On my return from a University of Beestonia sabbatical I find HE in the national headlines, in May sandwiched somewhere between Farage and Trump (don’t dwell on that imagery too much) Dr Auger and his colleagues presented their Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (from the literal rather than creative school of titling I
The headline grabbing recommendation (out of all 53 of them) was that to reduce the University Tuition Fee from its current level at £9,250, to £7,500 per year for undergraduate students. Less widely reported, but fairly critical for the Universities was the following recommendation that Government should replace in full the lost fee income by
increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms.
This seems fairly critical, as otherwise most Universities will see substantial reductions in income, given the high percentage of that income that comes from tuition fees.
However, word on the lanes and boulevards is that the next government is likely to embrace the former recommendation and quietly ignore the latter. After all, saving folk money is a good thing, whereas taking it away from something else or increasing taxes generally doesn’t go down so well.
Some point out though that government also want a high quality higher education sector in the UK – it has its uses after all, not least the 1.2 % of GDP in contributes (figures from the Auger review).
So how does one go about balancing that alongside the other things Universities have to do, like undertake research? It is the question that Universities and those that work within them have been batting with for some time. How do you balance the books and maintain or improve quality? How do you measure quality and ensure it? Themes such as this have drifted through this particular column before.
And whilst we juggle with the balancing, there are still huge uncertainties about just what will happen to the review in the hands of a new PM, a new government and in an uncertain Brexit landscape. It’s difficult to plan for, and so institutions have to look to the worst case. A cut in fee will likely have to be compensated for by an increase
in student numbers or cut in provision somewhere. Neither are ideal in terms of providing a leading higher educational experience to our future students. 20 go to 10.
There’s a challenge to doing more with less, to more by fewer. And it’s a shame because we have great students who deserve and should demand a good University education, and we want to be able to provide that. I don’t think the Auger review wanted anything less than that either, I just hope whoever implements the review allows it to happen.
As I write I’m just recovering from a two-day conference run at the University in collaboration with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, perfect for this issue’s ‘wild’ theme and their 30 Days Wild campaign.
The conference itself was very calm, the wildness left for the content of the presentations and debates. We heard about koalas, sheep, badgers, lizards, stone curlew and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs were mentioned quite a lot… not least in our public lecture by Hugh Warwick on Monday night.
I co-lead one of the University’s research priority areas called Life in Changing Environments. We exist to bring together all researchers across the university working in any way on this broad theme. Working with The Wildlife Trusts, particularly the team from Nottinghamshire we were also able to bring together many environmental practitioners from across the East Midlands and beyond.
“We all have a responsibility to look after the bits of the world that we can, our own gardens, our own streets, the nature reserves we enjoy spending time in.”
We listened to panels discuss how best we can all work together to improve environmental conditions for all, and the challenges posed by environmental policy, including those in a post Brexit landscape. These panels included Paddy Tipping, the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Sara Goodacre from the University, Oliver Harmar, the North East Area Director for the Environment Agency, Jeff Knott, Eastern England regional director of the RSPB, and Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager, for The Wildlife Trust. These were highly informed, enthusiastic debates that were inspiring to listen to.
In the afternoon we heard from a panel about the concerns of our current students’ generation about what is going on with our environment, and not just about plastic. The panel included Katie Jepson, Sustainability Project Officer, for the NUS and Isla Hodgson, Associate Director, of the youth organisation A Focus on Nature. We then listened to a fascinating discussion about how best to communicate environmental science issues to a wide range of audiences including politicians and the general public, and how to best make a difference.
A theme that ran throughout the conference was how we all have a responsibility to look after the bits of the world that we can, our own gardens, our own streets, the nature reserves we enjoy spending time in. It’s also clear that there are many amazing, inspiring and engaging people working hard to make all the bits of the world we encounter better for everyone and everything in it. We should be thankful to them and hopeful that bit-by-bit differences can be made in the right way. Challenges and uncertainties around funding and future legislation make life difficult for environmental practitioners, as it does for those of us working in universities and many other sectors, but there was a definite sense of the ‘cautious optimism’ described by Ellie Brodie throughout the meeting. It was good to hear.
We were optimistic enough about the feedback from the conference to put next year’s in the diary already. It will be on the 24th and 25th June 2019 – keep an eye on our twitter feed @LCE_RPA and we’ll maybe see some of you there!
Matt has lived in and around Beeston for 14 years and founded the Beestonian with Matt. Since then he’s stayed involved with the magazine (can actually almost call it that without infringing any trade description issues!) in one-way or another. He reads it occasionally, and edits the ramblings of Prof J and other contributors from the university. Matt is excited, and secretly a little proud, by seeing the Beestonian take its next steps.
Somewhere in the University of Beestonia Dr. Chewtaar sighed. It was a long and audible sigh directed towards his office ceiling, and it had at its center a less audible, but critical, growl. It had been a funny few months and, between him and his ceiling, Ainsley was feeling a little broke.
The spring term hadn’t felt particularly springy. It was particularly daft calling it the spring term this year anyway, having already finished by the time British Summer Time had started (more potential confusion there…), but mulling over it there didn’t seem to be a particularly good alternative. The ‘grey, cold few months when lots of people are a bit miserable’ term didn’t seem particularly catchy, and certainly didn’t fit into the University of Beestonia branding particularly well. He’d had a Great Aunt called Hilary, he seemed to remember, that was a nice name, and apparently one she’d shared with a French saint …
Reality was returned with a sharp knock on the door. “Sorry to bother you…” for a second Ainsley drifted back to his Great Aunt, he had this vague recollection of her at some odd meal held in honour of an important wedding anniversary of his paternal grandparents, “… could I come and see you some time this week about my coursework?”
Ah the vacation, those long sprawling oceans of free time, which family members and people you meet randomly in shops think you have off because you work in an educational establishment. If only. In fact having them off isn’t the goal, having them free would be good enough. Free to think (?!), create and push back those intellectual boundaries one increment at a time.
“No worries, let me just check my diary,” Ainsley smiled back. In his more cynical moments he remembered that the Office for Students was drilling down into its spreadsheets, making sure the curvature of his smile was above the minimum standard required, but most of the time he enjoyed teaching the students that came each year to the University of Beestonia. They were generally nice kids and kept him on his toes. If all he’d had to do was help them learn and push an occasional boundary a little bit closer to its next increment the term would have been a lot more springier.
The Office for Students (OfFS); an Orwellian curiosity located within its carbon-neutral, architectural award winning, many windowed new complex down Diagon Alley.
In the penthouse twelve carefully selected volunteers sit around their roundtable overseen by a mysterious and dangerous sounding overlord. Never seen, this Master of the Twelve exists behind a set of beautifully carved wooden doors which if opened eject plumes of green smoke which legend has it will melt you in seconds (the reality is a fairly normal looking fellow sat in front of a bank of spreadsheets – but perception is everything dear reader).
Out of town a renegade band of academics, feeding off scraps of research funding, shelter in dark, cold corners whispering about how they could make themselves heard. “Where is our champion?” they shout into the wilderness, the words swallowed in the wind before anyone can hear them.
This is not a good combination; conflict is inevitable. A war fought on many fronts for the soul of what should be a ‘higher’ education. Or perhaps it’s more than that, battles for actual souls.
Questions remain on both sides however if the enemy is really the other, or if there may be some greater force, a common enemy to which their energies should really be pointed. For a grey, slightly damp, autumn is coming. Hidden behind a wall of call centres and satisfaction surveys, something is stirring; no-one knows what.
It was against this background that Ass Prof Ainsley Chewtaar peddled his way into work one fine winter’s morning. He’d had a reasonable night’s sleep after reviewing some piss poor attempt at a paper that he’d meant to get back to the journal six weeks ago. He was feeling rather smug about his cryptic ‘anonymous’ comments to the authors and slightly lighter in the shoulder area having had a good rant to the editor about how the subject never really progressed, and how these authors in particular should know better.
The story will continue (once I’ve had a bit more sleep)…
“What? Pensions you say? Sorry, no idea mate, is something going off?”…
On the first day of Christmas my Uni sent to me: A nine grand tuition fee
(Imagine starting out with a 9 grand tuition fee…
…oh…and technically of course it’s the government that means we have the fees, but it doesn’t scan as well.)
But less of that grumpy stuff, ’tis the season to be jolly, so forthwith, a carol of our times:
On the twelfth day of Christmas my Uni sent to me: Twelve student e-mails Eleven impact pathways Ten masters projects Nine grant rejections Eight Moodle mandates Seven 4 star papers Six weekends marking
Project xxxxxxxxxxxxx * Four strategies Three 9 a.ms Two peer reviews
and a nine grand tuition fee.
Wishing you all an admin free Christmas and a grant filled New Year.
* feel free to include a 2 syllable project of your choice here.
The new academic year will just about be on us by the time we go to print and as I write there’s a clear shift in gear around the university as staff begin to fill their diaries with teaching commitments for the coming year. The summer as ever has flown by and as we look towards the new term we can also reflect on goals for the summer fulfilled, or not. It’s a cliché in academia for a reason, back in June the summer vacation always seems like a wonderful clear sunny space for pushing back global research agendas, only for September to arrive and well… it was sunny for at least one or two days…
All our time is becoming more squeezed and in our industry this is no different, there’s been some interesting media talk over the summer about 2 year degrees, and market forces not working, or at least not how government envisaged they would work, which maybe isn’t exactly the same thing. Maybe, or hopefully, just silly season talk.
Either way new students will roll into our universities, and into Beeston, over the next few weeks. University is a great opportunity for them and I encourage all students reading this to embrace the opportunities the experience will give you, in terms of training both formal and informal. Enjoy and respect our wonderful town of Beeston and please make the most of our fantastic places to eat, drink and shop.
New academic years also see changes in personnel in many universities, and east of Broadgate the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham Professor Sir David Greenaway will retire at the end of September after serving the University for 30 years, with 20 of those as a member of its Executive Board. That’s quite a stint and we at the Beestonian wish Sir David all the best for his retirement. We also welcome Professor Shearer West who will be the University’s new Vice-Chancellor.
A new year, old and new challenges, the odd glimpse of sunshine… bring it on!
Since 2004 the Friends have been encouraging the local community to visit University Park to enjoy the attractive well laid out gardens and grounds.
Each year we organise a series of events which are open for anyone to take part in.
This year we have already had a Wildlife Walk in conjunction with Notts Wildlife Trust in April and took part in the University’s Wonder event in June. In July we welcomed over 300 people to our annual Picnic in the Park, which was held in the Millennium Garden with live music from the Newstead Brass Band and activities for all the family.
Coming up is our Summer Spectacular on Sunday the 20th August 1.30pm to 5pm. This is part of the National Garden Scheme. A free of charge bus will link various gardens including the Walled Garden which is not normally open at weekends. Mini walking tours and refreshments will be available. There will be free parking available at the Millennium Garden.
On Friday 1st September, we have a Bat Walk from 8pm and in October we have 2 events. On Saturday 7th we will be Foraging for Wild Food looking at different edible species to eat from berries, nuts and fungi, herbs and spices, roots and flowers. On Saturday 28th we have a demonstration of Propagation Techniques, showing us how to increase our stock of favourite plants.
In addition to these public events we can also offer guided tours of the gardens and a Heritage Walk to look at historic buildings in the Park and the people who lived in them. These are suitable for horticultural societies, social clubs and other interested organisations. To find out more please email:
University Park, which has been awarded a Green Flag every year since 2003, is open to the public at any time although there is a charge for parking on weekdays. At evenings and weekends parking is free.
Curious minds will be amazed and inspired by Wonder 2017
Have you ever wondered what Mars looks like, what your skin’s made of, how planes can fly, why T-rex had tiny arms or how Vikings fought?
It’s now less than a month to go until you can find out at Wonder 2017. On Saturday 17 June 2017 between 11am and 5pm, the University of Nottingham will be throwing open its doors to the local community to uncover and answer the questions you’ve always wondered about. The free event, formerly known as May Fest, held at University Park, gives curious minds the chance to try a huge variety of fun and hands-on activities.
Visitors are invited to explore the University’s ground-breaking research and world-class teaching first-hand by taking part in a vast array of exciting family-friendly activities, split into zones and by age range to ensure they get the most out of their day.
We’d encourage anyone interested to come and join us for what promises to be a stimulating and fun-filled day
Debbie Henthorn, Deputy Director of Campaign and Alumni Relations, and a team from across the University are organising Wonder.
She said: “We are delighted to be welcoming the community back into the University of Nottingham this June, for our incredible brand new event.
“We care deeply about the University’s connection to the community and appreciate how many local people, businesses and partners in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire are involved in making what we do at the University possible. What better way to showcase the contributions that the University makes to education, research and business than opening up the campus to our community who are such an important part of our success.
“We will bring children and grown-ups from all backgrounds together at University Park, for a fantastic free day out with some very exciting activities, experiments and demonstrations. We’d encourage anyone interested to come and join us for what promises to be a stimulating and fun-filled day.”
What makes you wide-eyed with wonder?
Events and activities throughout the day will include:
See Vikings battle Anglo-Saxons in fearsome re-enactments.
Solve clues on the Raiders of the Lost Park treasure hunt around Highfields.
Watch extreme experiments, which burn, cut, smash and crush materials.
Discover how your body works with hands-on activities.
Learn new skills with the University’s futsal team.
Get crafty and help create our mini sculpture park.
Wow at our race-winning electronic motorbike.
A full list of all the Wonder activities is now available to explore on the website, along with a new app which will go live in early June, to guide visitors around University Park Campus to the many exciting activities on offer throughout the day. Users of the app can collect points on their journey and pick up rewards along the way.
The spires at the University of Beestonia are dreaming; and the dreams are nightmares…
OK, so that’s over-egging it a little bit, but it’s probably fair to say no one’s sleeping particularly soundly, there’s something out there causing a fair degree* of restlessness.
Our brightest and best minds are searching for the cause of this unease, but if you read around there’s much being written about the battle for the soul of our universities at the moment.
T’internet (2017) defines the prefixes super- and para- as something beyond, or apart from, amongst other possible meanings, so when we add these to words like natural or normal what are we discussing?
During my time working in universities I’m not sure that a natural or normal state of things has actually ever existed, so defining what is beyond those is also a little tricky. Time does not stand still, things do change, some we can influence and some we can not, but, and before I turn completely into Baz Luhrmann talking about sunscreen, recently those changes are pushing – probably wrong tense – have pushed universities into a place where logic does appear, at least at times, otherworldly.
When is the tipping point between para- and new-, is it definable?
In our new normal, and that’s a strange term too, given this issue’s focus on the para-normal, and I’ll come back to my point, but if para-normal is some kind of inexplicable parallel type of universe, how long do conditions have to change for before they become the new normal? When is the tipping point between para- and new-, is it definable? I’d be interested to know if anyone’s worked on this…
Back to a point, in our new normal we are too often torn between which policy we are meant to drive for, student fees have been increased again recently in our current, to me at least bizarre, political reality, our democratic system means we will leave the group of nations which provide a substantial amount of our research funding… the list goes on.
Whether these things are normal, or beyond it, I’m not sure but in the mean time mind the seagulls and sleep well my friends…
*oh look, unintentional HE pun (Lord B would be proud, or horrified…)
After singing our socks off last weekend, as well as very much from the heart, we're raising funds for Hope Nottingham at Hope House, Beeston, a vital one-stop community support centre helping the local community and beyond. Please come along on Sat 5 October, 7pm and support us