Staff fury at '£600K' rebrand

July 22, 2005

Academics at UCL are on the warpath over a new corporate identity. They call the exercise a 'total waste of money' in the face of staffing cuts of 15 per cent over three years. But UCL insists it needs to raise its public profile. Phil Baty reports

Lecturers at University College London have attacked managers for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a rebranding exercise at a time when the college is facing 15 per cent staffing cuts.

UCL's new corporate identity, details of which were obtained exclusively by The Times Higher this week, will be launched on August 1 after months of consultation and planning. But it has been dismissed as a "total waste of money" by staff, according to the Association of University Teachers, which estimates that it will cost about £600,000 to fully implement.

Marilyn Gallyer, vice-provost at UCL, would not comment on the union's estimate but she said: "The additional one-off costs of implementing the new corporate identity are of the order of £180,000, the majority of which is being funded from outside UCL's recurrent budget. Other costs, for example new signage, will be incurred progressively as funds permit."

Ms Gallyer added: "It is consistent with UCL's plans to maintain and enhance its international excellence to introduce a new corporate identity.

This is the result of extensive research among a range of stakeholders who have told us that UCL needs to do more to raise its public profile and project its vision, values and excellence as a thriving university of international standing. This is not an extravagant exercise."

The AUT, with support staff unions Unison and Amicus, have launched a campaign against plans to cut 5 per cent from staffing costs in each of the next three years. Campaign posters will parody the new corporate logo, which features the letters "UCL" with the bottom edge of the letters sliced off, by adding a pair of scissors to represent the cuts.

"Now we can all understand UCL's new corporate logo," the campaign poster reads. "Join your union. Resist the cuts."

Sean Wallis, branch secretary of UCL's AUT local association, said: "Staff generally seem to think it's a total waste of money. We could read all sorts of subtexts into it... it might symbolise a triumph of marketing over substance. But why change it for the sake of it?"

The planned cuts at UCL are identified in an internal document, The White Paper: One Year On that follows up provost Malcolm Grant's 2004 reform plans.

The document confirms that the college's finance committee has agreed a Pounds 3 million deficit for 2005-06, dramatically reduced from the approved Pounds 7.5 million deficit this year.

It confirms a "regeneration programme", designed to "achieve an operating budget surplus on a sustainable basis". Its aim is "steadily to reduce departmental staff budgets over the next three years, with provision for selective reinvestment in new top-quality academic staff".

The university confirmed that 5 per cent would be cut in each of three years, but said: "This is not a redundancy-led programme involving the closure of departments."

An open letter to Professor Grant warns that the unions are "totally opposed to solving the college's financial problems by targeting staff for redundancy, whether voluntary or otherwise".

It says that the plans for voluntary redundancy come with "a thinly veiled threat that this will become compulsory if the right people do not step forward for dismissal".

A motion passed unanimously last month at the AUT branch meeting says the white paper update document is "another step to commodification of our university" with its proposals for a greater use of teaching-only staff, a reduction in the "plethora" of degree programmes, and a move to increase research while cutting staff.

Dr Wallis said: "UCL AUT believes that the 15 per cent cuts will have a major effect on staff morale, for those who leave and for those who remain."

He said that the "double whammy" of planning for the "intense competition" of the next research assessment exercise and the preparation for the introduction of the top-up fees market was "creating real imbalances between subjects, departments and colleges" "The sector as a whole needs to be properly supported by the Government, rather than let the market rip through departments. Education is a social good, not a charitable endeavour to be sponsored at the whim of a few wealthy benefactors or fee-payers," he said.


Academics advised not to crowd the logo

"At UCL we have a view on the world. We have an impact on the world - the world inside UCL and outside. We look further, we explore, we discover".

This is the "concept" that inspired the UCL identity, according to the "style guide" governing the correct use of UCL's new logo.

The guide purports to be "as simple as possible". Yet it amounts to 51 pages and includes a helpline number for staff struggling with aspirational corporate management-speak and a list of regulations. These include things such as "clear space exclusion areas" around the logo, as well as lists of "personality words" for staff to use in written communications.

The new identity involves dropping the name University College London - to be used only as part of the postal address - and replacing it with UCL.

In a bid to reflect the concept, the letters "UCL" become "a viewfinder", "where the image below is always visible through the UCL letters and is always changing. The logo is used within a bar in a constant position at the top of the application, providing a 'frame' for the image below."

The guidelines are strict. Staff are told: "Never separate the building from the letters or change the proportions"; "do not allow type to encroach on the clear space exclusion area shown - the UCL logo requires clear space around it to prevent any graphic element interfering with the integrity of the mark"; and "never add a department name to the logo".

The previous strapline, "understanding the past, challenging the present and shaping the future", has been banned "in any form of communication", and replaced with "London's global university".

Images used in conjunction with the logo must be "vibrant and aspirational" (an image of two people jumping in the sea is used as an example), and "odd angles and unusual crops can add interest".

Titles of documents must be "engaging and thought provoking". Dull titles such as "UCL prospectus" are out. Blurbs such as "We're nourishing the world. Want to help?" are in.

UCL people "are confident, but not stuffy", the document asserts. Staff are given 24 "personality words", such as "challenging" and "liberalism", to "guide the tone". of communications".



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