Monthly Archives: March 2019

subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’

Every so often during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

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In this issue: editorial, Leipzig, annual meeting, fascists, LUSU hustings, fpsp, ads, widden, letter.



The students’ union VP Education, Ian Meeks, has scored a major win in his campaign for anonymous marking. It’s written up on the SU website at:

As subtext understands it, the university’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee has accepted his argument that all written assessments at Lancaster should, henceforth, be anonymous. subtext hears that there is also support for a proposal that all submissions should be made electronically.

Well done to the union for their persistence. But should we be celebrating? In the LUSU article, Mr Meeks notes that, ‘anonymous marking reduces the risk of unconscious bias by the marker, increasing the level of confidence students can have that they are getting the mark they deserve.’ If all that students gained from their work were the mark, his argument is hard to refute.

Assignments aren’t all about marks, though.

The reason we ask students to regularly submit their thoughts to us is not so we can just give it a ‘B+’ and say ‘well done’. Markers think long and hard about their feedback, pointing out errors and suggesting ideas for improvement, and this is greatly helped when the marker knows the identity of the person they’re feeding back to. They’ll have a rounded view of where they’ve gone wrong before, which overarching themes they frequently address, and so forth. From a logistical point of view, many assignments are handed back in person, with the marker keen to follow up their written comments with discussion and support. How would this work?

Well, you could keep the assignments anonymous until the marking’s over, maybe, and only then reveal to all concerned the identity of the people you’ve been assessing. This could work, although in practice most markers get to know their students’ styles of argument. This is especially true in the many departments where coursework is usually handwritten.

Blanket electronic submissions would also be difficult to implement. We sympathise with students who regularly have to leg it to campus to meet a submission deadline, when they could have just uploaded their thoughts to Moodle – but equally, it would be odd if a student ran onto campus and made it to their department on time, only to be told ‘sorry, you’ll need to scan that and upload it!’ Markers are certainly not going to be thrilled if – as seems possible – they’re told that, from now on, they’ll need to do all their marking on screen. Has occupational health been consulted?

What would work well in some departments may well cause massive problems in others, and we think this should be an issue which should be left to departments, in consultation with their students and staff.


subtext 185 reported on the curious absence of any calling notice for the promised annual public meeting to replace the University Court. Surely at least a ‘date for your diary’ should have been announced? One hour and forty minutes later…

…former external members of the Court received their invitation to ‘The Lancaster Exchange’, our annual public meeting. What a coincidence!

Held in LICA, this will be ‘an interactive forum, designed to meet the widest range of needs and enable us to better engage with our communities and stakeholders.’ It should provide ‘an opportunity to share your ideas on the role of the university and how we can work together for the benefit of our communities.’

Sounds good, and subtext’s drones hope to be in attendance. There don’t seem to be any details on the university’s website yet, but we hope that many of our readers will make the journey to campus that day.

The date? Saturday 30 March. Scheduling your annual showcase less than twelve hours after Brexit is a courageous decision, we think – it’ll certainly give participants plenty to talk about.


A campus in Leipzig, then! What’s going on there? Let’s start with the official announcement:

The person sat next to the Vice-Chancellor, signing the agreement on behalf of private education provider Navitas, is Paul Lovegrove, former director of Study Group International (SGI). Study Group has run Lancaster’s International Study Centre since 2007 (see subtext 17) and has a presence on many campuses, notably at Lincoln, where Mr Lovegrove worked closely with Andrew Atherton, once Senior Deputy VC at Lincoln and latterly Deputy VC of this parish.

Mr Lovegrove first came to subtext’s attention in June 2014, when in a Senate newsflash, we outlined SGI’s plan to deliver Part I modules here: ‘fag packet rumours echoing around the subtext warehouse suggest that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor has already given the green light for SGI to recruit to their Part 1 Lancaster study programme (intended to be drawn up in close consultation with relevant departments), and SGI are gearing up to launch this as an addition to their product offering…’

As we reported in subtext 121, senators were not amused, and ‘speaker after speaker exposed the flaws in the proposal.’ Joe Thornberry, then Principal of Bowland, noted that ‘if Senate agreed to this now it would be the crossing of a very important line, with consequences that had the potential to damage seriously the university’s reputation.’ The proposal was withdrawn.

Five years later, Mr Lovegrove is back and he’ll be helping to lead an entire campus on our behalf, as CEO of Navitas’s University Pathways in Europe. We trust that our senators fully scrutinised the tender process. Navitas will be responsible for administrative staff, support services, student recruitment and a foundation year, with Lancaster staff teaching the degree programmes.

Fingers crossed


Scene: County South Lecture Theatre, Thursday 28 February, 7pm onwards, set out cabaret style.

Audience: probably just short of 100 people, though this fluctuated a lot.

Lighting: usually this was on ‘low’, except for the several moments when (we think some of the audience were leaning on the light switches) things changed to ‘unbearably full on’ or ‘off’.

Rules: candidates would get two minutes to speak, followed by questions from the audience, when they’d have just 30 seconds to answer each query. Finally, the ‘debate’, where they’d get to ask each other questions.

After the inevitable delay, things started at 7:25pm, with the undercard. As well as electing the six full-time officers, the students’ union will also be holding by-elections next week for four part-time officer positions: Black and Minority Ethnic, LGBTQ+, Students with Disabilities and International Students. The most notable part of these husts for part-time roles, especially given some of the positions up for grabs, was the subject not mentioned – last term’s snowsports society affair. The subject would be raised more than once before the end of the night.


First up for the full-time officer positions were the candidates for Vice-President Activities – the post responsible for overseeing student sports and societies. Traditionally a hotly contested role, this year only two candidates – Ben Evans and Cameron Jones – duked it out.

Evans gave a lucid, no-nonsense speech clearly outlining his experience and his ambitions. Having played for men’s rugby, and served on both the Roses Committee and County JCR Exec, Ben pledged to support mental health initiatives within sports, and identified numerous ways of improving intercollegiate sporting competitions such as the Carter Shield. He also identified timetabling issues which prohibited PostGrads from becoming involved in sports, and pledged an online calendar for sports practices and games.

Next was Cameron Jones – the Swimming Captain – whose emphasis was on recruiting more ‘top-level’ athletes for various sports societies, which he aimed to do by taking advantage of the recent addition of Sports Science to Lancaster’s degree offerings.

Hands shot up. A question was asked about gender-neutral changing rooms for trans students at the sports centre. Jones recognised how difficult it’d be to implement this, given that the sports centre is not run by LUSU. Evans was similarly sceptical but noted that the impending extension of the Sports Centre might provide an opportunity to lobby for such changes. Two perfectly grounded, realistic responses, which nonetheless led to a smattering of students taking to Twitter to denounce both candidates for hate speech.

Both candidates were asked how they planned to improve engagement with under-represented sports – Evans favoured more comms limelight and highlighting the achievements of under-represented groups, such as women’s rugby opening this year’s Roses. Jones favoured tailored campaigns to recruit for under-represented sports, citing #ThisGirlCan – a campaign to promote women’s sports – as an example. The candidates also quizzed each other – Jones asked Evans how he planned to achieve the Bingo-Card ‘Wednesday Afternoons’ being free for all, while Evans asked Jones if his ‘elite athletes outreach’ policy was potentially alienated to people who were already members of various sports teams.

It was refreshing to hear from two evenly matched candidates who were knowledgeable of developments within the university, and how they could be taken advantage of to improve sports provision. However, NO MENTION OF SNOW SPORTS!


Vice-President Campaigns and Communications was next – a contentious one, given that the Students’ Union had tried to referendum the post out of existence only a couple of months ago. Presumably, then, we could expect tubthumping, prominent campaigners to show us why the role was vital. Err.

Terry Tucker, a Bailrigg FM presenter, was up first. The role of Campaigns & Communications Vice-President requires the postholder to oversee the operations of the student media – Bailrigg FM, SCAN, LA1 TV – and Tucker was able to demonstrate that he had been involved in them all for a long time (some more than others). Moving on to campaigns, he proposed campaigns to eliminate stigma and shame among the 35% of students with mental health problems, as well as to take on rent increases – both of which he feels are linked.

Lewis Marriott pledged transparency. So often a buzzword, transparency has been a real problem for LUSU in recent years, as their decision-making has grown more and more opaque since it abolished most of its democratic structures in 2016.

Citing his Social and Events experience on The County College’s JCR Executive, Marriott gave bog standard pledges to use big screens and promotional drives to promote student media. Tucker, meanwhile, favoured greater training for student media members from media professions. In his opinion, improving the skill set of members would lead to more awards for SCAN, Bailrigg FM, and LA1TV, ergo more prestige.

Neither candidate held back when invited to quiz each other. Tucker asked Marriott why he had only just got involved in student media, who responded that it just wasn’t well promoted enough. Marriott asked Tucker what he had achieved as Disabilities Officer to justify mentioning it – ‘within weeks I revived Students with Disabilities Forum, achieved quoracy, finally updated its terms of reference, and built solid foundations for future officers’ came the firm response.

Campaigns and Comms is a diverse role which attracts diverse manifestos – in this case, it is very much a marketing bod against a student media guy.


One of the candidates for Vice-President Education having (seemingly) withdrawn, three remained. One, Bogdan Angheluta, had excellent powers of oratory, including expert hand gestures, but his platform seemed a little thin to your subtext drones, consisting basically of ‘if it can be done in the Management School, it can be done anywhere.’ The other two, Valentina Piredda and Bee Morgan, had less rhetoric, but stronger policies. Neither hesitated to point out when they thought something wasn’t achievable and – therefore! – not in their manifestos. Valentina, the current Mature Students’ Officer, emphasised her knowledge of postgraduate and part-time students’ concerns, while Bee, a Natural Scientist, stressed her success in improving departmental representation for combined honours students.

The issue of lecture capture – and whether it should be compulsory – showcased the candidates’ different approaches. ‘I’m realistic,’ said Bee, noting that recording all lectures isn’t possible and pointing out that Lancaster’s current system of lecture capture isn’t that great anyway, often failing to capture either the lecture materials – especially if written on a whiteboard – or the lecturer (see subtext 141). Valentina supported making the practice more widespread but didn’t promise anything more. Bogdan insisted that it was possible to make capture compulsory, and cited the example of two lecturers – in the Management School, of course – who initially said ‘no’ but later changed their mind. So there.


Laurie Butler, one of the candidates for Vice-President Welfare & Community, easily wins the ‘innovation in poster design’ award here. No grinning visage. No colour. Minimalist style, e.g. just a big ‘equals’ sign to show his commitment to equality. The effect was akin to a poster advertising a new piece of radical theatre, rather than the usual ‘vote for me!’ style – indeed, the first time your reviewers saw Laurie’s posters, they made a mental note to check out the latest programme for the Nuffield Theatre. subtext fears this might be his downfall, however, since having large ‘vote for me!’ posters is generally a vital part of a candidate’s campaign.

Laurie’s hustings was, similarly, very different from that of his opponents, Sruthi Chilukoti and Grishma Bijukumar. Sruthi and Grishma’s speeches emphasised their strong welfare campaigns experience at Lancaster, while staying away from anything too contentious – Sruthi was particularly interested in training and support for societies’ welfare officers, while Grishma emphasised sexual health and bystander training. Laurie’s speech, while a lot less polished, and frequently veering closer to education campaigns rather than welfare, was explicitly political, supporting ‘participatory budgeting’ (students having a say in how the union’s money is spent), opposing the effects of Brexit, and campaigning to end the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

The most notable question concerned the snowsports society affair and its impact on our students. Grishma and Sruthi emphasised how important it was to listen to the students who’d been affected, while Laurie gave a passionate denunciation of the far right on campus: ‘we’ve fought you before, we’ll fight you again, and we’ll win!’


Hands down, Vice-President Union Development was the most entertaining hustings of the night, as two competent former JCR presidents, John Clayton and Richard Smith*, took on Hannah Prydderch, also a former JCR president, who introduced herself as ‘the Welsh one’ and proceeded to wipe the floor with both John and Richard. All three spoke of the need for JCR training and how to engage more students in union democracy, but Hannah did so with better slogans and more memorable promises. Hannah’s policies struck a progressive tone – notably, while John was equivocal on the union’s affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS), and Richard openly endorsed a referendum on disaffiliation from the NUS, Hannah not only supported continued NUS affiliation but pointed out one of its key benefits – ‘making your drinks cheaper at sugar!’

And we haven’t mentioned Meegan Clark yet. Where to begin?

Meegan’s definitely a maverick. She has a distinctive style, coming out from behind the lectern and acting like she’s at an open mic night. During the ‘debate’ stage, where the candidates ask each other questions, she would have given The Sweeney a run for their money when it came to interview style. And if those pen pushers in University House give her any grief…

But when it comes to her policies, well, we tried our best, but there was nothing there. In a rather surreal stream of consciousness peppered with insults, just one sensible point stood out – no, it wasn’t a good idea to extend the election campaign period, given the amount of candidates’ time it took up and the fact that most candidates also had part-time jobs.


And so came the main event. In recent years, the race for President has been a drab affair. The former JCR President and the populist insurgents work to find out who can most convincingly promise to listen to students hardest… and whoever has the largest college wins.

County Democracy and Finance Officer* George Nuttall wanted to re-inspire faith in the union, introduce drug testing kits, address the black attainment gap, and introduce separate full time officers for sports and societies. Furness President Will Groarke wanted to improve visibility, crack down on neglectful landlords, and work on better bus pass deals for PG students. Two perfectly workmanlike candidates, we thought. And then Danny Mirza, a colourful character from Grad college, got up to speak.

There was little in the way of content in Mirza’s speech, but it was hard not to get swept up in his ‘Dr Nick from The Simpsons’ style, replete with singing and dancing. There was talk of grad jobs and buddy schemes. Your correspondents wondered if he could pull off an upset if he really worked the kitchens…

…until the candidates started questioning each other. In a lengthy diatribe that no doubt soured the room against him, Mirza attacked both candidates for having policies covering the remits of other officers – ignoring the policies that clearly didn’t, and seemingly advocating for the abolition of the post. Both candidates defended themselves well against this, skilfully swinging the room back in their favour and bringing Mirza’s waffle into sharp relief.

Questions from the floor were drab. A question about Israeli and Palestinian tensions was not well addressed by any of the candidates (the phrase ‘I will go and speak to the Jews’ found its way into one of Mirza’s answers…). All of the candidates stressed their fearlessness in confronting senior management – Danny is a Senator, George a University Councillor.

All in all, a traditional showing, with two strong collegiate candidates and an eccentric.


The event closed at 11pm. subtext would like to wish all the candidates well – for them the next two weeks will possibly be the most intense experience of their lives.

Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands and James Groves

* NOTE: Errors in the email version (we originally listed Richard Smith as Richard Clark, and George Nuttall as County President, rather than Democracy and Finance Officer) have been corrected in the web version.


Worrying news reaches subtext of Generation Identity (GI) leaflets being left in the Learning Zone at the beginning of February. GI is very much the modern face of the European far-right, but behind its ‘lambda’ logo and black-and-yellow colour scheme lurks the same old evil. Its main aim, as it proudly states, is to stop and reverse the process by which ‘the indigenous European population is replaced by non-European migrants.’

We urge any subtext readers finding GI material on campus to hand it in to the University Safety Office.


Once in a while something amazing happens. The University decides to engage with its Professional Services (PS) staff (albeit mainly those located in the Faculties) about their working lives in a way that’s pretty good: a huge consultative exercise about how things can be made better, a listening exercise where participants feel heard and valued.

Then, at the point when the results have been taken on board and digested, somehow everything collapses into a black hole of management-speak and vague promises.

Such has been the Faculty Professional Services Project (FPSP, acronym fans!). For nearly two years this wide-ranging project covered everything from the student experience, through the support needs of staff supporting research projects, to career progression, and culminated in a presentation to PS staff on 29 January 2019.

Starting promisingly with refreshments, the next hour consisted of senior management and faculty managers presenting the results of the project. Things will be done, we were told. Some things were already being done, but the work is very complex. Some of the recommendations of the project already align with some other things that are happening. Some stuff has been found to work well in one area of the University and can be rolled-out to other areas. And, of course, due to lack of resources, we would have to find ‘creative’ ways of doing things.

This blandness was underscored by the visuals: the screen behind the speakers played headshots of all the project contributors on a perpetual loop. Whilst this gave a nice warm glow initially – oh, it’s so-and-so from that Department! – after ten minutes it had a dizzying, almost hypnotic effect. As a result your subtext drones confess that they found it pretty hard to stay focused, and had to resort to trawling the official news sources to conjure up this description of events:

‘Almost two years after the project started, the project has resulted in many improvements at our University, including:

– A new microsite designed to help you develop your skills and plan your career at Lancaster;
– A new submissions and feedback portal for student assessments (cf. this issue’s editorial);
– Stronger links between student wellbeing support services and a proposal for a case management system;
– A new combined office model for student administration;
– The collaborative approach of the project resulting in changes to the way many of the participants work.’

Towards the end of the hour, your subtext drones were jolted out of their light trance by the announcement from Paul Boustead that PS staff were unlikely to ever have parity with academic staff. Whilst that’s probably not news to most University staff, it’s a pretty bald statement from the Head of HR. Shortly afterwards the ‘loop-of-faces’ was broken by a screenshot of a soon-to-be-launched ‘Career Management’ portal. This will be a one-stop shop for PS staff looking for career support, including advice, coaching, information on ‘job families’ and secondment opportunities. There then followed a bit of a pre-emptive telling-off: if we offer secondment opportunities, you have to take them. Little recognition there for staff on fixed term contracts, nor much consolation for staff who want to stay in their current roles, but actually get a level of pay that reflects the work they actually do.

The Q&A session at the end revealed further concerns about job families, the approach to the combined office for student administration, and a fleeting mention of the gender pay gap (although two questions on this submitted via iLancaster were ignored).

In short – whilst all the presenters acknowledged that the project was one of the best pieces of staff engagement the University has achieved, the event itself was a wasted opportunity to build on the goodwill generated amongst Faculty Professional Services staff during the project, and limped towards a self-congratulatory, well-meaning, ‘we’re on it’ piece of backslapping. The following comment, overheard at the end of the presentation, pretty much sums up the experience: ‘What was that all about, then?’

You can see the full video of the event here [staffwall]:

Final reports from the project are here [staffwall]:


Fancy learning Chinese calligraphy? How about Tai Chi? Perhaps you’d like to pick up touch rugby? And were you aware that Adam Taylor of Lancaster Medical School is to receive the Basmajian Award from the American Association of Anatomists?

For these and similar public information messages, just sit in an empty lecture theatre where, thanks to a new initiative from ISS, you will experience a constant diet of news, views and adverts, whenever there are no lectures scheduled, whether you want to or not. The Confucius Institute seems to be responsible for a high proportion of the messages on display, along with Lancashire Fire & Rescue and the Students’ Union.

Well, why not? It beats just staring at a blue screen showing the time. subtext found the experience slightly mesmerising, although we’re not sure how many students will share our fascination.

Just make sure you keep your kitchen clean, though


Review: BBC Phil plays the Great Hall

The concert given in the Great Hall on 7 February was the first by the BBC Philharmonic since they were re-appointed as the University’s Orchestra in Residence in December. The large audience proved once again that concerts by a full symphony orchestra are a sure-fire hit: the concert was a sell-out. It featured two substantial works: a clarinet concerto by Edward Cowie entitled Ruskin’s Dreams, and the sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky.

A Lecturer in Music at Lancaster from 1973-1983, Cowie is not just a composer, but also a successful painter, particularly of birds. In his programme notes for the concert, Cowie suggests that his life has some parallels with Ruskin’s: both were painters, both were sufferers from some form of mental illness. These overlaps can surely be of very limited significance. Still, the clarinet concerto was, it seems, inspired by Ruskin’s life and works, and by Lake Coniston, which is where Ruskin spent his later life. Whilst he was at Lancaster in the 1970s, Cowie’s compositions were miniatures, so it came as a surprise to find him writing skilfully for a full symphony orchestra. It’s too soon to know whether Ruskin’s Dreams will enter the regular concert repertoire.

Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony is nicknamed the Pathétique, a name suggested to him by his brother and accepted by the composer, and the music clearly suggests self-pity. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that Tchaikovsky suffered severe personal problems due to his homosexuality and the failure of his marriage. What is more, composing symphonies did not come naturally to Tchaikovsky. A symphony is an extended work for orchestra, usually in several separate and contrasted movements, with a formal structure, particularly for the first movement: this form was established in the days of Haydn and Mozart. Being essentially an emotional composer, Tchaikovsky could not flourish under the constraints imposed by this form. His sixth symphony is not only an expression of his personal misery, but it also seems to echo the spiritual hunger of our age. It is always a popular item on an orchestra’s programme, as it was in the Great Hall. The BBC Phil clearly know the symphony very well and they gave it full romantic value.

The composer conducted the first performance of the symphony in St Petersburg in early October 1893. He made some small revisions for the second performance, planned for later in the month, but before that could take place, Tchaikovsky had unfortunately died. This symphony uses the orchestra’s resources to the full, and the BBC Phil rose to the occasion very well.

Contributed by Martin Widden


Dear subtext,

Roger Kemp is right. Please use a font that can be read.

Michael Heale