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.’