This week our VC wrote to tell us that Lancaster would have supported the ACAS deal. But it is also true Lancaster would have supported the original UUK/USS proposal (perhaps reluctantly) which amounted to little less than criminal theft of our pensions.
This week our VC also wrote thanking those staff who have carried on working through the strike. I would also like to thank the strikers for having the courage to stand up for what is right. They are making sacrifices in order to protect the common good. They are striking because they care about Lancaster University, its students and the quality of education. Throughout the strike we have carried on teaching and learning at events in the city; this has not stopped. And any gains we make against the theft of our pension will benefit every USS member, not just those who are taking action.
The ACAS deal this week appeared at first sight to some to claw back some of what was being stolen from us. They would steal a little less. But we would pay a heavy price for that and end up all the weaker. It was firmly rejected because it too would signal the end of what we still have now – a mutualised scheme. And that is also why strikers are standing out there on the picket line every morning – because they don’t want to work in a glossy private corporation, they want to work in a university where education is seen as a public good for mutual benefit.
UUK’s position and governance processes are now exposed as a sham and are discredited. University leaders, students and even the financial press are calling for a rethink of the whole process and valuation methods. It seems no one can publicly defend the unethical practices which led up to the UUK’s decision to insist on ending defined benefits. An official complaint has been made about USS governance to the Charity Commission and there is now a crowdfunding initiative to sue the USS trustees. But we can’t give away our pension while the rethink takes place. Everyone will then lose.
So if you are a member of USS and you haven’t yet joined the action, join us for a warm welcome, and you can join UCU immediately. This will shorten the dispute and help us all do what we want – get back to work.
Apropos Bob Jessop’s ‘seven crane vice chancellors’ (subtext 174), some time in the 1990s I paid my annual external examiner’s visit to an MA exam board at an institution on the outskirts of Greater London – naming no names. The course – innovative, if not radical, and with a terrific track record in attracting and supporting non-traditional students – had been in the university’s sights for some time, partly for just those reasons but also because several of the staff had had the cheek to object to various managerial ploys. I arrived just after the startled chair of the board had received a phone call from the Vice Chancellor’s office, to say that the VC was planning to turn up in a few minutes, to exercise his statutory right to attend any exam board in the university (not one of his regular habits). We decided that this must be intended to intimidate me, since the internal examiners were well beyond intimidation. A kindly staff member said to me ‘I find it helps if you remember that all VCs are property spivs. Some are developers, some are speculators. Ours is a speculator. What’s yours?’ Since this was in the days of the blessed Bill Ritchie, I was slightly at a loss to answer, but I found the advice helpful, and persisted in writing a glowing report despite the menacing charm with which the speculator took me aside after the meeting and invited me to ‘tell the truth’.
Thank you for the review of the Dave Spikey show at the Grand Theatre, I am pleased that you liked it. As the volunteer Stage Manager I feel I can answer the question that you pose. The Grand Theatre presents shows which aim to attract audiences from all walks of life. As a charity funded largely by ticket sales we aim to complement the subsidised Dukes Theatre in our programming and attract as wide an audience as possible. Therefore the audience that you were part of merely reflects the followers of the act in question.
In the last edition of subtext your cultural correspondent in his review of the Dave Spikey show at the Grand invited readers to prove him wrong regarding his observation that he was the only member of the audience employed by the University. I was there on row C (that’s the second row for those unfamiliar with The Grand’s unusual seating plan) – a thorn between two retired/semi-retired colleagues. I’m sure there were others, although I will admit that I didn’t see any others from Uni, despite having plenty of time to look during the slexit (slow exit).
Posted in letters
Tagged ACAS, Bill Ritchie, campus expansion, Dukes, Grand Theatre, Issue 175, strike, UCU, USS, UUK, VC
Campus is currently full of temporary screens erected to shield sensitive eyes from the building work going on behind them. They are mainly installed as an aesthetic measure – ‘this place looks like a building site!’ is rarely a compliment – but subtext wonders whether they might also serve as a crude but effective way to cover up a total lack of progress.
As a case study, consider the Management School redevelopment – specifically, the demolition and replacement of the building containing Lecture Theatres 5-8. A great deal of work has gone into screening all that goes on within from the outside world, including wooden barriers (many covered in ‘artist’s impressions’ of what will replace it) and DIY frosting on the windows looking out over the site. What has been happening since the building was closed off back in July?
Well, to subtext’s untrained eye, the contractors BAM have so far managed to: (a) remove some turf; and (b) er, that’s it. Take a look for yourself – the best views can be had by going to the first floor of the new Engineering Building, heading for the southern side, and peering over. Are we missing something? Or have we basically just closed off four perfectly usable lecture theatres for the whole of the past term for no reason? LUMS students must be thrilled.
If any readers spot any BAM staff carrying out any demolishing here, please let us know.
The November session started with a written question to the VC asking if there were any plans to build lecture theatres capable of accommodating larger groups of students. The lack of such space was causing major problems for the larger teaching departments. Replying on behalf of the VC, Deputy VC Andrew Atherton said that indeed there was a plan for just such a facility, for up to 500 students. However, this was only a partial solution to the problem. As student numbers increased in line with the University’s strategic plan, other approaches would need to be adopted to deal with larger cohorts. These could include more flexible timetabling and extending the teaching day to enable more double-teaching. All this, of course, would have to happen without any detriment to the ‘student experience’. Nothing, though, was said about the detriment to the staff experience, a point made by a number of Senators during the ensuing discussion.
On next to the Vice-Chancellor’s report on current issues. There were plenty of positives – the record student intake this year (in contrast to much of the HE sector), becoming University of the Year and moving up to 6th place in the Times league table, the first LU Ghana graduation and the positive impact we’d made in that country. There was also a mention of the launch of UA92 (which he clearly believed was a positive development) and the current consultation on the plans in Manchester. The VC stated that he had been pleasantly surprised by the generally positive reception from local people and that any opposition was more to do with ‘Manchester politics’ than the merits of the plans. (Oh really? See letter from a local resident below – eds).
On the gloomier side, the VC had just received a consultation copy of the draft new regulatory framework for HE. The proposals, he reported, are overly heavy-handed and appear to put into regulation what the government had been unable to achieve in Parliament just before the last general election. Then there was the matter of what he termed ‘the pensions squabble’. The USS Board was seeking to change the pension from a defined-benefit scheme to what was essentially a savings scheme. This was being resisted by UCU and as a result the university was likely to be facing industrial action beginning next February. ‘But we are not the enemy’, protested the VC, who happens to be the current chair of UCEA, the employers’ group which has not opposed these changes. Lancaster staff facing major reductions in their pension benefits, while having to make increased contributions, may beg to differ.
Senate then went on to discuss the Court Effectiveness Review. This was to be an opportunity for Senate to make any final comments to the Review Group before it made its final recommendations. One of the LUSU Senate reps made a strong plea for Court to retain its role in university governance, and for its single annual meeting to be given more support and prominence by the university. He took issue with the Chief Administrative Officer’s briefing document which stated that there was a lack of diversity in the Court membership but did not offer any evidence to support this claim. He pointed out that Court was far more diverse and representative than the membership of University Council or the senior management team. He also questioned whether Court required ‘a considerable amount of resource’ to support its function, as was claimed in the document. The Chief Administrative Officer responded by restating what she had already said in her briefing paper. There were some further contributions in favour of the current Court arrangements but the discussion was effectively ended when the VC declared that his preference was to remove all governance responsibilities from Court and to retain its annual meeting as only ‘a stakeholder event’. So that, we must presume, is that.
There then followed a report on the institutional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for 2016/17. The VC indicated that overall, we were doing well against targets, though he was concerned that Lancaster is not doing as well as it should in retaining its students. Mental ill-health was identified as a major factor but for too many students there is no information on why they drop out. They simply leave without telling anyone why. Finally, there was that bit of the agenda covering written reports not presumed to warrant discussion. Thankfully, one eagle-eyed senator spotted a hugely important issue that was about to be nodded through without discussion- a reference to the Review of Part 1 which appeared to suggest that proposed changes would now be implemented after consultation with departments. Senate, of course, has yet to discuss and approve these changes. It was agreed that the report would be amended to make this clear. Just goes to show that careful reading of Senate papers is always worthwhile.