The University and College Union (UCU) has slammed the University of Brighton following its announcement of a new ‘University Centre’ in Hastings.
Mark Abel, chairman of the UCU coordinating committee, said in a statement: “University management’s determination is clearly to repeat continually the proposal to create a ‘University Centre’ in Hastings.
“The effect of this is to distract attention from the reality of their intention which is to close the University’s Hastings Campus, and to withdraw from the town.
“This is confirmed by the details in the table which identifies what is proposed for the existing courses at Hastings. It was circulated to Hastings staff but was not included in the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s message to all staff.
“The trade unions have been told that the closures would cause multiple redundancies, confirming our assessment of the impact when news of the impending campus closure first broke.
“Even were we to take the idea of a University Centre seriously, only three of the existing University of Brighton courses - significantly, all of them foundation degrees - are scheduled to transfer to it. The management intends for a few others to move to Brighton or to Eastbourne, but for the majority to close.
“However, no University Centre as yet exists, and when asked what one might look like, the DVC cannot give any details except to say that the University will have no role in its day-to-day running, and that it will be staffed by Sussex Coast College, Hastings.
“The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the talk of a University Centre is, at best, disingenuous, or a velleity which functions to disguise the fact that higher education would disappear from Hastings.
“The little of HE-related activity that would remain - a few foundation degrees and perhaps some new vocational courses - would be delivered by the local further education college. More and more FE colleges are branding themselves as University Centres, but this is, in essence, a marketing ploy which in no way changes the fact that such colleges can offer only a very limited higher education experience. Hence the invocation of a University Centre in Hastings is simply a disguised reference to Sussex Coast College, one of the members of whose Board of Governors is also the DVC of the University of Brighton.
“The summary of the BDO report into the future of Hastings Campus, made available for the first time here, confirms this picture. Of the four options that the investigators were asked to consider by the University, BDO recommended closure and withdrawal. We know from the DVC’s answers to trade union questions that the ‘fifth option’ of a University Centre came originally from Sussex Coast College itself. It was added to the other four options as a way of achieving ‘controlled divestment’, in other words of disguising the fact that closure and withdrawal is the University’s intention.
“Fortunately, Hastings students have not fallen for this. Their campaign of demonstrations against the closure of their campus continued yesterday with a march to Mithras House, and an occupation of the senior management corridor. The trade unions, Unison and UCU, stand with them in their campaign.
“We believe that the University of Brighton has a continuing educational, cultural and social obligation to Hastings. The addition of a few cut-price foundation and vocational degrees to the courses offered by the FE college is no substitute for the existing campus, whatever weaknesses it is claimed that it may have.
“The decision to withdraw from Hastings represents the starkest example of the change of general direction being imposed on the University by the new Vice Chancellor, and the members of her executive group, and under the oversight of the current Board of Governors. For colleagues interested in a different vision for Hastings, is worth reading Stuart Laing’s recent Times Higher article on the role of universities in the contemporary world to appreciate the contrast in ethos.
“All staff at Brighton, in whatever site or school that they are located, would be mistaken if they believe or hope that the possibility of course closures and job losses will end with the closure of Hastings. If ‘consolidation’ is its purpose, how could we be sure that Eastbourne Campus is safe?
“If the aim really is, as is rumoured, to get Brighton into the top 20 in the university league table (and however risible is that ambition), the consequence is the wholesale closure of ‘underperforming’ units be they whole schools or academic programmes, or particular degree courses. Having closed twenty courses in Hastings in the interests of efficiency, what would there be to stop the closure of many more in Brighton?
“That is why this struggle to preserve HE provision in Hastings is about employment stability for all staff, wherever located, and it is about the kind of institution that the University of Brighton is to be - an educational institution with an appropriate ethos and governance structure, or a commercial corporation run by a Chief Executive accountable only to the Board of Governors.
“This is why the closure of Hastings Campus, the de facto outcome of the recent decision of the Board of Governors, was misjudged, was taken on the basis if inadequate (and almost non-existent) information, and was preceded by no proper consultation with the University’s community partners, its own Academic Board, or affected constituencies inside the rest of its operation in Eastbourne and Brighton.
“That is why this decision cannot stand in its present form, and is one to which the Board of Governors must return in the autumn, when the full range of analysis and full details of the economic, social, educational consequences, as well as the financial implications for the University, of various courses of action can be available to the Board. Members of the Board have a duty to protect not only the financial viability of the institution but its reputation and its ethos as well. This is not a simple or simplistic accountancy exercise.
“It is to such a reconsideration that the trade unions at the University, and the Hastings students, are committed, and to which end they will use their influence and their power, not simply to defend the jobs and the wages and conditions of staff in Hastings but also to ensure that the character of the University of Brighton is not impoverished as a merely corporate entity, but rather embraces the educational and social role that a modern university should play.”
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