VC’s update on the White Paper and its implications

What action will we take?

Q: What about the future of Research here?

A: The White Paper doesn’t mention research, but for us this is make or break time as far as research is concerned.  I believe that after the Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment takes place the government will decide which universities it will continue to fund for research, so we must make our mark and be one of those they include – otherwise we would become a teaching only institution, which will limit our ability to charge fees and act as a university should.

Q: Is there any sense in over-recruiting?

A:  We’re not sure what the fine for over-recruiting is yet, but I think I would rather do that than under-recruit as any numbers we lose would be lost for ever.

Q: Where will you get the information on academic staff qualifications?

A: HR is currently checking the information with Deans.

Q: Do you see any value in support services staff being well-qualified too?

A: Absolutely.  I expect that support staff will be engaging with their professional bodies and be taking higher level qualifications where appropriate.  We need to have the best qualified staff we can in all areas.

Q: You said we will be a smaller university, what does that mean for Barnsley and Oldham?

A: We don’t know yet, as we are looking across all three campuses, programme by programme.  But I can say that we have to end up with a group of programmes that will recruit in the new market, and we will put extra numbers, and the necessary resources, into courses that have the potential to grow.

Q: Will places be removed from courses on a pro-rata basis?

A: No, we will close courses that are not recruiting well, and allocate new numbers to courses that have lots of applications – there will be a shake- up of our curriculum to ensure it is in the best possible health to meet the new challenges.

Q: How many AAB+ students do we have?

A: We are checking, as since the White Paper came out the definitions have changed, as this is now including qualifications other than A Levels, and different combinations of grades.  (Details have changed three times in 3 working days).

Q: How are we responding to changes in our market, ie to the new demands from new providers in the teaching, NHS and Police markets?

A: We target our marketing activity to reach all the markets we identify – and School marketing staff run tailored campaigns and events to catch those outside the UCAS application process.

Q: Should we be talking to employers to encourage them to get the message out that they will want staff with degrees from reputable institutions?

A: At the moment most employers are sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens.  It would be a very powerful message if they would say they would pay an employee’s tuition fee loan for them when they employ them, but none have done this so far.

Q: Are we doing all we can around Schools Liaison activity – there are examples of local schools telling their pupils not to come here.

A: Yes we are.  The school in question has a very supportive head, and we run events with them very regularly (in fact they are our third largest feeder).  In terms of recruitment, our market share has increased by 10% in the last two years, and 1000 more people have accepted our offer at this point than had last year.

Q: You’ve talked about reducing the number of modules – do you want to reduce them to the same levels as the Open University.

A: I’m not talking about reducing them as far as that, but there is scope for us to rationalise and become more business like.

Q: It sounds like we need a programme of cultural change to ensure we operate more like a business.

A: We are working on this, through communications, such as these meetings, and through staff development – we have developed a programme to develop leadership skills across the university.  We also need people to be more financially literate (though I would say that our university is one of the most financially astute in the sector as evidenced by our debt free status).

Q: Can we move into the further education market as a reaction to them moving into higher education?

A: Accessing funding would be a problem, and their cost base is very different to our, so I don’t think this is an option.  But, we can, and must, compete with private providers running short courses.

Q: Is international recruitment still important?

A: Yes, absolutely definitely.  But not just for financial reasons.  Students are our best ambassadors and help us recruit and create new business contacts.

Q: Do these changes mean we’ve reached the point where students are customers not clients?

A: I wouldn’t want to lose the relationship between student and tutor, but we do have to recognise that we need to be far more efficient in some areas of our operation. 

Q: Can you be firmer about the target number for Voluntary Severance now that you have seen the White Paper?

A: There is no target number for Voluntary Severance.  My aim is simply to offer the scheme to all staff and then to allow as many as possible to go.

Q: In the model you showed, are we the recruiting institution, which is looking at around a 17% reduction in numbers, and if so, are you looking for a 17% reduction in staff numbers?

A: We are a recruiting institution for some of our programmes, but we don’t know the impact on our numbers yet so it doesn’t represent us.  Our situation will depend on the impact of this across our different programmes.

Q: You had talked about ‘at risk’ letters being issued in July.

A: The White Paper has not made our situation much clearer, other than the fact that we know we must become a smaller institution.  I’m not able to say which areas are definitely at risk until January next year when we will have an idea of the number of applications we have received and which programmes they are for.

Q: Where would you say we are positioned in terms of a recruiting or a selecting university?

A:  I’d say we’re in the middle – so are likely to feel the squeeze under the new arrangements.


Clarifications on the contents of the White Paper and what might happen to the sector

Q: Where did the model showing the differences for two universities come from?

A: The rules came from the White Paper, and I constructed the model myself to allow us to see the impact.

Q: How will we measure ‘teaching hours’ for the Key Information Set (KIS) and will this mean we have to stop our innovation around using new technologies in teaching rather than only teaching groups face to face.

A: We are waiting for further guidance on what is required but we definitely won’t allow this to stop our innovations.

Q: When do you think the first university will fail, and what would happen to their students?

A: I would guess that this would be in around 2013/14.   The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) would be asked to intervene.  It’s likely that they would have three options – 1. Change leadership, which has happened in the school sector; 2. Phase out the institution, but this would be very difficult with a large HEI; 3. Arrange for a merger or take over as has happened in the further education sector.  I suspect option 3 would be the most likely.

Q: What about postgraduates?

A: The White Paper doesn’t address postgraduates.  I have personally mentioned this to the Ministers and they acknowledged that it is a difficult issue, and one that they will address later.

Q: I’ve heard that at least two VCs are considering privatising their universities.

A: That’s not something I’ve heard, but would be interested to know who they are!

Q: One of the reasons that universities are judged to be elite is the way they teach, with one to one tuition for example.  Do you think they will be able to expand in the new system?

A: Yes, I’m sure they will be able to.


Students and student choice

Q: How will the changes in the allocation of student numbers affect students as they apply?

A: It will be invisible to students, they will use the UCAS system in exactly the same way, institutions may simply have less places to offer.

Q: Are these changes for 2012 entry?

A: Yes, these changes do not affect those entering HE this September.

Q: Do we have any more information about whether people are likely to study closer to home?

A: We don’t have any facts about that yet, but we are keeping an eye on the situation.