A university union rep unhappy with their university’s spending?

I think it’s traditional to mock corporate rebrands and be appalled at the sums of money involved swapping one little logo for another little logo, but the timing of this one could have been better.

University of Portsmouth under fire over £800,000 rebrand costs as departments face cuts
Dr James Hicks, city university branch secretary of the University and College union, said: ‘I don’t understand why they would spend so much money on a logo and shortly after that say we’re having difficulties and might need to make savings. ‘You would assume they would have thought this through and it would be a little more joined up.’

I wouldn’t like to comment on the levels of marketing and recruitment expertise the UCU rep has – obviously it’s not £800,000 on just a logo – but after yesterday’s post about strike action, and the attention currently on VC pay, this could have been managed better.

Times Higher Education v-c pay survey 2018
Times Higher Education’s survey of vice-chancellors’ pay in the most recently reported financial year, 2016-17, reveals that Snowden’s total remuneration rose to £433,000 in 2016-17, while that of Breakwell – who announced last November that she would retire at the end of the current academic year – reached £471,000, a rise of 4.4 per cent. But even that salary looked paltry compared with the headline-grabbing £808,000 earned by Christina Slade of neighbouring Bath Spa University, a figure that – as THE revealed in December – included a £429,000 pay-off for “loss of office”.

Bath University vice-chancellor quits after outcry over £468k pay
“Professor Breakwell will receive more than £600,000 from the university, an enormous reward for failure, and will continue to exercise the authority which has generated the ‘climate of fear’ now openly talked-of on campus,” a joint statement from the campus unions UCU, Unite and Unison, said.

[…]

Ana Dinerstein, a member of the senate who last week voted no-confidence in Breakwell, said: “This is great opportunity for change that will start at Bath University and can spread throughout the sector. It can be a turning point.”

Or not.

 

Tougher talk this time

I was about to comment along the lines of ‘haven’t we been here before’, but it does seem a little different this time.

Tensions mount on campus as USS pensions strike looms
In a sign of the growing tensions, management at the University of Leeds were accused of “bullying” after they wrote to academics warning them that, as well as withholding pay for each day of strike action, the institution would deduct a quarter of their daily salary if they refused to reschedule lectures or cover for absent colleagues.

Nobody to blame but himself

Here’s the conclusion of a story I spotted some time ago.

Oxford University not at fault for graduate’s 2:1 as he may have ‘simply coasted’, judge rules
The judge added that it was possible that Mr Siddiqui “simply gets over-anxious during the examination process and does not do himself justice on occasions”. He added: “However, anxiety producing a less than otherwise merited result is not an unfamiliar examination scenario generally nor, in his case, is it the fault or responsibility of his teachers.” Mr Siddiqui “has a very significant track record for looking for someone else or some other factor to blame for any failure on his part to achieve what he perceives to have been the right result for him”, he said.

It had been going on since 2016.

Oxford University is sued for £1 million by a former student named Faiz Siddiqui over his unsuccessful career
The university, for its part, wants the lawsuit thrown out—mostly because of the decade and a half that’s passed since Siddiqui graduated. While some students in the US have seen success in suing their schools, those campuses (including Donald Trump’s legally-tangled real estate university) tended to skew toward the non-elite, for-profit field, and were not established institutions like 1,100-year-old Oxford.

I can’t help but think if he had spent as much time and energy on his degree in the first place, as he has on the lawsuit following it, he wouldn’t now be in this position. Who knows how much pursuing that case would have cost him, both in terms of money and reputation.

Counting scapegoats

Two articles from The Guardian caught my eye recently, about immigration.

That working-class lives are more fraught is not down to immigration
Economic, social and political developments have, in recent years, coalesced to make working-class lives far more precarious – the imposition of austerity, the rise of the gig economy, the savaging of public services, at the same time as the growing atomisation of society, the erosion of the power of labour movement organisations and the shift of the Labour party away from its traditional constituencies.

Immigration has played almost no part in fostering these changes.

2VCs on … what does 2018 look like for universities?
“There can be few if any rational arguments for including international students in the net migration figures,” Humphris says unequivocally. “The evidence is there. They do not overstay. They add hugely to the enrichment of our universities that should be global and outward-looking. They make a massive contribution. The whole debate around immigration and international students creates very unhelpful mood music.”

Some things are easier to quantify than others, but just because something is countable doesn’t mean that that is where we should be focusing attention or laying blame, surely.

Fake degrees still big business

The scale of this still astounds me. All the work that goes into administering and assuring our degrees – let alone the work the students themselves undertake – is put in jeopardy if these fraudulent qualifications are not challenged.

Fake degrees, real news
But as this recent File on Four investigation by the BBC demonstrated, this Diploma Mill business is still booming and, according to the report, over 3,000 fake qualifications have been sold to individuals (and in one case a company) in the UK out of a worldwide total of 215,000 which netted a profit in excess of £37m in 2015. It seems that the investigation in Pakistan has ground to a halt “amid claims of government corruption” and sales are continuing, but now with a new twist: extortion.

Belltown University? Queens Bay University? Just two from a very long list indeed.

TEF teething problems

TEF boycott fears allayed as elite universities opt in
With the deadline for applications to year two of the teaching excellence framework (TEF) closing at noon on 26 January, concerns remained that some of England’s elite institutions would decide to opt out of the policy because vice-chancellors were doubtful that the financial benefits of inflationary fee increases would outweigh the reputational damage caused by not being rated outstanding.

Not involved with HE matters anymore, sadly, but still like to keep an eye on what’s going on. I can only imagine how much of an admin and data burden this new performance measure framework is. Is it just another example of the search for a simplistic, numerical proxy for quality, I wonder?

A link-baity article about universities and drug gangs

A thought-provoking read, in the style of Freakonomics, about pay structures and working conditions within higher education. The similarities to drug gangs catches the eye, of course, but it’s interesting to read how this compares across countries.

How Academia resembles a drug gang
Academic systems rely on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail. Drawing on data from the US, Germany and the UK, Alexandre Afonso looks at how the academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders.

Data, data, everywhere – any of it helping?

Data and education. Educating ourselves with data? On data? Improving education by improving data?

We might have the data, but have we got the answers?
Regarding what he calls ‘technical validity’, are we measuring what we are supposed to be measuring? Then, in what he describes as ‘normative validity’, are we measuring what we value, or are we valuing what we measure? Two important questions for us all to ask about the data that our systems are awash with.

Some great points here, refreshingly honest, about the state of data and information in schools. And here’s a response of sorts, albeit from a higher education perspective:

Taking the data conversation to a new level
The publication of this report is a significant moment in our journey to build a better data infrastructure for UK higher education because it is coming from a very different place. The members of the Higher Education Commission are senior, experienced leaders, strategists and Politicians and previous Commission inquiries have addressed topics like the regulation and the financial sustainability of HE. These are not people whose natural habitat is the world of petabytes, XML and FUNDCOMP; they are perhaps the most un-nerd bunch you could ever assemble. Yet their decision to base this inquiry on data in HE is in itself a recognition of the fundamental transformations that data technology is enabling.

Meanwhile, though:

Students hit by University of Greenwich data breach
Students’ names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile phone numbers and signatures were all uploaded to the university’s website. They were posted alongside minutes from the university’s Faculty Research Degrees Committee, which oversees the registrations and progress of its research students. In some cases, mental health and other medical problems were referenced to explain why students had fallen behind with their work.

EU et UK HE

It’s let’s-have-a-heated-debate time again, this time about whether or not we should stay in the European Union.​​ Here are a few articles on the higher education angle to all this.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE
I’ve left the strongest argument that the HE sector can muster till last: the student trade. 6% of all students in UK universities are from elsewhere in the EU. That’s a lot of fee income. And, over the decades after their graduation, it’s a lot of soft power. Of course it’s more than that too. It’s an example of our open society. It changes us to meet, argue, learn from, befriend and fall in love with people from other parts of Europe.

What has the European Union ever done for us?
The EU is both a catalyst and an enabler of collaboration. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and makes working across borders easier by reducing the level of bureaucracy which researchers face when putting together complex multi-national bids.

Both authors think we should stay in the EU and that the UK higher education sector, and society as a whole, benefits from our continued membership, but both seem to worry that their arguments are quite weak and can be easily rebutted.

I can’t imagine for a moment though that many people are giving the academy much thought in this debate. Unfortunately.

A self-spamming university?

Google blocks U. of Illinois at Chicago from emailing its own students
The University of Illinois at Chicago recently found itself living a modern nightmare: Google’s automated cybersecurity regime mistook the university as the culprit in a spam attack on the university’s students and began blocking university email accounts from sending messages to Gmail users.

The blocking went on for more than two weeks, and the affected Gmail users included 13,000 of the university’s own students. University officials describe those two weeks as a Kafkaesque state of limbo.