A breeze-block university

The Governors, the departed VC, the Senior Mismanagement Team all harbour the ambition to turn Kingston into a “redbrick” university; not, please note, a “plate glass”, the sixties universities that went up in Wilson’s technological white heat on greenfield sites. Too avant garde? Too rebellious, too left-wing, too anti-establishment? Whatever the reason, it has to be a redbrick, a term originally given to one of the handful of civic institutions founded around the turn of the 20th century, now encompassing all universities that originated in that era. Naturally, the ancient universities turned their noses up at these parvenus, as they in turn sniffed at the plate glasses; now they all reserve their contempt for the post-92s, the good old ex-polys that risibly adopted the mantle of university.

Yes, the desire to be a redbrick has an element of keeping up with the Joneses. The bricks are always redder the other side of the fence. Kingston is no longer content to be what it was, what it still is, just about, despite the suffocation of management ­— a university that specialises in teaching and widening opportunities for students who don’t, in the view of the reddest of bricks, cut the mustard. We cannot magic up the research history of the older universities, especially when those who want to be research academics prefer the older institutions with better reputations. The wish for regular big research grants and a steady stream of papers in the most prestigious journals is a fantasy in the sciences; even more so in the Arts and Health, where publications are few, and in any case, professional practice is often a more relevant activity. As for Business — two papers in the citation databases for 2015. And for Dean DadooRonRonnie? Only one since he’s been at Kingston, in that world renowned publication South African Journal of Business Management, in case you were wondering, impact factor bugger all.

So if one of the most aggressive and vociferous members of the SMT has such a pitiful output, how are the put-upon academic staff supposed to turn Kingston into a research-intensive university? Following Weinberg’s shrinking of the student base that keeps us all in a job, the SMT are adding to the damage with their fancies. Instead of doing what managers should do, that is support and motivate the staff, play to our strengths, they are engaging in delusions, in the process destroying staff morale and their sense of self worth. It is a prescription for disaster: not the fault of the academics and schools dragged to the bottom of the league tables by Weinberg’s disastrous strategy, but of the management. If the Governors do not apprehend the hopelessness of current strategy, Kingston may be left, like some of the newest universities, the old HE colleges, with a handful of schools, probably Sport, Fine Arts and Nursing, perhaps Business.

Then it will have turned itself into a breeze-block university — rigid, grey and surprisingly lightweight despite its apparent size. Maybe it’s one already.

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