Saturday 21st March 2015
Dear London Metropolitan University Governor,
We apologise for taking the unusual step of addressing this correspondence directly to you, and at the weekend. However, we believe the urgency of the situation demands nothing less.
We are writing to express our dire concern about the recent proposals for job cuts at the university, the manner in which they have been decided, and the way in which they have been communicated. The scale of the proposed cuts could well mean the end of London Met and so we ask that at your meeting on Monday March 23rd that you and your colleagues rescind the S188 redundancy notice immediately and meet with the staff unions in order to discuss the way ahead.
You will recall that in 2009 a former London Met Board of Governors were criticised in an independent report by Sir David Melville for failing to sufficiently hold Vice-Chancellor Roper to account. In this context, we find it extraordinary that no more than four people – the ‘Finance and Resource’ sub-committee, in conjunction with the VC – should have agreed approximately 165 job losses, apparently without any formal or informal consultation with the wider body of Governors including the Staff and Student Governors. Have we learned nothing from this institution’s history? We can only conclude that as a collective group the Board of Governors to date has not been made aware of the irreversible impact of the S188 issued to UCU and UNISON last Thursday March 12th.
The reality is this. The immediate impact of 75.1 FTE job cuts in one Faculty, as currently proposed by the Vice Chancellor in the Faculty of Business and Law (FBL), will lead to the de-facto closure of the faculty and the vast majority of the undergraduate and postgraduate provision currently offered within its Business School. Correspondingly, the proposed 30 FTE job cuts in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (FSSH), the research engine of the university, are likely to prove significantly destructive to the faculty and its research centres.
We are aware that the Dean of FBL, together with his Faculty Executive team, are opposed to these cuts as they understand the dire implication of attempting to carry them out. Why not ask them as a group directly for their views? Following a very large meeting of FBL staff this week we are totally convinced not a single member of FBL staff is even remotely in favour of these cuts. Why not ask them for their views? Staff unions have had significant disagreements with FBL management in recent times, and we do not consider previous cuts (commenced December 2012) to have been justifiable. However, the irony now is that it is the portfolio of degrees approved in 2012 (around 12 UG and 12 PG) that less than one UG academic degree cycle later is now threatened with deletion with no alternative courses or curriculum proposed whatsoever.
Surely, as custodians of the university’s future, you cannot possibly be willing to permit all this to go ahead without extended discussion amongst yourselves and without extended discussion between members of the Board and the wider constituency of London Met? To do so would be an abnegation of responsibility as a Board at least equivalent to that which occasioned the resignation of the previous Board of Governors at the time of Brian Roper.
No doubt you wish to support a new Vice Chancellor who we all want to believe has the best interests of London Met at heart. In the recent Green Paper released to staff as part of the Strategic Plan consultation authored by the VC, there were several references to the need to “hold our nerve” over our difficult short-term position, in order that we can rebuild for the future. However, the reality is that these proposed cuts put that future at risk. They certainly pose a ‘risk’ to the university.
One interpretation of the cuts is that the Vice-Chancellor has not held his nerve and that these proposed cuts are down to sheer panic. An alternative interpretation is that the planned cuts are a way of achieving a future that the Vice-Chancellor always intended to steer us towards, but which was not supported by staff in the Strategic Plan consultation. Specifically, very few staff showed enthusiasm for consolidating in one location (although UCU collectively suggested the consideration of a two-location University), nor for abandoning our commitment to widening participation. The devastation that will be caused by the proposed cuts, in particular to the Business School, clearly suggest a move towards a one-location University. In other words, we wonder whether the redundancies are in fact a deliberate strategy, based on the claims of a financial emergency, aimed at subverting the will of the staff. Either way there is neither reason nor excuse for the changes.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing the University management have not even provided us with the Tribal consultants’ data which, we are told, provide the rationale for the cuts. We requested these data on 19th February but were not provided with the information. We requested them again at a meeting with senior management on 12th March and once more on 18th March. The data have still not been provided.
What we have been told in meetings is that our staff-student ratios are unfavourable compared to a benchmark of our local post-92 competitors and that consequently our costs in relation to income are too high. In the absence of seeing the actual figures there are nonetheless some points to be made here:
- The four London benchmarked universities (UWL, UEL, South Bank, and Westminster) we have been told we are compared against get significantly more money from NHS funded courses they deliver than we do;
- Relatedly, we have to query whether like is being compared with like. The Vice-Chancellor says that the Tribal data compares us unfavourably with “similar” institutions. But are we really similar? For example, London Met’s website advertises the Science Centre as “the most advanced science teaching facility in Europe”. We also teach architecture, a technical area, which is not offered by all our competitors;
- With the recruitment of international students becoming more difficult across the sector, London Met’s previous problem in this area may now work to our relative advantage. Because we have already suffered the worst, it is our competitors who are likely to be worst hit by worsening conditions for international applicants (in fact, London Met’s international numbers have recently slowly increased);
- The Tribal survey apparently is based on 2013/14 data and so conducted at a time when a number of new courses were coming onto the books. New courses typically do not attract large numbers right away, so including these in the measurements will have skewed some of the SSR figures;
- Any benchmark is an average and, of necessity, some institutions must be above and others below it. Not everyone can be above it and London Met will certainly not be the only institution performing below certain benchmarks (maybe not all of them, but again without seeing the data we cannot be sure). There is nothing wrong with taking benchmarks into account when considering strategy, but pursuing these to the exclusion of other factors is a mistake. In “chasing the benchmark” the Vice-Chancellor has fallen victim to Goodhart’s Law, coined by Charles Goodhart, former advisor to the Bank of England: “When a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure”.
In addition to the points above, it is worth remembering that we are one of the leading access universities in the country, taking many students with non-traditional qualifications and/or from disadvantaged backgrounds. As such, it should not be expected that our student-staff ratios are identical to a benchmark. We take many students who require a high level of staff support and this needs to be reflected in staff numbers. Of course, our local competitors also offer widening access but we draw your attention to London Met’s 2015-16 agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which boasts that we exceed benchmarks in terms of access:
“London Metropolitan University is one of the most socially inclusive Universities in the United Kingdom. Examination of our student profile for 2012-13, for example, reveals that 50% of the University’s 18,105 total higher education students are from minority ethnic communities (compared with 16% of all higher education students nationally). National performance indicators also show that 52% of all full-time undergraduate entrants at London Metropolitan in 2012-13 were mature (compared with just 23% nationally); 97% of all young full-time undergraduate entrants were from state schools or colleges (89% nationally) and 51% were from socio-economic groups 4, 5, 6 or 7 (33% nationally). Furthermore, whilst the above percentages are substantially higher than the corresponding national averages they are also better than the respective Higher Education Statistics Agency location-adjusted benchmark figures for London Metropolitan too: 97% compared with 95.6% for state school entrants; 51% compared with 44.4% for socio-economic groups 4, 5, 6 or 7”. It is this unique combination of strong widening participation indicators that makes London Met uniquely important even amongst other widening participation universities.
In addition, our agreement pledges to “safeguard and to build on [this achievement] in the future in line with the forthcoming National Strategy for Access and Student Success”. By contrast with these fine words, the cuts now being proposed in FBL, FSSH, and elsewhere can only make all of the above critically worse. They most definitely will do nothing to safeguard non-traditional students’ ability to access a business education and, as such, would be a violation of our agreement with OFFA.
In the Green Paper the Vice-Chancellor wrote of the possible implications from abandoning Met2020, one of which was to create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in terms of further decline. The Vice-Chancellor is now in danger of creating his own self-fulfilling prophecy in relation to recruitment. Having previously warned staff about the implications of bad publicity for the university, he is now generating that publicity himself. In particular, his “explanatory” emails to students are doing more to frighten than enlighten them. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that one of the consequences of London Met’s previous crises is a steep rise in the number of students transferring to other institutions. We are now already hearing about students making just such enquiries as a result of the Vice-Chancellor’s messages to students. It should also be pointed out that his decision to release such letters to students in the middle of the current, and, in his own words, critical, National Student Survey (NSS), was, at best, strategically inept.
In the Strategic Plan consultations staff have overwhelmingly indicated their commitment for research at London Met to continue. We readily admit that as a university we are not uniformly the strongest research performer in the country, but research is at the heart of what it means to be a University and informs the teaching that takes place. However, the significant cuts being proposed for FSSH will no doubt negatively impact on the extensive and highly rated research performed in that faculty (which performed very well in the recent REF), and hence be highly damaging for research overall at London Met.
In short, the implication of these cuts in terms of London Met’s location, support for students, access for non-traditional students, and for research, are all in opposition to the stated wishes of staff in the Strategic Plan consultations. They also violate our agreement with OFFA with regard to access. Further, they follow only a few weeks after the hugely negative results of the Staff Experience Survey that you commissioned for the university. The fact that the only group of staff whose own experience was uniformly (and statistically significantly, as commented on by the survey consultants themselves) out of kilter with the damning views of the rest of the staff body were the 19 members of the University’s Executive Group must surely make you pause for thought when considering this S188 redundancy plan purportedly put forward by the Vice-Chancellor in their name.
We therefore seriously ask you to review and reverse the position adopted by your FRC sub-committee. You cannot possibly wish to have your name associated with this hurried decision to deliver the death blow to our University? We are ready and willing to meet with you directly to discuss the critical juncture that our university is now at, and to present to you an alternate plan for securing its future.
Finally, we understand UNISON, our sister trade union at London Met, will also be submitting a letter to you protesting these destructive cuts and the resulting job losses affecting their members, and that they will likewise be calling on you to reconsider the S188. We therefore wish to put on record our full support for their position.
Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan UCU (Chair)
Cliff Snaith, London Metropolitan UCU (Secretary)
Sent on behalf of London Metropolitan University UCU Coordinating Committee
List of London Met Governors
Follow the link to a copy of the letter