By Hallum Cowell
The governing Council of the University has tasked people like Professor Colin Riordan, Vice Chancellor, to make Cardiff University a “financially stable organisation”.
Transforming Cardiff is, as Professor Riordan said, “a direction of travel” and “not a fully formed plan”. Professor Riordan also called the current situation around universities a “high risk environment,” referring to Brexit, last year’s industrial action over pensions, among other factors. The Vice Chancellor also said that the new direction was “not about cutting” but “about reducing the rate of [cost] increase”.
Transforming Cardiff is based upon five “pillars”; organisational change, transforming services, education, research and estate. The two main ways the University is planned on reducing those costs is to have a “gradual reduction in staffing levels over five years” and by increasing income from research by 25%.
Including this current academic year, Cardiff University has been running a deficit for three years. This has been the result of higher than expected costs increase and lower than expected income increases. For example; in 2017/18 costs increased by 5.2% but income only increased by 2.5%.
The Transforming Cardiff “Direction of travel” has been planned out for two years and has only now been voted upon by the council and released.
President of the Students’ Union Fadhila Al Dhahouri said that she voted against this proposal. She said: “the main focus is to ensure a high quality of student experience and satisfaction; these ideals should be at the heart of any plan”. She then added “financial gain should not be placed before it”.
One of the more contentious ideas in the document, which might affect students most, is to combine schools. The English school is planned to be merged with those of modern foreign languages and Welsh. These schools would combine to create the School of ‘Literature, Languages and Creative Practices’. In addition, a “reconfiguration” of the School of Healthcare Sciences is being argued by the University to be “part of a natural process”.
Discussing the changes, a Cardiff University spokesperson said “Our intention, should this idea progress, is to preserve the distinct identity of the School of Welsh while allowing it to benefit from being part of a larger grouping of disciplines with which it shares significant interests. We hope to enhance research and teaching through more opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.”
Furthermore, a spokesperson mentioned that another idea being considered is “a shared Geography undergraduate programme between the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the School of Geography and Planning, covering both human and physical geography. This is an idea that we will consult carefully on with both staff and students as we progress. We will maintain the student experience of current students as we develop new ideas for the future.”
At the talk, the Vice Chancellor also expressed that there were also “options for reducing the Optometry footprint on Maindy Road allowing the better sharing of resources” which could result in the part of full “co-location” of the schools of Optometry and vision sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The Students’ Union reacted to Transforming Cardiff with an open letter which Professor Riordan has promised to respond to. The letter focuses on the failings of the “direction of travel” and talks of their worry about “disruption to students within these named schools”.
The letter asks that “student services should be completely protected from any cuts”. The letter continues to say: “[we are] concerned that an increase in staff workload will result in reduced contact hours” and that “the Union is continually concerned that the current provisions… for international cohorts are insufficient”. The letter finishes by asked for students to be more involved in the development of Transforming Cardiff.
In the Question and Answer session a lot of additional concerns were raised. The first issue raised was “why hasn’t there been a student or staff consolation, or a plan sent out about the consolidation of the School of English, Philosophy, Languages and Welsh? And why those schools in particular?” To which the Vice Chancellor replied: “The proposal has come from the college of arts humanities and social sciences.” He then added, “I very deliberately called it a direction of travel… so there is every opportunity now to engage with staff and students”.
Later another key question asked was “You mentioned increasing staff costs. Vice Chancellor salaries have increased an average of 13% since 2009, last year I believe you received a 14% pay rise equalling £42,000… how can you justify rolling out the 3rd Voluntary severance package in six years and the possibility of compulsory redundancies”.
The Vice Chancellor then responded: “There will be no pay cuts to staff…in terms of staff costs they will continue to rise but less than before mainly by controlling the numbers of [new] staff…I didn’t get a 42,000 pay rise, I’m not sure where that came from…I haven’t had any pay rise apart from what everyone else got since I started in 2012” and “I haven’t pushed for a higher salary, haven’t received one”.
Other concerns were raised over the future security of Occupational Studies in the School of Medical Science, with the threat of industrial action if it were removed. The University was unable to guarantee that the subject would stay as the contract with the NHS is up for renewal and renegotiation for the whole School and as such some things may change.
Professor Gary F. Baxter; pro-vice chancellor of the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences, who was answering the question added “we can’t be everything to everyone”.