back to Salford City FC, but only after the development costs had been paid for by Trafford council tax payers. Although the plan is for the new facilities to be open for public use, there is considerable scepticism about how much access local residents will be allowed. It has emerged that the new Salford City FC centre will also be the main sports facility for UA92, whose students will have first dibs on use. (Readers may well wonder how all this squares with the noble conservation sentiments expressed by ‘Green Lancaster’ but hey, it’s not on our doorstep).
None of these details were made clear during Trafford Council’s ‘consultation period’, and residents are understandably up in arms about it, catching the attention of local media, including Granada Reports. Nearly 900 objections have been lodged with Trafford Council and it is anticipated that this will reach 1000 by the deadline of 28th March. Organisers hope that the local opposition will cause a re-think by Trafford Council, or at least encourage some discussion about how, as one activist put it, ‘we can get something for people who aren’t Gary Neville or UA92’.
Further information on the plans, the local opposition and the green space under threat can be found at https://saveturnmoss.tumblr.com/
HAIL TO THE FOUNDER
Recruitment firm Anderson Quigley’s search for the ‘Principal and Chief Executive’ for UA92 continues. As revealed in subtext 174, the ideal candidate doesn’t need to have any experience of HE, but being able to provide ‘a disruptive approach to teaching and learning’ is a must. But, needless to say, what will most concern candidates will be the amount of dosh on offer. Perhaps mindful of the public outcry over bloated VC wage packets, Anderson Quigley are somewhat coy about specifying a salary range, which will be agreed with the successful candidate. Other goodies will include ‘a generous holiday allowance, a direct contribution pension scheme, a range of positive lifestyle benefits and perhaps a share scheme’. The recent revelations about VC expenses perks should provide some insight into what ‘positive lifestyle benefits’ will encompass. And a ‘share scheme’ as well!
So far there has been little information on the selection process, apart from the fact that the final decision will be taken by a nine-member panel. Readers will no doubt be intrigued as to how the selection panel will identify the candidate with the most ‘disruptive approach to teaching and learning’. (Candidates could do worse than take a few tips from UUK, who have shown themselves to be the leading experts in this regard). However, it is a very distinguished panel, and includes the VC, the Principal of Trafford College, the CEO of Trafford Council and other Lancaster University senior officers. And top of the list, with the simple but eloquent title of ‘Founder’, is Gary Neville, whose own career as Man Utd and England right-back exemplifies what is meant by a ‘disruptive approach’.
For readers who may be interested in getting a glimpse of those making the shortlist, interviews for the post will take place at the University on 27th April. We’ll let you know when we find out where.
ANOTHER GLORIOUS VICTORY FOR SUBTEXT
In subtext 174, we noted that recruitment firm Anderson Quigley described UA92’s Target Talent Curriculum as being ‘underpinned by 10 principles that prepare UA92 graduates for the workplace’… before going on to list 11 principles. We can now report that, in another glorious victory for subtext, the firm has corrected the error on its website. Eleven was the correct number all along, and the text has been amended accordingly. Which is a relief – the thought of UA92 having to drop ‘survival’ or ‘life skills’ or ‘self and peer group analysis’ from its remit for the sake of clarity just doesn’t bear thinking about.
What is a ‘disruptive approach to teaching’ anyway? We were somewhat glib to suggest that candidates should take tips from UUK, and would like to offer some serious suggestions as to what it might entail.
Candidates who have a ‘disruptive approach to teaching’ may, for example: set off campus fire alarms during peak periods; enter exam halls with an airhorn and casually blast it at random intervals; deliver lectures in a sort of raspy whisper; have open book exams with magic 8-balls instead of textbooks; set group work but in every group there’s a saboteur; set presentations but every time a speaker says ‘ummm’ they get a little electric shock; have everyone come to your lecture but you aren’t actually there and when everyone is seated the doors lock and a voice on a loudspeaker says ‘I’m sorry to have lured you here under false pretenses’; in the middle of a gym session, have an elephant fly out of the score clock with a parachute to see how the students react; set problems which are insoluble due to missing data or logical flaws, then berate students who complain; start every lecture with ‘welcome to logical positivism 101, please leave now if you’re in the wrong room’ (unless you’re teaching logical positivism); respond to all student feedback with ‘I know you are, but what am I?’; arrange for major campus building works during term; set up an electronic attendance monitoring system which doesn’t work and then use up valuable lecturing time logging in students whose phones won’t connect.
We welcome contributions from readers who might have their own ideas on what constitutes a ‘disruptive approach to teaching.’ To the usual address, please.
BAD MARKETING NEWS
Who, really, is UA92 aimed at? A read through the 2019-20 undergraduate prospectus has left subtext none the wiser.
Clearly, UA92 needs to target the local market. Trafford College is a partner institution and it’s easy to imagine UA92 developing as a collaboration à la Lancaster University and Blackpool & The Fylde College. So how will students from Lancashire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester be persuaded by UA92? Well, according to the prospectus, if you come to UA92 then you can ‘do as a real northerner and get stuck into a ‘proper pint’ at a ‘proper pub’ – there are lots of them.’ Erm. Right. Meanwhile, if you like music (from 20 years before you were born), ‘Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses have all called Trafford their home.’ Quite how this is relevant to today’s applicants is not explained.
How about recruitment from overseas? Given the Class of 92’s much-publicised South East Asian business connections (see subtext 158), careful marketing to China, Malaysia and Singapore will be critical. We wonder, then, what some of Gary & Co’s investors will make of the description of the links between the Class of 92, Lancaster University and Microsoft as the ‘UA92 Golden Triangle’. Let’s look that term up on Wikipedia, shall we? ‘The Golden Triangle is one of Asia’s two main opium-producing areas. It is an area of approximately 950,000 square kilometres that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.’ Oh dear.
Come to think of it, the very name ‘UA92’ could have unfortunate connotations in some markets, particularly the USA, where it might be interpreted as a very tasteless pastiche of Flight UA93. Did anyone think of this?
The subtext collective would like to make clear that we aren’t making any of this up. There’re 70 pages of this – UA92-Master-Prospectus-Digital – and we encourage readers to submit their own analysis of UA92’s marketing strategy to the usual address.
IT’S RAINING UA92’S
There’s exciting news for those interested in UA92 Manchester, as detailed information about the project has now been published online. According to the blurb, ‘our academy provides unparalleled opportunities for aspiring professionals to study university degrees in football business, coaching and/or related industries alongside their football training programme, giving them the best chance at a successful career in the beautiful game, whether on or off the pitch.’ Students will be ‘based at our inspiring campus in Manchester’, with direct access to ‘world-class coaches’ including former MUFC assistant manager Mike Phelan, and a number of 100% scholarships available to the best players.
We can see you’re looking a bit confused …
… ah, sorry! Did you think we meant UA92? We were referring to UA92 (see subtexts 171 and 174), the venture backed by Burnley FC director Brendan Flood and his ‘football university college’ UCFB, launched in partnership with Bucks New University: https://www.ucfb.com/programmes/ua-92-manchester/
Whilst we suspect that UCFB’s appropriation of the UA92 name, backed up with several registrations at Companies House as discussed in the last subtext, amounts to little more than gentle trolling on Mr Flood’s part, subtext continues to wonder whether the titans behind Gary Neville University have factored UCFB’s ambitions into their forward planning. UCFB can showcase ready-made facilities at Etihad Stadium and Wembley. Gary and the boys can only respond with artists’ impressions and planning applications. One-nil to the Blues…
APPLICATIONS WELCOME FROM AXE-WIELDING MANIACS
The search for a permanent full-time Principal for UA92 has begun. As our own HR department was clearly not up to the job, the task of finding the right person has fallen to posh recruitment consultants Anderson Quigley. Prospective candidates logging into their website will discover a mine of information to help their applications. Candidates, we are told, will need to ‘embody and exemplify the values and behaviours through which UA92 has been founded’ – (a trawl through numerous back issues of subtext will be of enormous help in this regard). However, they do not have to come from ‘an academic background’ to be eligible, clearly a recognition that the academic claims of UA92 will be somewhat elastic. But they will be required to provide ‘evidence of adopting a disruptive approach to teaching and learning’ (we’re really not making this up). Good to see that UA92 encourages applications from all sections of the community.
Our recruitment specialists also provide a lot of useful information on the thinking behind UA92. Central to this is the Target Talent Curriculum (TTC), with its ‘Ten Principles that prepare UA92 students for life’. They then go on to list eleven. It seems that a grasp of simple arithmetic will not be an essential requirement for this post.
‘I’M UA92!…NO, I’M UA92!
One of our friends from the M32 Masterplan and UA93 Facebook group has spotted some rather curious anomalies concerning the entity known as ‘UA92’. It seems there is more than one of them. There is ‘UA92 Ltd’ registered at Companies House (managing director, Brendan Flood). This, it transpires, is actually ‘Undergraduate Academy 92’, a part of UCFB, the rival Man City-linked outfit based at the Etihad Stadium which Flood wants to become ‘the Harvard of sport’. Another Flood manifestation of the title is ‘UA92 Manchester Ltd’. Then there is ‘University Academy 92 Limited’ and ‘UA92 Old Trafford Limited’, both based in Enfield in London and both naming one Clifford Donald Wing as chief officer. To complicate the picture further, Wing is a business associate of Gary Neville and sits alongside him on the board of Zerum Consult Limited, one of a number of Zerum companies linked to Neville and all registered at the same address in Manchester.
So where is the Official UA92? Or even the Real UA92? And is there a Provisional UA92 and a Continuity UA92 lurking somewhere in the background? Will students know which one they’re signing up for? But perhaps there is a more mundane explanation for this proliferation of UA identities. Could it be that some of Gary’s erstwhile business mates have stolen a march on him and registered all the varieties of the UA92 brand, rather like internet domain names, hoping to flog them back to him at a later time?
We have received reports of Acting UA92 Principal and Dean of FASS Simon Guy and his team being ejected from a meeting room for failing to go through room bookings. It is standard for bodies which aren’t ‘officially’ a part of the university to have difficulty securing space on campus, as the Putin fan club has found (see story below). Since, according to the VC, we’re still seeing if our partnership with Gary Neville ‘hangs together’ (even though we feature in most UA92 publicity and news coverage), it makes perfect sense to ensure that only officially affiliated bodies and societies get first dibs on space. Well done to all involved.
PICKET’S GOT TALENT
Picture it: The angry mob of workers, wearing dirty hi-vis jackets, furiously clutching placards as, with red faces and protruding eyes, they scream ‘SCAB!’ at passing colleagues who dare to go into work. Now picture the exact opposite, and you might have some idea of how Lancaster UCU does pickets. All picket locations were well attended, but the focus of activities was undoubtedly the main drive, which saw dozens of colleagues and students from across the University on each strike day, even edging up over 100 some days.
Beginning with the event on the eve of the strike last Wednesday, a beer-fuelled banner-making session in Lancaster’s newest real ale pub, 75 Church Street, creativity and high spirits have characterised Lancaster’s approach to picketing. Banners included the expected slogans (‘Campus closed’, ‘Staff and students unite’, ‘Support our staff’, ‘Don’t axe our pensions’), along with some more… creative offerings (‘UUK: Putting the “n” in “cuts”’ raised a few eyebrows). What particularly stood out was the crafty design of the banners – the banner-making session involved lots of cutting, sticking and sewing, and even ornate calligraphy, going well beyond the usual hastily scrawled bedsheets seen at most picket lines.
Once the strike started in earnest, things got even more creative, with members showing their talents at baking, music, dancing, and even sculpture: highlights included a scratch band that worked through a repertoire of Billy Bragg and Pete Seeger songs, a picket Zumba class that had everyone jumping around, and, on the last day, snow sculptures (a mini-picket line featuring its own banners, such as ‘UUK: Cold as ice’, which caused one observer to comment ‘but not willing to sacrifice’).
Alongside the picketing, UCU also organised a ‘Teach Out’, featuring a programme of talks and workshops, mainly at the Gregson, which allowed discussion and reflection of the strike and the wider causes of the strike (see also our review of Bob Jessop’s talk, below).
Despite the all-singing and dancing picket lines, the fun did not detract from the seriousness of the pensions dispute, and UCU reports that it continues to gain new members each day of the strike.
ESSENTIAL READING FOR THE PICKET LINE
subtext is pleased to announce a vibrant, up-to-the minute competitor publication has started up on campus. The Lancaster UCU’s daily strike update has been a simple, single-side-of-A4 publication, but it has quickly become essential reading – as well as ensuring that those crossing the picket line can’t just say ‘I’ve already got your leaflet!’ and drive on. Well done to all concerned.
SAMBA UP THE TOWN HALL STEPS
Following the last of the UCU ‘teach out’ sessions held at the Gregson on Wednesday (28th February) a spontaneous (well, almost) unauthorised march took place through the city centre towards the town hall. Forty or so ‘raggle-taggle’ folk trotted, skipped and samba-ed their way accompanied by drums, maracas, bits of wood that made noises, washboards, whistles and squeaky toys. They tramped through the streets to congregate on the town hall steps for an impromptu rally. They were joined by members of the National Education Union (formally the NUT) and a smattering of other trade union members, and quite a large number of students who supported the strike – so not quite as unplanned as was made out! Cue lots of speeches, calls-to-arms and witty chants, accompanied by a surprising number of motorists blasting their horns in support. However, it was jolly cold and after participants had fun photographing their fellow frozen demonstrators it was felt that they had made their presence known (before the police had got to twig what was going on). Banners were packed way and folk hurried home to a hot cup of something. Grand turn out for a (sort of) spur-of-the-moment event, but for folk to stand around in the bitter cold for so long says quite a lot – although exactly what is open to debate!
subtext spent a large amount of the 15/16 academic year remonstrating with the Students’ Union and advising it not to implement its ‘democratic review’, an initiative which involved LUSU reviewing democracy and deciding it wasn’t very good. LUSU subsequently abolished its council, and handed all of its power to two bodies. First, its executive committee, whose membership is unknown and whose minutes have not been published in two years. Second, a ‘student jury’, which had its deliberations published once about eighteen months ago and may well have met every day since then for all we know. The new model has been effective – the SU seems not to have taken a discernible stance on any politically charged issue since the new system came into being (if it has, it certainly hasn’t been rushing to tell us). A stark contrast to the old system, in which the SU had a large representative council consisting of officers representing a diverse range of students which met every two weeks, voted on policy, and routinely uploaded its minutes, agendas, and copies of policies it had both passed and rejected.
It was not hard to predict (and we did) that the new democratic system would be the unmitigated failure it has proven to be, and would drastically reduce transparency, but we were somewhat heartened by the creation of a ‘Scrutiny Panel’ (see subtext 155) – a truly independent body which would hold LUSU to account. Its members were to be appointed by LUSU officers rather than elected by the student body. Yes – LUSU officers hand picked who would scrutinise them, and no we aren’t making this up! So, surely the robustly critical Scrutiny Panel has by now taken LUSU to task over its complete lack of transparency, right?
You’d think so, but according to SCAN, the Scrutiny Panel has yet to meet this academic year! One former member of the panel, who resigned in disgust, fumed to SCAN that they had been ‘appointed to, rather than elected to’ the body. ‘Nobody has heard of it and it produces a report that nobody reads. It is a scandal that the Full Time Officers are allowed to do nothing at our expense with no scrutiny,’ they went on to say.
In the same report, LUSU defended itself: ‘getting a group of students in the room at the same time can prove difficult.’ It can? Seminar tutors may sympathise, but if LUSU hasn’t been able to get eight people into a room in five months, then no wonder it’s having such difficulty taking a stance on anything. LUSU goes on: ‘at the Annual General Meeting […] students will have the opportunity to hold all officers accountable.’ This is the same AGM that the 15/16 LUSU officers denounced as unfit for purpose, and that subtext pointed out was never going to reach quoracy if its agenda was focused on tedious bureaucracy. No doubt a robust discussion on a Scrutiny Panel that ‘nobody has heard of’ producing ‘a report that nobody reads’ is sure to have LUSU’s next AGM bursting at the seams.
Even when the Scrutiny Panel was actually meeting, the ‘scrutiny’ was somewhat less than comprehensive. subtext has learned that a typical meeting involved LUSU officers submitting a questionnaire (written by LUSU staff) to the Scrutiny Panel, who would rate their answers on a scale of ‘Needs Improvement’ to ‘Outstanding’, along with supporting comments which were largely positive due to the majority of the panel being friends with and appointed by the LUSU Officers. No wonder a meeting hasn’t been held all year, if this is the sort of ruthless pillorying that officers have to live in fear of.
Readers may agree that LUSU should be held to a high standard. That it failed to meet such a standard only affirms our belief that its democratic review has proven to be a disaster not only for the SU, but for the interests of students at this University as a whole.
MARKET RESEARCH? WHO NEEDS IT!
In subtext 171 we reported an attempt by a Stretford resident to obtain more information on UA92 via a Freedom of Information request to the University. Despite being given the old ‘commercial in confidence’ brush off, the resident persisted, with follow-up questions seeking more detail relating to the University’s first response. The information revealed in that reply is intriguing. The resident wanted to know what market research had been conducted which convinced the University that UA92 was a viable proposition. It turns out the answer was… not very much.
Lancaster regularly carries out research into the national student market and it was information from this, rather than anything specifically relating to UA92 and Stretford, that informed its decision to go ahead. Despite the claims made by Gary Neville and his pals that local young people would benefit from UA92, it turns out that they will not be targeted any more than those in the UK as a whole. The only differentiation in projected numbers is between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’. Then there is the matter of student retention, already a cause for concern for the Bailrigg campus. According to the publicity, potential UA92 students will be ‘non-traditional’ in that they are less likely to aspire to a university education and will not have the qualifications to enter ‘traditional’ HE. These are precisely the type of students likely to drop out, yet Lancaster’s projections for UA92, according to the FOI response, are based on ‘average non-continuation rates informed by HEFCE’s data’. In other words, the University is assuming that the UA92 drop-out rate will be in line with that of the sector as a whole.
The Stretford resident also wanted to know what information had been gathered on students’ likely disposable income, on car ownership, on public transport usage, on local domicile – all those factors that would justify Trafford Council’s contention that UA92 would be a key driver for local regeneration. The University’s response was that no research had been conducted in any of these areas. So, what justifies Trafford Council’s optimism? Have they conducted their own research, or have they, like Lancaster, been swayed by the charm and celebrity of Gary and the boys? No doubt these and other UA92 questions will be on the minds of voters in the May local elections, where ‘Tory flagship council’ Trafford could be lost to Labour. Should that happen, we’ll be into a whole new ball game,as they say.
(With thanks to the excellent ‘M32 Stretford Masterplan and UA92’ discussion group on Facebook for this information)
In what we think was its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago, SCAN ran a head to head, ‘for / against’ opinion piece on the subject. subtext readers may be surprised to see that the author of the ‘against’ piece was a member of staff, not least a member of staff who was happy to be named (‘big shoutout’ to Dr Jacob Phelps, FST). More surprising, however, was that the ‘for’ piece came from an anonymous source. Not only was SCAN unable to find someone willing to put their name to a defense of the Gary Neville University, SCAN was unable to find a member of staff to write one! The author refers to themself as ‘a student’. Is UA92 so embarrassing that even students won’t put their name to opinion pieces defending it, or did SCAN get so close to the deadline without someone willing to support it that they hastily ghostwrote any old bobbins?
Whoever wrote the piece claimed that the ‘naysayers have given no clear, coherent argument against UA92…’
Clearly they haven’t been reading subtext for the past year!
LU TEXT LOST AND FOUND
The public pressure against the Class of ‘92 continues to mount, and it continues to make the national press. This time, campaigners are unhappy with the idea of Gary Neville & co taking over Turn Moss, which is green belt land and a habitat of local wildlife. By our count, the Class of ‘92 has had to withdraw and rejig every bit of planning permission they’ve applied for, and their property development efforts are become increasingly unwelcome and irritating to residents, as reported in a number of national media organs:
UA’INT SEEN NUTHIN’ YET
Local opposition in Manchester to plans for UA92 continues to grow. Stretford residents are increasingly sceptical of the claims from Trafford Council that the scheme will be the major driver for the regeneration of their area. Detailed information from the Council on exactly how the local population will benefit has been sparse, to say the least. What is particularly concerning to residents is that the success of the whole regeneration scheme is totally dependent on the viability of UA92 as a commercial proposition. In this regard, Lancaster University has been even less forthcoming than the Council in providing hard information about how the proposed new university is expected to prosper.
With this in mind, the local MP, Labour’s Kate Green, came to Lancaster last week to find out why Lancaster thought that there was a market for UA92, given that its proposed curriculum is already well covered by other providers in the area. Our senior managers’ response was that the 18+ age cohort is set to rise over the next decade, so there will be plenty of students to go around. Ms. Green, however, managed to glean some information that had not previously been forthcoming, and has posted this on her Facebook page. Firstly, she received confirmation of what we had long suspected – that Gary Neville and co. had approached other universities before contacting Lancaster. We can safely assume that the response of those other institutions to Gary’s proposal was of the terse, two-word variety. Secondly, UA92 will be teaching-only, so those students can forget about receiving the benefits of Lancaster’s ‘philosophy of research-led teaching’ enjoyed by our own students. Finally, it appears that our leaders are also looking at the possibilities for two-year degrees to be offered by UA92 (and if it works there, well…).
Some Stretford residents have tried the Freedom of Information route to prise information from Lancaster, to no avail. One inquirer wanted to know details of the market research that had convinced Lancaster that the scheme was commercially viable, to which the response was the familiar ‘commercial in confidence’ evasion. Such information ‘may enable our commercial competitors to gain commercial advantage’. Not only that, but as Lancaster University was ‘partially funded by public monies’ it would not be ‘in the public interest for this information to be released’. This claim to be acting in the public interest is ludicrous. The ‘competitors’ are universities who are already operating in this field and who are also ‘partially funded by public monies’ and could reasonably claim that they have a ‘public interest’ in accessing this information. The only other competitor is UCFB (see below), whose founder and Board Chairman is Brendan Flood, also named in Companies House as the Managing Director of UA92. We would have to presume that he was privy to all this commercially sensitive information that Lancaster cannot possibly divulge. What, then, is the University playing at? Are there other competitors lurking in the background, too shadowy to identify? Or is it the case that, like the government’s ‘Brexit impact assessments’, no meaningful research has actually been carried out and that Lancaster has entered this partnership with eyes wide shut?
UALL KNOW IT MAKES SENSE
One of UA92’s selling points is the ‘unique connections and secured placements’ that will help students ‘stand out in the competitive graduate job market’. One whole year of a three-year degree programme would be spent on work placement with a major employer. Certainly, an ambitious offering, given that by the time UA92 reaches its full 6,500 student capacity, it will need to have over 2,000 available placements on its books. And these can’t be any old placements. If they are to be integral components in a Lancaster-validated degree, they will have to meet the requirements set out in the Lancaster University Placements Policy, adopted last April. These requirements seek to ensure that the placement is capable of being fully integrated into the degree programme, that it will provide the support and opportunities needed to meet the programme’s learning outcomes, and that it will actually pay the students for the work they undertake.
So how is UA92 faring on the placements front? Which major employers have committed to its ‘unique vision’? Well, so far it has signed up Microsoft… and that’s it, really. Trafford Council, MUFC and Lancashire Cricket Club might also stump up some placements but nowhere near the scale needed. The only other partner who might conceivably come up with the goods would be Lancaster University itself. Would our departments be willing to donate some of their hard-won and carefully nurtured placements to help out Gary Neville and his pals? No, we don’t think so either.
Such is UA92’s desperation to nail this down, that it is now using Twitter to get help in designing and delivering its courses:
‘Want to work with #UA92? Our partners have the opportunity to work with the academic team to help co-design our #university courses & build the curriculum, ensuring that we develop students that have the right #skills for the #workplace’.
This was accompanied by a graphic exhorting the tweet’s recipients ‘To help us unlock greatness’, illustrated with a drawing of an opened padlock that looked like it was composed on an Etch-a-Sketch.
Yes, this is what trashing the Lancaster University brand looks like.
UA92’S POOR RELATION
If Lancaster’s senior management thought that a football-related university was an original idea when it was first spun to them, they were sadly mistaken. There already exists in Manchester an institution called UCFB (University College of Football Business), with campuses at Wembley, Burnley FC and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. UCFB, in the words of its Chairman, Brendan Flood, is ‘the first higher education institution in the world dedicated to the delivery of degrees in the football, sport and events industries’. By a simply enormous coincidence, the same Brendan Flood happens to be the Managing Director of UA92. The existence of UCFB and Mr Flood’s involvement must have been unknown to the University, because surely it would have been mentioned when the proposal was first presented to Senate.
UCFB’s degrees are validated by the University of Buckingham, an institution ranked much lower than Lancaster in the league tables but one which is coming up fast. Admittedly, their degrees are of the old-fashioned type, where ‘academic discipline’ is central, as opposed to UA92’s dynamic new approach which puts ‘character development’ above academic learning. Despite this handicap, UCFB does appear to be prospering, offering a wide range of sports-related first degrees and, recently, postgraduate courses. The latter involves a partnership with Real Madrid and its own graduate school, the prestigious Universidad Europa, where students will spend part of their course. An attractive offer, perhaps, but surely incapable of competing with the opportunities that will be provided by the Class of 92’s very own Salford City FC when UA92 finally comes on line.