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Winter 2016

The Head of School's Preface to the Annual Plan

Each year, the School of Technology prepares a detailed planning submission to the University.  This year, in the light of Brexit, we were asked to prepare some preliminary thoughts about how we would manage a situation in which the University had to reduce the amount of the external income that we earn that is passed back to us.  Here is my response.

In the 2016 planning round it became clear that the University is seriously short of money.  We are not able to resource all the academic activities that are strategically desirable and many support services must operate with sub-optimal funding.  This has only been made worse by the vote for Brexit.

The inevitable conclusion is that we must not continue as we are at present.  Technology, and the University as a whole, needs to change.  We need to stop thinking about a predictable recurrent allocation that goes up each year by 1%.  Instead, when we distribute money around the School and the University we must view it as an investment; we must ask for something back.

Here is my list of what we should expect in return for continued investment and support.

a)   Academic output, of outstanding quality, appropriate to the discipline, be it journal papers, books, conference papers, working systems, patents, national and international engagement, or prizes.

b)   Provision of excellent education for all our students.

c)   Professional and competitive engagement with all relevant aspects of the REF, TEF, and accreditation organisations in fields where they exist such as Engineering and Business.

d)   Engagement in activities that generate income while furthering the mission of the University.

We should all deliver all of these things.  They will take different forms in different fields, but they are all important and we cannot rely on our colleagues to provide them for us.

The first two points above may appear obvious, but they carry with them a need to ensure we get proper credit for our achievements.  For instance, we must take pains to publish in the most prestigious journals and achieve top rankings in national and international teaching surveys.

Point (c) implies that we include in our publications a suitable number and type to meet the requirements of the REF.  It also means we must conform to the University’s open access policy and make a suitable contribution to the development of impact case studies.  This is not a distortion of our research; it is a duty we take on in addition in order to receive state funding.

Point (d) captures the fact that it is expensive to maintain a high quality academic environment.  On average, across the whole University, both our teaching and research make a loss.  Therefore, we can only survive and compete if everyone engages in profitable activities as much as is compatible with the constraints of their discipline.

So, my proposals for what the School needs and what the School has to offer are as follows.

  1. We need a responsive income allocation system so that if we earn new external income, such as fees, we automatically get a share of it within a year.  A three-year planning cycle would be even less responsive than the current situation, so we would strongly counsel against it.  There should be a distinction between historic RAM (Resource Allocation Model) surplus and new income due to a specific activity.  We should get back a higher proportion of the new income in order to incentivise new profitable activities.
  2. Once a proportion of new income flows back to pay for new teaching staff, as in (1), we will be able to admit more students to bring in fees.  This will involve new conventional Masters’ courses, ongoing work to raise undergraduate numbers where this involves low incremental cost, and even perhaps a new large-scale Masters’ course, an MTech, leveraging existing teaching from our various departments.
  3. The posts paid for in (2) will also have the potential to enhance our research.  To ensure this potential is fully realised and delivers REF benefits, we will scale up our research master-classes.  However, we also need help from the University to better align personal motivations with the needs of the institution.  We hope that the review of pay and reward will provide direct ways of rewarding people who work hard for the benefit of the University, as well as ways of reducing the money spent on people who are unwilling to contribute.
  4. We need to retain the current internal taxation arrangements for the Institute for Sustainability Leadership and the Judge Business School to enable them to deliver on their commitments and strategic plans. The Business School aims to create a new Masters of Accounting course and overseas extensions of existing courses that could contribute at least £600k p.a. to the Chest.  They will continue to pay significant interest on their building loan and will eventually also pay off the capital.  The Institute for Sustainability Leadership will grow by 40% over the planning period, which will result in about £150k p.a. more in RAM (Resource Allocation Model) contributions.

Fundamentally, we should treat the current financial situation as a wake-up call to work harder and generate more income, based substantially on our existing fixed costs.  We should not move towards a sinking spiral of cuts and compromises that will lead to lower performance in the REF and reduced resources for us to contribute to the rest of the University in cross-subsidy.

Richard Prager
Head of School