Tag Archives: recruitment


Reports of a curious chill emanating from D Floor have reached the subtext inbox. Apparently, Professional Services roles that are vacant are likely to, err… stay vacant, at least for the foreseeable future. Staff have reported to us that they have been told that new or replacement roles that have been approved at departmental/unit and faculty/division level are being knocked back by senior management. There are also reports of maternity cover not being provided, and of regrades being rejected out of hand.

It is not entirely clear what this practice is supposed to achieve, but likely outcomes seem to be an increase in stress and workload, and a corresponding decrease in wellbeing and productivity, for those Professional Services staff whose areas have vacancies. And the reports around maternity cover, if true, and lack of regrades, which are definitely true, send a worrying signal about the University’s progress on addressing its massive Gender Pay Gap. There has been no statement to all University staff about this, but an email to Professional Services managers that was passed to subtext confirms that the University is basically worried about its cash flow. The rather euphemistic ‘vacancy management control’, i.e. definitely not a recruitment freeze, is used to describe what management is trying to achieve in order to meet its ‘Adjusted Net Operating Cashflow’ targets. No doubt there is a flowchart somewhere that explains it all.

Does this mean the University is about to go bankrupt? This seems rather unlikely, but the massive hole in the University’s finances caused by the shambles that is the LUMS extension, as well as various cost overruns on campus vanity building projects… um, the Capital Programme, seem likely to have weakened the University’s financial position. Plus, D Floor will be nervous about the long-overdue Augar review and of course the ever-present spectacle that gives us so much joy, Brexit.

What seems strange, however, is why Professional Services staff are having to bear the brunt of this recruitment chill – could it be something to do with the REF, perhaps? Or with the perception that Lancaster has a higher ratio of Professional Services staff to academics than many of our so-called comparator institutions? Reports from friends of subtext at some of these institutions of the absolute clustershambles that centralising and reducing admin support can result in – for staff, students and pretty much everyone – should give us pause for thought.


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 Dean of the Faculty of Science & Technology (FST), Peter Atkinson, is ‘to act as interim Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medicine for a period of up to one year … (to) support the University while it seeks a replacement Dean of FHM’. While such community spirit is to be applauded, a number of questions spring to mind. On the most basic level, subtext has not heard yet how the microbiologists and clinicians of FHM feel about their new computational geographer overlord. According to a recent message from the VC posted on the staff intranet, none of the candidates had the ‘right balance across the wide range of experience and attributes’. What is going on that we can’t attract decent bio-medics? Don’t they know that we are the ‘Times and Sunday Times University of the Year’?

Have YOU got any ideas as to who could head the faculty? We aren’t being facetious – the University welcomes ‘suggestions as to people we should be talking to (sic) in looking for the substantive replacement for Neil.’

More fundamentally, assuming that this is not the start of a Stakhanovite movement amongst middle management types, will the denizens of FST now flounder, bereft of 50% of the guiding wisdom that they previously enjoyed as their Dean turns his attention elsewhere? Or will it turn out that the faculty can run itself happily without the attention of a full time strategic thinker and visionary? Is it even possible that if the time spent in such charades as Dean’s group Departmental visits is squeezed more actual work may get done? Only time will tell how sorely 50% of a Dean will be missed.