We are a group concerned with the planned redundancies at the University of Central Lancashire. This page claims no affiliation with UCLAN. All photographs used have been found in the public domain
Sign the student petition to save jobs and protect education at UCLAN

Monday, 27 January 2014

The beginning

In November 2013 the University of Central Lancashire management issued a Section 188 letter to the local branch of the University and College Union (UCU) informing them of the intention to make compulsory redundancies among the academic staff. UCLAN has placed over 420 academic staff at risk of redundancy, almost entirely in senior positions, and plans to make 75 posts redundant. In place of these staff, management has proposed to appoint a much lesser number of staff at the bottom of the pay scale, extensively Associate Lecturers on a sub-lecturer scale and temporary term-time only contracts.

After a so-called consultation period of 45-days, where information was withheld from both staff and the union (seemingly contrary to legal requirements), and where some individual Deans of School singled out individuals and made pronouncements as if the plans were going ahead even during the 'consultation' (maximising stress and anxiety over Christmas), management has revealed that proposals remain virtually unchanged (slight reductions in planned redundancies in some schools due to staff leaving since November).

The planned compulsory redundancies are occurring in the backdrop of a £14 million surplus in 2011-12 and £8 million surplus last year by UCLAN, with financial reports showing healthy reserves. Though some schools have struggled to recruit students in the past year, many others are in a good recruitment position, in financial surplus and have no need to make redundancies. While management has claimed that the goal of its current 'change programme' is to plan for an 'uncertain future' by 're-profiling' the workforce, there is no legitimate rationale for making experienced, dedicated and committed staff redundant, particularly in the hostile, blitzkrieg manner in which this has been pursued. If the institution was struggling financially such rapid change and threats of compulsory redundancies might be justified, but it is not.

This is never more the case than in the School of Psychology where, through staff dedication and hard work, student recruitment targets were achieved and the School made a financial surplus last year. Despite this, the Dean of Psychology (in post since September 2012) has drawn up a proposal to make redundant 4-5 out of the existing 27.7 FTEs at Lecturer and Senior Lecturer grade.

The total pool of staff at risk in Psychology is 34, but this includes a number of part-time lecturer-practitioners (mainly .1 or .2 FTE positions) delivering the Postgraduate Masters courses, so in reality unlikely to be at risk (they would have to be replaced at the same cost). The pool is in fact much smaller and consists of 27 permanent and largely full FTE academic staff.

The Dean claims to want to re-profile the School to develop neuroscience by replacing 4-5 current staff with 2 Lecturers in neuroscience at the bottom of the pay scale and 6 Associate Lecturers (apparently to provide all year 1 and year 2 undergraduate teaching). Proposing to appoint junior and sub-lecturer staff is, of course, an unconvincing way to kickstart UCLAN Psychology as a centre for research in neuroscience to compete with the top institutions (if competing with Russell Group institutions for a squeezed pot of research council funding in neuroscience is a good idea for UCLAN - arguably not).

In response to the proposal to make staff redundant in the School of Psychology, the at-risk staff provided over 30 pages of documentation. The Dean's written and verbal responses to this documentation have failed to address the concerns raised by staff, or the many arguments and evidence seriously questioning the rationale and viability of his proposal for Psychology. The key point that remains unanswered is the question of why 4-5 FTEs must go now through the threat of compulsory redundancies, rather than through natural wastage and a genuine voluntary severance scheme open to all grades (professors, readers, principal lecturers, not just targeted at Senior Lecturers).

The redundancies at UCLAN and in particular in Psychology - where no convincing rationale or financial driver exists, are nothing but sham redundancies cynically aimed at sacking relatively well-paid, experienced lecturing staff and replacing them with cheap inexperienced staff. Such actions suggest management attaches little value to teaching and learning, to frontline staff, and, of course, to the student experience which bears the brunt of all this. Management is convinced that due to the current economic climate they can recruit staff of quality and pay them considerably less, and the Dean of Psychology has openly stated that he believes quality staff can be employed at Associate Lecturer level that will do the job just as well. Sacking better-paid experienced staff to appoint lower-paid staff to do their jobs is illegal. The UCU branch at UCLAN has gone into dispute for this very reason and regrettably staff will shortly be balloted on local industrial action.

The way in which staff have been treated is shocking. The Section 188 letter was meticulously timed to coincide the end of the 45-day consultation period with the start of the Christmas vacation. The timeline for the process of redundancy and dismissal has been made vague, with staff unsure if they will have a job in semester 2 and not knowing when they'll be forced to leave. A so-called "voluntary" redundancy application window is about to open for 3 weeks only, and only for the grades of staff targeted as at risk, with the management refusing to reveal selection criteria for dismissal in compulsory redundancies; in effect, three weeks to jump or be pushed, and with no information on how management will select staff for dismissal if the numbers are not achieved in this short VR window.

Many Psychology staff have dedicated more than 10 years of their careers to the institution and its students, and a significant number of them have spent their entire career at UCLAN from being undergraduate students and PhD students, teaching assistants and then lecturers. It is a solidly collegiate and student-focussed School with a very low turnover of staff over the years. Every member of staff at risk in Psychology is valuable, able, experienced, and thoroughly dedicated to the institution and its students. These staff appreciate that the lifeblood of the university is students and the funding they provide. Management wants to replace these staff with Associate Lecturers with no experience and on temporary, term-time only contracts, and they would like us to believe the student experience won't be affected and that students won't even notice the difference for their £9k fees.

As the old adage says, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys (a much more articulate explanation of this by a current UCLAN student here). But the students are not paying peanuts, they are paying full fees. What, they are entitled to ask, is their money being spent on? (And they are asking: see Pluto and 'UCLAN Undressed' on Facebook and Twitter.)

Where is the money going?

In addition to its thwarted bid to become a private institution, UCLAN has in recent years thrown ever more money at international ventures while engaging in rigorous cost-containment in the core business in Preston. Over £5 million has been lost in overseas ventures in the last year alone, £3.2 million of this in Thailand. Yet plans are in motion to build a campus in Sri Lanka (controversially), and to open a Medical School in Preston aimed entirely at attracting international students (with a private medical degree of £35k per year fees - UK students can of course apply, but only if they pay the same fees at international students). All this while 100 staff in the support services at UCLAN in Preston have been made redundant in restructuring, thereby reducing services and provision for students, and with plans underway to make further 'cost containments' in administrative services by removing school offices and axing staff here. 

Despite protests from staff, attractive and sometimes highly popular courses have been cut to save money (and pave the way for the introduction of inferior job descriptions as fewer course leaders equals fewer staff on senior grades to administer them). Indeed, the current redundancies among academic staff is only phase 1 of the cost-cutting among the academics. Phase 2 plans to introduce inferior academic role descriptions that contravene the national framework agreement and then down-grade staff by paying them less for doing the same job.

This can be construed as an attack on education itself and the spirit in which the institution was founded (as The Institution For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge in 1828), an ethos in which it has thrived in the past - providing a high quality, innovative, strongly vocational education to students of all (but especially non-traditional) backgrounds. Institutions like UCLAN should not be concerned with ploughing good money after bad into gambles on overseas campuses and initiatives devised solely to attract wealthy international students, while running down the provision of education in its core activity of educating students in the UK.

The ramifications of these events at UCLAN go far beyond Preston. It is obvious that vice chancellors across the country are eagerly watching events unfold here. If they succeed they will use it as carte blanche to turn our Higher Education institutions into businesses run entirely for profit rather than for the benefit of students and their education. Education is a right, not a privilege, and universities are centres of learning, innovation and knowledge-transfer and should not be profit-driven. We are fighting for the soul of Higher Education in this country and we need the support of all to defend everything we so cherish.

Please sign the student-led petition, leave comments here on this blog (if you are an academic please state your institutional affiliation), speak to others and share this page and the Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter @PsychProtest. Help raise awareness of the fight for jobs in UCLAN Psychology, for those in the institution as a whole, and for the future of education here and elsewhere.

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