University of Cumbria: the perfect storm
The University of Cumbria is the perfect storm, where all the mistakes I pointed out in my last post have come together on a huge scale. Mismanaged, obsessed by campuses and buildings, over-staffed, far too many courses and third rate research. It was meant to solve the low HE rates in rural Cumbria, but went for the full blown University experience, despite the fact that it’s courses are almost all purely vocational, oh and they also spent £30 million that they didn’t have.
It’s been a disaster from the start. When you merge lots of different and disparate organisations you need a really good management team, with focus, to rationalise them, prevent duplication and get down to core competences and deliverables. You also have to get rid of those sites, courses and staff that are most inefficient. The University of Cumbria did the opposite. Its lacklustre and inexperienced managers had too many sites, too many courses, too many lecturers, too many researchers, too many administrators and too many buildings. In fact, bizarrely, they decided to build more. No wonder Alan Langlands cut the capital budget for Universities. Cumbria were on course to build a spanking, brand new £70 million headquarters in Carlisle. Rumour has it that it was to be a huge, white, Frank Gehry-style pachyderm. This was an academic Titantic that actually set itself on a deliberate collision course with icebergs.
So where are they now? Having to be bailed out, as they don’t have enough money in the bank to pay the wages, a stupid amount of campuses and buildings, many new, that need to be maintained. far too many staff and worse of all, 533 courses, some that attracted ZERO students. This is mismanagement on a gargantuan scale. The UCU falsely claim that the trouble is the result of ‘cuts’. This is complete nonsense. Someone in that union needs to attend a financial literacy course. Bailing out an organisation that has a £30 million deficit is not a consequence of cuts, it’s a consequence of idiotic mismanagement. Far from being a forward looking institution they were held back by trying to create something from the past.
I also have some concerns about the range of courses here. I’ve never believed that purely, vocational courses are best delivered by Universities, with their lecture-obsession and constant demand that teachers be researchers. In practice, Cumbria is a huge FE college masquerading a University, with a myriad of courses covering health, education, forestry and farming. The quality of the research is, of course, woeful.
To be credible, and to survive at all, they must make cuts, I’d guess of well over £13 million i.e. a third of the deficit. This can’t be difficult, as they have lots of courses with very low student attendance and clearly far too many staff and buildings. They’ve already had to mothballed one campus. What’s dismaying here is the impact on students who signed up to an institution that was so poorly led – truly lions led by academic donkeys.