Friday, 8 October 2010

Grays Anatomy

In a post I published last week I made several links between the increasingly dubious business machinations of Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University in relation to its £170 Million campus masterplan, its honoring of Donald Trump with a Doctorate (seemingly as a means simply for University Chairman, Sir Ian Wood to promote his City Square Project) and the slipping education standards and lack of respect for staff and students especially in relation to Grays School of Art.

I made passing reference to a letter sent last week to all staff, inviting them to a meeting, from newly appointed Head of School, Paul Harris which outlined that:
"The School is facing significant financial challenges, including a projected budgetary deficit for 2010-11 of some £300k, which would be circa £370k if left unchecked by the end of this academic session.

Therefore it is intended that a re-profiling of Gray’s is undertaken in order to meet future market demands and operational constraints, thereby creating a fit-for-purpose Art School that will be viable over the next 15 years, and which will support evolution in the regional and national Creative Industry sectors."
The meeting took place last Wednesday at 4pm and far from being the usual bi-yearly all school meeting complete with lecture from less-than-sympathetic Faculty Dean, John Watson, about the School bucking up it's ideas, some very serious consequences were spelled out for the Staff about the future of the School, which necessitated the presence of HR and Trade Union Representatives. The outcome of the meeting was quickly reported by both Northsound Radio and the Press and Journal, impeccably timed as the media broke the news on the very day in which RGU had arranged a "special ceremony at its Garthdee campus" to honour the 433rd richest man in the world. (Honorary Degrees usually being handed out in line with the actual student Graduation Ceremonies.)

It was announced that to combat the £370,000 virtual deficit (an amount owed by the School to the University itself, due to the School budgets provided by the University being inadequate to run) the school would be required to make a saving of £500,000 to cover the deficit and also to allow for some money to be channeled into "Strategic Deployment" of the results of the "re-profiling" mentioned in the letter. In order to make the £500,000 savings the University is offering Voluntary Severance to all Grays' employees.

When pushed on how many jobs would equate to the £500,000 worth of savings it was suggested from the Dean that this would be in the region of 8 - 12 Full Time Equivalent posts. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Grays School of Art employs approximately 60 members of staff, with the majority of academic staff being on part time contracts from 0.8 to 0.2 FTE. Given that the School has around six hundred students, cutting 8 - 12 FTE posts would have devastating results for the staff/student ratio, the quality of teaching and the quality of experience offered to students who are already struggling for staff time. Paridoxically, the Dean stated that the University would "re-profile" the School in a way that wouldn't effect the quality of education in the school, how this could be achieved with such a significant loss of teaching staff was left unexplained.

Should the Voluntary Severance scheme not achieve the appropriate cuts towards the £500,000 then a further wave of compulsory redundancies will be made, of course with poorer packages. Those who would be in line for forced redundancy would be taken from "weak" areas within the School which would be identified by an external consultancy agency who's other task would be to advise on the aforementioned "reprofiling" to fit around the roles which would no longer exist, and to provide insider information on "future trends within the sector and region" which obviously the existing staff, experts and professionals within their sectors are not qualified to identify. The costs of this consultation excercise is undisclosed but no doubt more valuable than the 8-12 Staff members it may be their responsibility to remove, the criteria for "weaknesses" would be negotiated with RGU HR and Trade Unions but it was made very clear that RGU's future lies with Income Generation and Industry Links.

During the meeting alternative ideas for addressing the deficit were floated, including the sale of a number of items from the University's Art Collection. Each year at Degree Show, the University purchases a number of works from students, and continues to purchase work from Alumni and Staff who have gone on to have success in their careers. Some of these works are distributed throughout the University campus, sometimes exhibited in rotating exhibitions organised by the University Art and Heritage Collections service, however most of the collection, which contains works from the full 125 year history of Grays School of Art, including significant works by the likes of Joyce Cairns and former Turner Prize nominee, Callum Innes, spends its time in storage. This plan was shunned as obviously the items in the University Collection are more valuable than the human input and quality of education.

All the while the RGU website still proudly states that they "recognise how important it is to develop our staff - ultimately we depend on skilled employees at all levels for our continual growth and innovation" and celebrates how the University had retained it's coveted "Investors in People" status, stating that "We continue to value it as a measure of our commitment to employee development." A task which is getting increasingly easier for the University to aspire to given that there will be less and less staff for them to develop.

It seems that the suggestions which I made last week, of RGU being more of a business than a University are being proven by it's continuing actions. What is more important to an Higher Education Institution, should be in education and providing students with the best possible support and academic experience, or should it be having a big shiny £170 Million campus with nobody to staff it?

To most this would seem a no-brainer, however RGU seems intent in removing those from employment who have any actual intelligence worth imparting.

Current students at the School, rightfully concerned about the future of their studies, their community and their education, have already set up a Facebook Group to spread the word about the cuts and their consequences and intend to present Faculty of Design and Technology Dean, John Watson with a petition against the redundancies on Thursday. Those with Facebook accounts can join the group to keep updated with the students campaign and how you can help them save their educations and the reputation of one of the world's leading Art Schools, and befreind the groups creator: an enigmatic digital representation of the School's founder, Victorian Philanthropist John Gray.


Anonymous said...

vested interest much

Fraser Denholm said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for reading, and thanks for making comment.

I can only assume that you're comment makes reference to an apparent "vested interest" in my position as a staff member at Grays School of Art. However, as I alluded to in my previous post, I resigned from my post in August this year. I have a number of reasons for this decision, but had no idea what was lying ahead for the School or the severity of it.

While I can see what you are suggesting and indeed I am concerned about the future of my former colleagues jobs and lives, I have no more or less of a "vested interest" than anyone else who has studied in the school, or worked there, or anyone who cares about the future of culture and the arts, and who is concerned about the integrity and validity of education.

Would these cuts be enough of an interest to affect me personally I would be unable to make any comment on the situation. Ironically the fact that I do not have a vested interest allows me the opportunity to discuss and inform others of what is happening.

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