Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Certain Ratio

"We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."
George Orwell 1939

Well in my book it's a little unusual. It maybe something and it maybe nothing. No, I'm not referring to the hacking cough which as a constant companion, has led to neighbours burning wicker-Callans in my moss-infected back garden. Nor am I referring to the pre-dawn presentation to a bewildered son of a Chartist-sized petition for my forced incarceration in blankets on a balcony in Switzerland in 1902. But someone did raise the issue and being a circumspect sort of chap, I thought I'd clear this one up for the record.

Tis the stuff of conspiracy theoratum... or 'tis it?

My first consideration was to wait a week. I thought then to wait a further week. It was proving elusive. I decided to read through it in its traditional format. Immersing myself wholly within the concept of latitudinal thinking I turn't my computer screen on its side. I even asked a neighbour to read through it wearing a two dimensional (2D) vest whilst re-soling a shoe with a truncated monkey paw and a cobbler's last... she could see nothing. I then got to thinking. Maybe it's been written in termite semen as some sort of ancient cypher akin to heterodox Hausa on clay tableaux unearthed near Herto in 1938 by a ream of hirsute historical harchaeologists?* Was it then deftly photoshopped and uploaded utilising an arcane electronic transcendence methodology on loan from Bletchley Fun Park, a tattered Mayan calendar with a page missing and as such is only visible once every 76th year in the subdued cosmic light of an inverted Halley's plague Comet? I spent hours googling this and eventually concluded that this line of reasoning was malicious. Inexorably I was drawn to a second conclusion that I considered had some merit and some readers may agree. It's a tad complex but bear with me. It goes something like this... as Vice Chancellor Martin Hall hasn't mentioned on his blog in any way whatsoever the axing remodelling of nearly ten percent (ten percent) of University of Salford staff jobs (sorry 'roles') in this latest round of staff job cuts 'role' reformations, then it isn't going to happen.

The sodial stomach

It is almost a truism to say that the receipt of a libel claim tends to focus one's analytical powers. So just to be sure, I trawled through past articles on his blog which I have to say were a thoroughly interesting and engaging read, particularly Prof Hall's forthright views on defamation and the use of deliberate misinformation. Yet despite its generally pleasing disposition and stimulating tone, there was no mention of any role re modellings proposed for 2011. This was all very positive and appeared to corroborate my as yet unpublished thesis. It was clear that my investigation needed expanding. My Autumn Almanac was to hand. I glanced through its dog-eared pages. No mention there. I also took the exciting opportunity to wade through the November 2010** University Council minutes (the most recently published). Apart from a few vague words such as 'transformation' and 'displacement' which are usually a concomitant of DIY programmes, ships and the study of ancient Greek bathers, there was no specific reference to the loss reformulation of 218 joles.

Pork jobs or bacon roles?

I recalled an almost half digested line from an obscure page on the University's Strategic Plan 2009/10 to 2017/18 which stated '[o]ur lean and informed system of corporate governance offers the potential to the University for a quick and responsive turnaround of informed decisions...' (1) This set my barely hinged mind reeling. Had the current system of corporate governance become so lean that it was now rind-less, vacuum-packed and on offer at the local Cut Coster - buy two pay for three? I decided to ignore the  almost Racinian neoclassical perfectionism involved in the transliteration of ordinary English via note-taking into corporate-speak, which combined with a raft of autocomical perambulations within the confines of hallowed corridors could not detract from the simple catechism: surely University Council would know if a cardinal decision to scythe modify 218 robs had been made? I now began to seriously question the ability of antique pince nez to collate and process the visuality of a modern plasma screen. Christ!! Even the most dreary cacophonous twot knows that among the fraternity of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a competent Swiss time master could set his watch by University Council minutes. If it's doesn't say 218 for the chop mid course correction, then clearly 218 people role modellers can sleep easier at night. It's elementary my dear Watson or his kin.

From role to dole

No. I'm not having one bit of it! Despite my incipient consumptive fever this one is as plain as the nose on the face of an habitual park bencher. Despite the uncanny closeness of the word 'role' to 'dole', if two hundred and eighteen (two hundred and eighteen) jobs' 'roles' were being transmogrified, something that would be a tad important to 218 people 'role' fillers, wouldn't the Vice Chancellor have something to say about it on his blog? Take last week's blog which deals with the irksome issue of student fees. It's important so it's on there. On April 4th he had something up there entitled 'Learning through Teaching' which sounds a bit obvious but isn't. This week he deals with the knotty issue of some LS Lowry paintings.

It's not Project Headroom so stop saying it is.

I hear he's shit
Yet the perennial pessimists persist. A silly beggar suggested the other day that this allegorical non-existent job 'role' centric metamorphosis is a continuation of Project Headroom. This is patently nonsense as students and staff would be pooling their resources and forces to protest like they did in 2008-09. The posters would be up everywhere. The UCU, UNISON and the Students' Union would be mobilising their not inconsiderable human and financial resources to build an effective opposition. They might even decide to block traffic and take their demands to the front doors of the nerve centre - the Old (transformed) Fire Station - to demonstrate their opposition mightn't they? At the very least they'd request some mugs from the union head offices to hand out to annoyed people. Besides, I might be shit at most things, but I do a lovely cheese sauce and I pride myself on my ability to do sums convincingly and with a certain brutal conviction. Yet don't take the word of a serial sputum-merchant. Do the addition yourself. In January 2009 a University spokeswoman said:

"The cuts are taking place alongside the university's three-year, £12.5 million cost-saving drive, dubbed "Project Headroom", which aims to create a surplus for investment in the university's estate, new academic programmes and Salford's new Media City site."(2)

Any Dollfuss with half a brain and a tentative grip on power knows that it's unmistakably 2011. If there are three things that are immutable and cannot be fiddled with it's numbers, history and the calendar.

A classic strategy of the classical kind

If those septical types bothered to engage the remaining quarter of their brain they would remember that management led by the old Vice Chancellor Michael Harloe weren't reticent about discussing Project Headroom and other important issues back in the heady days of 2009 when it all seemed familiarly different. His (genuine) non-satirical monthly newsletters were popular as staff generally received them by email. As a strategy for the future, Project Hearoom was brilliantly simple in its simplicity and brilliance. Few recognised then that the loss of around 150 student-oriented-knowledge-imparters would play such a central role in lifting the University Poseidon-like back up the League Tables. It's likely to have worked and it's Homburgs off to whomsoever dreamed that one up. Despite an almost superhuman commitment in repositioning the University generally in the vicinity of the University League Tables, for many, Harloe's departure appeared to draw a natural line under Project Headroom and the fear of further 'disinvestments'. Moreover, the timing couldn't have been better for Vice Chancellor Designate Hall as his arrival in the frothy wake of Project Headroom, meant largely avoiding association with this strangely unpopular policy. Yet the important point to emphasise here is that if Harloe and managers could talk about Project Headroom and the issue of significant sums of scholastic shedding openly, then surely Professor Hall  would do the same on his blog? It really is as simple as ACB.

From aspirations to respiration

Chest-wise these cannot be bettered
Besides, Professor Hall has stated that "[t]he University of Salford aspires to be in the top quartile of UK Universities by 2017...". I for one believe him and the University. After all, six years isn't long. He'll still be here and so will Dr Graves to see the fruits of their labour. Maybe the University Council will consider a remuneration package for the Vice Chancellor and his deputy based on achieving this aspiration. We could call it something like... payment by results. Besides, aspirations are a good thing and can nearly work miracles. I recently used the idea of aspiration in a positive way that readers may be interested in, although I might add in the way of a disclaimer that this may not be suitable for everyone. It was quite simple really. I aspired to a packet of Hall's (no relation) Extra Strong Vapour-Action hard boiled sweets. I made the corporate decision to purchase a single packet and visited the newsagents thereby meeting and fulfilling my immediate short-term goal. It produced clear results in that it transformed my airways, emptied my pockets of spare change, and led to a positive benefit to both my trachea and my neighbours' earea. In terms of the efficacy of apsirationally-based strategies for the future I can personally attest to any policy that helps relieve blocked passageways through direct purchase. As a consequence, I would now place myself firmly in the top centile, possibly in the top octile of aspirational-inhalers. This didn't involve any significant role changes other than a minor step sideways from consumptive to consumer.

A Certain Ratio

So, when Hall (relation) says that "This will require us to transform our performance in our core business. This means we need to achieve standing in the first quartile of UK Universities in both teaching quality - currently we are in the fourth quartile - and in research and innovation, where we are currently in the second quartile..." (3)  I do not for one minute think that the University would aspire to implement a policy that includes widespread individually-centred-daily-task-engagers transfigurations that might result in shifting Salford to the premier position on another league table - the staff-student ratio league tables? No group of managers at either a strategic level or a stratospheric level in the case of the Zeus-like one, would wish to implement a policy that saw any increase in this ratio would they? This reconfirms my earlier thinking.

These job cuts aren't really happening are they...?

Staff-Student Ratios 2009-2010***(4)

References and Notes

* If any readers wish to elaborate on the question as to whether such an animal as a non-historical archaeologist in fact exists you know the email address? One supposes that a good starting definition might be a post-historical archaeologist?
***2009-10 Staff-Student ratios top five across the UK: 31.7 Ravensbourne, 27.6 Open University, 26.1 University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, 25.5 Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln, 23.7 University of Salford

(1) Sourced at
(2) Sourced the Times Higher January 2009, at
(4)Source: University and College Union Staff-Student ratios and academic time data 2011. It is widely accepted that Project Headroom was implemented and completed in 2008-2009. It is not known if this had any bearing on the above staff-student ratios

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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Freedom of Speech and its Associated Costs

"What is beyond doubt is that students and their families will expect continual improvements in baseline standards of teaching provision, evidence for excellence, and a clear demonstration that their investment in higher education will have clear benefits in gaining employment after graduation. This makes our continuing emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning at our university all the more important."(1)
Martin Hall April 2011

Speaking freely... 'tis an expensive luxury m'lord. Can I retain the curly syrup?

In light of Vice Chancellor Martin Hall's regular online epistle, this week dealing with the issue of the setting of student fees at University of Salford, readers and potential undergraduate students might be interested to observe where the Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor are investing some of the University's resources which will clearly have major benefits for students at Salford in gaining employment after graduation.

(1) M Hall, Setting Fees, sourced at

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Friday, 8 April 2011

Embracing Chipboard

Vagrants have just been informed that management at the University of Salford which includes the well paid Adrian Graves and handsomely remunerated Martin Hall* have just announced that they (as the employer) are seeking to divest themselves of (make redundant) an estimated 218 staff (two hundred and eighteen staff). The axing of these staff is said to affect staff from all staff groups apart from the immediate staff group of three comprising the Vice Chancellor (Hall), the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Graves) and the Executive Head of hr (Watkinson).

The reason for these redundancies is to make savings of around £7 million. It's believed £7 million would just about cover the rental costs for its four floors at MediaCity for the next three years.

Have past savings resulted in the widespread adoption of chipboard
shelving which is now bowing in the middle?

According to the Periodic Table, iron is heavier than irony

An anonymous source located somewhere adjacent to the University claimed with more than a hint of heavy irony in his tone that:

"A lot of people will naturally blame Martin Hall for these job losses, particularly the people being thrown on the scrap heap. He does after all head the University. But they couldn't be more wrong. I'll tell you who's really responsible. It's that allegedly defamatory bastard Duke with the wandering facial hair, loose morals and even looser tongue who is ultimately responsible for this jobs slaughter. If we weren't having to spend vast sums suing this quillard because of the allegedly nasty things he's said about our wonderful Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor, these jobs would be as safe as that terraced house we've built indoors."

Duke who is widely described as 'appalling', is a regular contributor to this non-defamatory, right of reply respecting website and has today stated that "It's patently ridiculous to assert that I'm somehow responsible for the loss of these jobs. I'll save up two weeks dole money and put it towards seriously counter-suing the person who goes so far as even to suggest that it cost 150 jobs under Project Headroom to pay for all the University's legal fees to take me through the Disciplinary Procedure, dismiss me and now pay for all their lawyers and barristers at the Employment Tribunal."

Is he hapless?

The hapless Duke went further:

"Look, I did say around the time of Project Headroom that if they got away with axing those 150 jobs, they'd be looking to axe more jobs in the future. I didn't use magic to work it out but carefully used something called sums. It's clear that the University needs to be at the cutting edge and needs to stay at the cutting edge -  the cutting edge of the use of libel laws against a former employee. They are having to make significant and pressing investments for the future. Take for example, the large sums of money that Professor Hall and Dr Graves are considering investing in this necessary libel trial for the next year or two. Realistically it's only likely to be the equivalent of at the most twenty academic jobs for one year."

When pressed Duke elaborated:

"This is not written in stone and the money to pay for these civil proceedings could come from a different income stream, and of course things could change dramatically. Obviously if the University are granted an injunction by the courts, this will have terrible implications for my right to exercise freedom of speech regularly. However, if I then win the libel trial or they decide to drop their case, I'll seriously consider saving up at least four weeks dole money and suing them for even more academic jobs for one year. I do have some rights you know under the European Convention on Human Rights."

Dr Graves in smiling mode: his job is safe but has he yet to 
make permanent the move from real looking wood shelving 
to its white chipboard counterpart?
No ballot for industrial action?

It appears that the loss of 218 jobs is in the first 'tranche' with more to come. Unlike other UCU branches facing job cuts across the country who think it's wise to ballot for industrial action as soon as job cuts are announced, according to a UCU bulletin to members, they're not considering balloting members yet. It's believed they'll only consider anything remotely contentious if management move towards compulsory redundancies. However, in the short and medium term, it's believed that much fiery militant rhetoric will be bandied around.

Is it a simple case of computers versus humans?

It's not clear whether anyone within either the UCU or UNISON branch executives has had the temerity to bring up the issue of the estimated £2.6 million pound overspend voted through by the University Council last year in order to complete the upgrading of the University IT and computer systems. However, rumours of the development of a super-computer that can do the job of every one except Graves, Hall and Watkinson have been called "absurd" by a former employee with IT skills. "You make it sound like something out of Demon Seed with Julie Christie. It's nonsense! Computers can't carry complex pieces of furniture like tables into the Old Fire Station.** Nor can they yet chauffeur senior executives around."

MediaCity UK

Some have argued that the figures quoted in the Salford Star of a conservative £50 million pound spend at MediaCity over the next nine years could be different. A spokesperson from Eccles Help the Aged stated that: "218 staff to save £7 million.... according to my 1970 decimal conversion chart, at that rate, in order to make the sorts of savings to cover £50 million they'd have to lay off 1556.52 staff and that's plainly silly. There's no such thing as 0.52 of a person. In old money it's just over half a person."

A Paradigmatic shift within the Salford sector of HE?

It's not clear if the University are planning a paradigmatic shift toward the use of chipboard based furniture products as a means to save money. A senior member of staff at Stoples who refused to be named has cautiously extended a pre-welcome to any moves by the University towards the wholesale adoption of compressed composite based office furniture: "I can only speak personally but personally speaking, I think any large orders of melamine coated MDF or mid-quality veneered chipboard - especially our range of book shelves - can only be a positive thing. However, I must hazard a personal warning to Dr Graves and Martin Hall. Unlike a bookcase made from solid wood, chipboard based shelving can tend to bow over time under the weight of academic tomes whose texts are much denser than ordinary books like the highly readable Harry Potter collection. Any move in this direction could ultimately prove to be a false economy and might come back to bite their metaphorical arses."

Dr Duke: it's questionable if he
has human DNA never
mind human rights
The last word

Dr Duke had to have the last word as usual: "I can't be held responsible for either rising fuel costs, the overall rise in the rate of inflation or the state of the Portuguese economy. I'm only partly human after all. If it meant saving these 218 or so jobs, I'd be happy to plead guilty to the disappearance of Flight 19 in 1945 over Bermuda. I would however like to say just for the record that I'm not guilty for the disappearance of Flight 19 over Bermuda in 1945."

*This is of course in relation to staff at the University of Salford. This comparison is not made against the pay of other Registrars and Vice Chancellors at Universities across the UK. 
** The Old Fire Station is where Dr Graves and Professor Hall the Vice Chancellor are principally based. It used to be an Old Fire Station.
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