As the old saying goes in SEC, there are lies, damn lies, and KU statistics. As far as the V.C. is concerned, one of the big issues KU faces at the beginning of each new academic year is how to spin the stats in the latest University League Tables.
Each year our over-paid Gold Commander likes to provide an ‘Executive Summary’ to what he regards as that tiresome bunch of non-entities called the Board of Governors, mainly to keep them happy and still feeling relevant. In this, Steven Bland summarises the work of the SLLT (Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team), and over the last couple of years he has offered some tired and recycled comments about how the SLT will ‘continue to improve the University’s academic performance and standing’. The word on the street is that some of the Board have not been impressed, and privately regard Spiersy as promising much but delivering little.
The two League Tables Spiersy and his KU Silver team get most concerned about are the two big ones compiled by the Guardian and The Times/Sunday Times. Frantic instructions are issued each year to KU marketing and to all the Deans and Faculties saying that they should emphasise the Guardian League Tables much more and avoid the Times version. This year the headline that staff were told to use in press releases was ‘Kingston University named one of country’s top Universities in latest Guardian League table’, and each Faculty was urged to put their own spin on this, but with the following main message: ‘The University has risen 8 places to 40 out of 121 institutions included in the national newspaper’s annual rankings. The continued improvement in the tables follows an increase of 10 places in the latest Guardian tables and a rise of 23 places on the previous year’.
Each year KU comes out better in the Guardian one than the Times version or any other versions, and the Gold Commander and his hapless Silver Team naturally like to put a very positive spin on the Guardian‘s version of the figures. As some staff know, there is of course a good reason for this. The Guardian version is compiled by KU’s own special man on the inside, Matt Hiely-Renumerated, who, as well as working as Kingston as Head of Planning and Chief of Dodgy Stats, also runs his own company, a company which has been involved in drawing up the Guardian‘s national Uni stats. As Dissenter has revealed in the past, staff have asked serious questions about whether Matt ‘Two Jobs’ Hiely has a conflict of interest, as KU magically always comes out better in the Guardian table.
In 2018, it was revealed that the Guardian‘s League Table now included a ‘continuation measure’, which aimed at reflecting students’ chances of finishing their degrees. We were told: ‘To accommodate the new metric, spending per student has had its weighting decreased’. This was an innovation from – yes, you guessed it – Mr. Hiely-Renumerated, and was inevitably helpful to KU. He defended his value-added extra as a ‘sophisticated methodology’, but many staff (not just at Kingston) and some education commentators in the national media felt Metrix Matt had pulled a fast one. If you look closely at the latest one this year, the same approach has been used.
We should not be surprised at all this. KU has had a dubious record of spinning stats. In 2018, it was revealed by a staff member that Planning and HR had instructed her to fiddle the HESA staff return for years. Technicians and administrators were also being returned as being ‘academic staff’ in order to improve SSR figures. More recently, some senior staff have voiced serious concerns about the stats used to justify the so-called Course Enhancement Programme. And the stats used to defend the controversial creation of campus-based Student Hubs, the cheap-skate one-stop ‘shops’, were regarded as laughable by those who had to implement the cuts. However, the Board of Governors have been reassured that these have already been a great success for the future ‘sustainability’ of the University. Oh yeah?