Monthly Archives: March 2018



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.



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.



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!


In subtext 173, we suggested that a SCAN comment piece on the Gary Neville University, published last October, was the first time the publication had covered this story. As SCAN’s Associate Editor Michael Mander points out (see letters, below), the publication had in fact published two stories on the Gary Neville University – once in March 2017, and once in October 2017. The subtext collective is happy to correct any errors, and would like to draw readers’ attention to more UA92 coverage, published by SCAN shortly after the release of issue 173:


subtext has extensively covered the recent abolition of University Court (subtexts passim), but has yet to give much thought to the ‘annual public meeting’ that top table seeks to replace it with. Thankfully, student newspaper SCAN has unearthed some interesting information on management’s plans for the future.

According to a University statement, the new public meeting ‘will provide an opportunity to widen the diversity of groups we have not traditionally reached through court membership.’ As we reported in subtext 169, the membership of the Court was the most diverse of any top-level governance body in the University. The Court could have easily represented new groups by voting to expand its own membership, but heigh ho. The new public meeting will allow ‘attendees to engage more immediately in the development of the University.’ So there you have it – apparently the public meeting will take place more often than the annual meeting of the Court, and stripping it of its decision-making and appointing powers will somehow provide greater opportunities to help ‘develop’ the university.

So, what will the membership be? As helpfully explained to SCAN: ‘The first event will target […] around 200, and […] invite a broader range of stakeholders, including student groups, the general public, regional businesses, voluntary and community organisations, as well as current external members of the Court.’ Erm… Okay. So the first meeting of the Annual Public Meeting will have a smaller membership than the Court, and the first order of business will be to invite stakeholder groups previously already represented by the Court to the following year’s meeting. Okay? Okay.


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.


Those who follow us on Facebook ( – you really should ‘like us’, we occasionally update the page and everything!) will have seen our latest takedown of the fake news media.

This time the culprit was the Times, which had the temerity to suggest that our Vice-Chancellor would be so fiscally reckless as to support further negotiations between UCU and UUK. As we noted on Facebook, the VC vehemently denied these claims at a subsequent meeting of the Senate, deeming UCU’s demands too expensive for the university to afford. But coverage is coverage, and if LU Text isn’t going to acknowledge Lancaster’s contribution to the public discourse, then subtext will:


The nominations for the next batch of LUSU Sabbatical Officers have closed, and it has the potential to be historic. The winners will have been announced by the time subtext’s next issue is out, and readers can expect a full analysis of LUSU’s new lineup. For now, we will focus on the Presidential race, which is a 3 way dance between Josh Woolf, Rhiannon Jones, and Siri Hampapur.

It is not unheard of for a sitting officer to re-run, and while Vice-Presidents have re-run for the same positions with varying degrees of success, Josh Woolf is the first sitting LUSU President to re-run for his position in nine years (the last being Michael Payne, who was successfully re-elected for a 2nd term as LUSU President in 2009). Rhiannon Jones, on the other hand, is the first former LUSU sabbatical officer (not just President) to complete a term of office, return to their studies, and then re-run for office after a year out.

It is already an unusual election, but what can we expect from the candidates? Last year we criticised current President Josh Woolf for his non-committal, light-on-policy manifesto which, as we predicted, translated into a docile Presidency. It hasn’t gone down well with students – even the Lancaster Labour club, many of whose members backed his candidacy, have publicly spoken out against Woolf’s unwillingness to pick a side during the strike action.

But Rhiannon Jones cannot reasonably claim to offer an antidote, given her similar politics-lite approach that Woolf inherited and built upon. Siri Hampapur, meanwhile, is lacking in any kind of representative experience, aside from having led LA1 TV, the student television station. So much for the talent, now let’s turn to their manifestos.

Hampapur promises to address soaring rents, fees, and parking costs. With no political experience within LUSU, and no evidence that she knows how to engage with the university’s structures to effect change in these areas, we have little confidence in her ability to deliver this – current President Josh Woolf was similarly inexperienced when he ran on the same promises, and his record speaks for itself. She also promises to ‘hold truth the power’, which we assume is her way of saying ‘speak truth to power’ – we admire the attempt to invoke George Fox’s famous phrase, at least. She goes on to promise greater consultation with PG students (we’ll believe that when we see it). In particular, she wishes to lobby for the option for postgrad students to stay in their undergrad college, an option which has already existed since the official College review of 2015. The rest of it is perfectly honourable – less sexual harassment, better mental health provision, and being available to students are fine things, but when the opposite would be to advocate for more sexual harassment, worse mental health provision, and being less available to students, you have to wonder if there’s much substance here.

Woolf’s manifesto opens by telling us how hard he’s been fighting to keep down the cost of living, improve communication, and speed up the completion of the Spine refurbishment. What he doesn’t mention is any of his successes in these battles. Woolf is very proud of how visible and approachable his officers have been since he took office, and how he wants to introduce more structures to hold LUSU to account. Since he hasn’t even effectively wielded the existing structures (see above) , and has presided over a very opaque year for LUSU, we struggle to see why he should be trusted to deliver on these promises. People reading his manifesto (the thinnest of the three on offer) might also ask why he can’t achieve any of these things in the four months he has left in office. His (lack of) stance on the strike action has also not done him many favours with a group of students that is quite large and well mobilised at the moment. But then, the sitting President always has the steepest climb, we’re sure.

Jones’ manifesto is the only one to focus on achievements. While she is quick to highlight the high voter turnout in the 2017 General Election, she doesn’t mention the December 2016 council by-election, and its glorious turnout of 7.12%. Furthermore, while she illuminates LUSU’s lobbying over the 2017 Higher Education Bill being mentioned by members of the House of Lords, she was less willing to support an NSS boycott – an NUS-endorsed act of disobedience which would have have a far more palpable effect on lawmaking if more institutions had got on board. The most promising part of Jones’ manifesto is a pledge to address its appalling democratic structures(discussed elsewhere in this issue of subtext.) That she failed to discard them in her first year of office, when it was already clear that they were destined for failure, doesn’t fill us with confidence that she’ll be any more willing this time around.

Candidate hustings take place at 6.00 pm on Monday 5th March in Barker House Farm. Voting opens on Wednesday 7th March and closes Friday 9th March.


From the top table to the student body, everyone is working hard to get the Lancaster brand out there. Yesterday, the Lancaster Guardian ran a story on the student body’s mobilisation in support of the strikes. Yes, in lieu of a stance/spine from the Students’ Union, students have independently organised an impressive campaign of support – they have set up a Facebook page (, and so far nearly 700 students have signed an open letter to the VC in support of staff ( This is highly impressive work for an ad hoc group of students (imagine how much more support the campaign would have if the pathetic Students’ Union had taken a meaningful stance), and that LU Text hasn’t mentioned this coverage of enterprising Lancaster students is a mystery to us(!):


As part of the series of UCU Teachout sessions being run during the strike period, Distinguished Professor Bob Jessop delivered a talk, ‘Universities Inc’, to a packed out audience at the Gregson Centre. The talk explored what Prof Jessop termed ‘academic capitalism’ and its relationship to an increased financialisation of the UK Higher Education system, and situated the ongoing pensions dispute in a wider context of structural economic changes taking place within universities.

Prof Jessop considered the core historic functions of the university as an institution, namely the provision of higher education and the carrying out of scientific research, and HE’s shifting in line with the forces of marketisation. Whereas in the post-war era of welfare statism and mass production HE institutions such as Lancaster University were designed to create ‘mental labour’ for an increasingly post-industrial society, Prof Jessop explained how today’s universities are behaving more like financial institutions. Since the 1980s, democratic participation in university governance have been sidelined in favour of professionalised management, he argued, adding that since the early 1990s senior academics were asked to attend business management style sessions. Such professionalisation of university management has, he argued, only worsened over subsequent decades.

Jessop highlighted how the diminution of government grants has lead to an increasing reliance upon endowments, greater numbers of fee paying students, bonds, credit markets, and rents to fund themselves. Indeed, having issued first bond in British HE in 1995, Lancaster University can be seen as having been a pioneer in such financial marketisation.

Drawing attention to the expansion of campuses in recent decades, Jessop highlighted how it is real estate (rather than the intellectual labour of staff) that has proven to be the key asset of the contemporary university, recalling a former Lancaster Vice Chancellor telling him that when talking to other managers he would boast of being ‘a seven crane vice chancellor,’ clearly demonstrating how the building up of physical assets on campuses has become so central to UK HE as a source of economic value and revenue.

The talk showed how in such a marketised environment, one only worsened by the new Higher Education Act and the uncertainties of Brexit, British universities are now fearing credit rating downgrades, and are seeking to drastically reduce their labour costs as a result.

From the talk, a bleak picture of contemporary UK HE emerged. As institutions embrace the process of financialisation precarious staff face further immiseration, with students treated primarily as a revenue stream.

In the subsequent Q&A session, the pensions strike itself was viewed by several contributors as having opened up an opportunity for more critical engagements with the university and the ills it inflicts upon staff and students alike. The question of how to reach the wider public and inform them of the dire situation in HE was also raised, with a contributor criticising a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme for narrowly focusing on the extravagance of individual Vice Chancellors as opposed to offering the public a more structural critique of the processes of marketisation.

I found Prof Jessop’s talk an illuminating one for highlighting the complex challenges facing those of us within the marketised university, and for all the bleakness of the situation, I found that the subsequent discussion of how to resist these processes filled me with hope that we can build a more democratic and just HE system.

Contributed by Toby Atkinson, PhD candidate (Sociology)


FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U).
TO: Rosemary Thyme, Education Editor, The Times.

SUBJECT: Your article.

Dear Rosemary,

I am writing to you regarding the coverage in an article you wrote for the Times. In particular, you name me, the Vice-Chancellor of LuVE-U, as one of 11 VCs calling for USSUK to ‘get back around the table with UCUnison.’ I appreciate how the email from my former Director of Publicity / Positivity Amalgamation, Hewlett Venkklinne, might have lead you to your suggestion that I support further discussions between the parties, but I hasten to add that Venkklinne is a disgruntled former employee, who was merely trying to disrupt my leadership by suggesting that I am weak. For example, I never demanded ‘fresh talks’ with lecturers. Needless to say, I did demand this, because Hewlett would only write something I told him to write. But what I actually want is fresh talks in which USSUK reiterates its unwillingness to bow to the demands of the UCUnison, since UCUnison clearly didn’t hear us the first time. Furthermore, you suggest that I have called for negotiators to get ‘back round the table.’ And you’re right, I do. I want negotiators to get back round the table with their students, so that they can continue to teach them like I’m paying them to do.

I haven’t read the rest of the article because it’s behind a paywall, but I can assure you that whatever Hewlett says to you is untrue because he no longer works here, and as such you should ignore it.



FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)
SUBJECT: FWD Your article.


Could you let me know if the above is alright to send to the Times, please? Thanks.


Dave Spikey played the Grand Theatre on the night of the first day of the industrial action. However, no mention of strikes, Brexit, Trump, or Boris in this act: the gathered throng was treated to two hours of beautifully crafted mini tales and sketches based around the story of his comedy career. Dave had been working in the NHS for 19 years as a Biomedical Scientist when in 1987 someone uttered the immortal words, ‘You’re really funny, you should be a comedian’. Only a few months later he won the national talent show ‘Stairway to the Stars’, clinching the award with a routine about a juggler on a motorbike. Thirteen years later on Friday 13th October 2000, he switched off his microscope for good and now in 2017/18 his tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of his comedy career. In the show, he looks back on his life and his journey from working class kid to Chief Biomedical Scientist to much-loved comedy performer and writer.

All of this was populated with various larger than life characters – lots of references to his work on ‘Phoenix Nights’, which produced giggles of recognition from the audience. Very little swearing and when he did it was for effect, although many stories were quite filthy in a very British innuendo fashion. For a lot of the audience the trip down his childhood memory lane evoked a degree of nostalgic pleasure. This was all delivered in a down-to-earth ‘Northern’ way, his interplay and analysis the basis for clever, laugh-after-every-line comedy. He is not only a very funny accomplished comedian, but also one of the finest raconteurs around – your cultural correspondent cried with laughter on more than one occasion.

The audience also gave your correspondent pause for thought. The packed theatre was full of white, predominantly older couples – leaving the Grand is always a slow affair but this evening seemed an even more laborious business. While not conducting a rigorous survey, your correspondent was also of the opinion that he was the only member of the audience employed by the University. Please write in to prove him wrong but this is not the first time that he has been struck by the different socio-demographic groups that attend the Dukes and the Grand, two theatres a hundred yards apart from each other.


Review: Kabantu at the Nuffield

Five young musicians in line across the stage of the Nuffield, one of them squatting over a bongo drum. This was Kabantu, the Manchester-based band that played in the Lancaster Arts Concert Series on 17 February.

As well as the drum, the line-up consisted of violin, cello, bass and guitar, all of whom played standing up – which for a cellist is a highly unusual thing to do. It’s achievable if, as here, the instrument is fitted with a long enough spike to raise it to a playable height. So: no chairs.

No music stands, either. The group plays from memory and/or by improvising, so they don’t need any copies.

Very little electronics on show either.

All this fits with the influence of busking on the group. Four of the five musicians met at the Royal Northern College of Music, where they were classically trained, but in this group they have extended their range into a much broader spectrum of styles. Their repertoire spans from Scottish traditional tunes, Bulgarian folk music, Israel, South Africa and beyond, performed with remarkable skill on their instruments, or by whistling, or in some cases by all five musicians singing excellently in close harmony.

It is unusual for the International Concert Series to feature what was in effect a fusion performance, but it made for a very enjoyable evening.


Dear subtext,

Mr. Fleming’s letter (subtext 173) is factually inaccurate, and shows complete disregard for the strength of staff feeling on this issue at his alma mater, which had the highest turnout in the ballot in England and third highest in the UK, with over 88% endorsing strike action. I would like to respond to each of the points made in the letter in turn.

1. UCU has a strong mandate for industrial action, given by its members through an average turnout of more than 58% across all 68 institutions that were balloted (a record), with 88% voting for strike action and 93% for action short of a strike. Membership is at record levels, with over a 100 members joining UCU at LU in the last two-three weeks alone. The only thing that seems to be over the top is UUK’s intransigence to negotiations, given a number of VCs across the sector, including institutions like Loughborough, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Strathclyde, London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and others are publicly calling for a resumption of national talks.

2. While previous pension arrangements are indeed protected, under proposed changes the future pension arrangements will not be protected from 2019. Proposed changes mean our pensions will move from the current defined benefit scheme (which guarantees the rate of pension received in retirement), to a defined contribution scheme (fixing the rate of pay contributing to pension). Crucially, when the chief executive of USS was asked when he visited Lancaster how USS would protect members from the vagaries of the financial markets and that put members pensions at considerable risk, no answer was forthcoming.

3. We are not working in the private sector – our pensions are just a small recompense for our very modest salaries. Modest in relation to the private sector, with very little movement between grades over the lifetime of work, and with the ‘initial investment’ of time and effort spent in gaining qualifications to work in a University that many in the private sector are not required to make. It seems disingenuous to make any comparisons with the private sector, and hardworking academic and related staff would find any comparisons with employer contributions to a pension scheme in the private sector particularly odious. Those who work in the education sector do so because they have a special set of values, of public good and not individual benefit. Our lifetime contributions to our pensions are being put at risk of markets, with it being left to the individuals to decide what they want to do with their pension pot upon retirement. Do we think vultures would be circling? We only have to see what has happened at British Steel recently.

4. UCU has proposed a range of models that illustrate how defined benefits can be maintained by modest increases in contributions (for e.g. 1% for the employees if employers decide to accept the September valuation), lowering of accrual from 1/75th to 1/80th, and willingness to negotiate on salary thresholds. UUK have rejected all proposals outright saying they will only accept a defined contribution scheme.

Sunil Banga

UCU Exec, Pensions Officer


Dear subtext,

I have been trying to understand the reasons for the current pensions dispute, and have found this talk by Carlo Morelli, an economics lecturer at Dundee University really useful:

Most interesting in the talk to me was that the changes appear likely to make the resulting scheme very unattractive to potential new members, causing the very shortfalls in money that Universities UK claim to want to prevent. Over time, USS could fall apart, and each University is legally required to act as guarantor to the current scheme. As I understand it, the danger is therefore not limited to staff pensions, but in the worst case could even affect each university, because each would be required to fund their ex-staff’s existing final salary defined pensions. I am left wondering whether Universities UK are doing a good job of representing the interest of UK universities.

Mike Cowie


Dear subtext,

I was disappointed to see, in your most recent mailout, the claim that SCAN’s UA92 debate column was ‘its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago.’

This is incorrect. The debate column was published on October 23 2017. We first reported on the Gary Neville University in March 2017 ( We published a second article on October 5 2017 [].

A Google search for ‘SCAN Gary Neville’ would have produced these articles as the first two results. Alternatively, the SCAN editorial team are happy to search our archives if you need clarification of our coverage in future.


Michael Mander

SCAN Associate Editor


Dear subtext,

I would like to issue a complaint regarding your recent article entitled ‘Alt Wrong’. The article is blatantly libellous on numerous accounts, among which are your claims that we are somehow affiliated with the ‘alt right’, that we are ‘fascists’, ‘national socialists’, in favour of ‘pure blooded ancestry’, and further that we were ‘verbally aggressive towards colleagues’ leading us to be ‘ejected by security staff’. There are many other examples of these outright falsities, and the fact that subtext never reached out to our society for comment only reinforces the impression that you did not intend to fairly represent our society, only to defame it. We have numerous eye-witness accounts that can corroborate this.

While you may argue that the article never mentions our society by name, you made explicit reference to us, such that the article incited opposition to the society which may have escalated to violence were it not for the measures put in place by the University. The University felt the need to hire security and have a member of the police present to ensure that peace was kept, which demonstrates the threat that arose directly from the misrepresentations present in your article. Given these threats, I would ask that my name is not posted on your site, due to the false perception of our society that exists both on and off campus.

Your newsletter claims to be one in favour of free speech ‘without fear of backlash’, yet here our impression is that you are presenting things that did not happen as fact, in order to manufacture backlash with the intent of de-platforming our society.

We request that you remove this inflammatory article and issue an apology, in the interests of preventing further undue backlash and promoting intellectual diversity on campus.

Name withheld on request.

[As the writer acknowledges, subtext did not name the organisation they claim to represent – Eds.]