Monthly Archives: December 2018

subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’

Every so often during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

Back issues & subscription details:

In this issue: editorial, unconditional offers, stansted 15, lusu referendum, shop news, lost and found, restaurant review, widden, letters.



At the beginning of term, subtext reported on the apparent fait accompli around evening teaching:

Definitely here to stay, we thought, and management won’t budge. Looks like we weren’t quite right. While some evening classes took place throughout the term, and this looks set to continue until at least 2020, there has been quite a bit of furious backpedalling by senior management and Timetabling. This means that the number of evening classes has already been reduced by some shuffling (of deck-chairs, more cynical readers may think), and management are even apparently exploring other options, including lecture live-streaming where departments are keen. From being a sure thing that only need to be evaluated for impact, evening teaching at Lancaster has now apparently shifted to being an emergency measure to cope with a temporary space problem. Trebles all round?

There are, however, still some unanswered questions around how the University will cope with the projected year-on-year increase in student numbers, when newly built lecture theatres may only solve the current teaching space problem. Perhaps some more radical solutions need to be considered, including – shock horror – only accepting as many students as we have room to teach?


The practice, widespread across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, of making unconditional offers to applicants for undergraduate degrees is attracting the displeasure of ministers, VCs and, potentially, the new Office for Students (OfS). Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities until he became a Brexit casualty on 30 November, described them on 26 July as ‘completely irresponsible’ and called on the OfS to take action. The VCs at Brunel, Buckingham, Chichester, Hertfordshire, King’s College London and the West of England led the signatories to a letter in the Times on 20 November, regretting that the practice was ‘detrimental to the longer-term interests of students, skews university choices and reduces the motivation and quality of sixth-form life in schools.’ Signatories particularly disliked so-called ‘unconditional if firm’ offers, also called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers, where universities put students under pressure by dangling an unconditional offer in front of them… but only if they pick that university as their firm choice, not their insurance choice.

Lancaster is unlikely to sign up to such sentiments – because business is booming in ‘unconditional if firm’ offers here! For some of our departments, the overwhelming majority of offers are now ‘unconditional if firm’, and as our admissions team will doubtless point out, they seem to work, especially when it comes to persuading applicants to choose us in preference to a close rival.

This competitive advantage only works if we’re doing it and our competitors are not, of course, and UCAS’s 2018 end-of-cycle report, published on 29 November, suggests that we’re fast approaching a no-score draw:

It seems that 14% of offers made for 2018 entry were unconditional, this being made up of 7.1% genuinely unconditional offers and 6.9% ‘unconditional if firm’ offers. Overall, 34.4% of applicants received at least one unconditional offer last year. In a conclusion due to be filed alongside that technical report on ‘things bears do in the woods’, UCAS has found that ‘applicants who hold an unconditional offer as their firm choice are more likely to miss their predicted A level grades by 2 or more points, compared to those who are holding a conditional offer as their firm choice.’

It pains subtext that Lancaster is one of the pioneers of this coercive approach to recruitment; but it seems likely that we won’t be allowed to do it for much longer anyway. Last year, Swansea University published the following statement on its website, aimed at its 2018 applicants, and we really couldn’t have put it better ourselves:

‘Universities typically indicate that they are making an unconditional offer because they have been favourably impressed with the candidate’s application. As flattering as it can be to receive such an offer, we would suggest that you consider why a University is behaving in this way. In this situation you are being invited to enroll on a degree programme without having to demonstrate prior achievement or a relevant base of subject knowledge. This says quite a lot about the University and their lack of confidence in being able to attract strong students.’

Miaow! This statement is no longer on Swansea’s website – we wonder why?! – but is still available via the magic of the Google cache.


The ‘Stansted 15’, a group of peaceful protesters who include former LUSU President Laura Clayson, have been found guilty by a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court under the little-used Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 of disrupting the services of an aerodrome, ‘in such a way as to endanger or be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome.’ Sentencing has been set for the week commencing 4 February and the maximum sentence is imprisonment for life.

As reported in subtext 181, and expanded on by Chris Witter (see letters, below), their ‘crime’ was to disrupt the deportation of undocumented immigrants, many of whom may face persecution or worse in their countries of origin, via charter flights. Thanks to their intervention, 11 people who would have been deported are still in the UK, challenging their withdrawal. The legislation used to prosecute the Stansted 15 was drafted to protect civil aviation in the UK from terrorists, but – unless the group wins their appeal – could now be used more widely to suppress non-violent protest.

This week’s Lancaster Guardian carries an interview with Laura Clayson, who claims that the 15 ‘are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm’:

A demonstration, to ‘Stand with the #Stansted15 for International Migrants Day’, is planned for Tuesday 18 December in Lancaster. Details at:


In case you missed it… the result of the Students’ Union’s referendum to change its full-time officer team (see subtext 182) has been announced, and it shows a decisive victory for the ‘don’t care!’ campaign. On a 6% turnout of 892 votes, the votes were: Yes 438 (49%), No 396 (44%) and Abstain 58 (7%). As the union notes, ‘students’ union rules on referendums state that a voter turnout of at least 10% is required in order for decisions to be upheld, and therefore the proposal did not pass’:

The referendum voting website was kept separate from the sites to vote for JCR executives, with different closing dates. Did the union executive miss a trick by not bundling the votes together? The County College had a turnout of almost 30% for its JCR elections, with Furness and Grizedale Colleges not too far behind, so it seems so – although given the large ‘No’ vote amongst the few who did turn out, it’s distinctly possible that the proposals would have been rejected anyway.

subtext was unenthusiastic about the proposals, particularly the idea of establishing a full-time Postgraduate Officer who would be elected by a majority undergraduate electorate, but this doesn’t seem to be the main issue that galvanised the lively ‘No’ campaign: ‘Do you want more support for Sugarhouse? Vote NO’ claimed its Facebook page. The proposed loss of the Vice-President Union Development – which is what the strapline was referring to – certainly did not go down well with JCR officers, who queued up to oppose the changes.

Will the proposals return next term? Even if they did, presumably any change would come too late to change the full-time officers for 2019-20, so it seems likely they’ll be rapidly booted into the very long grass.


The former UniTravel on Alexandra Square is now occupied by ‘Work in Progress’. Who they? At first glance, subtext was reminded of ‘brand consultants’ Perfect Curve from the BBC’s W1A. We’ve got friendly big words – ‘Ideas’, ‘People’ – not many desks, and plenty of Post-Its. Was this an art installation?

No. It turns out that University House has had a good idea, and allowed the Research and Enterprise Services team to use the vacant unit for the next few years, as its one-stop shop for students and staff seeking to develop ideas for partnerships and other collaborations with industry. Anyone is welcome to pop in over lunchtime, or book the space:

It’s part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, so who knows how long it’ll be here, but while it is, it seems to be worth supporting.


Former Lancaster Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof Richard B Davies seems to be making waves as Swansea’s VC:


One of the most agonising aspects of being at Lancaster used to be the dispiriting decision about which truly awful food outlet to take external visitors to, and how long exactly to spend apologising to said visitors for the lack of a suitable eating venue on campus. (Lancaster House Hotel was to a certain extent an the exception to this conundrum, but was a little far for lunch for those based in North Campus, and a little heavy on the old departmental budgets).

This all changed when The Lounge ‘came on stream’, as management types like to say these days. While connoisseurs of Lancaster’s night-time economy may have at first wondered whether the venerable but long-defunct nightclub of the same name in the city centre was opening a branch on campus, it turned to be something of a surprise: a halfway decent restaurant, with a menu that changed once in a while, table service, and above all, an ambience that did not involve dart-boards or formica tables.

After some initial wobbles around service from staff more used to doling out mashed potatoes in a cafeteria, The Lounge quickly came into its own, offering a choice of hot, substantial lunches alongside quicker options such as soup or sandwiches, and a variety of salads for the health-conscious. There was always at least one, and usually two or three vegetarian dishes for each course. More recently they have started offering vegan and gluten-free dishes as well. Despite occasional mislabellings on the menu (salmon is rarely considered vegetarian these days), the dishes generally not only sound good on the page but also look good on the plate, for example the rather seasonal ‘Parsnip gnocchi with roasted beetroot, sautéed winter greens, and sun-dried tomato sauce’ or a ‘Deli open sandwich with mushroom and stem broccoli and kale pesto’.

Food is only served 12-2, and this slot can get rather busy, particularly around Christmas and exam board time. Nevertheless, with a quick heads up to the staff, it is usually possible to get in and out within an hour, and to leave full and contented, and most importantly, not embarrassed in front of visitors.


Review: Leeds Piano Competition Winner gives first-class recital

The Great Hall concert on Thursday 1 November was a solo piano recital by Anna Tsybuleva, winner of the 2015 Leeds Piano Competition. The Leeds competition has become, in its short life of just over 50 years, one of the world’s foremost piano competitions, so an excellent performance was expected – and so it proved.

Leeds is not especially renowned as a centre of classical music. OK, Opera North is based there, and their operatic performances are excellent; but opera is another country entirely from piano recitals. How has Leeds managed to develop its solo piano competition to the point where it is known throughout the musical world and beyond, and can attract the most talented young performers to compete?

The competition was the initiative in 1963 of Fanny Waterman, a well-known Leeds piano teacher. In developing the competition, she was helped by her husband and also by Marion Thorpe, then Countess of Harewood. The support of many other people was clearly valuable; but what is obvious is that Fanny Waterman had the vision, and also, crucially, the drive to realise it – as is attested by the fact that, fifty-five years on, she is still active, now as a Life President of the competition.

The competition has a number of partners: the University of Leeds is the Principal Partner, together with Leeds City Council, Steinway and Sons, the BBC, the Hallé, the Oslo Philharmonic….the fact that this list is long and includes many eminent names from the world of classical music is a clear indication of how much effort has gone into building the competition up from scratch.

Anna Tsybuleva’s programme for the first half of the concert concentrated on the piano writing of Beethoven, in which she demonstrated the originality, even eccentricity, of Beethoven’s composing. His Fantasy op 77 is a quite extraordinary piece. It was unfortunate that there were almost no notes on the music in the programme – as it was, the printed programme provided a short biography of the pianist and a very short history of the Leeds competition, but almost nothing on the music being played.

In the second half, Tsybuleva played some of the major piano works of Chopin, in which her playing combined superb lightness of touch and clarity of articulation with a wonderful musicality. This was a first-rate recital in every way.

A final point of interest: Fiona Sinclair, Associate Director of Lancaster Arts and organiser of the Great Hall concerts since 2010, has recently been appointed Chief Executive of the Leeds Piano Competition from 2018 – in fact, she has already taken up her new post. In the past eight years, Fiona has contrived on a limited budget to put together interesting programmes played in the University’s Great Hall by fine performers. She will be missed from Lancaster: it will be interesting to see what she can do with ‘the Leeds’.

Contributed by Martin Widden


Dear subtext,

Many thanks for your recent focus on opposing racism and fascism on campus.

In relation to this, we cannot do enough to highlight the grave injustice that is the prosecution of the ‘Stansted 15’ for taking courageous direct action to halt charter flight deportations – a despicable and legally dubious practice that directly endangers the lives of deportees. For the crime of acting in defence of human rights and taking on Theresa May’s beloved ‘hostile environment’, these brave people are being charged with ‘Endangerment of an Aerodrome’, contrary to section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, which is a very serious charge carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. This has prompted Amnesty International to express ‘serious concern’:

It is worth noting that Laura Clayson, former LUSU President, is one of those facing prosecution. I’m sure many on campus will still remember this very popular, principled, energetic young woman. They may also remember that she was, in all probability, reported to police by the University for holding ‘extremist views’ – namely, that bombing Palestine and fracking should be opposed:

(Following the mandatory ‘Prevent’ training, I’m given to understand that labelling your left-wing students ‘extremists’ is a practice officially known as ‘safeguarding’…)

For those who desperately want to oppose the upward surge of racism and fascistic ideas in recent years, here is an opportunity: there are many positive things that can be done to support the Stansted 15 in opposing racist Home Office policies, including writing to MPs, letters to the press and donations to support the Stansted 15 and their cause.

More information on this can be found here:

In solidarity,

Chris Witter


Dear subtext,

There must be a group of people who when they hear/see/read the name Mark E Smith automatically think of our esteemed Vice Chancellor. Within this assembly of folk, there will be some who read the New Statesman. This particular weekly journal has a regular slot where a subscriber is invited to select whom they would like to see on the cover of the New Statesman. Imagine how perplexed and concerned (or elated) the said group of people were, when perusing a recent (9-15th November 2018) edition, to discover that Fergal Kinney of Hackney, East London had chosen Mark E Smith.


Ian Paylor


Dear subtext,

I feel like wading in somewhat on the white t-shirt issue that’s been plastered all over the news. Honestly I’m a little disappointed that some drunken idiots trolling for reactions has caused such an uproar while more physical safety concerns have ended up being swept under the carpet.

In my fresher’s week, someone I was living with was displaying outright predatory behaviour towards myself and at least two other girls, and though we all complained nothing was done and we got to feel unsafe in our accommodation for the rest of the year. I know someone else (also female) who was the victim of a physical attack by a male student and to my knowledge, no action was ever taken against the perpetrator.

I can’t help feeling like the University cares more about maintaining an illusion of safety, than actually making the University safe.

Name supplied