Tales of the Riverbank – November

Dear Great Staff (lmao)

The staff in River House are relieved that it is getting colder and they no longer have to suffer me appearing in cycling thongs and nothing else! Ooerr missus! I like this time of year, the University comes back to life after I’ve spent the previous year trying to kill it off. Just call me Dr Frankenstein. It seems right to have to struggle through knots of students having earnest conversations innit. Thanks to me it will get easier every year.

Enrolment: You have all done a great job in welcoming the students. Just a couple of years ago enrolment was a shambles with long lines of waiting people. Now it’s management that’s the shambles. The change is down to thoughtful planning and hard work, ie nothing to do with me.

Freshers Fayre had a great feel to it. I especially enjoyed the food court, and managed to avoid getting a few pies in the face from the (ex-)Surveying students. Our freshers and returning students have had a great start to the year, unlike the staff (ha ha ha ha).

We now have to ensure that great start continues. A significant number of students drop out early in their course, some because I’ve closed their school down, others because there are hardly any staff left. Reducing student nutrition and supporting progression right back out the door is the thing I do for students. It creates more space and makes me look like I’m making a difference.

Timetabling: There have been some problems, particularly around timetabling. Okay, it’s been utter chaos and staff are totally pissed off (so some good has come of it). We have to bring in a digital timetabling system – students expect it, though some would prefer it to be accurate. We are also in danger of getting an efficient system next year if we do not introduce it. Timetabling, IT staff and others have been working flat out — I’ve taken all their chairs and desks away! So our timetabling needs are challenging — well I don’t understand them. Changes to everything, uncertainties over student numbers and how many staff I can sack or push into resigning has made all this more complex. Indeed if we were still on the old system there may have been even more problems (do you believe that? Thought not!)

We have to work through this, be honest with students and lie to staff and apologise where I can put the blame on someone else. The timetabling system will settle down (been saying that for ages).The data demands next year will be considerably reduced as we will have fewer students and courses.

University Vision: One of the requests I hear is for more clarity over the University “vision” – what is all this change leading to. My personal view is that I think visions can be misleading especially as I haven’t got a clue and anything I say is likely to be wrong. We need to create a more agile University that is determined not to compromise on meaningless catch phrases like Led by Learning and if we enable our great staff (ha ha ha) to do that we will be successful.

However I recognise that is not enough and there does need to be more bullshit. We discussed Led by Learning at a recent University Board – there was strong support for it and the waffle that had underpinned it, and for the re-evaluation and increased detail about what it meant, because let’s face it, no-one knows WTF it means now. There is no simple “strap line” to summarise our ambition – because we don’t have one, other than to survive my leadership somehow.

It is good for individuals and society if Higher Education is available to those who will benefit regardless of background. That’s why I am making entry requirements higher to get rid of those students. Kingston students should be in an environment where a diverse range of academic subjects are taught, by staff who are in touch with, and active contributors to, current thinking and controversies in their disciplines. When I’m finished none of that will exist if I have my way. All those below average schools will be shut down for starters.

So, how do we improve our reputation so that I get a knighthood and retire rich? This means:

A staff:student ratio that goes down every year and prevents high quality teaching and sufficient academic time and support for research/enterprise and/or/neither/nor professional practice.

A building site that makes work almost impossible for students and staff.

We have to aspire to a 100% increase to my salary, and a few other blah blah…

We will be a smaller university, with around 18,500 students and falling. A smaller, unsustainable university will mean reduced estate and fewer staff — prepare to get your P45s. However we also need a smaller, better university with improved staff/student ratios, better support for students and academic staff and better infrastructure. So that’s impossible then while I’m in charge.

Ultimately the University is only as good as the people here, and when the managers are bad it’s no surprise Kingston is struggling. I want Kingston staff to be highly desirable and mobile, so that we can get rid of you without paying redundancy. The rest should be staying at Kingston because I can control and demoralise you. Our values – to be perverse, to remain bullied, to depress whilst being manager rich – are easiest for us and we should not compromise.

Targets: A key “tool” in improvement is effective buzzwording, and targets is another “key” word. So, here are my key targets for 2014/15 as agreed with the University board:

Ensure that the University delivers a sustainable performance consistent with the financial plan. Deliver planned surplus. Reduce staff and staff pay.

Target Student Number Targets for 2015 Admission Cycle.

Target an arbitrary University position in the National Student Survey. Target 4% improvement to 182%.

Ensure ongoing effectiveness of SMT – keep me at the top, recruit and integrate new members who love the aggressive neoliberal role. This includes undertaking an External Review of SMT Performance, a Personal 360 review, putting in place an SMT Development Programme and all sorts of other money wasting crap.

Project management: We now have a Project Management Office (PMO) to keep oversight of all the pointless change projects and try to identify opportunities for more expenditure on managers. Since launching in September over 100 projects have been identified. Finally there will be a list of schools we don’t like in one place, which will help SMT with decision making. PMO is also helping set up effective acronyming and reporting for projects. If you want to know more about the PMO contact HP Sauce.

We are creating a really crazy, dynamic University, one that does things differently from a good one.

Finally, November brings the Times Higher Annual Awards Dinner. This year Kingston is shortlisted for two important awards, in Shrinking Participation and the UCU Bullying University of the Year. We have done very well to be shortlisted. Awards are lotteries unless I win, any other outcome would be a travesty! I hope I can let you know that we did in my next newsletter; legs in cycling shorts crossed!


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