RHUL Principal responds to “Principal’s Pledge”

The Principal has responded to SURHUL’s “Principal’s Pledge” of 23rd November. The full response is available below. The response addresses each of the points in the “pledge”, an original copy of which can be viewed on the Students’ Union website.

Principal’s Pledge Response (1st December).

1.  To condemn whitepaper/call for it to be withdrawn:

The College has already expressed serious concern about some aspects of the White Paper, directly in response to the Government’s consultation and through our mission group, the 1994 Group.

The White Paper contains direct threats to Royal Holloway in the form of a free market for AAB+ students and a 9% cut in non-AAB student numbers. These proposals mean that over a three year period, we could lose nearly two thirds of our guaranteed student numbers and be almost entirely dependent on our ability to attract AAB+ students in order to protect programmes, departments and jobs.

The White Paper also offers little clarity for us about the longer term, which makes planning for the future a real challenge. We know that we need to be flexible in rapidly changing circumstances, and to work hard to understand emerging policy, feed in our views and calculate the impact on Royal Holloway.

There are some proposals in the White Paper that we welcome, particularly the extension of loan facilities to part time students. It is also preferable to the previous Government’s most recent alternate proposal, which would have been a significant reduction in funding across the board, of the order of 35% to 40%. Such a reduction would have an immediate detrimental effect on our College which we would not have been able to mitigate at all.

As well as making our views known, it is vital that we respond to the challenges the White Paper presents as the Government prepares final legislation; if we are unprepared, we will of course fail.

2.  Guarantee no course closures

Universities have been opening and closing courses for as long as we have had universities, so there is no point or benefit to guaranteeing that there will be no course closures. These changes occur for many reasons, not least because our understanding and boundaries of knowledge change.

However, I recognise that the sentiment of this point is that we should commit not to withdraw from whole discipline areas and I can say that we are committed to doing whatever we can to maintain our broad existing mix of disciplines, albeit sometimes in different proportions, in response to any future shifts in student demand.

3.  To guarantee no job cuts, redundancies or adverse changes to staff terms and conditions 

This is not realistic. As our academic portfolio shifts to reflect student demand and subject strength, there may of course be some small scale changes to the number and type of staff positions.

In future years (but not now) any number of factors – including funding changes or student choice – may put us in a position where we have to make changes in some areas in order to protect the institution as a whole.  However, this is not part of our current plans – right now we are focused on the things that we can do to secure our student numbers in this unstable climate and protect, and perhaps increase, our staff numbers for the future. If we can succeed at this, then we have little to fear.

4.  To provide bursaries for all students who need them

It is our fundamental principle that finances should not prevent anyone with ability and potential from studying at Royal Holloway.

We have a number of bursaries available, including up to £3000 for students from low income families, access grants for mature students and free year-round accommodation for care leavers, and we have doubled the size of the student hardship fund. We also have a number of other bursaries and scholarships supported by donors, some of which are focused on those from low income families.

We believe that Royal Holloway is one of only a few institutions with an Access Agreement that gives students the choice of determining themselves the extent to which support is via a bursary or a fee waiver. We do this because we believe it is what students want, despite the fact that it raises our net fee (since fee waivers are deducted from that calculation and bursaries are not) which excludes us from the opportunity to bid for further student numbers.

5.  To guarantee no cuts to library, student support or learning resources

We are currently planning a major expansion to our library, through a significant building extension. In the short term, we are also planning to take advantage of the Christmas break to reconfigure our existing library and provide over 100 new study spaces. In planning for the new fee regime, we included £1 million per year for enhancements to the student experience and we value and continue to support our much used student support services.

6.  Guarantee no cuts to access schemes or foundation courses

We believe that many students can benefit from a Royal Holloway experience, irrespective of their background and we will continue to support access schemes and foundation courses that help students from diverse backgrounds to access the our programmes. In some cases we work with other providers, including FE College and private providers, to deliver these programmes which are outside of our core strength of undergraduate teaching. However, it is unrealistic to make any guarantees about future programmes as we have no certainty about future funding, student demand or the ability of local colleges to provide certain access or foundation programmes.

7.  Guarantee to not enter into relationships with for-profit providers

In common with every other university, we use the services of for-profit international recruitment agents to help raise awareness of our programmes overseas and to assist international students in their applications to the College and in gaining entry visas.

We also work with Pearson and we support their aim to provide low cost degree level education, part time in FE Colleges to working people who would not otherwise be able to access higher education.   This is particularly important to us while Government caps the number of students we can admit directly to the College.

In other cases, such as through our partnership with Study Group, we are able to access their ready-made recruitment networks for international students, which should see our inflow of international students increase by up to 300 per year, across the disciplines. This is an essential move to secure international student numbers when there is such instability in the HEU market, and of course ensures that we continue to enrich and diversify our international mix on campus.

The proceeds from these arrangements will be invested directly into enhancements for our current students, as well as creating additional jobs within the College.

8.  To lobby College Council for greater representation of students and staff on Council

We have no plans to change the current constitution of our governing body, College Council, which currently includes a number of representatives from our student, academic, staff and alumni bodies; in particular our Council has, unusually compared with many other institutions, two student members.

It is important to remember that College Council members are not there to represent their own interests but to act as independent members taking an objective view of the range of options and information we present them with. There are many opportunities for students and staff to engage directly in the management of the College through the Committees and Groups that formulate these options and oversee the day to day workings of the College.   Also, this year we extended invitations to all sabbatical officers to join Council at its annual away day. The input from the sabbaticals was greatly welcomed by Council and we would expect to continue the practice in future years.

9  Circulate this commitment in writing to staff and make it available to students on the web.

This one I can support whole-heartedly! I want everyone to understand that the Council and senior management of Royal Holloway are doing their very best to secure Royal Holloway’s future in a period of unprecedented uncertainty. We are not responsible for setting Government policy, since we live in a democracy, and we have little option but to do our best to respond to it.   Although a proportion (and certainly not the majority) of our income comes from public sources, we are a private institution run for charitable purposes, and there is no one waiting to bail us out if we fail or are distracted by misdirected challenges.

If we are serious about providing a quality education for students and job security for our staff, then we need to be focused on that, and that means working together to understand how best we can secure student numbers and deliver the kind of education that we all believe is unique to our university, and that we all want to protect. It is unthinkable now that this Government, or any other, would rein back from the notion of student fees – that argument is lost – now we need to work together on the how, and not on the whether.

I absolutely respect and support our students’ right to protest, make their point and express their views on the politics of the day. However, it would be irresponsible of me to allow politics of any kind, whether they are my own views, or those of our student body, to encroach on my primary responsibility, which is to manage our university according to the terms that are laid down for me by the society we live in. Please aim your objections to those terms where they are set.

I also want occupiers to understand that managing an occupation on campus is expensive and time consuming. Every minute of management time spent on this is time not spent on the very pressing issues we currently face.   Every pound spent on additional security, staff time and alternative facilities is money that we can’t spend on facilities for students and staff.

In response to your additional demands:

10.  Senior Management Team withdraw staff redundancy notices and end to restructuring plans

We have not issued any redundancy notices as part of this restructuring process. We are obliged to tell staff when we open discussions with them about changes, that those changes may possibly affect their jobs, but that is not necessarily the outcome. We are in continued discussion with affected staff and unions and we have already made many changes to the proposals as a result of those discussions and the changing environment. We will ensure that we can respond if the position improves.

11.  Free access in and out of the occupation for all students and lecturers

We are happy to give free access to the occupation for students and lecturers for as long as we can ensure the health and safety of staff, students and people who work in the corridor. Equally, we request that occupiers allow free access to staff’s places of work and that they are able to enter their offices without fear of intimidation.

12.  No victimisation of student occupiers or lecturers supporting the occupation

As in the past, we are not going to victimise anybody. The College has clear policies about the withdrawal of staff labour, and these will be applied, as they are elsewhere today.

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