Posted by Sam Fenny - Memes and headline comments by David Icke Posted on 14 February 2024

U.K. Universities Lead the World in Spin

I am reluctant to bite the hand that feeds me having worked in U.K. universities for over 30 years and now receiving a generous pension as a result of the University Superannuation Scheme. But I have witnessed such an ability, across the university sector, in addition to its new found enthusiasm for harebrained wokery, to spin any story or metric in its favour, to polish the dullest of droppings and to create its own stories, that it bears reporting. With no names and in no particular order:

Making the best of abject failure

One university with which I was associated had several campuses and described itself “proudly” – they aways do – as a “dispersed campus” which served the needs of the population in the region where it was located across various geographical locations. The fortunes of the university changed. Staff were reluctant to travel from the main campus to teach at the ‘dispersed’ locations, attempts were made occasionally to hold important academic meetings there, but nobody attended, and the quality of the student experience there was well below average. Seeing the writing on the wall and having to compete with much better provision by other universities closer to these locations the university closed the dispersed campuses. All academic activities took place from thereon at the main campus. How to turn such failure around? Easy. For the next round of student recruitment the university proclaimed it was “proud” to be a single campus, with all activities “focused” in one location.

Don’t like the league tables?

Another university was frustrated with its consistently poor showing in university league tables. There are so many of these to choose from based on publication metrics, research income, teaching quality, student satisfaction, peer recommendation or any combination of these. To address this the university unofficially created its own league table, cherry-picking existing metrics and making up a few of its own up based on things it considered that it did well. With bated breath we awaited publication of this new league table. It was duly published, but after all the calculations, data-trawling and fanfare, we still only managed to achieve second place.

Revolving research metrics

The periodic assessment of research by the U.K. Government by means of exercises which evaluate research publications, environment and impact produces a pile of numbers indicating the extent to which various areas of the assessment are on a one-star to four-star rating and also an overall rating using the same scoring system. Each area is presented as a percentage of the overall assessment. Thus, leading Russel Group universities can expect to receive ratings with nearly 100% of their research rated four stars (meaning internationally excellent) while many new universities can expect to receive ratings with nearly 100% of their research rated one star. But everyone’s a winner. Oxford and Cambridge hardly need to proclaim their superiority, some other universities get a pleasant surprise and “proudly” proclaim that they have some reasonable percentage of their research in the four star range. But even the lower ranked institutions may proclaim that 10% of their research is rated four star, hoping that nobody notices. If the overall metrics are truly terrible, some of the lowest universities will point to one particular area of the assessment such as impact where they did better than expected and advertise that a percentage of that was rated four star.

On the back of research assessment outcomes, universities fabricate descriptions such as ‘research-led’ while others who cannot hold a candle to the highest rated universities may claim to be ‘research intensive’. The truth is that all universities are, and should be, ‘student led’ because whatever the university, income from students always vastly outweighs income from research.

We need risk-takers

“We need risk-takers” was the constant refrain of the Vice-Chancellor of one university where I worked. His presentations were replete with examples of people in the university who had “taken risks”, pushed their necks out, obtained some seed funding from the university and been successful. Student numbers on innovative modules (innovation being a buzzword often used in relation to risk-takers), income generated, patents obtained and spin-off companies formed were rolled out in support of the fêted risk-takers. Enthused by all this talk of risk and innovation I put forward a proposal for funding to establish a joint programme with a university in Hong Kong which would be taught virtually by teleconferencing (these were early days long before online learning, Zoom and Microsoft Teams existed). I had the agreement of the university in Hong Kong and needed a very small amount of funding , in university terms, to purchase and set up the teleconferencing equipment and a dedicated room. I was duly called to a meeting of the great, the good and the university finance officer only to have the funding application turned down. Why? It was deemed too risky.

The above are examples of outward facing spin but they are often matched by the inward spin directed towards staff. Thus, in more than one university I have heard about a major building the size of an ocean liner being “moved closer” to some other part of the campus. What is actually happening is that some area of the campus is being extended towards that building. Try questioning it in an open meeting and watch your career grind to a halt.

Staff are exhorted and assessed on the basis to which they establish international links, give international keynote addresses and conduct external work. But, with very few exceptions, U.K. universities are reluctant to fund this adequately. Forget decent flights, comfortable hotels or any mitigation in your teaching load to conduct these activities. Staff often either refuse to engage with anything other than their essential workload. Some supplement it out of their own pockets, but the credit always goes to the university.

In the meantime, Human Resources departments, formerly called personnel departments, have mostly morphed into ‘departments of people’. The problem is that they do not seem to deal with people. Instead they occupy themselves writing policies on equality, diversity and inclusion and solving problems which do not exist. The heavy lifting regarding advertising, interviewing and ‘onboarding’ new staff now falls on busy academic staff who must spend hours online learning new and complex systems and providing an impossibly demanding array of information.

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