On Friday 18th March at 9.30am, DACE staff met with Principal Muscatelli. The meeting had been due to take place in the home of DACE, the St Andrews building, but the venue was changed at short notice. Some students managed to gain access to the meeting and we are able to bring you the following detailed report. You can read a summary here.
It was disappointing that the Principal decided to hold the meeting behind closed doors with increased security, insisting that the entire staff of the School of Education go to him on the basis of a perceived ‘security problem’. It is a sorry state of affairs when coming face to face with student and staff supporters of DACE is characterised this way.
Despite the bad note struck by the last minute change in venue, the Principal did make himself available to take questions with Vice-Principal Andrea Nolan by his side.
Both Principal and Vice-Principal insisted that the consultation panel’s decision was not already formed. This was in response to strong suggestions to the contrary, for example arising from last year’s leaked paper from SMG, classifying Adult Education as an area of activity to be scrapped. The Principal heard that a member of senior management had apparently referred to DACE as just being aromatherapy and dramaturgy–it is hardly surprising there is a feeling that the decision to close the Open Programme has already been made. In response to strong cynicism towards the consultation process Principal Muscatelli said, ‘If that’s the attitude of the other side then it is very difficult to have a dialogue. All I can say is I’ve come here today to tell you there is no done deal.’
The Principal was told that language used in the court paper took the concept of lifelong learning and rebranded it as ‘recreational’ and that this was demeaning, insulting and misinformed. In response the Principal admitted that management have little understanding of the Open and CertHE programmes: ‘I think it has been much more difficult for senior management to take a view of an area like the Open Programme because so much of it is managed locally that actually it’s one area where it is more difficult for us to see exactly what the resource implications are. Obviously, we see the overall picture but we don’t see in terms of the detail what the resource implications are. And that’s one of the things, I hope, will really come out of the consultation–how are we resourcing different parts of the Open Programme? And as you say, it’s a wide-ranging programme: some of it is academic classes, some of it is more vocational, some of it is one type of lifelong learning and others are about… which is perhaps, not recreational: it’s about people doing things in addition to their professional skills other than to enhance professional skills and to, perhaps, as you say, allow people to change their careers. So I think all that is appreciated and I think all the points you make will come clearly out of the consultation. A lot of the letters I’ve received from students highlight the points you’ve made which are about people saying, ”this changed my life in the following way“ and that is exactly the sort of evidence we will bring to bare as part of the consultation–which are the parts of the course that have that impact? Which are different in nature? Some are language classes which are well attended which again people do for different reasons. Again a lot of that evidence simply isn’t available to us as senior management. And that is one of the things I’d like the consultation to draw out very clearly: What is the impact? What is the community impact of what the open programme does? And what are the resource costs of that?’
Staff expressed disappointment that management’s first attempt to understand the Open Programme comes on the back of the suggestion to curtail its activities or entirely discontinue it. Staff reminded the Principal that no member of senior management had come to speak with staff working on the open programme to find out what it is about.
The Principal said, ‘Well. I’m sorry. There is a serious question about whether we should do something like this… You could say, “Well lets look at it first,” but I think you have to start off… at a time when you have very serious resourcing issues… We’ve got to look at the question, ask the question, “Here’s something we do which is very different than anything else that we do in terms of standard undergraduate and postgraduate teaching…” And we’ve got to ask the question, “should we continue doing it?” That doesn’t mean that that is the answer but, I think… You ask the question and you have a consultation on that. And that’s what we’re trying to do.’
The Principal was asked why the new process of consultation has been introduced rather than using the well-known and established mechanism of court review. He responded, ‘Maybe it’s just a question of language. We haven’t had court reviews for sometime. When we looked at these areas [to be cut] it was agreed that we would do it through a rather less ponderous process. In reality, it’s not too disimilar. Except… this is rather more open because it involves external stakeholders.”
It was put to him that there is actually a significant difference: that DACE was reviewed around eight years ago and the panel involved in that exercise was larger than the small panels in this consultation process. It was suggested that with such a small panel there is a serious danger that there will be whole classes of argument that are not registered. The Principal was reminded that in the court review process there were a couple of representatives from other universities and it would seem that there is a much better chance of being given a fair hearing in that kind of process.
The Principal responded by saying, ‘As you know there is one discussion in senate this afternoon on the issue of the composition of panels.’
It was raised as an issue for concern that there is a deep dividing line being drawn between undergraduate and postgraduate students on the one hand and adult learners on the other. A University should encourage all learners to come through its doors, surely, and not advantage some groups over others. The Vice-Principal suggested that funded places currently allocated to Continuing Education could possibly be more effectively re-directed elsewhere to benefit undergraduates–but surely that distinctly disadvantages adult learners? The assumption that funding places could be better allocated was challenged and it was asked that the consultation consider that the redistribution of funds would be taking money away from the city and the community. The Vice-Principal said, ‘I would prefer not to be in this position of having to choose which learners are in a greater priority but we are. So I’m sorry if that’s disrespecting any particular learners but what we’re trying to do is make choices here so that we’re healthy going forward. But we do take your point about the lifelong learner and that is part of the university’s mission and part of our contribution to the local community.’
They were asked what our contribution to the local community is going to be if DACE is curtailed–that 1000 letters of support demonstrates a strong community bond. Principal Muscatelli said, ‘The measurement of that response is something that will be taken account of, I mean it would be crazy not to, if a thousand people write to you, of course that is something that the consultation will take into account.’
It is important to remember that the letter campaign was initiated by DACE staff and students in an attempt to urge management not to go ahead with the consultation. It was not asked for by the consultation process. In fact, it is not clear as yet how the views of community stakeholders will be taken into account.
There is also some confusion over the consultation panel’s remit. In the minutes of the panel’s first meeting they state that, ‘The Group’s remit was to consider the strategic fit of the Open Programme and should not extend to a detailed assessment of the financial impact.’ It appears odd to only investigate the Open and CertHE programmes’ strategic fit within the Glasgow 2020 Vision: surely they should investigate the Programmes’ financial contribution to the university since we are continually told that the whole review process is being motivated by a short-fall of money. Perhaps it is the 2020 Vision that needs scrutiny to make sure it supports Lifelong Learning rather than the other way around?!
Vice-Principal Nolan said, ‘The financial environment is motivating our review costs of the university. On the basis that we have to do this we are judging the whole functions of the university based on strategic fit. So we’re saying that we have to save 20 million pounds and now we’re looking at strategic fit.’
It was brought up that the Glasgow 2020 vision document mentions ‘public engagement,’ ‘knowledge exchange,’ and the need to work closely with voluntary organisations and charities etc. The commentator said to the Principal, ‘[With DACE] we have 5,000 students coming through the door of the university and a great diversity of individuals: in effect these people are ambassadors of the university. We need to find our supporters and friends in the community to support our university–a lifelong learning programme is a way to do this, that works across the university; it’s not confined to one school or one college… so why not use this as a real strong arm of the university to deliver public engagement and find that support in our community?’
The Principal replied, “That is exactly what I’d like the consultation to ask. And ask whether we’re doing it as effectively as possible: could we target, for instance, more resources to the learners who are less able to access this? Whereas others may be more able to handle the cost of accessing it. At the moment we do it through different pricing, through ILAs. Lets look at the whole issue: how are we doing it? Can we do it better? Lets look at what other universities are doing and we know other universities do provide a similar service to the community. And I think that is what the consultation will hopefully make very clear – what I would like to come out of the consultation – how do others do it? How effective are we at it? How to be better at it?’
It was then raised that other providers do not provide a similar service, that ‘DACE is not the same as every other provider by any means whatsoever.’ The commentator went on to criticize the consultation process as having a foregone conclusion. Principal Muscatelli reiterated that there was no foregone conclusion and said, ‘As far as I’m concerned the consultation will produce something, you [the school of education] will have your pespective, senate will have its perspective. And if the conclusions [between the three perspectives] are hugely divergent, Court would need to come to a position that I would be, personally, very uncomfortable with… and there was a risk of losing that community engagement. That’s as far as I will go otherwise I will start prejudging the consultation.’
It was highlighted that, earlier in the week, staff had given a presentation as to how the Open Programme meets the univeristy’s strategic criteria. The consultation panel are yet to share that information.
The Principal was asked why this process wasn’t initiated a long time ago; why wasn’t this important information sought months ago? He replied, “Well, we thought this is what should come out from the consultation. And the consultation has become engaged externally rather quicker than anyone imagined but I’ll take that as a comment.’
Staff said that they were very happy to engage in the process of review, that the research-led aspect of the Open Programme is given consideration, but they stressed that the teaching and learning process should also be taken seriously. The Principal said, ”I think… there are different impacts of this: there’s the research-led element which obviously feeds into the school, there’s the community impact which even if there was no research-led element frankly would be important–you know that’s what we’re hearing from the community out there and that’s the bit that concerns me–harnessing those supporters as you pointed out. I think these are all important things we need to look at as part of the consultation.’
The way in which the process was managed was commented on–that it is stressful, that it has a negative influence on staff morale. Vice-Principal Nolan said, ‘The Open programme is not unique in this. I’m chairing a panel on Nursing and staff are under a lot of angst and concern. It is a concerning time for all of us. So that is why we try to be a transparent as possible, and why we’re trying to move the process along as quickly as possible, and support heads of schools, and heads of subject areas as best as we can.’ Principal Muscatelli said, ‘And there is a trade-off there, between doing things quickly to remove any uncertainty and at the same time doing it in a way that makes sure it is totally open and transparent, and corrects any misinformation. Part of it is about trying to do it quickly and part of it is responding to staff when issues of stress etcetera arise.’
And yet earlier in the discussion Principal Muscatelli had said, ‘If you wanted to cook up a solution you wouldn’t do it over a prolonged period of 3 or 4 months… if you had a done deal, you would do it pretty quickly. And that is not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make this a proper consultation to give it the time necessary to have that consultation and then to afford yourselves and senate another opportunity to look at the conclusions, not just the process but the conclusions.’
It should be noted that while the decision to consult was made in February, the process did not become accessible until the 2nd March. And more recently, it has been announced that the deadline for contributing to the process is the 4th April 2011– that’s about one month by most calendars!
Finally, the Principal took the opportunity to remind us that the decision to consult has been motivated by finances: ‘It’s been due to a major cut in public funding already in 11/12 and one that will continue over time. Lets not forget that. That’s what going on and at the moment the promises which we’re getting about what might happen after May [elections] don’t look too encouraging, I have to say.”
Principal Muscatelli concluded with an offer to make sure staff felt that the consultation was open and transparent: ‘I’d be delighted to come down again very soon and actually come and talk, perhaps more particularly with those involved in the Open Programme in a more informal way as well. And come down to the St Andrews building to do it. So lets try and arrange that in a way that avoids you all having to come up here in this rather unwelcoming environment. I’d be happy to do that even throughout the consultation if that helps to reassure you that the consultation is progressing well. I’m not actually directly involved in any of the panels, so I’d welcome that, to have a chance to talk, come down, speak to you, test the temperature in say, in a couple of weeks time: how things are going with the consultation from your perspective and whether you feel that you’re being listened to adequately and you’re getting the right information across from your perspective.’