An Open Letter to the authors of the Senate Paper on the “Academic Implications of Changes to University Funding”

To Professor Foskett and the authors of the Senate Paper on the “Academic
Implications of Changes to University Funding”,

Firstly, I would like to ask for a reply that at least acknowledges the points
raised here, even if you don’t respond to every single one, to show that you aren’t
sending the same standardised email to all of the students who email you about this
subject. Unless, of course, that’s because you are?

I accept the need for cuts to budgets, and I think that a lot of the details of the
Senate Paper are reasonable. However, I think that some of the reasoning behind your
decision is absurd and cannot be used to justify the cuts that you propose.

In section 2.4 of the Senate Paper, you state that “a recommendation was made to
reduce Keele’s staff costs as a percentage of income from 65% to 58%”. I don’t
understand why this arbitrary figure is necessary. How does reducing the proportion
to 58% make the University more financially sustainable? What costs will go up as a
result? Do you plan to tell anyone about this? The costs of providing courses may
need to be cut, but this should not involve cutting entire courses.

There is also continual misuse of figures throughout the paper. In Section,
you say that because PEAK is reducing its contribution levels from a loss of -29.8%
to -1.5%, this means that “throughout the forecast period […] the projected costs
of PEAK remain consistently in excess of its projected income”. This contribution
level in 2013/14 is within both the likely inflation rate and the 3% statistical
variance rate, so to draw such strongly-worded conclusions is strongly misleading.
Assuming that the forecast period runs to the end of 2013/14 (and this is never
explicitly defined in the Paper), this would be a cut of over 25% in 4 years at
most. I think it would be much fairer to ask the Faculty of Natural Sciences to
attempt similar savings than to close a department that has made such significant
cuts already. However, we won’t know what’s fair or right without a Philosophy
department, so I suppose there’s no point thinking about it.

Regardless of the figures, I still find it deeply concerning that in section 4.3 of
the Senate Paper, where you set out the Guiding Principles for how you intend to
“achieve the required savings while minimizing the impact on the academic shape of
the University, and its constituent strengths”. Proposals to close educational
programs and research departments clearly fail to do this. I also question how Keele
can call itself a university when it doesn’t consider the academic value of a
course, as well as the financial value that you estimate in section Section
7.1.3 says that the Faculty of Natural Sciences should work to achieve savings
“while protecting the Faculty’s broad academic base”. Why should the other
Faculties, that provide less obvious commercial opportunities, not receive the same
level of academic respect?

This all goes against the fact that course costs can’t be
standardised to fit an arbitrary figure. Section 5.7 acknowledges that “the cost
structures of laboratory-based subjects are necessarily different from those of
classroom-based subjects”. Unfortunately, the rest of the document, and your entire
approach to cutting costs, ignores this. Section states that you predict
that staff costs will rise to 91.4% by 2013/14. Despite this being the only part of
the Paper where you use such predicted figures as evidence, this suggests to me that
you don’t understand that teaching different subjects requires different methods.
Would you prefer that the proportion of costs be altered more towards classroom
equipment? What if the department bought a load of microscopes to read the key texts
with? Would this make keeping the program more justifiable? Does Plato look
different under a microscope to in a book? I thought the Philosophy department would
be the best people to ask if the objects we use to look at things alter the meanings
that we see in them, but there seems to be a logistical problem now that it’s going
to disappear. Maybe the scientists or business managers can tell me. Philosophy is
about ideas, and it’s far easier to learn about them by discussing them with experts
who have devoted their educations and careers to studying these ideas. If these
lecturers have been forced to find long-term jobs at other universities, then there
will be no-one for the current students to discuss these ideas with.

The need for cuts is unavoidable, and I am very glad that the University intends to
take action. However, I think that the plan presented in the Senate Paper
deliberately misuses statistics, some of which are only forecasts, considers only
the commercial value of academic research and ignores any educational, intellectual
or promotional value, and asks too little of the natural sciences. The Senate Paper
and the Working Group seem to want to reduce the number of lecturers at Keele
University for no justifiable or understandable reason. The Paper acknowledges that
these proposals expose the University to legal action. I think the severity of the
proposals will lead to legal action from prospective students who will be refused an
education, current students whose lecturers will want to leave, and those lecturers
who no longer have a future at Keele.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Willetts, second year student doing Politics and International Relations.


About Political Details

I'm a non-partisan political analyst, who thinks that the details of how policies will work are more important than the ideologies that justify them.
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