VC’s VSS Q & A’s

A summary of the questions and answers at the VC’s presentations regarding the voluntary severance scheme.

Q. Why is VSS being offered in three phases?

A. Being offered now because of the University’s current surplus and the three-phase structure gave people time to assess their own respective situations.

Q. TUPED service – does it count?

A. Yes

Q. Will you provide seminars on retirement?

A. Yes

Q. Will you provide careers support?

A. Yes.  Through the University’s Careers’ Service

Q. What is a break in service?

A. Statutory – 1 week Sunday-Sunday

 University – usually require 1 month but this can be shorter if there are good organisational reasons

Q. If someone is turned down for severance what about redundancy?

A. We are only talking about voluntary severance, not redundancy.

Q. Have you consulted with Trade Unions?

A. We have shared details of the scheme and talked to them about the process although we would not formally consult about voluntary severance issues.

Q. Rather than cut back can’t we work to maintain our recruitment levels?

A. We’re doing all we can to maximise recruitment but we do face new competition, both from private providers offering cheaper courses in less time, and from FE colleges offering cheaper courses.  We can’t simply compete on teaching quality as the things that people make decisions on do include price.

Q. Do we know how much private providers will be charging?

A. One example is a private co who will be charging £6k per year but delivering degree in two years saving a year’s fees, and accommodation costs.

Q. Who’s accrediting the private sector?

A. The government has encouraged Pearson to go for degree awarding powers so they can feed it through to FE’s.

Q. Do we have any plans for two year degrees?

A. Not at the moment but we will be watching the market carefully.

Q. Will there be a reduction in WP funding?

A. At the moment the government is saying that they are still committed to this, but we don’t know what will happen in the future.

Q. Could we merge with Kirklees College to become a united operation?

A. FE funding is almost as difficult as HE funding so this would not be a solution.

Q. How will we manage the tensions between needing to save and investing in our research?

A. We must do this, being a research active institution is vital to our future as an HEI, and will  mean that government continues to fund us as a university, without our research we will be classified as an FE teaching only place and would probably not be allowed to charge students more than £6k per year

Q. How do we align the news re severance scheme with our decision to charge less than £9k and our debt-free message?

A. It is because we have a surplus that we are able to offer this voluntary severance scheme.  We manage our finances well and so are able to have this flexibility this year to help us prepare for whatever is to come in the future

Q. What’s happened about all the staff suggestions you received from earlier meetings?

A. Many of them have been acted on – such as curriculum innovation, car parking, purchasing efficiencies, recruitment messages

Q. What does this mean for the University Campuses?

A. We are watching the situation very carefully.  We think the local colleges are becoming keen to offer HE which would be a great competition for us – as they can offer courses at lower costs than we can.

Q. Lots of enquiries from students, but want to know whether course will operate from UCO throughout.

A. If there’s a lot of enquiries for the course then it would be viable and therefore no need to move it.  I’m reluctant to move courses mid degree – if it’s a viable course then we should commit to run it.

Q. What happens if you don’t make your savings?

A. Don’t know how much we need to save until funding is confirmed.  No target set for savings from VSS.

Q. If modules and programmes closed what would happen to the students?

A. We’d have to assist students to find another programme if we closed programmes but module closure would not affect them.

Q. Why wait for Oxbridge to take action?

A. Lobbying groups have different perspectives on what it means for them.  Even within the Russell Group there are different views.  If you think about the most powerful group that people sit up and listen to, it would be Oxbridge.  They are doing it now to put pressure on the drafting of the White Paper.

Q. What criteria will HEFCE use to allocate money?

A. They don’t know as the system is changing completely.  The old banding system has gone so the allocation mechanism needs reform.  HEFCE won’t consult on what this is until after the White Paper is published.

Q. Eventually will quality win out?

A. There will be a distribution of numbers – quality will win out but with a lower number of students – some students will choose cheaper options.  People are likely to go for the best quality in a price band.

Did you go as low as a 40% reduction in student numbers?

No, I got too depressed.  But next year we’ll have a firmer idea of applications.

Q. When will you know the figures?

A. Over time, once the White Paper is published, things may become clearer.  In January 2012 HEFCE give an indication to the sector about its funding – this is normal behaviour.  But HEFCE will have to amend its funding formula as they have less money.  By January 2012 we’ll have a better understanding of our recruitment figures.

Q. What about future investment?

A. There is instability and we have to be cautious but we have built investment in the infrastructure into our financial planning

Q. Although there is uncertainty business goes on. 

A. Absolutely, it’s fight or flight time.  The whole University has got to review its courses continuously and ask if they are viable; if not we need to move those numbers to courses which can recruit to maintain volume at the campus.  If we don’t recruit to numbers we will lose them forever, they will be swept up for the private sector therefore we must recruit to contract.

Q. The University is offering a voluntary severance package now, but wouldn’t it be better to reduce staff numbers overall in the first instance as opposed to waiting to see what further impositions the Government brings into place?

A. We feel it would be better to await the actions of the Government that make staff redundant unnecessarily.

Q. How will the staff, who are still at the University when others have left, cope with increased student numbers?

A.  The University is already looking for efficiencies, particularly in the number of modules we currently offer.  Not looking to create an institution that was the equivalent of a ‘teaching sweatshop’, but would like to create “headroom” within the workload that could be used for research as this is crucial to our future.