Tough times ahead if ‘corporate’ agenda persists

Figures from the sector discuss the year just gone and the one ahead. More views to follow in the Times Higher Education issue of 31 December

December 26, 2009

Mike Kirkup, programme leader, BA (hons) media studies, Teesside University, Middlesbrough

“I can’t start without mentioning the professional highlight for me: Teesside University winning the Times Higher Education University of the Year award. It may sound corny, but it has certainly changed the atmosphere on campus, both in the classroom and along the corridors; staff and students seem brighter and there is a real positive buzz in the town – I feel part of a great academic team (hey, group hug).

My cultural highlight was the release of the remastered Beatles albums, where once again I can hear the energy of With the Beatles, the glistening arpeggios of Abbey Road and the sheer brilliance of the underrated Good Morning, Good Morning. Bob Dylan’s Christmas video, Must Be Santa, comes a close second – go Bob!

My most bittersweet memory of the year was of sitting in a Greek taverna sipping a cold beer on an evening in May, gazing across Lefkas harbour to the pine-clad hills beyond while watching Aston Villa beat Newcastle United on the last day of the season and relegate the Toon to the Fizzy Pop league. Still, at least the Boro went down too!

For 2010, hopefully we can look beyond the aggressive, besuited, profit-driven, corporate definition of “work” and “industry” and see that there is a thriving not-for-profit, artistic and culturally driven creative sector out there for our arts and humanities graduates.”

Malcolm Grant, provost, University College London

“A remarkable year. A superb performance by UCL in global league tables, the launch of our unique transatlantic research collaboration with Yale and the launch of the detailed plans for our major biomedical research facility – in partnership with the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust – next to St Pancras Station.

There was great sadness at the death of close family friend, Sir David Williams, former vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and at the death from a heart attack of Tom Reid, a student from Yorkshire, on his very first day at UCL.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary, University and College Union

“As we start a new decade, politicians remain as happy as ever to get the plaudits for our world-class university and college systems, but are as unwilling as ever to provide the conditions for improvement.

My hope is that politicians will at last commit the resources necessary to enhance our global standing, increase the social contribution of education and stop undermining those who do research, teach and support the student experience.

2010 should be the year when the Government starts listening to the professionals and lets staff do what they do best, rather than spending its time worrying about the next government or quango initiative.

I hope vice-chancellors and principals pull back from their slash-and-burn response to the recession. Our country’s future depends upon expanding opportunities, not reducing resources. Vice-chancellors should do more to lead the higher education sector by standing up for staff, rather than running for cover at the first sign of trouble; as has happened recently over the Higher Education Funding Council for England research impact proposals.

The situation at London Metropolitan University has highlighted the importance of robust and transparent governance. The nodding dogs that make up the majority on so many governing bodies should be swept aside and replaced by people who will challenge the leadership when required and genuinely reflect each institution and the community it sits in.

I hope 2010 proves to be another successful year for our not-so-young-any more union as we celebrate the fourth anniversary of our merger. Our membership is at its highest point ever, with the number of young academics joining having increased by 40 per cent in the last year alone.”

Lesley Harbidge, senior lecturer in film studies, University of Glamorgan

“In a piece in this very publication earlier this year (centring around a symposium I was organising on the sitcom Gavin and Stacey), I was charged with “not being much of a joker”. While I cringed and my colleagues laughed at the irony (the previous sentence noted my challenging of the dour stereotype of my fellow Scots), it did get me thinking about the persistent, and disappointing, misconception about critics and theorists of popular culture. Just to be clear: I analyse the comedy, I don’t do it. There’s certainly been increased recognition of academic activity around comedy (not least with the launch of Intellect’s new Comedy Studies Journal this year), but the perception that the study of comedy, in and of itself, is somehow secondary to (or even the same as) the practice of comedy remains.

That said, I found solace this year in my 2009 highlight – a trip to a stand-up gig with a group of students taking my (theoretical) course on stage and screen comedy. How useful, they commented, to see the theory in practice; how useful to see the theory challenged by the practice and vice versa. In a year dominated by threats to non-vocational disciplines, how welcome to be reminded that our students value the critical/theoretical/analytical skills we teach them.”

Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor, Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University has had so much to celebrate this year. Our international students once again voted their experience the best in Scotland; several areas of our research were rated world-leading or internationally excellent and the university’s work to prepare students for the world of employment was singled out as best practice by the Confederation of British Industry.

Our Caledonian Club made a remarkable impact during its very first year. The club, which introduces children as young as three and their families to university life, won two prestigious awards for its work in widening participation in higher education. Times Higher Education named the club its Widening Participation Initiative of the Year, calling it ‘a stunning example of how to breathe new life into lifelong learning’, and the project was also The Herald’s Education Initiative of the Year.”

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