subtext | Truth: lies open to all

Issue 156 - "12 point subtext"



Fortnightly during term time.

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In this issue: editorial, emolument, cutting room floor, redundancies, the VC and DVC show, fake news, NSS, more NSS, architecture, more architecture, dunny-on-the-wold, more dunny-on-the-wold, Christmas cheer, comedy review, pub review, letters.



Staff members in University House will have noticed that it was markedly difficult to get into work today. The building is in "lockdown mode" due to a protest in Alexandra Square scheduled for 4PM today. What's all that about, then? It has been known for several months that UK universities would be enthusiastic about the idea of bunging an extra £250 onto their tuition fees from the moment the government gave them the go-ahead. It would be wholly unreasonable of subtext to complain that Lancaster has gone with the flow and done just that.

But there are certain ethical principles that one would hope one's own institution would uphold; unlike, for example, the University of Exeter, who told its existing first and second year students that their fees were to be increased for the remainder of their studies. One would hope that one's own institution would follow the example set by the University of Nottingham, which reassured all of its students, including those due to commence their studies in 2016, that there would be no change made to the rates they were paying.

One would hope.

In an email sent out to all first year students on Tuesday (17th January), Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andrew Atherton announced that their fees were to increase for their second and final years of study. The email bemoaned the rising costs of running the university, and assured students that "this increase allows us to continue to provide you with the very best education that you can expect at one of the UK's top universities." Somehow, it seems unlikely that many first-year students shrugged and thought "ah fair enough" when it was explained to them that top table had invested in "careers support" and "one of the best campuses in the UK."

The link between increased funding from students and the quality of teaching on offer has never been quantifiable: when the university raised its PG and international student fees, the seminars didn't start including free cake and a jazz interlude, and it remains to be seen whether our current first years will be baffled with amazement at just how improved everything seems when they enter into Part II. Nor is it likely that any recent alumnus of the university is going to seethe with envy at the improved careers support on offer to current students. With the recent completion of our new-look library, along with the raft of study space available to students, it's hard to imagine just how much better the campus is going to become for students over the next three years, unless Professor Atherton seriously thinks that first-years are happy to fork out for the ceaseless and purely cosmetic construction work currently being lavished upon the spine, the fruits of which they will never actually see

We can't even bask in the warm glow of schadenfreude in imagining that some Wile E. Student will have a legal case against the university, since Lancaster was very assiduous in its statements about the "potential" for further fee rises when advertising itself to students. £250 may not seem a lot, even when doubled or trebled over the duration of a degree, and with further fee rises on the horizon. But the frog is now in the pan of water, and the heat will rise over the coming years. Once interest, Brexit-induced inflation, and whoever the debt may be sold off to in the future are factored in, £250 per year is going to be the sizeable cherry atop a very large cake.

The revolution isn't going to happen this year, or even the next - and it seems pointless to expect the University to reject an opportunity to generate more revenue. But we do call on the University management to make a clear commitment to investing a significant portion of this revenue into real terms financial support for students, rather than whatever airy project they have their sights set on at the moment. The University should be guided less by what is possible under law, and more by what is in the best interest of its members, and should therefore reconsider its decision to clobber existing first years with the new charges.



"Long may the University prosper!" intones the Chancellor at the end of every Degree Congregation, and it seems that 2016 was a particularly prosperous year for Lancaster. The latest Annual Accounts show that in 2015/16 total University income was £267.3m, well up on the £255.6m for the previous year. After adjustment for losses on investments (we have not been doing well in this regard) the surplus is £11.3m (4.2%).

subtext's reporting on these weighty financial matters has in the past indicated a prurient interest on how well the Vice-Chancellor has done out of the University's success, and this year is no exception. Under "Emoluments of the Vice-Chancellor" we find that the VC's total wage packet for 2016 was £311K, a whopping 16% rise on last year. Readers will not need reminding that the increase for everyone else employed by the University was a princely 1.1%, with staff in the USS pension scheme (unless their salaries went up an increment) actually suffering a wage cut because of the increased employee contributions. However, before this news sparks a torch-lit procession of pitchfork-wielding workers and peasants to The Croft, we need to consider a bit of context.

Readers may recall that last year the VC actually suffered a 4.6% wage cut because apparently he had not achieved his performance targets for the year, as judged by the University Council's Remuneration Committee (see subtext 143). This is a shadowy body dealing with senior staff pay and is composed of lay Council members plus the VC (who leaves the room when his own salary is discussed). What those targets were is shrouded in secrecy, as are all the workings of this committee. However, we can speculate that the VC's loss may have something to do with the fact that the surplus for that year was a mere £4.8m or 1.8%, way below the target of 4+%.

Still, that reduced emolument represented but a blip in Professor Smith's otherwise rapid rise up the pay ladder, an overall increase of 14.7% since 2013. Nevertheless, he has some way to go before he enters the VC pay bracket of the Russell Group, where, according to a recent article in the THES, the average pay package last year was £366.5K, and even further to go if he is to catch up with the current head of his old employing institution the University of Warwick, whose VC is on £448K. It is important that our VC continues to close that gap and that Lancaster University achieves a top-10 place in this vital top salary league table. We are confident that he will achieve all his performance targets for the coming year, whatever they might be. The University can only benefit from his diligence, hard work and commitment- or is it the other way round?



We can't get too snotty about the VC trousering hefty pay rises. After all, Lancaster can only stay in line with comparator institutions, and these days that includes big business and corporations. But just because it's happening everywhere doesn't make it right. Recent research has suggested that for a great many years now, "performance" has actually had little bearing on a manager's "performance related pay", and vise versa. In most cases, an increase in pay far outstrips the increase in revenue. We wonder if our own institution featured in the research. After all, we're fairly local to where it came from - Lancaster University Management School! Wahey!



For the past several months, subtext has reported on the dismaying saga of the Students' Union's continuing and apparently wilful demobilisation. However, the latest news of a huge reorganisation of its activities transcends all that has gone before.

On 17th January LUSU staff (all of them University employees) were called to an extraordinary meeting and informed that from 1st April a new form of union would be in place with a consequent new staffing structure. Key activities – including the international programme, volunteering activities, enterprise operations and in-house IT - are to be removed from LUSU's remit and handed over to other University departments (ISS, UKSRO, the International Office etc). A total of 14 roles are being removed, with only six of the post-holders deemed suitable for redeployment to the new roles being created elsewhere.

Like every other restructure in the University, the reorganisation has been presented as a refocusing of activities in pursuit of key strategic aims, yadda yadda.. But the real reason is financial. LUSU has steadily been losing money and has had to close one of its on campus shops, its letting agent is offering fewer bedspaces (and is likely to offer even fewer as more block accommodation is built in Lancaster), and the Sugarhouse's precarious fortunes are set to take a bigger hit in the light of the Lancaster Council's recent approval for new flats in St. Leonard's Gate. It is these financial considerations that are driving these drastic changes.

In the 2015/16 NSS results LUSU suffered an 8% drop in approval and this has been presented as evidence that students believe the Union is too distracted with frivolous activities such as volunteering and international engagement (it definitely had nothing to do with, say, LUSU massively increasing sports membership fees that year - oh no!). It has also been suggested that students asked for this during LUSU's recent "Democratic Review" (when they reviewed democracy and decided they weren't keen on it), offering the view that some of its activities weren't that important. But the sweeping changes now being enacted were never tested with students and we can confirm that not a single LUSU member or officer (apart from the Trustees) has even been consulted on what was being planned. Another justification for gutting the Union is the comparison with "benchmark institutions", which showed that LUSU was offering a far greater provision than other SU's across the UK. What was once advertised as a massive boon and a USP for Lancaster University in attracting new students is now seen as a negative – no need for us to stand above our comparator institutions when we could stand in line with them!

Democratic engagement with LUSU is at an historic low, as is the esteem in which it is held by its members, and shedding a bunch of the things that actually earned them plaudits in the NSS (and gave them something to talk about at open days) isn't going to make a blind bit of difference. Instead, it is only sending the message to LUSU staff that it is their very existence that has contributed to LUSU's downfall. Meanwhile, the Trustee Board and the Chief Executive, who have presided over this drastic decline of a once great Students' Union, get off scot free.

The contrast between LUSU's political wing, which seemingly doesn't want to make a decision on anything (see "The Student Jury's Out", below), and its operational wing, which definitely wants to make plenty of decisions, is emblematic of a worrying trajectory.



The University hosted a public meeting at Lancaster Town Hall on Tuesday 10th January. Entitled "Strategy Consultation in the City", it afforded the VC and Deputy VC the opportunity to tell the good folk of the district about the revised/updated/realigned strategy for the period up to and beyond 2020. To a packed house, Professors Smith and Atherton gave a very slick, professional and assured performance – they presented for about 20 minutes or so then took a host of questions from the floor and via smartphone. They really have got the Ant 'n Dec act down very well - a few jolly quips about who would answer "tricky" questions and even some Chuckle Brothers "to you, to me" banter. There was also lots of talk about business, stakeholders, entrepreneurship, commerce and predictably a "straight-bat" played to any mention of Brexit. Reassurance was given about the relationship between the city and the county being at the heart of the plans for the University's future development whilst at the same time acknowledging that engagement (some confusion about what "it" was and how you measure it) has not been one of the University's strongest attributes. It was promised that this was an area the University was intending to address – watch this space.

The Health Innovation Campus was given was a grand fanfare by the speakers – short of declaring it to be "the future", they could not have given it a bigger profile. Professor Atherton deftly handled a question about the use of a green field site to accommodate the intended "promised land". Who would want to stand in the way of progress, after all? Unsurprisingly, it was announced that the University is in favour of and supports Lancashire County Council's Highways and Transport Masterplan for the District of Lancaster. The Canalside corridor development and the arrival of Bailrigg Garden Village are opportunities that the University is looking forward to be being part of.

Another new development or initiative that perhaps has not been widely publicised got a brief mention at the meeting. This was the launch of the "We Are Lancaster" campaign, the University's rather lacklustre attempt to make itself appear to be an inclusive and welcoming community following the shock and concern many staff felt at the EU membership referendum (see subtexts passim). It doesn't seem to do much to address the specific concerns of Lancaster staff and students who are citizens of other EU countries, or address the many benefits that EU membership has historically brought the University and the city, but hey, apparently it is a collaborative project with partnership at its heart. "We Are Lancaster" aims to celebrate the enduring values of the University, to be inclusive, to be open to the world and to be welcome to all. So that's all OK then.



subtext readers may well ask whether someone was following the well-established tradition of not bothering to google things when they came up with the "We Are Lancaster" slogan: The current top results for "wearelancaster" include a story about the good people of Lancaster being fired up and fighting back after feeling they were misrepresented in a national article by CNN. The article took a look at the city and its people, who have been hit hard by the economy, and stated that "[t]he real proof of Lancaster's misery lies in the lives of people who live in tattered neighborhoods and shop in strip malls". The story refers to Lancaster in South Carolina, but our local residents will no doubt sympathise with the misery, if not the strip malls. No doubt the University's social media brand facilitation managers and the awesome power of algorithms (aka the filter bubble) will soon propel the "real" Lancaster to the top of the rankings again.



In an official statement, the LUSU Full Time Officer team has announced that it can't make up its mind on whether or not to join the National Union of Students in boycotting the National Student Survey, essentially telling students that they should decide for themselves what to do.

When LUSU did away with the "dated" democratic process of officers consulting with students, putting policies to a "Council" and voting on them, and replaced them with a "jury" system (subtexts passim), there was a faint whiff of the SU shirking its leadership responsibilities. With this announcement, LUSU appears to have gone one step further and ditched its new democratic structures, and any semblance of leadership, entirely.

The NUS is opting to boycott the NSS (see subtext 155) as a way of threatening to making a big mess of the HE landscape. This provides leverage in the battle against government plans to link NSS performance with tuition fee increases. It transpires that LUSU's position on this matter boils down to essentially saying "you voted to have more of a say in union policy, so... we're going to do nothing and let you do your thing." More politically engaged readers may wonder whether this kind of flaccid indifference is really befitting a Students' Union. There were, subtext understands, a raft of public information events and General Meeting items on the matter to gauge student opinion, upon which the SU could act accordingly. All for nothing, apparently. The amazing new "jury" and "preferenda" system seems rather pointless if they aren't going to be used to seek direction on a matter of huge sector-wide contention such as the TEF and the HE bill?



Whenever student union officers um and ah about boycotting the NSS, it is most likely because they fear that such a move would lead to their institution tumbling in the league tables, and so their members will not be able to tell their potential employers that they went to a top ten university. This seems to be what is keeping LUSU from taking action, but it is reasoning that misses the point on a number of levels.

In this case, the campaign to boycott the NSS is part of nationwide action across numerous universities, so Lancaster would certainly not be alone in being slapped around the league table. It is impossible to know where we'd end up, and given our comparatively well behaved student body, it's perfectly possible that Lancaster would prosper if other universities endured a far worse kicking!

Regardless, the most important, and missed, point is that a boycott of the NSS is nothing more than leverage. It is a fabulous means of forcing an institution's hand because, at their core, NSS boycotts (and open day picketing, and any public reputational damage for that matter) are just a massive bluff that universities cannot afford to call.



As the disruption to the Spine continues, the effect on University tenant businesses was brought into sharp focus this week following a conversation with one of the University's longest-standing independents.

The proprietor of that business, one of the most badly affected by the closure of the Spine and the re-routing of foot traffic via an alternate entrance, estimated the drop in his trade at up to 70%. Loyal customers have continued to make the journey through the rain to the temporary entrance via a campus laundrette, but casual trade has dried up almost completely. subtext was not surprised to hear that the University has made no provision for compensating businesses suffering loss of trade as a result of ongoing work on campus. Surely a reduction in rent? No. Nothing. Nada.

The proprietor was remarkably pragmatic given the circumstances, and made it clear that they did not wish to sour their relationship with the University by making a fuss. The question has to be asked though - is this the mark of a fair landlord? Hardly, but it is also not a new situation. subtext has previously reported on the treatment of other businesses on campus during periods of disruption, a number of whom have since left the campus - Robinson's Newsagent, The Green Room florist and old County Diner to name but three.

The concern here is not just the short-term impact on campus businesses. Repeat trade is a factor relied upon by most businesses. But customers can be fickle. Inconvenience your patrons for long enough and they will drift elsewhere, forming new habits and, possibly, not returning once the obstruction to their previous habitual pattern has been removed. One major worry of the business in question is, therefore, that it may take some time for them to re-build their trade even after the Spine has re-opened.

As a business they have operated on campus for over 20 years, and have played a particular role in the lives of international students. This is one of few eateries offering hot food from unlicensed premises, a welcome escape from the bar-based fodder offered elsewhere on campus for those students who do not drink and find the atmosphere in the bars less attractive. For the sake of diversity and healthy competition at the very least (not to mention fairness and loyalty), we cannot but help feel that the University should be doing more.



It will not have escaped readers' attention that we have, once again, been skirting a fenced compound when crossing Alexandra Square.

Our friends in day-glo jackets are back, and one could be forgiven for wondering whether they now form, in fact, a permanent part of the Alexandra Square colour scheme. At the University's behest, the builders have been engaged in the de-installation of the lower steps in the square, steps which they themselves were asked to install relatively recently. The plastic material was laid on the foundations of the steps before the de-installed steps themselves were re-installed. We are told that this exercise is an effort to resolve the drainage problems that continue to plague the Square, but now that the job is nearly done we cannot help wondering what comes next?

The burning question which remains unanswered is that of the choice of material for the steps. It is clearly different to the material used for the original refurbishment of the square, which are a delightful flaky-grey colour. The newer steps are markedly different, most obviously so when it rains and they gleam in a sort of buff-coloured splendour. Perhaps this is part of a longer term plan to harlequinise the square? Perhaps the paving will spell out "WE ARE LANCASTER" in giant green letters when they have finished? At least this would complement the colour of the algae steadily accumulating in the lights, which of course still don't work...



Even when judged historically against other December polls, turnout in last month's city council by-election for the University & Scotforth Rural ward was bad. From an electorate of 3959, a whopping 282 (7.12%) made it to the polls, and Nathan Burns (Labour & Co-operative) emerged victorious with 98 votes. Some commentators wrongly assumed the election must have been held out of term time - how else could the response have been so bad?

Our students - who make up over 3600 of the ward electorate - can't claim that they never realised they were registered, because all of them will have explicitly elected to place themselves on the electoral roll when they registered for their course this year, thanks to the university's (very impressive) implementation of the "Sheffield model" for student registration. It wasn't like the parties weren't trying, either, with all four candidates plastering campus with posters and leafleting the residence blocks.

What about the long-term residents in Scotforth Rural, then? subtext's investigative team has been hard at work. At great personal risk to themselves they went undercover at various Christmas soirees held in the environs of that particular ward. After enduring numerous canopies and things on sticks, talk turned, after a few glasses of Glühwein, to the recent by-election. Folk were impressed that the various candidates went "on the knocker" and door-stepped residents to talk about the burning issues of the day. The youthful appearance of the various candidates was commented upon. However the one thing that "got the goat" of the residents on the doorstep was the insistency of certain candidates in extolling their position on what they saw as the burning issue of the by-election: the threat to the future of the Sugarhouse. After such encounters many non-student residents didn't see the point of voting!



The turnout provoked a fair bit of discussion on the psephological message boards. Since World War II, are there any other occasions where someone's been elected to a principal authority on a mandate of fewer than 100 votes? Contributors eventually came up with just three examples - a ward in Bermondsey during the autumn of 1945, where massive bomb damage had reduced the total electorate to 198; a ward in Wolverton, Milton Keynes during 1976, that had been created in anticipation of a community that hadn't yet been built, meaning its total electorate at the time was 84; and the city centre ward in Bangor, Gwynedd, which for the last few sets of local elections has had an electorate of just a few hundred. Can subtext readers come up with similar gems? Of course, these are all examples where, for whatever reason, the total electorate was tiny - we'd be interested in any cases where the number of votes cast was pathetic because of the percentage turnout, rather than the total number of eligible residents, being tiny.



It was the day before Christmas Eve, and as the dark gloom enveloped the late afternoon, the lights in University House started to go out. No email edict had been issued but the word on the corridors was that three o'clock was "clocking off" time on the 23rd. Whether planned or not, the news of the arrangement reached the most far-flung shires of the campus. Those folk out in the wild lands populated by the Departments heard this rumour, and they were curious. Surely a quick phone call to D floor would clarify everything.

"Hello, I understand that the University is shutting at three and people are being allowed to go home at that time".

Pause. "I will have to check and get back to you".

A few minutes later, a reply. "Yes, if you have permission from your line manager or your Head of Department you can leave at three o'clock"

"There is nobody here to ask".

Pause. "I will have to check and get back to you".

A few minutes later, a reply. "You will need permission from your line manager or your Head of Department to leave at three o'clock".



Mark Thomas brought his one man show "The Red Shed" to Lancaster just before Christmas. On the 16th December the Dukes became The Red Shed, Wakefield's Labour club where Mark Thomas has been going since he was a drama student at nearby Bretton Hall. Last year the wooden structure - 47 x 18 ft. – turned 50 years-old. Inside, there are banners and badges that recall the struggles it has supported, the victories and defeats it has seen. This show is Thomas's love letter to the Shed and to half a century of Labour activism. To help him, Thomas invited six audience members on to the stage to play various local characters with the aid of masks. The only instructions given to the volunteers was to relax, enjoy and do as they're told.

This piece starts with a memory – a memory that Thomas says ultimately set him on his political path. He remembers marching past a school with miners during the 1984 strikes as a teacher and her class of five year-olds came out to watch. As Thomas has it, they sang a song in solidarity. But is it true? Memories are slippery things and after the referendum's "campaign of lies", Thomas is keen to make sure his story has no holes in it. As such, he decides to find the actual mine, the school, the pupils, and the teacher, and confirm whether or not this memory is real.

Lancaster, like a lot of towns and cities across Britain, had a Miners Support Group. Lancaster Miners Support Group (LMSG) was a particularly vibrant group. Members of University staff and students were prominent activists in LMSG. As well as the usual support activities such as picket duty, attending meetings and organising rallies, the group organised food collections, benefit concerts, summer holidays for the children of miners, and raised rather a lot of money. Every Friday night during the strike a group of folk dressed in giant panda outfits and other costumes, supplied gratis from the Dukes Playhouse (long defunct) Costume Hire Company, toured the pubs and clubs of Lancaster rattling collection buckets. People were very generous and every weekend not inconsiderable funds were delivered to striking miners in the North East of England. Every week LUSU secretly printed hundreds of copies of the LMSG newsletter which was distributed to factories, offices and other work places throughout Lancaster district. It was a time of division in the country but for a large number of people it was a time of solidarity and pride in supporting a movement. Judging by the age of the audience and the number of red-eyes as people left the theatre, the evening was more than a trip down memory lane.

Thomas' performance was outstanding throughout, getting the audience onside and involved with pantomime gusto, at one moment side-splittingly hilarious and the next leaving dry eyes few and far between.

Only one brief moment caused the mood to subtly alter and the silence to become perhaps a little too intense: when Thomas offered an explanation for why Wakefield and indeed the whole of Yorkshire voted Brexit. In former mining towns, the unemployed coexist with barely employed and the imminently out-of-work. Low-income families in fragmented communities offload resentment onto their immediate neighbours. The long term unemployed endure the agony, addiction and mental health problems that are the eternal curses of the unemployed. A lack of solidarity very quickly turns into hostility to the nearest visible target, and the narcissism of small difference leads people to vent rage on the people closest to home. Britain has reverted to a pre-twentieth century, pre-labour movement climate in which a liberal-conservative elite rules over a deeply divided, individualistic culture, one in which the means of representation are everywhere withheld from the general population. Great swathes of the British electorate with little or no real enfranchisement in mainstream politics are now a vast "other constituency". People don't vote at all, either because they are disillusioned with politicians, because they feel betrayed by the rightward drift of the Labour Party, or simply because they couldn't care less. How were disenfranchised working class people in Yorkshire expected to react to such patrician disdain for their livelihoods? Is it any wonder that people would take the opportunity to vent that anger?

The slight sense of unease was broken by a quip about the appointment of a new Foreign Secretary.

But despite all the hints of nostalgia, "The Red Shed" isn't backward looking. It comes down to a question about whether you can have a present, or a future, without a past. In a little over an hour and twenty minutes Thomas shows us how important the little things are, how easy it is to forget and what a disaster it would be if we did.



A number of the faltering public houses in Lancaster have undergone a facelift and a change of management in recent weeks, and so the only commensurate response seemed to be for the subtext collective to appoint a crack team of investigators to, ahem, sample the offerings.

The first on the hit list was The Britannia, a landmark at the end of Ullswater Road, which has recently been saved from conversion to student accommodation by the folks who run The Borough. The place had never been held in particularly high regard, but in recent years it had gone from being merely a "dive" to being barely functional as anything resembling a pub. The lousy decor, decrepit toilets, uninterested staff and broken pool table were the least of the pub's worries - at one stage, the place was losing so much money that it stopped stocking certain items, instead sending barkeeps dashing to the nearby offie every time a customer ordered a drink; a system that might've been a decent cardio workout for the staff if there were actually any customers.

Easy though it was to make the Britannia leaps and bounds better, the new owners have excelled themselves. It boasts a homely, well-lit decor that feels modern without descending into garish vulgarity. Indeed, the actual physical restructuring of the place is subtle, and there are plenty of respectable nods to the old look - most notably, a rustic red brick wall behind the bar, discovered by the builders when they tore down the red brick wall patterned wallpaper(!) that had previously decorated the space.

The booze on offer is solid and competent. Seasoned drinkers might be disappointed to discover that CAMRA cards are not accepted, but then swiftly placated to discover that the ale is reasonably priced. A decent pint of bitter is £2.70, and well kept ale is nigh-on impossible to find in Lancaster at that price - Grad Bar offers it, but it's unlikely that many locals would be willing to make the trip.

Its other new offering is a range of "artisan pizzas", which caused some strife among members of the collective who sampled them. One complained that the toppings were too soggy for a thin crust, another declaimed that the crust was too stodgy and "scone-like", while another wondered what the hell his colleagues were moaning about. Perhaps there are some consistency issues that the kitchen staff need to iron out. The pub is also very dog-friendly, offering complimentary water and treats to any visiting mutts.

It really shouldn't be difficult for the Britannia to do well - it is, after all, located in the middle of a dense cluster of both student and local housing, and disgruntled former locals are already flocking to return to the place. It'll be interesting to see how strong the repeat trade is once the novelty of the Britannia being "good again" wears off.



Dear Subtext,

I'm a bit confused about TEF, which gets some mention in the latest Subtext, and would appreciate a beginner's guide, if that could be managed.

My current understanding is:

(1) We already have REF (formerly RAE) covering research activity. This is an enormously expensive bureaucratic exercise, sucking up vast amounts of staff time, including a lot of time that could better be spent actually conducting research, and leading to having to employ loads of people in universities across the country doing work that is not in itself productive of anything, with much money also spent on outside consultants. All this is in the name of "value for money for the taxpayer". Universities do it because:

(a) A lot of money depends on it.

(b) It generates an important element in league tables which, like it or not, have a very real effect on universities.

(2) TEF is a new idea that also promises to be an enormously expensive bureaucratic exercise, which will suck up vast amounts of staff time better spent on other things and probably lead also to employment of specialist staff and consultancies to do well in it. This is so that people who can already read the NSS, Ofsted reports and league tables will somehow have some additional useful information (quite what?), no doubt in the interests of value for money. So far, so similar. But what I don't understand is what's in it for the university? The result of a satisfactory performance in TEF will be:

(a) An utterly trivial amount of extra money - more easily generated by increasing overseas tuition fees and campus rents. For Lancaster this would equal, initially, about £1.5m a year, compared with a current annual turnover of more than £200m - a rounding error, really. (Remember, the amount of extra fees chargeable is tiny and this doesn't apply to PG or to OS students - we can set their fees at whatever they will pay, whether we participate in TEF or not.) And you only get this money if you sponsor an "Academy" (some sort of state school, apparently), which will probably cost a lot more than £1.5m a year and suck up a lot more staff time, then get us lots of bad press when: it gets a rubbish Ofsted report / the exam results and league table position are disappointing / the music master gets arrested for kiddie-fiddling / whatever. So, in short: it will mean we get somewhat less money as a result of participating than we would have if we stay out of it and acquire a huge new reputational risk into the bargain.

(b) No difference at all in the league tables because several Russell Group universities are likely to boycott it, so the newspapers that compile and publish the league tables, and which regard every word of every Russell Group press release as God's Word on Higher Education, will not use TEF as a metric. Indeed, it may well become a mark of distinction - the "best" universities not bothering with this silly exercise.

Please, please explain why anyone is even contemplating Lancaster taking part in this - preferably in a handy cut-out-and-keep guide.

Yours in perplexity,

Richard Austen-Baker


Dear subtext,

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The editorial collective of subtext currently consists of (in alphabetical order): Paul Arthur, James Groves, Lizzie Houghton, Ian Paylor, Ronnie Rowlands, Joe Thornberry, and Johnny Unger.