Risk blows Hull astray

May 12, 2000

The Whistleblower investigation on the Hull University Business School (THES, May 5) was old news that both trivialised and personalised, obscuring the real issues.

In the public expenditure cuts of the 1980s, the University of Hull suffered a catastrophic loss of income. Its short-term response was to make more than 100 academic staff redundant. Its longer-term response was to reduce its dependency on government funding by exploring new markets for its services. Overseas teaching programmes formed part of this strategy.

It became clear in the 1990s that these programmes were financially successful but were associated with a variety of risks, which the university tried to control through organisational change and control. These attempts have not been successful in controlling the risks but have only reduced the income. The university is again in deficit.

Hull is not unique. Universities still seem to behave as if they operate in a stable environment with guaranteed demand for their academic programmes. There is little evidence that they understand or can manage risk.

The problems in Hull are a product of failure to recognise and adopt a consistent approach to risk. Hull has fluctuated between regimes that have encouraged risk-taking and academic entrepreneurship to ones that have been risk-averse and seemed to be interested only in allocating blame and building protective barriers round the institution.

As is clear from the Whistleblower article, Hull is now under new management. I hope that this new regime recognises risk and adopts a clear and consistent approach to it.

Andy Alaszewski. Professor of health studies. University of Hull.

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