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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