Over recent weeks, the University of Dundee have proposed a number of suggested cost-saving initiatives to combat a significant financial deficit. One of these proposals include the merger of the Schools of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education & Social Work, creating the ‘Walker-Geddes’ Superschool. This substantial restructure would involve the removal of a number of smaller courses/modules and up to thirty-five staff redundancies.
A number of student consultation sessions took place via Microsoft Teams on Wednesday 9th, Thursday 10th and Thursday 17th December, respectively. This was an opportunity for students to discuss the merger with the leads on the ‘Academic Excellence & Structure (AES)’ project directly to ask questions and highlight any concerns. These representatives included David Maguire (Principal & Vice-Chancellor), Blair Grubb (Vice-Principal of Education) and Professor Julian Blow (Vice-Principal of Academic Planning & Performance).
DUSA Executive have collated the questions asked and comments made from all three sessions and identified key themes, which are listed below. It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive of all the topics and questions discussed but summarise the most common concerns raised by students.
Moving forward, we now ask the leads of the AES project to respond to the points listed below and evidence how this feedback from students will change and shape the proposal.
The Overall Process/Transparency
Student involvement: A large number of students were made aware of the proposals through unofficial means like social media and anecdotally from staff. A formal announcement to students was made one week after staff. This has left students feeling that their feedback isn’t valued and that students wouldn’t have been consulted on the process without involvement from DUSA.
Speed: There are concerns over the speed of the process. Scheduled for approval in February 2021, the proposal’s consultation and design process has a very quick turnaround. From this, there is significant unease in how feedback from staff and students can really mould and shape the proposals being suggested.
Historic preferences: There is a feeling from students that the Schools of Humanities, Education & Social Work and Social Sciences are historically underfunded in areas like marketing and recruitment. There are worries that this proposal is another in a long line of cuts to these schools to strategically specialize in STEM areas as a university.
End result: The proposal outlines the basic concept of the superschool, as well as stating the potential suspension of 30 programmes and 35 staff redundancies. Lists of the programmes and staff areas affected have not been released, as well as results of an impact assessment, so it is difficult to measure the impact of this on the student experience. This combined with the unclear benefits of the proposal are cause for concern.
Variety: A number of students indicated that the variety of modules available at Dundee was one of the reasons they applied to the institution. The reduction in the number of modules available will directly impact these students and their quality of degrees.
Confusion over UoD Finances
Clarity: There are questions over the current financial situation over the University, with some members of the Dundee community disputing the substantial deficit that needs resolved. There is a need for transparency through easily accessible information in this area.
Further action required: The three main AES proposals are will not cover the entirety of the estimated £50m deficit, and there is a need for clarity and more information on other work being undertaken to tackle the issue.
Central costs: Some financial figures show that schools are in fact generating a surplus and that it is the central university costs that are causing the deficit. Further clarity into the operations of the university, with a specific focus on finance and funding allocations for different areas is required.
Decision making: The suggestion that the University may be bankrupt within two years because of the financial deficit is quite a significant situation for any organization to be in. There is a general need for transparency and easily digestible information on the sequence of events that lead us as a university to this point.
Losing School & Programme identities
Prestige/Brand awareness: A lot of programmes, including CEPMLP and the wider School of Medicine, have a significant reputation in the national and international community and this acts as a useful recruitment tool for potential applicants. Merging schools will lead to this loss of identity and the resulting lack of specialisation of schools will potentially deter future applicants. This will have an impact on the funding options available, particularly for current students, as well as the prestige of the degrees that we issue as a university.
Staff redundancies and the Impact on the Student Experience
Staff workload: ‘Dundee University & College Union’ (DUCU) have stated that staff workload is already extremely high, and the potential 35 FTE redundancies will cause further strain on overworked staff. This will have an impact on the student experience and the quality of teaching and support offered. There is a need for a proper and robust impact assessment to be completed, so an informed decision on this proposal can be made.
Communities: Our schools are filled with passionate, proud students who thrive in their courses. As a result, they form good relationships with the staff and these small communities of support are a great asset to the university. Staff redundancies and the movement of courses will damage this positive aspect of the student experience.