London Student

UCL academics go head to head with management over staff morale and finances

UCL academics prepare to lock horns with management in an extraordinary meeting of the Academic Board today, amidst concerns of low staff morale and fragile university finances.

It is no secret that student discontent with UCL’s management team and especially with Provost Michael Arthur is rife, leading to protest movements directed at the university such as Fossil Free UCL, UCL Cut the Rent and UCL’s Boycott the NSS movement.

In recent months, however, it has become clear that frustration towards management is also felt by UCL staff, particularly its academics.

According to a survey run in April among the 1,400 UCL academics, over a third of which responded, there is high concern about UCL’s management team’s capability to run the institution, with over 60% of respondents disagreeing with the statement that ‘UCL makes good financial decisions’, on top of dissatisfaction with the teaching facilities and the recent increase in student intake. Staff morale as UCL is at an all-time low.

Disheartened, disenfranchised, and disengaged

A hot point of contention seems to be UCL’s project for an East London campus, UCL East, with fears that it is a blatant example of the Senior Management Team’s bad financial decision-making. It is also being financed by department budget cuts, further contributing to lower staff morale.

Scholars are also worried that it will bring the university down academically, with management still giving little information as to what degrees will be on offer, leading to speculation that no doctors will be trained, and that the UCL East Masters Degrees will be of lesser quality than those on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.

Many comments in the survey were very critical of the way the university is governed, with one respondent saying that they feel “disheartened, disenfranchised, and disengaged. Academics are feeling less and less valued within the institution, with one commenting that they “feel part of an anonymous revenue-driven machine’.

This is not the first time that UCL Provost Michael Arthur’s abilities have been questioned. Indeed, he was already a controversial figure when at the helm of the University of Leeds, with his tenure tarnished by an expenses scandal, his vocal support for £9,000 per year tuition fees, and staff strikes and protests following plans for heavy job cuts.

Earlier in the year, several UCL academics privately voiced their desire for a vote of no confidence in the Provost, amidst concerns about the university’s financial stability after it was granted a £280m loan for UCL East, and the director of the Faculty of Medicine’s controversial departure in protest against department budget cuts.

As a result of these high levels of dissatisfaction, a campaign movement named ‘Save UCL (Again!)’ has been formed, and 22 members of the Academic Board have requested an extraordinary meeting of the board, which will take place today.

They aim to propose the creation of an independent, democratic sub-committee of the Academic Board, enabling them to monitor and scrutinise the Senior Management Team’s decisions, especially those impacting academic work, and giving the academic community, staff and students alike, fairer representation on matters that are crucial to them. Were this proposal to be passed on Thursday, it could confirm academics’ increasing distrust in UCL’s governing body.

However, the Provost initially added a counter proposal to the agenda, proposing the establishment of an ‘Academic Board Working Group’ led by the Senior Management Team. This violates the UCL Constitution that stipulates that extraordinary meetings of the Academic Board can only discuss the matter that was stated in the meeting request, and the proposal has since been removed.

Nevertheless, Arthur’s proposal prompted more staff anger, who saw it as yet another sign of disrespect on behalf of the Provost and his team, whose dismissive response to the poor survey results was already a hard pill to swallow for many.

UCL Union has organised a demonstration in support of academics on Thursday lunchtime in the Main Quad, outside the meeting venue.

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Hannah Delahunty