Senate Newsflash

17 June 2014


'Truth: lies open to all'


All editorial correspondence to:


Regular readers of subtext will be aware that editions are released outside of the regular publication cycle very rarely, and only when something is thought to be a matter of urgency. Those attentive to institutional developments may also be aware of a proposal being brought to the next meeting of the Senate (p. 33 in the Senate agenda at, which takes place today.

The proposal asks that Senate gives the go ahead for other organisations – including private for-profit companies 'with expertise in professional training' – to deliver teaching on Lancaster part I modules. Actually, it seems that the nod has already been given to Study Group International (who have run our international foundation year since 2007 - see subtext 17), and the Senate is being consulted only very late in the day. Indeed, fag packet rumours echoing around the subtext warehouse suggest that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor has already given the green light for SGI to recruit to their Part 1 Lancaster study programme (intended to be drawn up in close consultation with relevant departments), and SGI are gearing up to launch this as an addition to their product offering from Monday of next week. Professor Atherton was working in Lincoln around the time that Study Group International began operating in that institution, in ways which provoked significant criticism from the QAA.

Before even considering the merits of this proposal, we have to raise concerns over management's interpretation of the Senate as the highest governing academic body – what happens to all of this should the Senate vote against it? Is the assumption simply that Senate will put a rubber stamp on it without question? Or did those involved in the planning stages assume that the proposals are a mere extension of our existing relationship with Study Group International, and therefore not a big enough deal to bring to Senate for approval?

One possible response to the proposal is: so what's new? Lancaster has for years been awarding degrees (not just part I credits) that are taught elsewhere by the staff of other institutions. Lancaster Engineering degree courses are taught at Blackburn, Blackpool & The Fylde, and Furness (Barrow) Colleges, by their staff. There are now Lancaster Engineering programmes being taught locally in India (Goenka) and Pakistan (Comsats). There are similar schemes involving other Lancaster departments including Accounting and Finance, for example. These programmes are validated by Lancaster. The main issue, on this view, is the quality of the programmes, and Lancaster does its best to guarantee this by regularly visiting the outside institutions, reviewing coursework and exam scripts, looking at the CVs of staff, attending examiners' meetings, and so on. Students who gain Lancaster degrees by these college routes are probably different from ours, but not any less worthy. More generally, external bodies teaching to a qualification offered by a chartered institution is an old and successful idea (consider the London external degree) and has been a force for widening participation, or at least for increasing recruitment.

But some things here are new, and worrying: first, this is a further step in the continuing privatisation of higher education – where 'privatisation', as so often, means creating channels by which public money can flow into private pockets. The big prize for private companies here is degree-awarding powers (which is presumably why Montagu Private Equity, for example, bought the College of Law in 2012), and with them the ability to recruit students eligible for student loans. But being an 'outsourced' provider of services to a body with such powers – us, for example – could be pretty lucrative too. Second, for-profit education is in general a terrible idea. The incentives are perverse in recruitment and assessment, the commercial relationship is destructive of scholarly community, and motivation by profit works against the internal goods of teaching. Third: private providers are in a very good position, given the academic job market, to recruit from the reserve army of academic labour: our colleagues and students who aren't lucky enough to have full-time permanent posts. And they have fewer constraints on what pay and conditions they can offer.

Concerns over the treatment of staff delivering these programs are double pronged – several sources indicate that the approval of the

proposal could lead to more and more teaching provided by fixed-term staff on poorer pay and conditions than those at Lancaster; but others indicate that the conditions of teaching staff working within these companies are actually better than those offered to Lancaster University associate staff, which is worrying in its own way. While contradictory, neither concern bodes well for Lancaster's reputation. subtext is at least aware of current SGI part time staff on campus who are paid £26.78 per contact hour, but nothing for marking or preparation. Furthermore, for reasons unexplained by SGI, English teachers receive lower pay than those teaching other subjects. Individual teachers are paid based on variables such as experience and qualifications, but there exists no published pay scale and no general rules on things like increments.

Further questions to be raised could also be: who gets to decide whether or not to admit a Part II applicant from such a scheme, and who sets the

progression level for Part II entry from ones of these schemes? If the answer to both is 'departmental admissions tutors', is there the potential for objection to an influx of strong overseas students into Part II courses? Or is the call intended to come from bodies superseding departmental level authority?

subtext has no business telling senators how to vote on this proposal. But we would like to urge them to question top table about it, and to seek convincing replies to the concerns expressed by staff, by campus unions, and by teaching and other committees in departments and faculties.

(subtext's regular service will resume later this week, when we'll report on the Senate's discussion)


The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Sam Clark, Mark Garnett, George Green, Ian Paylor, Ronnie Rowlands, and Martin Widden.