PEAK response to Vice Chancellor's E-mail

Thank you very much for your message, and for taking the time to express your concern over what you have heard about proposals for academic restructuring at Keele. I appreciate the concerns and issues that you raise, and recognise the strong commitment to the discipline and its inherent value that underlies your communication.

[It is disingenuous to describe this as restructuring when in fact the proposal suggests closures: specifically, closure of the philosophy programme and the closure of PEAK. Although some ethics expertise (from PEAK) is to be absorbed by the School of Law, the majority of staff will be made redundant based on projected cuts. The assumption that PEAK as an entity could be absorbed into the School of Law by maintaining one or two individuals shows how poorly the management understand or appreciate the distinctive strengths and activities of the Centre. The closure of the philosophy programme will result in an absence of philosophy in Keele for the first time since its establishment in 1949.]

Reductions in funding mean that Keele has had to set a target of saving a total of £6.5m in staff costs. Can I reassure you that recommendations relating to the possible closure of programmes and disciplines at Keele in consequence of this need are made extremely reluctantly, and only after considerable consideration, deliberation and consultation. [We cannot comment on whether the consideration and deliberation was considerable but there was no consultation with staff affected. Figures have been gathered over several months with no explanation or disclosure of the review that was taking place. The proposals were disclosed to us on Wednesday the 16 March for the first time. They were then disclosed to the University as a whole that afternoon.] Any recommendations relating to specific disciplines are not in any way a judgement on the inherent academic and intellectual value of those disciplines, but are a reflection of a complex set of absolute and comparative operational, financial and academic-profile issues relating to individual disciplines, Schools and Faculties in the context of the University’s future well-being. Keele has a strong academic position, but must always seek to sustain that in the challenging financial and competitive arena of UK higher education in the future.

[This is perfectly accurate: the “inherent academic and intellectual value of [our] disciplines” are not in any way taken into account. Indeed, this is part of the problem. As the VC states, it is a purely financial decision. However, while we acknowledge that PEAK must be financially viable, we dispute the accounting system that has been used to calculate our financial contribution to the University. In these proposals PEAK, a post-graduate teaching centre, has been evaluated on the same accounting principles as any academic school that has undergraduate cohorts. They artificially isolate PEAK as though it was not part of the School of Law, of which it has been a part for over five years. The proposals for Senate make clear that the School as a whole is currently making a strong financial contribution to the University. Of course, undergraduate teaching is much more efficient, from a financial perspective. Ethics teaching at postgraduate level was separated from undergraduate philosophy teaching in a past restructuring exercise for which the philosophy programme and PEAK now seem to be punished. The financial review which was undertaken does not, as far as we can make out, include grant income or all of our postgraduate research income which would undoubtedly improve the outlook for the centre.

Furthermore, we cannot comment on the ‘complex set of absolute and comparative operational, financial and academic-profile issues’ used by the Staff Savings Working Group because the assessment methodology and the basis for calculating projected data have not been explained. It has not been made clear whether all units and sub-units of the university have been scrutinised or just specific sub-units. No explanation is given for why certain programmes or units are targeted. It is odd that other parts of the university have been asked to undertake cost savings while both PEAK and Philosophy have been targeted for total closure.]

For this reason, the review that produced the recommendations has been guided by the principles of:

a) Ensuring it reflects the University's overall strategy, including its size, academic shape, and range of activity, and enhances financial stability and sustainability.

[Given that the University’s current strategic plan includes a commitment to postgraduate teaching closing a centre that largely teaches postgraduates, like PEAK, appears contrary to this. We also find it difficult to understand why the Centre was assessed using a financial model more appropriate to undergraduate teaching.]

b) Recognising the importance of maintaining a breadth of academic disciplines and the need to position the University’s academic base to respond to both internal and external strategic drivers.

[Removal of philosophy and applied philosophy through the closure of both the philosophy programme and PEAK raises distinct difficulties for a university that claims to be comprehensive and committed to maintaining a breadth of academic disciplines.]

c) Minimising the impact of any changes on current and prospective students.

[The closure of PEAK will impact upon present students – how could it not? It is important to understand that most of our students study part-time, so any sudden cut in staff will immediately impact on the quality of teaching for current students. The University’s decision to announce these cuts with no consultation will also impact future recruitment on to our courses – how could it not? We contest this claim, which seems to be based on the assumption that one or two individuals absorbed into the law school, would be able to:

  • maintain grant income
  • teach across a range of undergraduate courses
  • teach across a range of postgraduate courses
  • maintain the distinctive environment which has contributed to PEAK’s distinctive and internationally recognised teaching and research]

In the case of the Centre for Professional Ethics, the careful financial modelling that has been applied to all academic areas of the University shows that the staff costs associated with the Centre exceeded its income by 19% in 2009/10, and on the basis of our forecasts will still be over 90% of income by 2013/14. In these circumstances it is incumbent upon us to find ways of addressing a structural problem, and to do so with reference to the principles outlined above. This is why the proposals that will be debated on 23 March by the University Senate include the recommendation that the Centre should not continue as a separate unit, but that some activities associated with the Centre should be identified for full integration with the Law School, which is committed to developing a more distinctive curriculum that includes ethics as an element of legal education. If this recommendation is accepted and implemented, then some of the Centre's activities will be continued, and some of the staff in the Centre will continue to work at Keele.

[There is no discussion of which activities will be maintained or how they will be maintained. We ourselves as a centre have tried to model what the retained posts would look like and doubt that it would be logistically possible for one or two individuals to cover undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, research, and administrative duties as outlined above.]

In the case of Philosophy, the careful financial modelling that has been applied to all academic areas of the University shows that income associated with the programme is projected to fall between now and 2013/14, with staff costs rising to over 90% of that income by 2013/14. In an environment where the number of EU undergraduates taking the subject cannot be increased without a negative impact on other parts of the University, and in the absence of evidence that Philosophy is in a position to achieve significant additional income through recruitment of overseas and/or postgraduate students, the University has no choice but to seek ways of addressing the problem, and to do so with reference to the principles outlined above. This is why the proposals that will be debated on 23 March by the University Senate include a recommendation that the Philosophy programme be closed, and that the income associated with the programme be retained within the discipline's parent School in order to underpin its financial stability and sustainability.

We have throughout this process considered alternative views on how such savings might be achieved. This process has been thorough but the University will consider other options that can be shown to deliver the required savings in the required timescale. We have also ensured that we have followed due process not simply as required by statute but also by our desire to consult fully and to ensure those at risk of being negatively affected are made aware at the earliest opportunity.

[The claim that the University is open to proper consultation and discussion of alternative restructuring options is belied by the fact that this proposal was released at the last possible minute to be discussed at Senate on 23 March and the subsequent Council meeting on 7 April. The group that undertook this review could have been open about what it was they were doing and/or consulted with the Centre during the course of their deliberations – they chose to do neither.]

The proposals for reducing pay costs are the basis of consultation with Senate, and with the University Council in early April. If the proposals are approved by Council then there will follow a further period of consultation, during which we shall endeavour to achieve the required savings by voluntary means. At all times our primary concerns will be for the experience of current and future students and support for staff who may be affected by the proposals.

[Given the weaknesses of the arguments outlined by the Vice Chancellor, highlighted above, we would strongly encourage consideration of alternative restructuring and cost-saving options in a genuinely open and consultative manner. It is clear that as the proposal currently stands, a negative impact on current and prospective students and remaining staff will be both considerable and inevitable.]

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