Welcome to the Amazon© University of Brighton?
In February 2020, several Vice Chancellors attended a presentation by Amazon, “How Amazon Helps Universities Innovate”. The image here shows our own VC Debra Humphris sitting in the second row. The person who posted the images included the comment,
“Also disgusting to see university’s UK bringing in Amazon to speak about ‘productivity’ and legit showing photos of an amazon warehouse as a model of how a university could be run.”
This is one example of university VCs – including our own – wholehearedly adopting corporate strategies to run universities. Corporate strategies are not compatible with managing an educational institution. So what is the outcome of this approach?
Recently, a consultancy named DataHE has been used by several Universities who have developed ‘business case’ models for their course provision. This has led to the closure of courses at institutions including:
- Portsmouth University
- University of Leicester
- Southampton Solent
- University of Kent
- University of Hull
Size and Shape
A post from 2020 by DataHE’s founder explains how they provide analysis of data to help universities make decisions:
Just consider for a moment the significance of deciding whether or not to invest £50m in a new building, whether to build new accommodation, or whether to close a school or faculty [emphasis added]. These are risky decisions in any context, but the stakes are higher if you feel an absence of information when contemplating your options.
The phrase ‘Size and Shape’ will be familiar to anybody working at University of Brighton. But it will also be familiar to those working at other institutions. USSBriefs asks,
“When did the phrase ‘SIZE AND SHAPE’ – part of the title of that DataHE article – become a management phrase taken up by universities? And how frequently is it a euphemistic cover for planned redundancies?“
‘Size and Shape’ reviews have led directly to course closures at Goldsmiths and at University of Sussex.
What can we expect at University of Brighton?
Whether or not University of Brighton have used the DataHE consultancy or not, the senior management’s commitment to these type of corporate practices is clear. PVC Andrew Lloyd let the cat out of the bag in an interview undertaken by recruitment consultants (website now taken down), intended to give information to prospective candidates for Deans in the newly ‘sized and shaped’ review, :
“we are hoping that fewer schools will lead to a reduction in variation between academic schools and reduce the level of duplication and reworking that we see going on within the schools”
Lecturers in some schools have already been told that their courses ‘no longer fit’ in their rebadged school. They and their courses are being moved into other schools. When these colleagues have asked whether there will be a consultation process, they have been told “it’s a done deal”.
Other courses including Chemistry and Geology have been stopped from recruiting students, in effect meaning that these courses are being closed down.
Upping the Ante
All of the above adds a worrying perspective to our current dispute about redundancies in IT. Although the fight is about jobs in IT, it also looks to be the first shot in a battle that the senior management are planning. Course closures and mass redundancies of academic staff have taken place at other institutions where staff did not think it would happen to them.
We see what is happening and we will not accept it.
We will hit the start of semester 2 hard with an escalated Action Short of a Strike, leading up to a full week of Strikes 8-12 Feb.