Tag Archives: Issue 178

subtext 178 – ‘the future ain’t what it used to be’

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, hostile environment (x4), sticky wiki, Gary on teacher (x4), flounders, surveying the surveyors (x2), democracy, LUSU (x3), crazy paving, gradballs (x2), lost & found, mostly men o’ wisdom, wet and forget, spine, buses, UCU (x2), letter.



Today, one of the most highly skilled professions in Britain, university teaching, is dominated by zero-hours contracts, temp agencies, and other forms of precarious conditions, while many tasks that relate to areas in which we have world-leading expertise are outsourced to morally dubious consultancy firms. A staggering number of early-career academics are affected by precarity, but none more so than international staff, who are not only uncertain about their full time job prospects, but flat out prevented from enjoying basic academic freedoms (from supporting strike action to attending conferences abroad, and participating in long-term fieldwork). No matter how much energy and effort one puts in navigating the byzantine bureaucracy, the product might be a standardized letter from the Home Office:

‘As you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United Kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave. If you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made later to enforce your removal.’

We continue to champion our ‘global outreach and commitment to global research’, yet fail to provide even basic assistance for international staff. Our HR processes and visa teams seem increasingly forced to focus on compliance first (and sometimes compliance only), rather than on providing support to staff and students. The glossy ‘welcome package’ sent out to those who survive the immigration process contains little more than empty slogans and a list of overpriced and opportunistic relocation services. Rather than selling narratives of the ‘Global University’ (at open days and to our colleagues abroad with whom we are asked to network), let’s try addressing the realities of people leaving the UK over Brexit, and the increasingly hostile environment for international staff.



During their routine enquiries, the subtext drones perused the university’s Wikipedia page. To our delight, they found that our humble little publication is not only listed in the citations, but also mentioned and quoted in the ‘Joint Programmes’ section! No guesses as to which joint programme we are mentioned in conjunction with…



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).



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.



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.


Although SCAN has covered Bowland College’s cancellation of Founders (the intercollegiate sportsing contest between Lonsdale and Bowland Colleges) in some detail, we thought we’d at least add our disappointment to the pile. Founders was, er, founded, in 2004 to salvage the vibrant rivalry between Lonsdale and Bowland Colleges, which was threatened by Lonsdale’s impending relocation from Bowland’s doorstep to the newly built south-west campus. The reasons given, that Lonsdale College violated a bye-law they had no part in writing by allowing PostGrads and alumni to play, are risible, and actually go against the principles upon which the tournament was founded. subtext suspects that these are mere excuses, and part of an SCR implored shift away from ‘boozy’ on-campus events that are becoming increasingly frowned upon.

SCAN’s report can be found here: http://scan.lusu.co.uk/index.php/2018/05/15/breaking-news-bowland-withdraw-from-founders/


The University is planning its next staff survey, and this time we have been assured that they will engage in proper consultation. This is good news, because if you remember, lack of consultation was one of the key concerns in the last staff survey. subtext understands that the first round of discussions have already taken place, and that things have not quite gone the way the consultees envisaged. The fundamental question was, of course – who is to conduct the survey? That would be Capita. OK – well the other important question that needs to be agreed at this stage is cost. No – senior management have already decided on an (undisclosed) amount of money allocated to the survey. OK – well an elementary thing to agree on is the actual questions that will appear in the survey. No – senior management have already decided what the questions will be. OK – well, if that is the case then obviously it will be vital that we have input into how the findings will be interpreted. No – senior management have already decided how the survey will be construed. Further meetings are planned, their purpose unclear. Consultation is not a difficult word to understand but it obviously has a very different meaning on D Floor than anywhere else.



subtext wonders why the university continues to do business with Capita, the ‘runaway commercial monster’. Notwithstanding the latest complete shambles that is Capita’s Defence Recruiting System for the armed forces which has been described as ‘utterly disastrous on so many levels’ (https://on.ft.com/2mX9VIF – paywall), Capita is an organisation that has endured years of criticism by the media and the government. The Labour Party has recently called for the government to ‘oversee the activities of Capita’, criticizing its pension deficit, which had been allowed to balloon even as the company paid dividends. There are numerous reports of Capita’s rather cavalier attitude to contracts, delivery, methods of working and treatment of people. These include Capita not fulfilling its £330 million contractual obligation with NHS England in 2015; taking excessive fees for administering contracts including non-compete clauses in contracts with SMEs, preventing them from getting further work from Government without the explicit permission of Capita; and deliberately and systematically making late payments forcing firms to cease trading. Then of course there are the systems actually installed by Capita that are just not working: the electronic tagging debacle, the inadequate Co-op bank IT system, gas compliance services and fire incident dispatch services… their incompetence is putting people’s lives at risk.

Capita has the £58m a year job of collecting license fees on behalf of the BBC, but one BBC report described Capita as operating an ‘aggressive incentive scheme’ – or, targets for how many members of the public you can prosecute. More recently the staff employed by Tascor which is part of Capita were revealed to have used excessive restraint on low-risk asylum seekers on a removal flight out of the UK, according to inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

These are just some of the cases that we know about. subtext has read of several companies who are having ongoing problems with Capita that request to remain anonymous. Are we one of them, or is it the case the university has stupidly tied itself into one of those binding contracts that Capita is infamously renowned for tying organisations into? Why else would they use this company year after year to conduct the staff survey?


The last time subtext covered a city council by-election in University & Scotforth Rural ward (December 2016 – see subtext 156), the turnout fell to an all-time low for a public election this century. The last time campus residents went to the polls in a public election (June 2017 – see subtext 165), a series of ‘errors’ led to political posters being ripped down by campus authorities. So, what embarrassments to the democratic process would subtext witness at this month’s city council by-election on campus, won by Amara Betts-Patel and Oliver Robinson of the Labour Party?

To our pleasant surprise, it all went rather well. Poor voter registration? Almost all campus residents were on the electoral roll. Poor voter turnout? At 27%, with 1033 people voting, this was impressive for a by-election in a student area. Evidence of total apathy? They were queueing outside the Chaplaincy Centre to vote. Evidence of lies, backstabbing and intrigue? The candidates (if not quite everyone on their campaign teams) were getting on famously, with campaign stalls lined up next to each other in Alexandra Square. And there was a statue of Poseidon made of litter.

There were some brief shenanigans on polling day, when (it is alleged) some Conservative activists stole the giant Labour banner in Edward Roberts Court, but this was defused by a quick call to the police. The banner was back up soon afterwards. The Tories retired sheepishly to the bar.

The only other instance of disharmony came the day after polling day. During a shouty edition of Bailrigg FM’s ‘You Ask the SU’, LUSU Vice-President (Union Development) Qas Younis and Labour’s election agent Lucy Atkinson had a prolonged, testy exchange over who was responsible for the increased voter turnout. Mr Younis suggested that the increased turnout was largely due to ‘the work put in by the students’ union’, even though ‘it’s not our job to promote YOUR elections’ (it definitely is). Listen to the long, awkward altercation at https://www.mixcloud.com/BailriggFM/question-time-grad-ball-founders-you-ask-the-su/

More of this sort of election, please.


In subtext 176, we reported on the Students’ Union’s Annual General Meeting, which was held at the end of Lent term and aborted due to inquoracy. Keen to be of assistance, we pointed out that, as per their bye-law, LUSU was required to hold another AGM within a week.

They’re a few weeks late, but LUSU have finally got round to holding another AGM. But with a twist…

… This year’s ‘Annual General Meeting’ is being held online as we write. Students are to click on a link, which as far as we know was not emailed to them (and isn’t visible on LUSU’s Facebook or website, um…), taking them to a video of the LUSU Full Time Officers talking about what they’ve done, and why students should vote to approve their affiliations for that year.

We know this because one of subtext’s student pals sent us the link. When we clicked on it, we got an error message, and a ‘try again’ button. We clicked the button, and got a new message, this time ‘thanking’ us for ‘voting’. Our pal was aghast – through some technical error, subtext had cost them their ability to vote!

Thankfully, by entering the link into an incognito window on Google Chrome, they were able to vote again…

… And again. And again. And again.

Yes, anybody wishing to vote on the affiliations of a multi-million pound organisation can, apparently, do so as many times as they please. A creative masterstroke to boost voter turnout figures? Probably not.



It should go without saying that an online survey that can be voted on an infinite number of times is not a ‘meeting.’ But, this is where we are, so: an online survey that can be voted on an infinite number of times is not a ‘meeting.’

We touched on this in subtext 146, when the Students’ Union tried to say that proxy votes would count towards an AGM’s quoracy. We envisaged scenes of a chairperson, sat alone with a minute taker, emptying a basket of ‘proxy votes’ onto a table and declaring the meeting ‘quorate.’ The issue with proxy votes is that voters do not get to listen to debates from the floor and possibly have their minds changed, nor can they propose or vote on amendments that come from the floor. But at least it was only absentees casting ill-informed votes – with this new online AGM, EVERY vote cast is going to be ignorant, there is no opportunity for LUSU members to hear debates, no means of proposing and voting on amendments to motions, and no means of a flowing dialogue with union officers. Still, it does solve LUSU’s issues with inquoracy – all they need is for one person to vote 150 times on their online form. That’s if it were a legitimate meeting.

LUSU’s claim that proxy votes counted towards quoracy was abandoned shortly after we pointed out that this was unconstitutional, although a rule change approved in early 2018 means that it now is in fact constitutional. Fantastic. Will they abandon this ‘online AGM’, which is currently being used as the legal means by which they are seeking to approve their affiliations, when we point out that an ‘online AGM’ is totally unconstitutional, has zero precedence, and is not in any way accounted for or permitted by LUSU’s bye-laws?



Why is LUSU finding it so difficult to get their general meetings quorate? We know exactly the given reason why – they are ‘outmoded’ (a word that is not, despite its usage, interchangeable with ‘old’). But Students’ Union General Meetings being inquorate are not new things, and the ‘students just don’t want to show up’ is an age old excuse for lazy promotion and lack of drive. There have been many bustling and quorate AGMs in between the failures. There was the one in 2012 opposing the centralisation / redundancies of admin staff, the one in 2013 opposing the closure of the music degree, and the one in 2015 opposing cuts to fees and rents. What they all had in common was an impassioned union officer team which ran effective campaigns that educated and galvanised students to attend, and an exciting headline act that made students feel like their voices were necessary to affect change.

Putting drab discussions about space, constitutions, and affiliations at the top of the bill ain’t gonna pull the punters, and that is why no-one cares. It really is that simple.

subtext welcomes letters from readers with their own memories of quorate union general meetings, few and far between though they may be.


How difficult is it to lay some paving stones? Some members of the subtext collective have some domestic experience in this sort of activity. Patios have been laid without too many problems. So if this is actually your job of work, laying some paving stones as a professional contractor should be a ‘walk in the park’ or a perambulation along the spine. You would think. However, news has reached subtext that down the south end of campus, staff have witnessed the exact same set of paving stones being dug up and re-laid three times. Not quite comparable but the thought of delivering the same lecture three times until you got it ‘right’ would incur some disciplinary action – or perhaps not!



In subtext 176, we reported that the Students’ Union had come under fire from students for what was perceived as a lacklustre Graduation Ball lineup and venue. With the event looking increasingly like a loss-making exercise, LUSU has now cancelled the event.

This is unprecedented. Grad Ball has been in existence since the 1970s, predating college extravs, so why has it died a sudden, grizzly death?

Until a few years ago, the University subsidised some of Grad Ball’s costs, and this allowed the SU to keep ticket prices down without compromising the quality of the acts and venue. The SU block grant has also been reduced recently. The University is more than happy to pump seventy grand into extra coaching for an away-Roses, when a fraction of that could be gifted to LUSU to get a popular act. Why should the university have to fund the school disco? Because a good Grad Ball = good publicity for Lancaster. Shallow, ‘ooh look at the big acts we can get’ publicity, but publicity nonetheless (it’s also the right thing to do, of course). Alas, this disaster is likely to translate into bad publicity for Lancaster. A Top Ten University that doesn’t even have an end of year ball? Outrageous!

When it comes to Grad Ball, the SU is in an invidious position – it has to strike a balance between finding an act that is JUST famous enough with providing a reasonable ticket price (not that Lancaster’s Grad Ball ticket prices are that out of tune with our ‘comparator’ universities). Also, it is easy for students to vote in some online poll demanding, oh we don’t know, P.J. Proby (Is he the In Thing? – Ed.), or for a candidate for a LUSU officer post to promise P.J. Proby, but anyone experienced in Ents booking knows that nothing is that simple. When it transpires that P.J. Proby is busy doing his hair on the day of Grad Ball, the disappointing lineup is invariably blamed on ‘LUSU laziness.’ Accountability is also a major issue. Since LUSU completely rejected transparency to the strongest degree possible, they have severely lacked a ‘sounding board’ to work out what students want from their school disco.

In 2015, the SU drastically inflated the membership price of BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) teams, in most cases by over TEN TIMES the previous price, to make up for a 22% drain on expenditure (subtext 137).

In 2017, the SU underwent a drastic restructure, making some staff members redundant, and re-deploying others to roles within University House, which took over responsibility for LUSU’s enterprise, volunteering, and international opportunities, as well as its IT provision (subtext 156). Not long before then, the SU was forced to close down one of its on-campus shops.

That LUSU has made these drastic financial cuts, yet STILL cannot afford to absorb some of the costs associated with Grad Ball, is a major issue, and causes the subtext collective considerable concern for LUSU’s future.



The cancellation of Grad Ball caught the attention of candidates in the recent local by-elections, some of whom offered to step in and sort it all out.

Conservative candidates Callum Furner and Guy Watts took to social media pledging, if elected, ‘to work with the Students Union […] to truly send off the Class of 2018 in magical style.’ When asked how, there came the somewhat broad response of ‘anything that’s needed’. Alas, these promises did little to aide the success of the Tories, who were roundly defeated.

Labour candidates Amara Betts-Patel and Oliver Robinson took a more placatory approach, expressing their desire for a ‘better relationship’ with the Students’ Union – a noble olive branch. Meanwhile, one of our sitting Labour councillors took to the ‘Overheard at Lancaster’ Facebook page to mock the ‘low effort SU’. So much for the better relationship.

What influence the city council actually has over the SU’s ents function is anyone’s guess.


The Complete University Guide 2019 is out. If you click on ‘Lancaster University,’ you’ll see a big list of reasons to enrol. One such offering? ‘The Graduate Ball.’ D’oh! https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/lancaster/

The fact that we are the first UK University to face legal action over loss of teaching provision during strike action has caught the attention of the student media at our comparator institutions: https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2018/05/15/student-takes-legal-action-against-lancaster-uni-over-strikes/, https://mancunion.com/2018/05/22/uk-university-faces-legal-challenge-over-strike-action/ (see subtext 177 for our report on the case.)

Gary Neville, who is literally a business partner of the University of Lancaster, which is soon to set up a literal university with him, continues to prove his worth. https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/gary-neville-hits-back-campaigners-12532925  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-44107743

Private Eye’s architectural columnist has thrown their penneth worth in on student housing developments in university cities, singling out Lancaster as the ‘locus classicus of student housing blight […] pock-marked by mini-hi-rise incongruities.’ The piece, which concludes by calling on university chancellors to wake up ‘to the architectural vandalism they are allowing’, can be found in the latest edition of the mag.


In subtext 161, we published a piece on the proposed office layout of the new Health Innovation Campus. We wrote of a Great Seat of Learning populated by Those In The Know and Men of Wisdom (mostly men, that is, as we know from our coverage of the gender pay gap at Lancaster, see subtext 176)  who decided to build a new tower which they called the High Intensity Corporate.

The new tower would have lots and lots of room for the (mostly) Men with Lots of Money (more Lots of Money than the Women, anyway) to visit. Tucked away in the tower would be the Knowledge Producers. It was very important that the Knowledge Producers did not realise how much the (mostly) Men of Wisdom depended on them to attract the (mostly) Men with Lots of Money , and many different methods were used to obscure that fact. Most of the Knowledge Producers were hired on Fixed Term Contracts. This made it easier to Keep Them On Their Toes. They knew that if they were naughty they wouldn’t get another contract when their’s ended (see our piece on precarity, above.)

Another good way of obscuring the importance of the Knowledge Producers was to make them feel small. The (mostly) Men of Wisdom decided that, in the new High Intensity Corporate tower, the Knowledge Producers would not sit together in little rooms. This had tended to foster Cooperation in the Old Tower – a market force the (mostly) Men of Wisdom felt was uncomfortably close to Solidarity. It would also be much easier to keep an eye on the Knowledge Producers if the place looked more like a call centre. Some of the (mostly) Men of Wisdom were quite impressed by what call centres had achieved in terms of ‘employee productivity’.

It would appear that the (mostly) Men of Wisdom do not read subtext. Loath as we are to side-line the humour (attempt at – ed.), subtext would like to spell it out. The plan is to go ahead with the new open shed layout. The thinking (?) behind this idea is that the Health Innovation Campus will be a hive of industry. Desks will be hired out to companies – people from these businesses will mingle with folk from the university and individuals from other corporations and organisations to Shoot The Breeze and interlock with Blue Skies Thinking. Members of the public will be encouraged to come along and engage with debate – meeting that awkward engagement element of the university’s mission statement.

The (mostly) Men of Wisdom are excited at the prospect of creating their own version of Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, the researchers and academics and evaluators will be at these very same desks, working on their large high resolution computers that you can read from several feet way, on highly sensitive personal health records and confidential social care files. Who could possibly object to that?


Another SCAN piece that caught our eye (SCAN’s news reportage has been good this year, hasn’t it?) was the report that significant parts of the unfaltering spine refurbishment have been ditched to speed up the process. Notably, the ‘Wetlands Bridge’ project opposite the Charles Carter building has been dropped so that the contractors can focus on finishing the vital stuff (y’know, things that allow you to take a linear route from one place to another on a consistent basis) in time for Michaelmas term. We did say this would be the best strategy (subtext 158, 154, passim ad nauseam) about a thousand times, but what do we know?

SCAN’s report can be found here: http://scan.lusu.co.uk/index.php/2018/05/14/spine-shortened-wetlands-area-ditched/


We’ve become so accustomed to the building work that perhaps we no longer see the effect of closing the roads and byways through the campus on those who aren’t so used to it. In particular, we greet closures of the access points to the University as normal. They aren’t. Memo to anyone who might be involved: the drive up to the University is a big selling point for the University, as anyone who has ever run an Open Day will tell you. Which is why we’re totally screwed when we close the road on Open Days. Maybe do it on one of the other three hundred and fifty-odd days available?

While the TV screen in Alexandra Square isn’t a vanity project to rank with the BorisBridge, it nevertheless ticks many of the same boxes. It has little utility and even less point, but it is large, striking and expensive. Leaving aside the fact that its position means that you can only see it from about 25% of the Square, what function does it serve, beyond giving visitors on Open Days something to remember us by? Meanwhile, there appears to be a screen that is almost as big but on wheels just sitting on the ground floor of the FASS building, with an even bigger box next to it. Is this part of the new ‘Resigned to the Spine’ plan, intended to be trundled up and down bearing well-meaning, inspirational messages like ‘THE SPINE HAS ALWAYS BEEN UNDER CONSTRUCTION’?

We note that one of the signs puffing the Spine renovation (no missus, it’ll be worth it, really, hang in there, sunlit uplands, only two more years of this to go, free pies for all, truly, it’ll be great, honest) promises the provision of ‘cutting edge space’. As opposed, we assume, to open space, deep space, hyperspace, safe space… What is this phrase supposed to evoke? We suspect that most people would settle for a space that was flat underfoot and had something overhead to keep the rain off, with maybe a nice picture on the wall. We also suspect that someone sold the University the idea of the giant TV by promising that it would make the Square ‘cutting edge’.

We’ve said our two penn’orth over the last months about the Spine renovation, so we thought we’d wait until it was finished before discussing it properly. (Oh, all right then, just one thought… is it perhaps just a tiny bit… big? Attached to the side of a Russian naval dockyard it’d be just grand, but… Ok, let’s wait and see.) But, there’s no harm in revisiting the question of what the County College folk have done to deserve a fifty yard run through the rain. Wheelchair users now have to cover the best part of 100 yards. Someone will sue.


The recent hold-ups on the A6 caused by the roadworks opposite the Health Innovation Campus building site seems to have altered Stagecoach drivers’ behaviour. Previously, the buses as they left the University would take the outside lane on that passage of road that runs parallel with University, letting cars on the inside lane gently filter over. Whilst the temporary lights have been in operation buses have invariably taken the inside lane and proceeded to hurtle towards the lights at great speed. While some may appreciate the early holiday experience of subsequent blaring horns and squealing tyres, most passengers looked perplexed. Your correspondent did wonder how the much heralded driverless buses would react faced with such an obstacle and presumably an in-built programmed schedule. It also made your correspondent speculate (some of the jams at the lights were quite lengthy) how the new driverless cars would cope navigating the highways and byways of Lancaster. On any journey around the city you encounter cars parked on one or both sides of the road. Negotiating the subsequent oncoming traffic then involves the ritual of flashing headlights and waving of hands followed by the salute signifying ‘thank you’. Your correspondent had visions of Lancaster being gridlocked as autonomous vehicles struggled to cope with the etiquette of ‘giving way’. Not a nice thought as you trundle home from work.


The Annual General Meeting of Lancaster UCU on Wednesday 16 May in the Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre passed off without incident. Rumours of coups and tantrums (prams and toys) and factions were groundless or forgotten. The meeting voted through several amendments to the local branch rules and listened to a report from the Chair and the Membership Officer, plus an update from the Treasurer. There was also a report on the anti-casualisation workshop (see below). The ‘results’ of ‘elections’ to the executive were announced (none of the posts were contested and most officer positions were already taken.) Members were assured that this situation would be handled by the new executive with co-options into these positions. This all seemed rather odd but there were no dissenting voices so with a feeling of ‘nothing much to see here’ the meeting moved on. In a sign of changing times, the executive had instructed members that in the interests of minimising our environmental impact, they would not be printing multiple copies of the documents for the meeting. Members were advised that if they would like to have them in front of them during the meeting, then a digital device would be a good idea. They also displayed them on the lecture theatre screen at relevant points in the meeting. Woo save the planet!



An event organised by the Lancaster UCU anti-casualisation working group took place on Wednesday 2nd May in George Fox Lecture Theatre 2. There, more than thirty colleagues reported a range of contractual situations: teaching colleagues employed on hourly-paid contracts; researchers on a succession of fixed term contracts; colleagues often juggling two or more contracts and other colleagues who had experienced casualised employment contracts in the past.

Speakers included Dr Catherine Oakley, a researcher based at the University of Leeds, a new member of the UCU national anti-casualisation committee. Catherine is a founding member of The Academic Precariat collective, an ‘…activist-led platform uniting education workers employed precariously in UK HE’ and co-author of a report ‘The Precarious Post Doc’ https://tinyurl.com/y8kqthjc. Lancaster University’s Dr Joanna Kostka led a discussion on the challenges faced by international colleagues and their precarious employment experiences. UCU’s Jonathan White, a national pay and bargaining official with a specific focus on the union’s anti-casualisation work, talked about what the union is doing at a national level to challenge casualisation. The final session was led by Craig Jones and Dr. Joao Nunes de Almeida, both of Lancaster University, asking what we can do now to move forward within this University to challenge the increased casualisation of employment contracts. A number of practical steps were suggested in addition to the work that the union is already doing through supporting colleagues through casework. Members attending the workshop proposed setting up an anti-casualisation network with face-to-face meetings and a virtual presence and organising regular one hourly drop-in sessions for colleagues to discuss specific issues around casualised employment and experiences of precarity.

If you are interested in finding out more about what local staff are doing to challenge the increasing casualisation of academic work, or in joining the anti-casualisation working group, please contact Clare Egan, the UCU anti-casualisation rep.


Dear subtext,

Xin chúc mừng, to the writer of the Saigon evacuation piece!  Actually stayed at my desk to finish reading it, guffawing all the way!

Keep it up, colleagues

Jackie H



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.



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.



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.



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.