Quality questions hang over teaching

July 23, 1999

Boasting a history it can trace back to a mechanics' library in 1823, Liverpool John Moores was established as a university under the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act.

Named after the founder of Littlewoods, LJMU brought together the old Liverpool Polytechnic - itself formed in 1970 through the merger of several art, technology and building colleges - with the Liverpool School of Nursing and the Mersey College of Health Care Studies.

It now has 15 schools in three academic divisions for an undergraduate population of more than 20,000. LJMU has about 889 full-time equivalent academic staff, including just 89 researchers, and a total staff of 2,568.

The university's mission - to encourage participation by non-traditional students and to provide a largely teaching-based, vocational environment targeted to local economic needs - has largely ruled out research excellence. With just 89 research staff, and only 36 per cent selected for research assessment, almost half (45 per cent) were rated at grade two (out of five) in the 1996 research assessment exercise. A total of 16 departments received grade two, and two departments received the bottom grade, one.

But teaching has been far from excellent. Of nine teaching quality assessments carried out since February 1998, only two have been awarded the equivalent of excellent, with 22 or more out of 24. Marks have averaged 20, with calls to make "significant improvement" in some aspects of provision in nursing and in electrical engineering.

Perhaps staff could have foreseen the current financial crisis: the latest published accounts (for 1997-98) list total income as Pounds 89.5 million compared with total expenditure of Pounds 90 million. But the university has a projected spend of Pounds 91.7 million for 1998-99.

Timetable of unrest

March 1999: The THES reveals damning independent analysis of LJMU teaching material on human respiration. Experts say the material is "incorrect" and "inadequate". LJMU admits the problem was identified years before and announces an independent review of the material.

April 1999: Vice-chancellor Peter Toyne hails preliminary findings from a Quality Assurance Agency audit report as "good news". But the report, to be published in June, will "identify some areas which would benefit from further attention".

May 1999: Toyne warns staff: "We're having to make savings in the order of Pounds 2.5 million in each of the next three years. It will not be easy and certainly not palatable."

June 1999: The QAA audit report does not materialise. Toyne denies rumours of his impending departure.

July 1999: Governors meet to discuss cuts. Natfhe calls on Toyne to resign. Toyne says senior posts to be cut by 10 per cent. Natfhe claims Toyne has "grossly over-staffed at the top" and accuses LJMU of mishandling redundancy procedures. Unison says its members' proposed job losses are not valid. Joint trade unions to ballot on strike action. Voluntary redundancy/early retirement schemes announced.

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