Wednesday, May 05, 2010

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.


Rob said...

Cumbria's v-c's research area is "change management". And they say satire is dead...

Anonymous said...

The "new" Vice Chancellor left suddenly a couple of weeks ago.
It seems even he couldn't cope with the clique that is the board of governors and the existing senior staff.
The University of Cumbria probably doesn't deserve to survive its current, self inflicted, crisis.
You're quite right, it should never have been called a university - it's a professional training institution, which is a good an honourable thing to be.
Unfortunately, the board and senior staff had delusions of adequacy and ideas above their station and started considering themselves "academics".
Funnily, Cumbria's main campus is in the same town as a proper university - Lancaster. In comparison, Cumbria is a joke.
A perfect storm indeed.

Anonymous said...

Univercity of CUmbria deserve to survıve ıts current Furthermore It is more tahn a unıversıty

Donald Clark said...

Univercity of CUmbria deserve to survıve ıts current Furthermore It is more tahn a unıversıty

I loved this sentence. There's a spelling error in first word, capitalisation error in the second, missing letter in the third, more capitalisation errors, another spelling error and the entire statement (can't really call it a sentence) is a grammatical nightmare. Is this reason enough to let this University die?

Lowell said...

There are businesses who go through good and bad cycles of management. Is no reason why universities should not follow the same pattern. The end result usually is a stronger organization as reorganization, house cleaning and scrutiny create a healthier entity. we learn from our mistakes. I have faith that U of Cumbria will recover and serve the constituency it was created to serve. The elitests think it should not survive. That means that alot of students will not get the education that they can afford and the economy of cumbria will be impacted.

Donald Clark said...

The analogy isn't quite right. Businesses have to prove, through audit, that they are a going concern, or by law they have to go into liquidation. Any business that was closed for large parts of the year and went on an unsustainable building spree would disappear fast. At the very least the management team would be swapped out and cuts made. In this sense there is no analogy.
However, you do have a point about fluctuations in fortune and carrying deficits. In Cumbria's case the deficit is so large that it is hard to see how it can be recovered in any sensible timescale. Why should the taxpayer, and other Universities (from HEFCE funds) bail out the profligacy of such a badly run organisation. Are we saying that any University should be allowed to overspend to any degree and just get 'rescued'? And if the reply is 'We did that for the banks' then I disagree with that as well.