Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 121

[Manchester Metropolitan University, Ms Evans: submission and correspondence]

Letter of 2 June from Ms Susan Evans to Mr Phil Willis MP, Chairman of the Committee

  I am writing to you regarding the Students and Universities Inquiry that is currently being undertaken by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee, and to which I made a submission. I would like to point out that in making a submission I felt severely restricted by the short length of time that individuals were given in which to respond, the Inquiry was announced on 30 October 2008, reported in the THE on 6 November, and submissions had to be made by 11 December, five weeks later. I also found the maximum length of 3,000 words limited the evidence that I could provide. I am writing to you now on two specific issues relating to this Inquiry.

The first issue that I would like to raise is the number of individuals who made submissions to the Inquiry. There are about 170,000 academic and 195,00 non-academic staff, over 360,000 (2006-07) staff in total, working in universities in the UK yet there were only about 25 individual submissions.

  I believe the reason there were so few individual submissions is that many people were not aware of this Inquiry in time to make a submission. After information I submitted to the Inquiry was published in the press I had a number of people contacting me. I think it is fair to say that all of these people in essence support the view that academic standards have fallen.

  I was contacted by three ex-members of the Economics Department at Manchester Metropolitan University, the department in which I work, and a ex-member of another department, all of whom I had known previously. I received two letters from staff who had worked at Manchester Metropolitan University in the Science Faculty, one for 36 years and the other for 16 years, who I had never met.

  Both had raised the issue of falling academic standards while employed at Manchester Metropolitan University, internally, and also outside the University, one with HEFCE and the other with a professional body. One of them wrote to me that between 1991 and 2007 "The extent of the dumbing down there was quite horrific".

  I received a telephone call from a member of staff at Staffordshire University who complained about how standards had fallen. Two ex-members of Manchester Metropolitan University staff wrote to a local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News, describing their experiences (a photocopy of the report is enclosed). A current member of my own department said to me that what was reported in the press was only what many staff were saying in private but were too cowardly to say in public.

  I would also like to point out, incidentally, that many comments made to the Manchester Evening News online apparently supported the view that standards have fallen (a photocopy of an editorial comment from the Manchester Evening News is enclosed).[394]

  I do not think that any of the people who contacted me had known about the Inquiry prior to 11 December, the date by which submissions had to be made. I therefore think that the Select Committee should provide another opportunity for evidence to be submitted. I believe that university Vice-Chancellors should be asked to inform all staff and students of this Inquiry. I also believe that the protection against retaliation by employers, afforded to individuals who make submissions, should be made explicit. If the Committee did this I believe that there would be much more evidence forthcoming to inform the current Inquiry and I think it may give a very different perspective to that given by much of the evidence provided so far.

  The second issue that I would like to raise with you is the response of my employer, Manchester Metropolitan University, when information from my submission was published in the press.

  In an article in the Sunday Times (8 March 2009) that included information from my submission, the reported response from Manchester Metropolitan University was "We are extremely disappointed that a colleague has chosen to raise these issues externally".

  A similar response was reported in an article again concerning my submission that was published in the THE, 19-25 March 2009 edition (photocopies enclosed).[395] Since a Parliamentary Committee requested the information, I would like to know how it is acceptable that a public sector employer responds in this way. If this is an acceptable response are people in future going to provide evidence, when so requested, to a Parliamentary Committee?

  I hope the Select Committee will raise this matter with the management of Manchester Metropolitan University.

June 2009

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