The October meeting of its trustee board agreed a reduction in the number of full-time officers from six to five, keeping the President but replacing the proliferation of five Vice-Presidents (activities, campaigns & communications, education, welfare & community, and union development) with four new posts: activities officer, education officer (undergraduate), postgraduate officer, and welfare officer. There will be a referendum in Week 8, and campaign teams for and against are being formed this week.
So, aside from the cosmetic name changes, we’re losing campaigns & communications, and union development, in favour of a full-time postgraduate officer. Not many are likely to oppose the loss of the union development post (formerly the General Secretary, aka ‘the President’s sidekick’), but the loss of a full-time political role in charge of LUSU media is more significant, and as for the proposal that undergraduates should be allowed to both stand and vote for the full-time postgraduate officer – well, good luck justifying that to the PG Board!
Student media at Lancaster is now de-politicised, barring a few exceptions on SCAN’s team, so the loss of a full-time media sabbatical might just reflect reality. The days when SCAN could openly oppose the union’s political strategy are long gone. The activities officer gets to be SCAN’s editor-in-chief, but only as a small part of their brief.
How, though, did the proposal get through to allow undergraduates to vote (and so have the decisive vote) on the postgraduate (who doesn’t have to be a postgraduate) officer? We’re told that, ‘as the officer would be a senior/full-time officer of the students’ union and a trustee, legally any student will be eligible to vote for them. It wouldn’t be restricted to postgraduates.’ What’s more, ‘any full member of the students’ union would be eligible to stand for this role – even if they’re not actually a postgraduate student themselves.’
Our legal correspondent describes this as ‘bollocks’. Exhibit A – UCL Union, which has a sabbatical Postgraduate Students’ Officer, open only to, and chosen only by, postgraduate students. Admittedly, we wouldn’t be the only students’ union to let undergraduates choose its postgraduate officer – Warwick seems to do it, and of course whenever Warwick does anything, Lancaster soon follows.
Another SCAN piece that caught our eye (SCAN’s news reportage has been good this year, hasn’t it?) was the report that significant parts of the unfaltering spine refurbishment have been ditched to speed up the process. Notably, the ‘Wetlands Bridge’ project opposite the Charles Carter building has been dropped so that the contractors can focus on finishing the vital stuff (y’know, things that allow you to take a linear route from one place to another on a consistent basis) in time for Michaelmas term. We did say this would be the best strategy (subtext 158, 154, passim ad nauseam) about a thousand times, but what do we know?
In subtext 173, we suggested that a SCAN comment piece on the Gary Neville University, published last October, was the first time the publication had covered this story. As SCAN’s Associate Editor Michael Mander points out (see letters, below), the publication had in fact published two stories on the Gary Neville University – once in March 2017, and once in October 2017. The subtext collective is happy to correct any errors, and would like to draw readers’ attention to more UA92 coverage, published by SCAN shortly after the release of issue 173: tinyurl.com/y9hkn4sz
subtext has extensively covered the recent abolition of University Court (subtexts passim), but has yet to give much thought to the ‘annual public meeting’ that top table seeks to replace it with. Thankfully, student newspaper SCAN has unearthed some interesting information on management’s plans for the future.
According to a University statement, the new public meeting ‘will provide an opportunity to widen the diversity of groups we have not traditionally reached through court membership.’ As we reported in subtext 169, the membership of the Court was the most diverse of any top-level governance body in the University. The Court could have easily represented new groups by voting to expand its own membership, but heigh ho. The new public meeting will allow ‘attendees to engage more immediately in the development of the University.’ So there you have it – apparently the public meeting will take place more often than the annual meeting of the Court, and stripping it of its decision-making and appointing powers will somehow provide greater opportunities to help ‘develop’ the university.
So, what will the membership be? As helpfully explained to SCAN: ‘The first event will target […] around 200, and […] invite a broader range of stakeholders, including student groups, the general public, regional businesses, voluntary and community organisations, as well as current external members of the Court.’ Erm… Okay. So the first meeting of the Annual Public Meeting will have a smaller membership than the Court, and the first order of business will be to invite stakeholder groups previously already represented by the Court to the following year’s meeting. Okay? Okay.
Mr. Fleming’s letter (subtext 173) is factually inaccurate, and shows complete disregard for the strength of staff feeling on this issue at his alma mater, which had the highest turnout in the ballot in England and third highest in the UK, with over 88% endorsing strike action. I would like to respond to each of the points made in the letter in turn.
1. UCU has a strong mandate for industrial action, given by its members through an average turnout of more than 58% across all 68 institutions that were balloted (a record), with 88% voting for strike action and 93% for action short of a strike. Membership is at record levels, with over a 100 members joining UCU at LU in the last two-three weeks alone. The only thing that seems to be over the top is UUK’s intransigence to negotiations, given a number of VCs across the sector, including institutions like Loughborough, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Strathclyde, London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and others are publicly calling for a resumption of national talks.
2. While previous pension arrangements are indeed protected, under proposed changes the future pension arrangements will not be protected from 2019. Proposed changes mean our pensions will move from the current defined benefit scheme (which guarantees the rate of pension received in retirement), to a defined contribution scheme (fixing the rate of pay contributing to pension). Crucially, when the chief executive of USS was asked when he visited Lancaster how USS would protect members from the vagaries of the financial markets and that put members pensions at considerable risk, no answer was forthcoming.
3. We are not working in the private sector – our pensions are just a small recompense for our very modest salaries. Modest in relation to the private sector, with very little movement between grades over the lifetime of work, and with the ‘initial investment’ of time and effort spent in gaining qualifications to work in a University that many in the private sector are not required to make. It seems disingenuous to make any comparisons with the private sector, and hardworking academic and related staff would find any comparisons with employer contributions to a pension scheme in the private sector particularly odious. Those who work in the education sector do so because they have a special set of values, of public good and not individual benefit. Our lifetime contributions to our pensions are being put at risk of markets, with it being left to the individuals to decide what they want to do with their pension pot upon retirement. Do we think vultures would be circling? We only have to see what has happened at British Steel recently.
4. UCU has proposed a range of models that illustrate how defined benefits can be maintained by modest increases in contributions (for e.g. 1% for the employees if employers decide to accept the September valuation), lowering of accrual from 1/75th to 1/80th, and willingness to negotiate on salary thresholds. UUK have rejected all proposals outright saying they will only accept a defined contribution scheme.
UCU Exec, Pensions Officer
I have been trying to understand the reasons for the current pensions dispute, and have found this talk by Carlo Morelli, an economics lecturer at Dundee University really useful:
Most interesting in the talk to me was that the changes appear likely to make the resulting scheme very unattractive to potential new members, causing the very shortfalls in money that Universities UK claim to want to prevent. Over time, USS could fall apart, and each University is legally required to act as guarantor to the current scheme. As I understand it, the danger is therefore not limited to staff pensions, but in the worst case could even affect each university, because each would be required to fund their ex-staff’s existing final salary defined pensions. I am left wondering whether Universities UK are doing a good job of representing the interest of UK universities.
I was disappointed to see, in your most recent mailout, the claim that SCAN’s UA92 debate column was ‘its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago.’
This is incorrect. The debate column was published on October 23 2017. We first reported on the Gary Neville University in March 2017 (tinyurl.com/yaw4q7go). We published a second article on October 5 2017 [tinyurl.com/ydftypme].
A Google search for ‘SCAN Gary Neville’ would have produced these articles as the first two results. Alternatively, the SCAN editorial team are happy to search our archives if you need clarification of our coverage in future.
SCAN Associate Editor
I would like to issue a complaint regarding your recent article entitled ‘Alt Wrong’. The article is blatantly libellous on numerous accounts, among which are your claims that we are somehow affiliated with the ‘alt right’, that we are ‘fascists’, ‘national socialists’, in favour of ‘pure blooded ancestry’, and further that we were ‘verbally aggressive towards colleagues’ leading us to be ‘ejected by security staff’. There are many other examples of these outright falsities, and the fact that subtext never reached out to our society for comment only reinforces the impression that you did not intend to fairly represent our society, only to defame it. We have numerous eye-witness accounts that can corroborate this.
While you may argue that the article never mentions our society by name, you made explicit reference to us, such that the article incited opposition to the society which may have escalated to violence were it not for the measures put in place by the University. The University felt the need to hire security and have a member of the police present to ensure that peace was kept, which demonstrates the threat that arose directly from the misrepresentations present in your article. Given these threats, I would ask that my name is not posted on your site, due to the false perception of our society that exists both on and off campus.
Your newsletter claims to be one in favour of free speech ‘without fear of backlash’, yet here our impression is that you are presenting things that did not happen as fact, in order to manufacture backlash with the intent of de-platforming our society.
We request that you remove this inflammatory article and issue an apology, in the interests of preventing further undue backlash and promoting intellectual diversity on campus.
Name withheld on request.
[As the writer acknowledges, subtext did not name the organisation they claim to represent – Eds.]
In subtext 171 we reported an attempt by a Stretford resident to obtain more information on UA92 via a Freedom of Information request to the University. Despite being given the old ‘commercial in confidence’ brush off, the resident persisted, with follow-up questions seeking more detail relating to the University’s first response. The information revealed in that reply is intriguing. The resident wanted to know what market research had been conducted which convinced the University that UA92 was a viable proposition. It turns out the answer was… not very much.
Lancaster regularly carries out research into the national student market and it was information from this, rather than anything specifically relating to UA92 and Stretford, that informed its decision to go ahead. Despite the claims made by Gary Neville and his pals that local young people would benefit from UA92, it turns out that they will not be targeted any more than those in the UK as a whole. The only differentiation in projected numbers is between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’. Then there is the matter of student retention, already a cause for concern for the Bailrigg campus. According to the publicity, potential UA92 students will be ‘non-traditional’ in that they are less likely to aspire to a university education and will not have the qualifications to enter ‘traditional’ HE. These are precisely the type of students likely to drop out, yet Lancaster’s projections for UA92, according to the FOI response, are based on ‘average non-continuation rates informed by HEFCE’s data’. In other words, the University is assuming that the UA92 drop-out rate will be in line with that of the sector as a whole.
The Stretford resident also wanted to know what information had been gathered on students’ likely disposable income, on car ownership, on public transport usage, on local domicile – all those factors that would justify Trafford Council’s contention that UA92 would be a key driver for local regeneration. The University’s response was that no research had been conducted in any of these areas. So, what justifies Trafford Council’s optimism? Have they conducted their own research, or have they, like Lancaster, been swayed by the charm and celebrity of Gary and the boys? No doubt these and other UA92 questions will be on the minds of voters in the May local elections, where ‘Tory flagship council’ Trafford could be lost to Labour. Should that happen, we’ll be into a whole new ball game,as they say.
(With thanks to the excellent ‘M32 Stretford Masterplan and UA92’ discussion group on Facebook for this information)
In what we think was its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago, SCAN ran a head to head, ‘for / against’ opinion piece on the subject. subtext readers may be surprised to see that the author of the ‘against’ piece was a member of staff, not least a member of staff who was happy to be named (‘big shoutout’ to Dr Jacob Phelps, FST). More surprising, however, was that the ‘for’ piece came from an anonymous source. Not only was SCAN unable to find someone willing to put their name to a defense of the Gary Neville University, SCAN was unable to find a member of staff to write one! The author refers to themself as ‘a student’. Is UA92 so embarrassing that even students won’t put their name to opinion pieces defending it, or did SCAN get so close to the deadline without someone willing to support it that they hastily ghostwrote any old bobbins?
Whoever wrote the piece claimed that the ‘naysayers have given no clear, coherent argument against UA92…’
Clearly they haven’t been reading subtext for the past year!
LU TEXT LOST AND FOUND
The public pressure against the Class of ‘92 continues to mount, and it continues to make the national press. This time, campaigners are unhappy with the idea of Gary Neville & co taking over Turn Moss, which is green belt land and a habitat of local wildlife. By our count, the Class of ‘92 has had to withdraw and rejig every bit of planning permission they’ve applied for, and their property development efforts are become increasingly unwelcome and irritating to residents, as reported in a number of national media organs: