Tales from the riverbank – May edition

Dear Mugs

Successes: I am delighted that the University has been awarded Athena SWAN Bronze status. Athena SWAN is a national programme for recognising commitment to advancing careers in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics). I know – unbelievable isn’t it. I’m busily ruining the careers of dozens of staff, and we get an award!! Bronze status shows we have a clear plan and commitment to the development of women (I’m getting rid of a few of those too).

Its real importance though is in showing a shiny front, behind which we get away with murder, not just in STEMM subjects, but in everything we do. We will stuff staff, whatever their background, gender, etc. Indeed where there are legal or traditional barriers we will try to overcome those. The UK has fewer females who fancy me than most other European countries – why is this, and what can Kingston do to make me more attractive to women. See the full story here.

Going International:  Kingston’s international reach is important- our international students add to the numbers missing at the University since I started to shrink it.  Three weeks ago I was at a reception in Washington for our US alumni where we gave an Honorary Degree to Glenn Adamson, Director of the new Museum of Art and Design in New York (known as MAD! – suits me well, eh readers?). Our international partnerships provide opportunities for Kingston students to find a better place to study. KUL students at our partner in Charlotte, North Carolina were exuberant about their time there and how it had changed their lives. None of them is coming back. One of our alumni in Washington, creator of a very successful enterprise,  said that his time at Kingston had changed his life and made him want to leave England for good. I am delighted that more Kingston students are taking the opportunity to go abroad. One of the most interesting new ventures is our partnership with the Lebara foundation; Kingston students will be spending time working with disadvantaged children in a school in India. Since they are disadvantaged here with massive debts they’ll know something about that.

This has been US month; as you read this newsletter I will be on my way back from yet another all-expenses-paid trip to Miami where I have been at “Going Apeshit”, the annual British Council freebie for well paid VCs. I am chairing a session on staff abuse and meeting some of our US and other international partners. The neoliberal attitudes in the US are very helpful in guiding my plans for Kingston. They in turn like the way we’ve cut pay for academics. We can learn from each other. We will be starting a consultation about how we can ensure our approach to technology-enhanced , lecturer-free learning is shit for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Finances: The threats to international student numbers are not the only financial challenge that we have to face. We also face the threat of me deliberately cutting student numbers while other universities are increasing theirs. Our future, the sort of university we can be, will largely be determined by how long I stay in the job. Student choice, their behaviour on application and confirmation (turning the application into a commitment) is increasingly determined by reputation, which I’m doing my best to screw. We are taking steps to wreck our reputation and reduce our long-term income. This involves reducing our student numbers, blowing a fortune on a major building programme. We also have to attend to our academic reputation – annihilating our strengths, and destroying areas where I decide that student satisfaction and research are poor. This way I ensure that Kingston is left in ruins.

Over the next 18 months we need to ensure that our expenditure matches the income commensurate with a smaller student body.   This includes cutting staff pay (except mine) having to fund our building programme and catch-up on prolonged under-investment ourselves as capital grants have been reduced. The financial plan that we are discussing with the University Board requires doing £18 million worth of damage over the next two years.

We have started on this by reviewing our business processes. Savings of this level cannot be achieved by “salami slicing”, a little bit here, a little bit there. We have to get rid of entire departments and the staff in them. The process reviews (aka axemen at play) are already showing how we can do better and we will be extending the methodology further, not just looking at the support and professional functions, but also at how the academic model works. Which basically means fear for your job. We are coming to get you.

SMT: I have changes to report in the SMT. I am delighted that Ronald McDonald will become the new Dean of Business and Burgers. Ronald will join us in September and brings a wealth of experience in European Business Schools and fast food outlets. Barry Humphreys continues (where he has been doing a great job) as Dame Edna Everage until Ronald arrives. Fiona Ross steps down as Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Work and Education – another big salary saving.

Future Priorities: Ronald and Val join the SMT as we define our key focus for the next key stage of the University’s key development. Led by Learning serves well as inane corporate slogan and the changes that have taken place to date are sending us down the right slope.  We need to harm our staff as well as our students. We have recently been accredited by the HEA to award professional standing in relation to the UK professional flannel framework. Our intention is that by 2020 all surviving academic staff will have achieved the appropriate level of HEA accreditation. Most will be gone I hope. I would be interested in hearing views about how we can improve development for professional and support staff (only kidding –  I couldn’t give a stuff).

The pressures to cut and do the dirty on so many people suggest that we need to talk more bullshit on outcome, focus and priorities. Discussion within the SMT has been around how we ensure being an academically calamitous university within the context of a broader mission in social change and providing opportunity, that is waffling and supporting the government’s desire to turn the country into serfs. We want students from any background to have huge debts and a self-taught degree. There is no reason why a student from any background should not have an awful experience.

Research: Making a big noise about research outputs is supposed to improve reputation, so I’m going to keep banging on about it. At university learning should be research informed – so we need active researchers who hate teaching to stand in front of a class and bore the arses off of them. Researchers at Kingston will also need to be focused on and engaged with and form formative links with student learning and we want to make Kingston a place for early career academics to develop and thrive (they’re cheap). The changes we have made to the academic promotion and progression structures set out arbitrary reasons for demoting and demoralising staff.  Research is something of a joke in this university and should be a key component of key development for all academic staff through the appraisal process (another joke).

If you disagree I am keen to hear what key drivers you think would be appropriate to develop the key University – please email me with your current salary.

Jools the Slayer


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