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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

'The only certainty is that staff will be cut': Another day passes without answers

Updated: Mar 16

Was that it?  It’s hard to report on a plan without any details.

 

By ‘George Osborne’



 

The trophy room at Tannadice Park.  A book by Jordan Peterson.  The outfit John Cena presented in at the Oscars.

 

Empty.  Devoid of substance.  Non-existent.

 

To this list we can add the university’s long-awaited and much-anticipated ‘Financial Recovery Plan’.

 

To much fanfare and great expectation, the university community was invited to attend an Open Session to hear from the Principal and various members of the Senior Management Team their plan to get us out of the mess they didn’t see coming and which has apparently impacted us much more than other institutions despite this being a sector-wide issue.  What we got was a nothing burger.

 

Sure the Principal said the right things about it being a stressful time for everyone. Director of People Debbie Dyker was given a seat on the panel to mention the work being done on Wellbeing (more visible presence and signposting of services to help you with stress, but no reflection on the causes of stress or anything practical to tackle this). 


Chief Financial Officer Mark White had centre stage to provide the ‘details’ – 10 slides, the content of which we had mostly heard before, a bleak financial outlook, a reflection that our charitable status requires that we cannot maintain an unsustainable position, confirmation that Court had granted a request to run a £12m deficit over the next year and a £6m deficit the following year, then an intention to return to break-even the year after.

 

We knew all of this already, because the grim details of our financial position had been outlined at several previous meetings – by the Principal, by Heads of School, by news outlets.  What this meeting was going to tell us was how we would achieve this, what the super recovery plan entailed.

 

Except… it didn’t.  That was the extent of the detail. 

The outline of what we already knew was followed by an opening up of a Q&A.  Staff, presumably feeling somewhat sorry for SMT, lobbed softball questions for the most part, hoping to ease the Principal into a more relaxed mode and to secure more information on the months ahead.


Even a question about salaries of the wider Senior Management Team (in the region of £3.5m was suggested, inclusive of VPs, Directors and Deans) was presented apologetically, without hostility or questioning what we’re getting for our money.  It made no difference. 


No further detail was forthcoming

Questions alternated between online and in the room, rotating delicately between questions about workload and voluntary severance, suggestions of revenue raising schemes via commercialisation and fundraising, and even how money might be saved by reducing SMT’s travel allowances (and extending the hiring freeze to management as well). 


No commitments were made.  It was a light grilling, until a Student Union member made a point of emphasising Senate should have a role in considering the academic impact of staff cuts as this is clearly in Senate’s remit. 


Even that was a light rebuke, but the University Secretary took exception and outlined the responsibilities of various university bodies, not recognising that the question had focused on academic and not financial impacts. 

 

It was a small mis-step in what was an otherwise controlled and measured performance from SMT.  For an hour they had as their audience a university community that could have been quite hostile but instead were docile.  Given recent events – especially in relation to the horrendous conditions staff and students in Languages have dealt with over the past 5 months – SMT likely expected a lot of justifiable anger, the reaction that George Osborne got at the London Olympics. 


When they didn’t get it, when they left the meeting with scarcely a scratch, you could almost hear the champagne corks pop in the university office. 

 

Champagne is probably premature for all of us though.  The situation remains dire. There is no clear plan to get to a sustainable future. The only certainty is that staff will be cut.  Whether it will make the desired difference remains to be seen.  Whether SMT will make commitments to some of the easier aspects of revenue raising like commercialisation and fundraising is also an open question.


The university community appears to have moved beyond anger to disappointment. 

That’s probably more dangerous for SMT though.  The dark days of the Diamond era brought the community together.  The arrival of new management heralded a new dawn, and expectations of better were initially realised.  The one thing the new team had going for them was that they were not the previous team. But in the cold light of day, things haven’t changed at all. 

 

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  And the one before that.  And, probably, the next one too.

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