Tales from the riverbank – April

Dear April Fools

There are various words/phrases that raise hackles in a University context – staff, education as a public service, principal lecturers, students — this is a business we’re running for pity’s sake. Customers, marketing and service culture is what we’re about. Unfortunately they are tainted by association with some aspects of the commercial world that don’t feel right in a university but suit me fine.

Universities have not had to think about issues like “who are our customers (and is the student one)?” or “how (and should?) we market ourselves, how do we survive mad managerialism?”. As I have commented on before, the landscape of higher education is plunging rapidly; students’ expectations are changing and we have to jump to Government edicts even though they are destroying universities. (I’ll have retired by then so I don’t care.) I have posted on the idea of students as customers on the University Yammer site recently – so go here and do tell me to piss off comment. Marketing is merely trying to ensure that they up their salaries as much as possible by churning out the bullshit. No one else is going to do it for us, they are full of their own. Despite all the marketing guff we are losing students, and hence income. But like the man at BP, my income keeps growing.

It would be good for you to have a little of the stability we used to enjoy back into the system but not for me. The best way we can achieve that is to improve our reputation, and build flashy new buildings, increase the number of headbangers, I mean managers, market the University better, thus putting off even more students, those that really wanted to come to Kingston before, and reduce our reliance on late applications through Clearing (in other words throttle all our rubbish schools — not Fashion, they just designed me a new posing pouch – ooerr missus).

Our Marketing and Communications Directorate (MAD Cs) has now been operating for six months in its new, consolidated structure. One aim is to run everyone ragged with useless undergraduate marketing campaigns. The first such campaign, comprising endless digital advertising waffle, took place in November and December last year. This seems to be wearing out the academics. The main campaign for 2017/18 undergraduate recruitment will start even earlier in the cycle – between September last year and January 2014. Open day attendances have been steadily up for the current recruitment cycle (actually I haven’t a clue – what’s new!), there have been some teething problems as we gave away walnuts in their shells. Better IT (hahahahahaha) should help in converting “mugs” to applicants to students. A customer relationship management (CRM) system, which doesn’t work and annoys all who use it, went live in January. We are reviewing the website with colleagues from throughout the University to improve its chaos and unusability.

Underpinning all this is the need to have more of a “service culture” — I’m giving you all a right servicing. All that means is thinking about why we are here (for the money in my case). “Education” and “Culture” are merely convenient labels for administration. We are all here for the same purpose, to ensure our managers get the biggest income possible for the least amount of useful work, deliver huge numbers of crap research papers and support the University’s unemployment enterprise activity. We need to ensure that we embed a new way of enslavement; the effort put into the “TOMs” will fail if we default to sensible ways of working and expecting the management to run the place well.

One bullshit question the Marketeers often ask when others are doing something useful is; what is distinctive about Kingston, what is our “USP” (Unique Selling Proposition). I think it is very difficult to establish a USP for a university, even I know it’s all bollocks, many now have appalling management too. However I think that there is a lot that is distinctive and special about Kingston, notably the academic incompetence of the SMT; that’s really distinctiveness. It will take a few more years – but if we get it right I think that we will be seen as rather different. Then we will be closed down. What grounds have we got for claiming distinctiveness:

  • More staff taken into mental health care than any other university
  • More Student Fails that any other university
  • Amongst the highest number of BME (beleaguered, mismanaged, exhausted) staff
  • Shrinking Breadth/Diversity of subjects taught (remember Surveying) and students
  • Excellence in a range of subjects such as Fashion, Underpants, Footy, Nursing (er that’s it)
  • Barking ideas in Curriculum and heavyweight bullying in the Business School
  • Talking on and on about important issues like the BME attainment gap and freedom of speech but not actually doing anything
  • Jokes such as “the Big Read”

We clearly have areas where we want to improve, but this won’t happen if I have anything to do with it. It looks to me like a university with the end in sight. Great universities do not succeed because they are managed, at least not be me, but because they have enduring cultures which ensure the quality of what everyone does. That’s why I’m gnawing away at it.

So here are some statements for you to think about, and comment on via Yammer, or to the Ideas inbox (which I’ll completely ignore as usual):

At KU we believe that

  • Management is king with me as chief autocrat.
  • All learning at Kingston will be supported by academics on temporary zero hours contracts who have no time or energy for thinking or research.
  • Kingston will be known for building a shiny new building with my name on it.
  • Our students will come from anywhere we can get them and will experience as rich an educational experience (cuckoo, cuckoo) as students from privileged backgrounds at traditional Universities receive, only with less money, fewer staff and no posh buildings or endowments..
  • Our students and graduates will be thoughtful individuals who wish to contribute to the betterment of others prospects, unlike the management.
  • Therefore we endeavour to provide learning which stares out of the window and requires no work.
  • We will be constructively engaged in, and engage in opportunities for engagement in the wider social and international engagement.
  • Kingston aims to be a successful university climbing up any league table we can and win pointless prizes.
  • To get there we have to achieve significant improvements in the NSS, so woe betide any school that gets bad results.

Universities in large cities with diverse student populations tend to do poorly in league tables. I think we can “fuck the trend”. Our ambition should be to be the large, diverse, cosmopolitan London University that is known for academic excellence and innovation, and the outcomes for its students. Instead I will continue to screw the staff, play fast and loose with their well being, and collect a big salary.

Your stuffed



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