Management has a new plan, complete with portentous title. What happens if a plan fails? You get yourself a new plan. So following the complete failure of all the preceding ideas of the last six years, we are presented with new ideas, not dissimilar to those of the past.
Staff were invited to faculty meetings last Thursday, all held at the same time, followed within half an hour by an email from the VC. It was a bit like a simultaneous military strike. Amongst all the management fluff about the University facing a challenging environment in a competitive market place, the solution turns out to be much the same as Weinberg’s a few years back: cut back and get rid of staff. Engineering and Computing are in the firing line, as is Music, Politics and Geography. When you hear the word “consultation”, prepare for edicts from the mismanagement.
Doubtless every staff member will have seen the graphs that show a decline in student numbers over the last 6 years, declared a slow disaster by the SMT. But whose fault is that? Recall that the previous VC’s policy was to shrink the University, the subject of this blog’s first post. He succeeded! Now we are all going to pay. Another favourite management graph is the decline in Kingston’s league tables position. Coincidentally this took place during Ratty’s reign too.
Business thinking is uppermost, which one has come to expect with a board of governors nearly all from business, people who typically enjoy a number of sinecures and CV-padding “roles”. So we can expect more from Spier about becoming an “agile and dynamic institution”. To translate this favourite business phrase, it means cutting out parts of a company that don’t generate profits in current markets, adding them back in when things change. But you can’t do this with university departments. Once gone it takes a lot of time and effort to rebuild from scratch. No, if Kingston agiles away Geography, Geology, Maths and others, they will be gone for good. It looks like the breeze block university is really on the cards.
Spier wants a “step change in teaching quality and research”. The absurdity of a step change in research over 3 years is surely evident to anyone who does any. And what is the problem with the quality of teaching? Kingston had a good reputation for teaching until Ratty took over. Some subjects now near the bottom were towards the upper end of the league tables. Have all the teaching staff suddenly become bad at their jobs? Or is it more a question of demoralisation of lecturers and unreasonable expectations of the students? Many staff report a greater lack of student commitment to their studies compared with the past. Another Weinberg desire was to get rid of poorly performing staff, but he managed to get rid of a lot of good ones through severance, early retirement and the brutal grade 10 transition scheme. Those remaining are shell-shocked yet still manage to deliver decent work.
A reactionary government has thrown all universities into a bear pit and left them to fight it out. Kingston is not in a good position. Tory politicians and old universities look down on the ex-polys and will seek to undermine or even destroy them — market forces, don’t you know. To survive we do indeed need to do something. The question is what. The onus still seems to be on the staff to pull their fingers out; but it is hard to see what else they can do. The real problem lies — has always lain — with the senior management. If they genuinely support the staff, and withdraw all threats of job loss, abandon the abusive grade 10 transition scheme, one of the nastiest of Weinberg’s policies, then perhaps we can get to the bottom of Kingston’s decline and do something about it before it’s too late.
Management’s metric-mania dominates Plan 2020. The documents tell us Kingston will only offer “unique or distinctive” courses in future. That threatens to put the kibosh on many of the standard academic courses. Health, one of the apples of the VC’s eye, may not look quite so healthy when the NHS bursary scheme comes to an end this year. Music is being turned into a pop music and performing arts department. Yes, the X-Factor is coming to KU. Are we going to be left with trendy subjects the kids love? Kingston will look even less like a university in future.
There is one small hope. According to reports from one of the meetings, “Plastic” Mackintosh, our deputy VC recognises that our previous leader was too ready to blame the staff, too aggressive in his style. Could consultation then really mean consultation? Whether or not it does, the management has already published its intention to cut jobs. We will have to see how far its new caring approach extends.