Letters – 18 April 2019

April 18, 2019

Willetts’ warning on salary data rings hollow

What David Willetts proposes in his article warning against using graduate salary data as a basis for university funding, “You are what you earn?” (Features, 11 April), merely tinkers around at the edges of a student-loan system that is fundamentally unfit for purpose.

Willetts seems to want to have his cake in 2019, having already eaten it as a minister in 2010-14.

Providing better information to students and parents is part of the myth of choice required to sustain his market-based approach to policymaking.

The real issue here is not the data but rather the intention, and Willetts remains as confused now as when he was in office. What precisely does he intend to achieve?

Via timeshighereducation.com


I do find it rather jarring to see Willetts, who was a fairly enthusiastic proponent of market values in higher education, clutching his pearls when, unsurprisingly, this is taken to its logical conclusion by using the only data the market really takes any notice of. This is just one more example of the tyranny of the metric, now used not only for benchmarking and observation but also employed (usually poorly) as a blunt instrument of policy. Are earnings and job outcomes the only things seen as important in the obtaining of a degree? In these rather instrumental times, it appears so.

This is especially galling when a great number of the politicians making such policy decisions appear to be bordering on the functionally innumerate. The Two Cultures divide is still alive.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Work in progress

Response to the open letter “Source of concern”(Letters, 11 April)

The University of London has repeatedly confirmed over the past months its support for the principle of insourcing services and is already bringing front of house, portering, post room and AV services back in-house by the end of May. The university is applying the same review process to the other externally contracted services, which should be completed by 2020 at the latest. As contracts come up, we are consulting staff about coming in-house. Many of the signatories to the open letter work in other universities that have outsourced staff, and consequently should be aware that this is necessarily a complex business.

The short time frame demanded by some is undeliverable. The university currently operates in a financially challenging environment. The cost of moving too quickly would significantly reduce resources for key academic and other activities. We need to protect them.

I am particularly disturbed by the level of verbal and online abuse our permanent staff have had to endure from some supporters of the academic boycott. It is unacceptable that some colleagues tell me that they do not feel safe at work. The university takes its duty of care to all staff extremely seriously.

Not only do all contractors pay the London Living Wage but zero hours contracts are not used by their suppliers; they have confirmed that existing staff on such contracts have been offered new ones and that new staff will not be offered such contracts. The university is working hard to ensure that all staff including the people working for its contractors are kept fully informed of its plans. We also meet regularly with the University and College Union and Unison.

The University of London shares the firm belief of the signatories of the open letter that academic labour cannot be isolated from other forms of work underpinning it. This is why we are taking a staged approach to avoid substantial financial penalties from breaking contracts, and to assure affordability with the view of supporting our key academic activities that are at the heart of the university.

Peter Kopelman
Vice-chancellor, University of London

In fond memory

I was moved by the article “There’s no shame in grief over death of colleagues” (Opinion, 11 April). I’m not an academic, but I’m very involved in my local university. A colleague of mine died suddenly. He was such a key part of the organisation that nearly three years on, I still find notes from our conversations in the margins of meetings, emails and so on.

How Alix Dietzel described the late David Held at her viva demonstrated his respect and genuine interest in her future as an academic and potential to add to the field of knowledge. Many thanks to Dietzel for writing this. She is right that the topic of grief is not discussed and she has now prompted me to find the right way to remember and celebrate my late colleague.

Via timeshighereducation.com

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