Last Sunday, The Observer published an open letter criticising the planned selling off of London Met’s Aldgate Campus and the shrinking of the Cass (Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design), to Holloway Road to achieve the vice-chancellor John Raftery’s “one-campus” model.
It was signed by some of the most significant names in the UK art industry, including Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate; Lord Rogers, architect; Sir Kenneth Grange, Royal Designers for Industry; Sir David Chipperfield, architect; Lord Baker of Dorking, chairman, Baker-Dearing Educational Trust; Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery; Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum; John Kampfner, chief executive, Creative Industries Federation; Anish Kapoor, artist, Turner prize winner; Rosy Greenlees, executive director, Crafts Council; Jeremy Deller, artist, Turner prize winner; and Associate Professor Patrick Brill, artist known as Bob and Roberta Smith.
Thousands more have signed online petitions denouncing a planned reduction in London Met’s student numbers by over 2,000, to a maximum of 10,000 on-campus students. These petitions have gathered pace while the university’s senior management have followed this logic by announcing significant course cuts across each of the university’s faculties.
The courses in danger include all the Cass’s music courses, its music technology and musical instruments programmes – the last instrument-making BSc course in the country – as well as some 50% of all postgraduate courses across the university. Outrageously, these closures were announced without any prior consultation with affected staff and students.
Senior management have offered only the legal minimum of time for consultation (30 days); implying they will notify individual staff they are to be sacked in the week leading up to Christmas.
Raftery has been claiming his downsizing plan has the support of London Met students. However, an initial student survey on which he boasted a “65% level of support” was so obviously flawed: a mere 3.4% turnout, and a question that didn’t – as suggested – support a move to a single campus at Holloway Road. So a new one was commissioned by the Students Union. This new survey has resulted in a larger turnout, with a significant majority of students stating their rejection of a move to a single campus.
This rejection was the case for students studying at each of the university’s current campuses: Holloway Road, Moorgate, and Aldgate. It was starkest amongst Cass students, where 89% said no to a move to Holloway Road. More worryingly for the vice chancellor, some 83% of those students suggested a forced move to Holloway Road would have a “big” or “very big” influence on their decision to stay at London Met.
Now, only weeks following the ‘one-campus’ announcement, almost 100 staff, primarily front-line lecturing staff but also significant numbers of academic-related staff, have been told they are going to face redundancy.
To add further insult to industry, senior management have offered only the legal minimum of time for consultation (30 days); implying they will notify individual staff they are to be sacked in the week leading up to Christmas. Most worryingly, and possibly a prelude to the iniquity of the Government’s planned TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework), at least one faculty – the Faculty of Life Science and Computing – is planning on selecting 17 lecturing staff for redundancy using criteria comprising module pass rates, overall course NSS scores, and course progression and retention stats. None of these are either an accurate measure of quality of provision, or even causally related to the ability of individual tutors.
Staff unions have pledged to defend members’ jobs and students’ interests by all means necessary. UCU National Executive Committee, meeting last Friday, unanimously pledged to fully support London Met UCU, and are now treating this dispute as one of national significance for the whole union. Particularly important in light of the Green Paper’s TEF proposals, and its implicit threat to allow universities such as London Met to ‘fail’. The staff unions will soon be moving to industrial action ballots in opposition to these redundancies.
On Thursday evening London Met’s board of governors will be meeting. They should seize the opportunity to pull back from the brink of disaster by halting the move to a one-campus university, and rescinding course and job cuts.
The governors should work with staff and students to develop a realistic forward-looking plan for a “two-campus” university that ensures a significant arts and design presence in Aldgate, while ensuring appropriate investment in the Holloway Road estate.
Mark Campbell is a lecturer at London Metropolitan University (UCU) and is writing on behalf of London Metropolitan University UCU