With 4 days to go until the proposed transfer of our 130 Academic and Student Services staff and, given the events which took place at Sussex University on Monday and at UCLAN last week, we thought we would bring you our predictions for the coming months if this fatally flawed plan continues as Professor Anne Carlisle, Professor Sir Steve Smith and Niamh Lamond hope that it will.
This is a taste of what’s in store for our staff, students and the local people.
Profit before people – Falmouth Exeter Plus is established as a not-for-profit company, meaning that all surplus funds generated should be ploughed back into improving the services it delivers. However, not all of these services are student facing, take for example Cornwall Plus, the OTHER, as yet unlaunched, subsidiary connected to Falmouth Exeter Plus which is purely focused on the tourism market in Cornwall. The idea of this arm of operations is to take advantage of the facilities which have been built for students of Falmouth and Exeter universities, using EU Convergence funding, to make money in the quieter months by renting out accommodation and conference facilities. Quite how the funds generated by Cornwall Plus (whose name is understandably not too popular with other local and regional businesses) will benefit the students of the campuses has not been made clear, in fact we’d bet our hats that 99% of students haven’t even heard of it, just as the management has intended all along. The other issue of course is how the organisation operates to ensure a profit is generated? Cutting less profitable services is the usual way this is done in the private sector. One worrying argument begins by asking where the profit is in providing disability support or dyslexia skills support? Less popular course texts in the Library?
Serious recruitment problems – working for Falmouth University or the University of Exeter in Cornwall was an attractive option for qualified and experienced Library, IT, Student Services, Academic Skills and Dyslexia Skills staff nationally, not just locally. The terms and conditions were on a par with peer institutions nationally even if pay was marginally lower. Now however, beyond the first hurdle of FX Plus not even being a University, it also has significantly worse pay and conditions than either institution. This means that, despite the initial protection for staff transferred in under TUPE, future joiners and those looking to change any element of their contract such as hours, take a sideways steps into different roles or promotions, and even those who may go on maternity leave face a significant drop in income, so significant that current staff would no longer be able to afford their mortgage repayments and are looking at leaving the county of Cornwall altogether. Five roles have remained vacant in the department since the move was announced and FX Plus remains unable to recruit to them despite readvertising several times. This means that existing staff are stretched to fill the gaps, the student experience is already suffering and it does not look set to improve in the near future. Our prediction? More of our excellent, experienced and dedicated staff will have to leave to look for secure work elsewhere, the roles will remain vacant as they are so unattractive nationally and locally and the services will stagger on to gather poor scores in future NSSs (National Student Surveys) ultimately impacting on our students’ future results which they have paid so much to try to obtain.
Weakened democratic oversight of management – The FXU student union for Falmouth and Exeter on the combined Cornwall campus have said they have been assured by management that the move of all Academic and Student Services staff into FX Plus won’t affect the accountability to students because both institutions’ Directors make up the Board of FX Plus. Rich Pearson, Vice President for Student Welfare went as far as to say that Niamh Lamond, the CEO of FX Plus has no decision making ability and that this in itself is reassuring. So, the route for any complaints about the service you receive following this move should be directed to FX Plus, you need to believe that they will report this up to their Board for it to actually reach the institution you have paid your fees to despite the fact that FX Plus is reliant on the approval of the two institutions for its continued funding. How likely do you think they are to tell tales on themselves once the complaints start rolling in? Given their recent past record in communication with students? It’s unlikely, prepare for your complaints to go unheard no matter how loud you shout.
Lack of transparency – There has been no sufficient consultation with staff and students regarding the change, something which our legal teams are looking into for the opportunity to launch a challenge and reverse the decision. A deliberate policy of non communication with students is something that FX Plus is very keen on with the approval of both Falmouth and Exeter management. The entire re-branding of Tremough Campus Services took place with minimal consultation with students and in defiance of the wishes of the then FXU Presidents who rightly opposed the appropriation of their own moniker ‘FX’ as part of the new brand. They were simply ignored and, despite a complete lack of planning for the changeover, the new name Falmouth Exeter Plus (which should never be abbreviated despite its ridiculous length) was imposed on staff with strict instructions never to discuss it with the students. So anyone paying fees to the accommodation service, wanting to email a member of staff, use the Tremough Campus website or even park on site would be clueless about exactly who Falmouth Exeter Plus was and where Tremough Cash, ahem, Campus Services had disappeared to. So our prediction for transparency is that there will be even less about the current and future murky plans of the organisation.
Compromised security and confidentiality – FX Plus does not necessarily need to abide by the same rules and regulations as Falmouth or Exeter Universities as it is a different type of organisation. It may choose to do so but issues of sharing of data and information between organisations may mean that security is compromised and confidentiality may not apply as you would assume. If in doubt, ask who is looking at your data, your university or someone whose name you hasn’t heard of until this protest began?
Increased costs for the same services – If FX Plus and its board are not listening to the current protest about a huge transfer of staff in student facing services, why should they care about any future objections to for example, car parking fee rises, food price increases, accommodation cost increases, use of buildings by students/external companies, etc? The key to the whole venture is money-saving and profit-making regardless of where the surplus is reinvested (which isn’t necessarily of benefit to the students in any case as we have seen above) so why stop at outsourcing the academic and student services? Why stop anywhere? There’s plenty of money to be made from those who have to pay it because FX Plus has a complete monopoly onsite at Tremough, supplying every aspect of student life and controlling any access tightly for the few outside providers such as Fal Falafel. Shooting fish in a barrel is one phrase that comes to mind.
That’s a short and sad look into our crystal ball for the near future, we’re sure there’s more.
Please feel free to email us or comment below with your own predictions and let’s see how many of them come true, we truly hope that it’s none but we doubt it…