This is a story, a litany of waste, from a university in which I worked for 25 years.
A new Vice Chancellor (with a science background) introduced widespread and unpopular restructuring with minimal meaningful consultation. This included reviews of academic subjects (called ‘divisions’ in management’s new parlance), one of which I had run from 2009 to 2013. This subject area is overseen by the Health and Social Care Council, which had, a year earlier, approved the updated courses. It runs one undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. On the basis of an inaccurate written review assembled without reference to myself or any other previous head still working at the university, and a visit by 3 external academics over two days, it was announced that the undergraduate degree would stop recruiting that autumn (it was, by this time, May 2015).
The division consisted of 23 academic staff, of which the university intended to make 12 redundant and immediately instituted ‘voluntary’ redundancy procedures. This news was announced at a meeting by the Dean and head of Department who then left, with no support in place for staff who were clearly traumatized. At this point nobody knew who would be leaving. Each member of staff was offered an interview to discuss their future. After complaints from staff that no criteria for redundancy had been provided, ‘strong entry for the Research Exercise Framework’ (the way universities are arranged in a hierarchy of research performance), and ‘professional body membership’ were mentioned, The outcome of the discussions, through which it became clear that some staff were being given no option but to take voluntary redundancy, and some staff were being denied it (with the criteria unequally applied), led to eight staff taking immediate voluntary redundancy, and two staff being told to take delayed redundancy (so that students could finish their undergraduate degree).
Before these decisions had been finalised, four staff left (one retired, three for other jobs/respite from what had become a toxic atmosphere in which the minority who had been ‘collaborators’ in the whole process were pitted against the leavers and their sympathisers). A further member of staff (one who had been a key contributor to the re-approval of the course the previous year) was engaged in a dispute over his probation – which he eventually won, at some cost to the university. The deadline for leaving was 30 September 2015, and by the time the students returned there were ten staff left (including two part time and one on maternity leave) to teach two postgraduate courses and two years of an undergraduate course. The students did not hear in advance of their return to study, but on arrival were told that the staff had chosen to leave. On discovering the actual course of events the students held a party for the departing staff.
Within two terms, four of the remaining staff had been offered jobs elsewhere, and it had been arranged for two of the non-professional staff (including one who initially had a delayed ‘voluntary’ redundancy) to move to other subject areas. By the start of the 2016-17 academic year, there were four staff remaining in the division. The head of division (one of the handmaidens of the closure) has given notice that she is leaving the UK. This will leave one full time and one part time members of staff to work with a couple of newcomers and ad hoc arrangements to teach the 3rd year of the undergraduate degree and a two year masters (the other masters course having migrated to another department with its lead academic).
The knock on effects that this inept manoeuvring has had on associated subjects is immense, and staff in these areas are also leaving. It seems a costly way in which to close a subject area which, incidentally, had moved up in the last Research Excellence Framework (one of the largest jumps in the University).
As you might have already guessed, I was one of those who was offered no alternative but to take ‘voluntary’ redundancy having been viewed, under a previous leadership, as a highly valued manager in the University. Ironically, under my stewardship, the division had broadened its research activity, increased student numbers, and re-secured professional recognition (after this was called into question a year before I was appointed). Two months before I was ‘offered’ voluntary redundancy I had become one of the Associate Deans for Equality and Diversity in the University. In this role, I complained that whereas about 30% of the original division staff were black or Asian, after the cull, only one of these remained, and she had left to take a job elsewhere. Both the undergraduate and the postgraduate professional courses are multi-ethnic, with the majority of students being black and Asian. Many of these students are the first in their family to go to university, and many have overcome considerable struggles to get there.
Under its current leadership, the university management claims it is aiming towards the ‘Russell Group’ of Universities (universities who had banded together to give themselves elite status in England and Scotland). But at what cost? Is my old university alone in this?
Postscript: I was graciously allowed an extra month to clear my office of its 25 years of accumulated papers. As all my passes were revoked on September 30th, I had to apply for a temporary pass for my office located within an area of open plan workstations. The area has two entrances, and once in, one may range freely and exit out of either door. I was asked which door was nearest my office, as I could not be given a pass to more than one door.