Lecturers frozen out

November 22, 1996

IT to reduce staff by the year 2000, say universities. Thousands of university lecturers took to the streets this week to protest at underfunding and low pay. But universities are planning to cut their number and up their work load.

Strategic plans submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveal that universities expect to replace lecturers with information technology and increase part-time and overseas student numbers and research activity.

They plan to spend Pounds 2.7 billion on new libraries, resource centres, laboratories and student accommodation by the end of the century. There will, they say, be fewer lecturers as institutions switch their emphasis from teaching to more "student-centred, resource-based learning", with students learning at a computer terminal, rather than attending lectures and seminars.

Information technology suites and libraries with multimedia facilities will be open all hours to cater for demands for more flexible patterns of study.

Some of the money will come from funding council grants, the National Lottery and the Millennium Fund. But most will be borrowed, or raided from reserves and selling off assets.

HEFCE has warned that institutions, which at conservative estimates are expected to be facing a backlog of buildings maintenance work costing more than Pounds 500 million, could be storing up problems for the 21st century.

Universities and colleges are planning to cut spending on long-term maintenance of boilers, roofs, windows, and internal and external decorating, by 23 per cent from next year.

The cutbacks are the result of falling Government support and the winding up of the backlog maintenance programme set up by the former Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.

Institutions are hoping to raise more money through a "substantial growth" in part-time and overseas students. But HEFCE has warned: "Institutions will need contingency plans in case these forecasts prove optimistic."

Academic staff numbers are expected to fall slightly over the next two years, and then return to present levels by the year 2000. However, the funding council once again warns that these forecasts "may understate the position, since many institutions predict reductions without quantifying them".

Extending the teaching day to 12 hours, and running courses on Saturdays and through the summer, are further strategies planned to boost income.

Institutions also plan to increase the quality and amount of research activity, developing more multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary work.

With growing pressure on resources, the united front between university staff and management, which has marked this year's campaigning, appeared to be cracking. During Tuesday's one-day strike union leaders addressing a mass rally in central London launched an attack on vice chancellors after learning that the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals had called the industrial action "misdirected".

A statement from CVCP chief executive Diana Warwick said: "Today's strike shows the frustration of staff. However, while understandable, it is misdirected. We urge staff to direct their lobbying to their MPs to get this message home."

Liz Allen, higher education spokeswoman for Natfhe, told the London rally: "This is our chance to send the message loud and clear. And our message to the vice chancellors is to stop hiding behind the Government and blaming them."

The unions have also stepped up their action. AUT members, in the old universities, will be boycotting a range of administrative tasks. They will not collect data required by national agencies and will stop assessment visits. Action against examinations and admissions is also near, they warn. Unions in the new universities will be working strictly to contract.

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