White Paper – Some initial comments

Dear colleagues,

Late yesterday, within minutes of our perfectly reasonable request for an extension to the statuary minimum 45 day Section 188 redundancy consultation period being rejected by management, the VC published his long delayed ‘White Paper’.

As you will see, it’s the much heralded shrinkage strategy – wrapped as a supposed ‘cut to grow’ plan, we have been pre-warning about. We will be providing a detailed critique of this ‘plan’ over the next few days. However, we feel there are a couple of areas that require immediate comment:

1: DLHE (Destination of Leavers in Higher Education)

Our low-score in the DLHE relative to our ‘competitors’, along with other measures such as the NSS, is used to damn us:

The DLHE is an unpredictable survey and the University’s performance has varied considerably; however, in the 2013 survey, London Met was 5.5% below its HESA benchmark on the key Employment Performance Indicator of the proportion of UK domiciled first- degree graduates in employment or further study six months after graduation. The University’s major London competitors improved their performance against this benchmark over the previous three years whereas London Met’s performance declined’.

However, from the VC’s own strategy paper that went to the Board of Governors, dated the 17 March 2015, we have the more up to date, and far better, current position reported – albeit, with as much negative rationale (spin) tagged at the very end that can be mustered:

‘The Board was also informed in September 2014 that the University had performed below its HESA benchmarks in the 2013 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, and that University’s performance had deteriorated from the previous survey in 2012. The University was 5.5% below its benchmark on the key Employment Performance Indicator of the proportion of UK domiciled first-degree graduates in employment or further study. The University’s major London competitors had improved their performance against this benchmark over the previous three years whereas London Met’s performance had declined. It was possible, and supported by the survey statistics, for the Times and Mail newspapers in August 2014 to describe London Met as having the lowest score of English Universities for ‘graduates in graduate employment’

‘Although the survey is controlled by HESA, the majority of the data collection work is undertaken, to a specification, by the universities themselves. Starting in August 2014 I worked intensively with the Careers Service and the OIE to challenge and reinvigorate how London Met collects and reports its employment data. A new, more intensive approach was developed for the 2014 collection period designed to increase the frequency of discovery of graduates who are in employment or graduate employment’.

‘Although the official results of the most recent DLHE survey will not be known until July, based on the data gathered by the University, there is grounds for cautious optimism that on this indicator, at least, some benefits seem likely to flow from the increased efforts reported above. Our current estimate of the key indicator, “E1a” (Graduates in employment or further study) is over 88%, which is 7 percentage points up on last year and above the figures received by UEL, Westminster, Greenwich and South Bank last year (in fact, it would be higher than any of the E1a figures received by those institutions in the last five years), but still several percent lower than West London’s rather impressive E1a last year (they obtained an E1a of 94.9% in that year).’

‘We estimate that London Met will exceed its HESA benchmark for the first time since 2010-11. However, the economy has been improving throughout 2014 and while it is reassuring to see these estimated improvements for London Met, we will not know until July 2015 the increases in performance of our competitors and the net result on our relative position in London’.

2: Staff costs as a percentage of income

It is undoubtedly true that our reported percentage staff costs (62.5% 2013/14) compared to our reported income is relatively high. This was also reported in yesterday’s Times Higher Education article of university finances. NB. it should be noted that the figure quoted includes the significant ‘restructuring costs’ of sacking lots of staff, so is already artificially high. The percentage figure also masks the fact that our actual staff costs have been rapidly declining over the last five years as more and more staff have been made redundant or left and not been replaced.

The real issue – masked by the abstract ‘staff percentage cost’ is the actual income it is based upon. Simply put, in our case our income has been going down faster – inline with staff cuts, than those staff costs. A veritable cycle of decline, and the very essence of a failed austerity strategy of cutting staff costs to the extent that it significantly damages our recruitment and retention base income. The current staff cuts planed for GFBL show the failure to learn from such a mistaken approach – where we will effectively destroy a Faculty to reduce staff costs and in the process lose many more millions of pounds in student income than will be saved in reduced staff costs.

The figures are also presented wholly devoid of context. For example, if we hadn’t, through failed management strategy, lost our Tier-4 license, our income would be far higher, and our staff costs would more easily be within ‘the average’ the VC desires. However, even that significant self-inflicted management damage was not the biggest management failure re its effect on university income. That failure was the decision to pitch our average home fees at some £2k per year, per student, lower than everyone else – including all our ‘competitors’. Taking a realistic 10,000 UG Home/EU (at the time) that’s £20M/per annum in lost income relative to our ‘competitors’. It’s also why, now that our fees have been increased to match those of every other university, and without those ‘restructuring costs’ and the increased pension/NI increases (that all our competitors also have to make), our relative staff costs will actually reduce as a percentage of income next year (2015/16) even though our student numbers are projected to be down some 400 or so in total (on projections), as our fee income is projected to go up by over £10.5M next year.  Hence our staff cost percentage comes down significantly as we have a growing income!

More significantly, with our current staff base we have significant scope for expansion in order to increase income through much more targeted recruitment and focussed retention activity. Cutting staff to ‘bring us more in line with the others’ damages our chances of doing that, and that in turn is much more likely to seriously damage our current recruitment, thus hurting our overall income, and making even our reduced staff base appear as too high a % of our income. A virtual catch-22. We really cannot cut our way to growth by sacking frontline staff.

Finally, the most deeply insulting line in the White Paper, in the context of the current plans to sack 165 extremely hard working and committed staff, who along with the rest of us have managed to keep London Met going against all the odds given the unrivalled catalogue of management failure after failure, is the following missive:

‘We will provide pathways out of the University for those who fail to align with our mission, values and objectives’

IT’S NOW TIME TO STAND AND FIGHT FOR OUR UNIVERSITY, OUR COLLEAGUES, AND OUR STUDENTS FUTURE
VOTE YES/YES IN THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION BALLOT – POST YOUR BALLOT TODAY!

Mark Campbell, London Met UCU (Chair)
On behalf of London Met UCU Co-ordinating Committee

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