Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Guardian Education: "Balancing the books"

Finally, our campaign has been given the space we deserve in the pages of the Guardian...

Students protest over proposed staff and funding cuts at London Metropolitan University Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Guardian

"Balancing the books"

500 jobs may be lost at London Met as the funding council claws back millions it overpaid. By Maureen Paton

* Maureen Paton
* The Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009

A senior union official has described the financial crisis at London's largest university, where major mistakes in recording student drop-out rates have led to an overpayment of £56m in government funding, as "unprecedented in higher education".

Up to 500 staff jobs at London Metropolitan University are now said to be at risk after its management proposed large-scale redundancies to balance the books. Barry Jones, assistant general secretary at the University and College Union (UCU), warns that the drastic culling of lecturers could lead to the "destabilising of the university" and the devaluing of its degrees.

The withdrawal of funding has followed the discovery of discrepancies in London Met's data for student completions during an audit by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce). Funding is tied to the number of students who complete a course, and money is forfeited when they drop out. Student completion determines the level of teaching grant that Hefce allocates to universities, and London Met had been mistakenly claiming funding for a substantial number of students who did not complete their course.

A Hefce spokesperson declined to confirm the rumoured figure of 800 student records, or to comment on the precise amount of funding to be clawed back ahead of its board meeting on 26 February, but admits: "The amount of funding we will seek to recover is certainly well above anything else we have had to deal with. And the amount of over-reporting of student numbers is also of a scale that's much greater than anything else we have encountered."

Jones says: "This issue of completion rates is unprecedented in its scale, and the level of funding threatened is also unprecedented - as are the levels of redundancy proposed to deal with it. Hefce found some faults in the student completion returns and therefore believes that London Met has been overpaid for the last three years. So it will have to pay back £38m over the next five years, as well as having its ongoing funding cut by £18m.


"The university's management is talking about making 330 full-time positions and 170 part-time jobs redundant, with the 330 positions by voluntary means almost immediately. We said no, that we didn't want that to happen because it ran the risk of destabilising the university. We are concerned that a reduction in staff might mean a reduction in the standard of the degrees that are being awarded, because there are obviously potential repercussions for students."

Eddie Rowley, the student liaison and quality co-ordinator at the student union, told Education Guardian he "can't really comment" on the current crisis.

Currently London Met has 2,300 full-time staff and 34,000 students, one of the lowest staff-student ratios in the country. Morale is said to be at "rock-bottom", with insiders claiming a management culture of inefficiency and empire-building. UCU organised a demonstration by its members last Wednesday at the university's London North campus on Holloway Road, to coincide with the governors' meeting that afternoon, in order to make clear their feelings about staff cuts. (...)
Rest the rest here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/feb/03/brian-roper

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