Members will no doubt recall that just over a year ago the UCU LA Committee wrote to the Chair of Council to express a number of concerns.
Of key concern was that the adopted strategy was not delivering. We wrote….
“The initial promise was for a period of reduced recruitment that would soon be overtaken by strong growth as league table position improved as a result of improved outcomes. To date that has not happened and indeed the University has just fallen five places in The Complete University Guide. The Five Year Plan is now a Ten Year Plan (for the moment at least), and there is a real sense that the current and ongoing process of restructuring is being driven primarily by a desperate need to reduce costs to offset the lost income caused by worsening undergraduate recruitment…….UCU fears that the current “big bang” policy to reposition the University simply isn’t working.”
Perplexingly, Baroness Taylor responded that “….. the role of Council is to provide strategic oversight of the governance and management arrangements of the University but not to become involved in operational decision making which properly rests with the Vice Chancellor supported by his Executive Team.”
UCU found it difficult to accept that a failure to make meaningful progress against publicly stated strategic objectives and predictions would not warrant Council intervention. Moreover, it is becoming ever more clear that the concerns that we articulated in April 2017 were relevant then and remain even more so now, with the University clearly having to bear down more aggressively on spending, both on salaries and elsewhere, to tackle yet another round of disappointing recruitment. The inevitable consequence of this is job losses and operational curbs.
In the letter UCU LA also referred to the impact of Brexit and the implementation of the HE Act, asking for “……some reassurance that adequate contingencies are in place to militate against the effects of perceived risk factors, in particular the significant potential impact both of Britain’s exit from the European Union and the introduction of the UK Higher Education Bill.”
Those of us who attended recent BEP Updates will know that these risks along with the tightening market for HE due to a decline in the 18yr old population were identified as creating a “perfect storm”, contributing substantially to a challenging market.
Well – we did say! And as for the “surprise” of a smaller number of 18 yr olds that was quite literally born 18 years ago……
Of course the reality is that these factors were there for all to see some time ago, and that a change in strategy was needed as soon as those factors emerged. Instead a dogmatic adherence to a strategy that was already failing to deliver appears to have ignored these predictable risks and have set us on an ever steepening decline.
Of particular concern is the clear indication that government will not be there to bail out failing institutions. The notions of “too big to fail” or “we won’t be allowed to fail” have been replaced with an expectation in the 2016 Higher Education white paper that all institutions should have a detailed ‘exit strategy’ for the closure of a course, a department, or, in extremis, the whole of the institution.