Tag Archives: Issue 172

subtext 172 – ‘panic in granadaland’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/

In this issue: editorial, strike, more strike, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap, UA92, court report, bomb shelter news, letters.



Imagine the situation. You’ve just been named ‘University of the Year’. Yes, we know it’s a marketing gimmick. But they’re not going to trash their reputation by giving you the thing if they don’t think you’re pretty good, are they? And you’ve just got a ‘Gold’ rating in the national assessment of teaching quality. Again, yes, we know it’s a flawed measure. But you’re pretty keen to keep hold of it, aren’t you?

Given all this, what’s your headline strategy for the next few years? What’s that? ‘Go all out for an increase in numbers, with no investment in facilities to match, get the staff to double teach their courses, and make them teach on a Saturday,’ you say? Well, congratulations! You’re just the person we’re looking for to drive our ‘dash for growth’ proposals forward.

Oh, just one more thing. Do you have a private pension plan? You see, I’m not sure you’re going to like our plans for the company scheme…


The dates have been announced, and it’s the biggest strike in UCU history. Fourteen days of action in four consecutive weeks, taking place at Lancaster and 60 other universities: Thursday to Friday in Week 16, Monday to Wednesday in Week 17, Monday to Thursday in Week 18 and Monday to Friday in Week 19. Many courses will be disrupted; for modules set to run in Weeks 16-20 where teaching staff are taking action, it is difficult to see how the course can continue at all.

Our VC has subtly changed his position in recent weeks. Whereas before Christmas the message from D Floor was one of cautious sympathy, the line now seems to be ‘nothing I can do about it, mate!’ Reportedly (see our Court report below) the larger, older universities are not going to tolerate having larger pension liabilities appearing on their balance sheets, for fear this might affect their ability to raise funds.

Despite these supportive noises from management, Lancaster UCU members voted overwhelmingly to strike, on a turnout that was the third highest in the UK, and the highest in England.

Lancaster UCU has stressed its wish to ensure that no-one is prevented from taking action due to financial hardship, and has re-established its local strike fund, but the prospect of losing 14 days’ pay is likely to lead to difficult decisions for many staff.

subtext readers on grades 6 and above who are not presently members of UCU can join at any point and take strike action – recruitment is reportedly very healthy. HR has actually informed HoDs that UCU membership has ‘significantly increased since the strike was called’. Interesting that such a call for action has resulted in such a significant increase in membership, and somewhat curious that HR felt the need to tell HoDs.

Nobody at present thinks this one is going to be resolved any time soon.


Department and section heads have been pondering the implications of an email sent to them on 24 January by the Director of HR, using the stentorian address ‘Industrial Action’, informing them that ‘there will be actions required of you as Heads of Department/Section to support in the preparation and management of the industrial action.’ Fair enough. But, the memo continues, ‘the 2016 Head of Department Review reaffirmed that leadership during industrial action is a requirement of the Head of Department role, alongside other leadership roles. As such, we will require academic HoDs who are intending to exercise their right (given they have an underpinning academic contract) to participate in industrial action to alert us in advance. We will be asking any participating HoDs to temporarily stand down for the purposes of managing industrial action and potentially other duties and agree with us a replacement HoD.’ It’s unclear whether this requirement is intended to apply to section heads also.

Readers will probably be aware that one of the main protections union members have when they go on strike is that they are under no obligation to inform anyone of this in advance – and these protections also apply to HoDs, surely? The implied threat is that HoDs – and maybe section heads also – who fail to abide by this communiqué may find themselves removed from office. Over to you, lawyers…


Our senate report in subtext 151 noted that Lancaster aimed to increase student numbers to 14,640 by the academic year 19/20. In spite of the concerns about space that were raised at the time, and the admission from the Deputy Vice Chancellor that there would be ‘a lag’ between student numbers and the resources that become available to them, it would appear that the top table doesn’t consider that to be nearly enough.

They have indicated to HoDs and others that the University is to aim for an extra 2,000 new undergraduates by 2020-21. Discussions have been held (not consultations you will note) about how to accommodate such a large growth in students. Most obviously you would have thought that this would necessitate an expansion of teaching spaces, but there would appear to be no planned increase in accommodation and resources beyond what was promised in late 2016. Instead, it is proposed that departments will double-teach (teach two different groups of students the same thing) or in some cases triple-teach. In addition, the University intends to extend the teaching day, possibly to include weekends. The VC’s take on all this is that our current staff-student ratio is far superior to our competitors and the increase in student numbers should not impact on that. Furthermore, statistically we appear to teach much less than comparable institutions. So that’s OK then.


It’s been a tale of mixed fortunes for the Class of ’92 since the last subtext. Although Trafford Council has now given them the go-ahead for UA92, the plans for the main student accommodation have been knocked back and another site within the Stretford regeneration zone will have to be developed. Still, as a huge part of the cost of the whole gig will be borne by Trafford council-tax payers, the boys can hardly complain. However, things have not been going so well for Gary Neville’s other big project in Manchester, the Jackson’s Row development. Having been forced to withdraw his original scheme because of fierce local and national opposition, Gary recently submitted a revised scheme which involved building one 39-storey skyscraper instead of the two smaller ones in the original plan. Sadly, this has not found favour with Historic England, whose opposition to Gary’s first proposal had done so much to scupper it. They have written to Manchester City Council to say that they cannot support the new plan because of its visual impact on existing heritage buildings. So, is it back to the drawing board, or will Gary’s legendary charm persuade the Council to ignore Historic England’s advice?

But the news hasn’t all been about Gary. As well as Ryan Giggs’ elevation to manage Wales’ national football team, there has also been the appointment of Phil Neville as manager of the England women’s team. There was some surprise at this as Phil (a) has no experience of managing a team, apart from one game with Salford City FC, (b) has no experience of women’s football in any capacity, and (c) was appointed without having to go through the tedious business of actually applying for the job. That’s what being in the Class of ’92 can do for you. As is now the norm when anyone is appointed to a public position, there was an immediate trawl of his social media history, and some (allegedly) sexist tweets were duly revealed before he could delete them. Embarrassment all round. Phil embarked on PR blitz to try to repair the damage, which included a press conference where he denied that he was sexist (but rather spoiled the effect by stating that he ‘was the best man for the job’). Strangely, he neglected to mention the Class of 92’s support for the Lingerie Football League, surely something that would have been a suitable riposte to those who criticised his lack of experience of the women’s game.

Finally, the proliferating activities of the Class of ’92 has come to the attention of Guardian’s excellent strip cartoonist, David Squires. Readers unfamiliar with his work should think of him as a sort of sports-related Steve Bell. We at subtext particularly like his Orwellian take on UA92. This offering did not appear in the Graun’s print edition so for readers who don’t access the web version, the link is here: https://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2018/jan/23/david-squires-on-ryan-giggs-phil-neville-and-the-class-of-92s-expanding-empire


Unloved by the people organising it, but defended by the people attending it, the final meeting of Lancaster University’s Court on Saturday 27 January 2018 in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 ended up being very long, occasionally lively, and rather enjoyable.

By subtext’s count, 116 members turned up, with 53 sending apologies. The student numbers had increased from 2017, while the numbers travelling from outside the region seemed to be slightly down – why make the effort when you don’t feel wanted?

As is fitting for any good meeting of Court, there was a rambunctious, intense, and highly explosive political demonstration outside the building – well, four UCU activists politely handing out leaflets about their pensions, and chatting with Court members about the current dispute. There had earlier been disagreement with the organisers over where UCU should stand – just inside the foyer of George Fox, or outside in the rain? The dispute was resolved, not entirely amicably, when the Director of Governance and Strategic Planning called on six members of security staff to stand around near the front of the foyer. When questioned, they reassured the activists that they had definitely not been called to escort them outside! So that’s all right then. A great way to defuse tensions in advance of a major industrial dispute.

Into the meeting at 10am, and an opening address from the Chancellor, on his 60th birthday. ‘Welcome to the university of the year!’ began Mr Milburn, in what seemed like a mostly improvised speech. He was particularly proud of his recent trip to Accra, where he had conferred degrees on the first cohort of LU Ghana graduates.

Onwards to the Court Effectiveness Review, and leading the case for abolition were the independent reviewer, David Allen, and lay member of Council, Robin Johnson. Mr Allen, a friendly soul, was upbeat about his proposal to dissolve Court, noting that 65 Court members had commented on his consultation paper and he’d carried out over 20 interviews last summer. ‘Universities are private corporations,’ he noted, ‘but they are accountable to the public.’ Court should be disestablished in favour of an annual public meeting. Mr Johnson addressed Court as if it were a much-loved employee who, with much regret, Mr Johnson was now going to make redundant. Court was analogue. The world was now digital. It was nothing personal. And the recent appointment of a PVC for Engagement, Dame Sue Black, showed that Lancaster cared about its stakeholders.

A spirited discussion followed, albeit one where no-one was allowed to vote. Opposing the changes, and the procedures that led to them, were Cat Smith MP, Lord Judd, former Chair of Court Stanley Henig, alumnus Richard Morrice, city councillors Lucy Atkinson (Labour) and Charles Edwards (Conservative), and Management Accountants representative Richard Kenworthy. The only person in the audience cheerleading for the proposals was alumnus Don Porter, while LUSU President Josh Woolf and city council leader Eileen Blamire stayed diplomatically uncommitted. The strongest speech against came from former Chair of Court Gordon Johnson. ‘History and tradition play an important role in the life of this institution,’ he noted, adding that he’d not responded to Mr Allen’s consultation because ‘the direction of travel had been set some time before.’ And that, it seems, is that.

The Pro-Chancellor, Lord Liddle, was next. Today’s discussion would be reported to Council, although Council had already approved the first reading of the proposals to abolish Court, when it met yesterday. The Pro-Chancellor seemed receptive to suggestions for how to make the annual public meeting work, however, and in particular he ‘wouldn’t like a meeting to which the local MP couldn’t attend,’ suggesting that next year’s replacement will remain a Saturday event. Tributes were paid to former Council members John Hadfield and James Carr, who died during 2017, and departing Director of Facilities Mark Swindlehurst, who was sat at the back.

‘I want myself and my fellow officers to be remembered as real changemakers,’ announced Josh Woolf. The LUSU President’s report was certainly entertaining and will be remembered for its montage of outdated brands, including Marathon and Opal Fruits wrappers, over which he suggested that however well-loved Court was, maybe we needed to move on. No retro sweets for Sarah Randall-Paley, however. The days when the Director of Finance would battle with the LUSU President for the most extravagant presentation at Court are long gone, perhaps reflecting the increasingly secure nature of Lancaster’s finances. The biggest bombshell in this year’s financial report was the announcement of a preferred new measure of financial health, the Adjusted Net Operating Cashflow (ANOC).

The Vice-Chancellor rolled up to the rostrum shortly after 12: ‘Good afternoon, everyone!’ There was clearly concern about the timing of Court’s successor, and it needs a name ‘that reflects the nature of what we’re trying to achieve.’ He paid tribute to Mr Hadfield and Mr Carr, and thanked Mr Swindlehurst, while wondering why he was still here: ‘the job’s gone, mate!’

The VC focused on the new regulatory landscape, following the approval of the Higher Education and Research Act. It was very complicated, he didn’t yet know what it would mean, and neither did the new Secretary of State or the new Minister for Higher Education. Our big challenge would be ‘retention’, where we perform poorly against our competitors, but on the plus side we have a Gold rating in the TEF.

subtext readers will want to know that, yes, the VC mentioned UA92, ‘in case I was asked a question on it.’ Top table are still in the final stages of seeing whether it hangs together. Is the VC aware that all of UA92’s publicity says that Lancaster has fully committed to it?

Pensions were the ‘big elephant in the room’ – significant and ongoing industrial action was likely. Would the proposed changes affect the recruitment of academic staff? ‘Only time will tell,’ he said. It might affect international recruitment, but probably not from the UK. What can the VC do to resolve the dispute? Not much. ‘Our level of deficit pales into insignificance compared to the big beasts. Those people don’t want that on their balance sheets.’ Last autumn, the VC had been relatively hopeful, but then the pensions regulator sent a letter to trustees which almost closed all options. ‘It will be a very disruptive term,’ he concluded, and ‘students will be in the middle.’

The final words at the final Court went to the Chancellor, just after 1pm. He thanked members for ‘sharing my birthday with me’ and praised the quality of debate, suggesting that other chambers could learn from us.

And so the Court ended for good, as members joined the queue for soup served in coffee mugs. Did someone forget to order any bowls?


The bomb shelter experience continues to be a popular ride for students and staff alike, leading in some cases to sessions being abandoned or students and lecturers wandering around in search of another teaching venue, traipsing off like a raggle-taggle bunch of travellers vainly looking for a home. subtext understands that the delays surrounding the spine renovation have meant that this particular project has ‘run into’ other building work that was already scheduled – the domino effect causing further inconvenience. Apparently the blame for all this disruption and chaos lies at the door of one particular contractor who did not grasp the complexity and scale of the spine project. A series of ‘cock-ups’ and sheer incompetence by this one firm has meant we have been living and working in a building site with no foreseeable end. Such incompetence should result in the contractor being asked to leave the site with their contract terminated forthwith. Apparently not – they are still here and the terms of their contract mean we have to live with this team of bodgers. It would be interesting to know who signed off on this – if he’s still here!


Dear subtext,

On the ‘There’s only one University in Lancashire’ thread.

I do applaud UCLAN’s short sightedness on changing their name and as a Lancs Poly graduate I well remember the arguments raging amongst staff about naming. I recall the favourite at the time amongst chattering classes was University of Central Lancashire at Preston which was dropped when they realised it would be UCLaP. Perhaps that should be one of their options?

As a former employee: I should also point out there is a third University in Lancashire, the University of Cumbria, which whilst headquartered in Cumbria retains its largest campus in our County. It also retains a campus in East London for Policing and PGCE training, which amused me most when you heard the red buses halt just a few yards up the road and announce they had arrived at ‘University of Cumbria’ causing some confusion in the initial days. I know HS2 will be fast, but not that fast.

Peter Hurst



Dear subtext,

Your item about the current proposals for the re-naming of the University of Central Lancashire is a replay of a debate from 1991, when Preston Polytechnic was about to become a university and proposed to the Privy Council that it should be called the University of Lancashire. Harry Hanham, robustly supported by the Senate and the Council, lost no time in pointing out the exceptional level of confusion, not to the advantage of the University of Lancaster, that would follow and the proposal was rejected. It is concerning that the issue should be raised again so soon, and with an identical proposal.

Marion McClintock


Dear subtext,

Small addition to the subtext point about lower case signage; the letters on the wall of the ‘postgraduate statistics centre’ have been all lower case since it was built (10 or 15 or so years ago I think).

Tom Palmer

Mathematics & Statistics


Dear subtext,

This should perhaps be linked for all law students and faculty as a follow up to your best headline ever:

Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, verse 2: a close reading with Fourth Amendment guidance for cops and perps


Steve Wright