No ladder at Cumbria, not even for laureates

Internal scholars have little chance of filling senior posts, staff complain. John Morgan reports

December 17, 2009

The University of Cumbria has been accused of denying its staff promotions to senior academic posts by enforcing a policy that makes it "the only university in the world where a Nobel prizewinner would find it difficult to progress".

Shortly after it was founded in August 2007, Cumbria established a policy of making external appointments to professorships and readerships, allowing internal promotions only in "exceptional" circumstances.

Critics of the policy said that since then, internal research-active staff have been denied the chance to apply for top posts, and the academic titles have mainly been awarded to managers. Save for one internal member of the senior management team who was made a professor, all other reader and professorial appointments have been made externally, they claimed.

Trevor Curnow, University and College Union branch secretary, said the policy was "demoralising" for academics, who were forced to look elsewhere if they wanted to advance their careers.

"Cumbria is probably the only university in the world where a Nobel prizewinner would find it difficult to progress beyond the senior lecturer level," he said.

The system "reflects the fact that the university clearly values managers more than academics", he added.

You shall not pass

The policy, established in October 2007, states: "The normal process by which persons are appointed to chairs or readerships will be by external competitive advertisement.

"Exceptionally, there may be an internal competitive process where such a process may assist the university in pursuit of its mission and strategic objectives."

Another Cumbria academic, who asked to remain anonymous, told Times Higher Education that although the policy talks of internal promotions to senior posts being made in "exceptional" circumstances, "in practice it has never been possible".

"I get the impression it was done partly for economic reasons, and partly to enable senior appointments in strategic subject areas, which at Cumbria tend to be related to business, vocational and practical subjects," he said.

"We're desperately short of marketing and promotion of humanities subjects, which are essential to recruitment and the credibility of the university."

He added that although the Cumbria policy was unique as far as he was aware, it reflected a wider trend towards the "hijacking" of academic titles by non-academic managers.

Dr Curnow said: "The idea seems to be, if you want to develop your career, you become a manager - even if you're no good at it."

He said there was little chance of a change in policy in the midst of Cumbria's financial woes.

The university has been facing a period of upheaval after recording an £8.4 million deficit in its second year of operation.

Earlier this month, it announced proposals to "mothball" its Ambleside campus, a move that the UCU claimed would put 200 jobs at risk. It has also put on hold plans for a £70 million campus in Carlisle.

The university did not respond to requests for comment.

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