Mark Featherstone-Witty, chief executive of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and co-founder of the institution with Sir Paul McCartney, pulls no punches when describing the early days of his institution’s existence. “Times Higher Education gave them the oxygen to say lots of negative things about us,” he says of critics who came forward at the time.
In the first years after it opened its doors in 1996, LIPA was beset by scandal. Refurbishment costs for the main building (Sir Paul’s old school) amounted to £13.5 million, £6 million more than estimated; senior academics quit following what was described at the time as “a breakdown in morale”; and a 2001 Higher Education Funding Council for England report told the institution to “conduct a full review of the effectiveness of its governance arrangements”.
In those troubled times, several LIPA employees contacted THE to blow the whistle on what they felt were unacceptable practices at their institution, as Mr Featherstone-Witty recalls.
He said: “It was more than just a job for me – it was quite personal.”
Thirteen years on from the Hefce report, LIPA now offers eight undergraduate courses across performing arts disciplines, in addition to three foundation courses. All are validated by the nearby Liverpool John Moores University.
“Nobody in living memory has started a higher education institution from scratch in the UK, except us,” Mr Featherstone-Witty told THE when asked about the initial difficulties. “You might be right to say we were naive, but there was no blueprint either. As we did what we could, the bureaucrats were filling up the holes behind us to make sure it didn’t happen again. So you still can’t start a higher education institute from scratch in this country like you can in the US. Various things become universities, like polytechnics, but you can’t start at the very beginning.”
The institution is now oversubscribed (with 15 applications for each place), and LIPA interviews every one of its more than 650 successful applicants (or, more accurately for its performance-heavy courses, auditions them). According to its most recent accounts, the institution has reported a combined surplus of about £2.5 million over the past two years.
It is a far cry from the early years, when the institution’s financial position was so perilous that Mr Featherstone-Witty was forced to explore more creative ways to make money. One, he said, involved a national newspaper who had claimed “that this whole thing was falling to pieces and somebody needed to be blamed. They couldn’t blame Paul McCartney so they blamed me. In the end they lost a libel case and paid out £15,000; I thought this was a rather novel way of making money.”
LIPA also tried to pass some of the financial burden on to students. “To get ourselves out of revenue issues, we started charging students a £500 facilities fee,” he says – adding that they were subsequently told that they “couldn’t do that”.
LIPA is now extending its reach further down the education system. A free school that will eventually accommodate 364 primary students will be opened by LIPA in partnership with Edge Hill University in September, while a LIPA sixth-form college is hoping to receive accreditation from the Department for Education in time to receive its first intake next year.
“The primary school is part of our widening participation agenda,” Mr Featherstone-Witty said. “We have to engage with primary schools, but how the hell do you do that without doing something completely superficial? We thought, let’s do it properly.”
96% of LIPA’s graduates are in work three years after leaving the institute, and 87 per cent of them work in the performing arts
Liverpool Hope University
A lecturer in education and disability studies has been named one of the UK’s 10 most influential academics with a disability. David Bolt of Liverpool Hope University, who has a visual impairment, came seventh on the Disability News Service’s list, which was topped by Stephen Hawking. Dr Bolt is senior lecturer in education studies and director of the faculty’s Centre for Culture and Disability Studies, as well as being editor of the internationally recognised Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies and leading the university’s Disability Studies MA.
University of Birmingham
A dinosaur species from South America has been identified in research by an international team of scientists. The 200 million-year-old fossils are from the La Quinta Formation in Venezuela, and are the first dinosaur find in the north of the continent. They were discovered by a team including Richard Butler, fellow and academic keeper at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham. He said the discovery of Laquintasaura venezuelae could show that a “mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period may actually have been key to driving the early evolutionary rise of dinosaurs”.
The former footballer and now pundit Robbie Savage has been awarded an honorary fellowship by a Welsh university. Glyndwr University gave the former Premier League midfielder the award for “services to sport”, which Mr Savage described as a “wonderful surprise”. The player, now a BBC commentator, was born and raised in Wrexham where the university is based. “I may be the ‘Mr Marmite’ of football but I have remained determined, direct and given blood, sweat and tears for the game I love,” he said in a statement.
Academics at a university on the South Coast have linked an infectious disease to changes in weather patterns. Researchers from Bournemouth University found that the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon can trigger outbreaks of Buruli ulcer, a bacterial disease that affects thousands each year, in French Guiana. Lead investigator and PhD student at Bournemouth, Aaron Morris, said that this type of research is “vital in understanding how climate change will affect the dynamics and emergence of pathogens in the future”.
University of Dundee
The Scottish Funding Council has made almost 50 fully funded MSc places available at a Scottish university to help improve the skills base of the country. Students will be able to apply for funding in subjects including data engineering, geotechnical engineering and water hazards, risk and resilience at the University of Dundee. The scheme is in its second year and may take into account applicants’ work experience as well as their academic record.
Anglia Ruskin University
Openly gay job applicants in Cyprus are about 40 per cent less likely to be offered an interview than those who do not disclose their sexuality, according to research. Nick Drydakis, senior lecturer in economics at Anglia Ruskin University, sent fake applications for positions advertised on job websites in Cyprus. The applications were almost identical, but some candidates had been a volunteer for an environmental charity while others had been a member-volunteer in the fictitious Cypriot Homosexual Association. The research was published in the International Journal of Manpower.
Royal Veterinary College
Student vets are currently starring in a new BBC Two documentary series. Young Vets, which started on 19 August, follows 10 final-year students at the Royal Veterinary College as they put their learning into practice for the first time in farms and animal hospitals. Broadcast over three consecutive weeks, the series will show trainee vets carrying out caesareans on sheep, helping a dog with a broken back to walk again and treating a horse with sinusitis.
Goldsmiths, University of London
A university has been nominated for a diversity award thanks to its high number of female managers. Goldsmiths, University of London is the only higher education institution shortlisted for the Diverse Company Award at next month’s National Diversity Awards. Six out of seven heads of service at Goldsmiths are women and more than half of its senior management team are female. The nomination also recognises Goldsmiths’ initiatives aimed at recruiting students from deprived areas, including fee waivers for Lewisham students and Open Book, which has helped 60 adults from offending and addiction backgrounds to secure places on undergraduate courses.