Category Archives: special feature

UA92 UPDATES

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…).

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COMMERCIAL ACUMEN

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?

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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.

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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.

UNIVERSITY OF THE YEAR UPDATE

What is happening to our senior leadership? The last issue of LUText advertised for a new Dean of FHM, meaning that the incumbent is stepping down after less than four years in the post, not least in the midst of the development of the Health Innovation Campus, the biggest expansion of health and medicine since the formation of the Faculty.

The current Dean of FASS has been seconded to a leadership role at UA92, and now subtext hears that another Faculty Dean may be off to pastures new after less than three years in post. Maybe the leadership training the University has invested in lately will allow some of these posts to be filled by internal appointments. After all, it is a tad embarrassing that our big shot star prize external appointments aren’t sticking around nearly long enough to make an ‘impact’.

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subtext has heard rumours suggesting that another highly senior member of the University is soon to leave. We are certain to produce a professional obituary if the rumour is confirmed to be true. Since we can’t confirm anything for now, let’s just say that having left their mark on campus, things are looking upp for this person.

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Within a matter of weeks, HR has lost both of its Assistant Directors. Just in time, oddly, for a major restructure of HR which has seen the consolidation of those posts into a single Deputy Directorship of HR. Last month, Assistant Director (Operations) Sonya Clarkson left to head up a HR department at a different university. A few weeks later, Assistant Director (Strategy) Tracy Walters also left.

The advertisement for the new post of Deputy Director of Human Resources referred to Sonya Clarkson’s departure – ‘As a result of the successful promotion of the current Assistant Director of Human Resources (Operations) to a Human Resources Director role within the higher education sector, the vacancy of Deputy Director of Human Resources has emerged.’

Hang on a minute. The language in the advertisement implies that the post is a slight repackaging of the Assistant Directorship – why else would it be suggested that the departing Assistant Director would have walked into the new role if she had decided to stick around? HR appears to be implying something less than complimentary about its other Assistant Director of HR, Tracy Walters, who is not mentioned at all in the ad. Readers may wonder whether Ms. Walters was offered a lesser role within the new structure, but declined, opting instead to move on from Lancaster entirely.

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With leadership such a hot topic in the context of UA92, one wonders about the progress of the new line management structure for academics, based on ‘group leads’ (sic) acting as line managers for members of their research groups. This policy was spearheaded in FST and, regardless of questions about the wisdom of a one-size-fits-all plan for organising research groupings as diverse as Particle Physics and Social Processes (Psychology), it involved an exciting series of away days, networking masterclasses and the like, with external tutors leading the expected range of fatuous activities. So popular were the word showers, etc. with the ‘leads’ themselves that the Dean of FST was forced to insist, in a terse mass email, that they made every effort to attend the ‘Leadership Development Program’. This was backed up with a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate by insisting that apologies (including reasons for non-attendance) be directed to him in person.

SPECIAL REPORT: END OF PART ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF PART ONE PART TWO

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

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

SPECIAL REPORT: NEVILLE HAVE I EVER

FLOOD ALERT

The announcement that the Football University is to go ahead means that the issue can finally be discussed openly. The new institution will be a separate entity and not a part of Lancaster University in any way. It will be controlled by two companies – UA92 Ltd (the holding company) and UA92 Manchester Ltd (operations) – in which Lancaster will have a substantial stake. How substantial a stake is still unknown, though the sum of £4M for a 40% share was suggested at an early stage in the discussions.

The ‘Managing Director’ of both companies has been named as Brendan Flood, a Manchester lettings magnate and a director of Burnley football club. The choice of Mr. Flood appears to be an odd one. He is founder and a director of UCFB, an education company with campuses at Wembley, Burnley FC and, recently, at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, offering degree courses in sports-related media, marketing, finance, psychology, coaching and event-management. Very like, in fact, the proposed curriculum for UA92, and aimed at the same student market. It’s as if Pep Guardiola was to pop up in the dugout alongside José Mourinho at the next game at Old Trafford. Is an early merger with UA92 on the cards?

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IN LIM-BO?

It is uncertain how much the Singapore-based billionaire Peter Lim – the main financial backer of the Class of 92 – will be involved in UA92. His name certainly figured in the early negotiations with Lancaster. However, there are signs his business relationship with Neville & Co may have come under strain. Earlier this year Lim’s Singapore company Rowsley had to issue a profits warning to investors, partly due to the poor performance of the Class of 92 businesses in Manchester, 75% of which is owned by Peter Lim. This was followed by Ryan Giggs’ and Gary Neville’s failed central Manchester development scheme (see subtext 158), a setback for Lim’s Manchester property development ambitions. Intriguingly, the same Brendan Flood is also a partner in Giggs’ and Neville’s Jacksons Row Development Partnership. It’s a small world, is Manchester property development.

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SUBSTITUTE BENCH

For Lancaster staff, the immediate impact of the venture will be on those working in IT support, HR, marketing, compliance and quality assurance. subtext understands that individuals from these areas will be seconded to begin the daunting task of setting up a new university from scratch. What is not known is whether this will be voluntary or be deemed to be part of the individual’s employment contract. There is also the question of the impact of withdrawing experienced staff from areas that are already under-resourced and where work stress is worryingly high. Will there be like-for-like replacement of the seconded? Past practice in the University would suggest not. No doubt the campus unions will have prepared a long list of searching questions to present to management.

While academic colleagues may have thought they could get away with having nothing to do with UA92, it seems the academic leadership of FASS has been playing Simon swaps. Simon Guy, erstwhile FASS Dean, has been seconded as Academic Director of UA92, while Simon Bainbridge, previously Deputy Dean, is now Acting Dean of FASS for the next year.

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MINT CONDITIONS

One of the arguments used in favour of Lancaster’s involvement in the Football University was that the Manchester United connection would enhance the attraction of the University to potential international students, particularly in the Far East. Admittedly, the potential is somewhat lessened now that David Beckham is no longer involved in the Class of 92 but it was still an opportunity too good to miss (so it was said).

Unfortunately, cashing in on footballing fame may not be as straightforward as it sounds. Celebrity endorsement is big business these days, and it doesn’t come cheap, thanks to the ruthless marketing of companies who own the ‘image rights’ of the celebs. In the case of the Class of 92, endorsement is handled by an outfit called Mint Media, which also owns the image rights of Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo (now that would be an endorsement worth getting!). And who owns Hong Kong-based Mint Media? Why none other than Mr. Peter Lim, financial backer of the Class of 92 (see above). We can but hope that when the University seeks to use Paul Scholes’ sunny features to promote the benefits of a Lancaster MBA, Mr. Lim will be amenable to providing us with mates’ rates for the job.