UA’INT SEEN NUTHIN’ YET
Local opposition in Manchester to plans for UA92 continues to grow. Stretford residents are increasingly sceptical of the claims from Trafford Council that the scheme will be the major driver for the regeneration of their area. Detailed information from the Council on exactly how the local population will benefit has been sparse, to say the least. What is particularly concerning to residents is that the success of the whole regeneration scheme is totally dependent on the viability of UA92 as a commercial proposition. In this regard, Lancaster University has been even less forthcoming than the Council in providing hard information about how the proposed new university is expected to prosper.
With this in mind, the local MP, Labour’s Kate Green, came to Lancaster last week to find out why Lancaster thought that there was a market for UA92, given that its proposed curriculum is already well covered by other providers in the area. Our senior managers’ response was that the 18+ age cohort is set to rise over the next decade, so there will be plenty of students to go around. Ms. Green, however, managed to glean some information that had not previously been forthcoming, and has posted this on her Facebook page. Firstly, she received confirmation of what we had long suspected – that Gary Neville and co. had approached other universities before contacting Lancaster. We can safely assume that the response of those other institutions to Gary’s proposal was of the terse, two-word variety. Secondly, UA92 will be teaching-only, so those students can forget about receiving the benefits of Lancaster’s ‘philosophy of research-led teaching’ enjoyed by our own students. Finally, it appears that our leaders are also looking at the possibilities for two-year degrees to be offered by UA92 (and if it works there, well…).
Some Stretford residents have tried the Freedom of Information route to prise information from Lancaster, to no avail. One inquirer wanted to know details of the market research that had convinced Lancaster that the scheme was commercially viable, to which the response was the familiar ‘commercial in confidence’ evasion. Such information ‘may enable our commercial competitors to gain commercial advantage’. Not only that, but as Lancaster University was ‘partially funded by public monies’ it would not be ‘in the public interest for this information to be released’. This claim to be acting in the public interest is ludicrous. The ‘competitors’ are universities who are already operating in this field and who are also ‘partially funded by public monies’ and could reasonably claim that they have a ‘public interest’ in accessing this information. The only other competitor is UCFB (see below), whose founder and Board Chairman is Brendan Flood, also named in Companies House as the Managing Director of UA92. We would have to presume that he was privy to all this commercially sensitive information that Lancaster cannot possibly divulge. What, then, is the University playing at? Are there other competitors lurking in the background, too shadowy to identify? Or is it the case that, like the government’s ‘Brexit impact assessments’, no meaningful research has actually been carried out and that Lancaster has entered this partnership with eyes wide shut?
UALL KNOW IT MAKES SENSE
One of UA92’s selling points is the ‘unique connections and secured placements’ that will help students ‘stand out in the competitive graduate job market’. One whole year of a three-year degree programme would be spent on work placement with a major employer. Certainly, an ambitious offering, given that by the time UA92 reaches its full 6,500 student capacity, it will need to have over 2,000 available placements on its books. And these can’t be any old placements. If they are to be integral components in a Lancaster-validated degree, they will have to meet the requirements set out in the Lancaster University Placements Policy, adopted last April. These requirements seek to ensure that the placement is capable of being fully integrated into the degree programme, that it will provide the support and opportunities needed to meet the programme’s learning outcomes, and that it will actually pay the students for the work they undertake.
So how is UA92 faring on the placements front? Which major employers have committed to its ‘unique vision’? Well, so far it has signed up Microsoft… and that’s it, really. Trafford Council, MUFC and Lancashire Cricket Club might also stump up some placements but nowhere near the scale needed. The only other partner who might conceivably come up with the goods would be Lancaster University itself. Would our departments be willing to donate some of their hard-won and carefully nurtured placements to help out Gary Neville and his pals? No, we don’t think so either.
Such is UA92’s desperation to nail this down, that it is now using Twitter to get help in designing and delivering its courses:
‘Want to work with #UA92? Our partners have the opportunity to work with the academic team to help co-design our #university courses & build the curriculum, ensuring that we develop students that have the right #skills for the #workplace’.
This was accompanied by a graphic exhorting the tweet’s recipients ‘To help us unlock greatness’, illustrated with a drawing of an opened padlock that looked like it was composed on an Etch-a-Sketch.
Yes, this is what trashing the Lancaster University brand looks like.
UA92’S POOR RELATION
If Lancaster’s senior management thought that a football-related university was an original idea when it was first spun to them, they were sadly mistaken. There already exists in Manchester an institution called UCFB (University College of Football Business), with campuses at Wembley, Burnley FC and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. UCFB, in the words of its Chairman, Brendan Flood, is ‘the first higher education institution in the world dedicated to the delivery of degrees in the football, sport and events industries’. By a simply enormous coincidence, the same Brendan Flood happens to be the Managing Director of UA92. The existence of UCFB and Mr Flood’s involvement must have been unknown to the University, because surely it would have been mentioned when the proposal was first presented to Senate.
UCFB’s degrees are validated by the University of Buckingham, an institution ranked much lower than Lancaster in the league tables but one which is coming up fast. Admittedly, their degrees are of the old-fashioned type, where ‘academic discipline’ is central, as opposed to UA92’s dynamic new approach which puts ‘character development’ above academic learning. Despite this handicap, UCFB does appear to be prospering, offering a wide range of sports-related first degrees and, recently, postgraduate courses. The latter involves a partnership with Real Madrid and its own graduate school, the prestigious Universidad Europa, where students will spend part of their course. An attractive offer, perhaps, but surely incapable of competing with the opportunities that will be provided by the Class of 92’s very own Salford City FC when UA92 finally comes on line.