Tales from the Riverbank – March

Dear Contemptibles

Leap years are special to me. I get paid a bonus, an extra £20,000 for a day’s “work”.

I was away from home, safe from doing any work (I thought), in a hotel. I was approached at breakfast by an accountant with a plain brown envelope addressed “to the bastard in River House”. In it was a fistful of used notes headed “for tax and other purposes”. The staff at Kingston know all about my earnings; embarrassment ++. I don’t think so ++!!

Producing this newsletter is a monthly tradition for me, a big yawn for everyone else. I think this is issue 60 (hang on, I’ll get out my counters), so it is time to modernise the tradition. I get some responses by email to the newsletters and value your views when you agree with me. However it would be good to have more of a “conversation” about the issues I raise so I can pretend I am keen on free speech. I have started a VCNewsletter discussion group on Babble. Please join in and make your contribution; we need all of your ideas, opinions and points of view – Professors, PAs, PhD students, Security Guards, Cooks (not lecturers, especially principal lecturers; we are “one University” and you all do as you’re bloody well told ….

To start a pretend conversation off I want us to think about some key issues for Kingston (and all universities). Universities are great repositories of tradition, many of which we are demolishing; being managerially led, freedom of thought and ideas so long as they’re not different to mine, funny clothes on the SMT. Others are going to be under scrutiny. The role of an academic is clear; the earning of grant money and the publication of rubbish papers. However we will have to think about how that changes in a world of low speed, intermittently available, always crap, Kingston’s information technology.

New technologies are making us waste time by going to seminars on learning technologies. We are a university, so we should be focussed on enabling our academics to facilitate the best learning possible for our students and to undertake research, instead we make them do a lot of admin (sacked most of the administrators) and try and getting their computers to work properly (sacked most of the IT support). At the moment in some areas academics have such large classes and “contact” burdens that they do not have time to do research (lazy bastards are not working hard enough). In other areas, academics do not have particularly onerous contact hours, yet are not research productive (really lazy bastards!). We need to work out what it is that we are doing wrong; simplify and sack the teaching staff. We also need to think if our systems best serve the students, or are they for our benefit? That is why we are producing more and more systems that don’t work.

Everyone in the University is doing something that benefits the academic purpose, except the management. I am not comfortable with dividing staff into “academic” and “support”, or “professional”. We are all here to do one thing, make Me a success, so all our opinions are important, but mainly mine.

What do you think are going to be the skills needed in a successful university in 2025? No, don’t say a set of decent managers.

People across the University are already making huge efforts to change the way we are doing things and we are doing well. Kingston is the University which …

had a modest improvement in the National Student Survey (NSS) which jumps all over the place anyway; had one of the biggest improvements in submission of waffle papers to the REF; is banging endlessly on about issues the BME attainment gap and free speech (haha); is a leader in student entrepreneurship with the most student coffee shop start-ups; blah blah blah

I could go on, (and often do!), Kingston is a successful university with great (hahahaha) staff. The fact that we continue looking hard at how we can continue to transform and improve shows real incompetence by me. It is important that we do continue to think about how we can do better, because what we do is important to a lot of people who we cannot let down (except staff we abuse and sack). Some thoughts …

The ability to benefit from a university education is broadly spread across the population, hence my desire to shrink numbers and up qualifications.

Access to University has not been equally spread across the University. (I don’t understand that sentence either!)

Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to go to Universities which are perceived as less “elite”. That’s certainly us under my leadership.

If we believe in what we do then we want to continue taking students from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible, we want to give them a great experience at Kingston and we want Kingston to be seen as being excellent so that those students are not disadvantaged by the reputation of their university when they leave. No, still not resigning.

Therefore we have to do what we can to improve the reputation of the University to continue enhancing the prospects of our graduates despite me.

Being perceived as excellent also enhances the prospects of staff. Good reason not to be then.

That means continuing to address the NSS, investing in the staff and estate and making it clear that our staff are as good as the staff anywhere else except for the crap ones and that they can demonstrate it through just surviving somehow.

So, how do we get everything in the University up to the level of the best? (I’ve already said – I’m not going). Is there a common understanding across the University of what that is? [A distant yes, fuck off. Haha, just my little joke.]

If Kingston is to realise its potential to be one of the country’s great universities – doing something different to the conventional “elite” (e.g. teaching, research), but doing it really well, we need to build on our managerialism, those things noted above (and more), and be honest about where we have to improve (except for me of course). Poor NSS results in parts of the University, not enough academics producing publishable research (it’s all numbers now)… Who are the key people we should sack first?

Finally a reminder that you are doing a great job (hahaha – I’ll fool you all yet) and a great many things are going right – I’m still getting away with it.

– As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, there is good news on our achievement in reducing the BME attainment gap. Latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) looked at in the right way show that we have managed to reduce this gap from 29.5 per cent of 18.3 per cent of the total in 2014/15 – a big fiddle in just four years. Keep a look out on StaffSpace for a puff story later this week that will let you know all about how I did this – as this is success is down to my efforts across the whole University.

– The early response rates to this year’s NSS have been the highest we have ever had, even better than last year’s excellent response. You’d all better hope they have given us a good score.

– The number of students leaving between enrolment and December has fallen to an all-time low because there are far fewer of them. That means first year students are still here – there are no jobs after all. They want to be carry on building up debt while I build up the University’s surplus and my pension pot.

Please do join the Babble discussion – I’ll be reading every word you say, that’s a promise, or is it a threat.

Yours,

Jools

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