Campus upgrade prioritised over staffing shortages, says Course Rep

Understaffing "could be avoided" using surplus money

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Image: Geograph
Image: Geograph

The English Department is still six members of staff short despite the University sitting on a £20m surplus in 2015/16, a Course Rep has told Nouse.

Following discussion with Pro Vice Chancellor John Robinson, third-year Course Rep Benedetta Pusateri reports that funding is being distributed in a way contrary to the interests of current students.

Pusateri claims that in an NSS Review meeting Robinson refused to address the issue of a significantly higher than average student to staff ratio (SSR) in the English Dept. He said that the surplus money is likely to be invested instead in the development of the Heslington West campus ten years from now, long after current students will have graduated.

The University budget surplus has increased significantly over the past three years, from roughly £8m in 2013/14 to £20m in 2015/16, although figures fluctuate according to anomalies every year.

Pusateri reports that since 2012 there has been a 32 per cent student number increase in the English Dept but action taken has fallen short of staff and student requirements. In 2013/14 the Dept were nine members of staff short compared to 2012, but only three were hired. In 2015/16 the Dept is still short by six members.

Jim Watt, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the English Dept was also present at the meeting, and agrees that staffing shortages should take priority.

Speaking on behalf of the Dept, he told Nouse: "We recognise the need to renew the Heslington West campus. At the same time we share our students' concerns about the Department's staff-student ratio, and we are in ongoing discussions with senior management about ways of improving it."

Thomas Ron, YUSU Academic Officer, hopes too that understaffing will be taken seriously.

In a statement issued to Nouse, Ron wrote: "It is very important that as the University grows they do not allow the staff-student ratio to fall as that will only damage the student experience."

When asked for comment, Robinson said: "In response to [Pusateri's] question about what the University's budget surpluses were being used for, I gave a list of things that included enhancing student services, supporting research, academic development in general, and, yes, renewal of the physical estate on Heslington West."

He added that: "At the time there was a strategic proposal from the Department that included a request for some academic posts. I said that was currently being considered and I could say nothing about whether it would be approved. Subsequently it was approved."

It is true that one new position was created in the English Dept in 2014/15, but plans to hire were never fulfilled.

When asked to clarify this, Watt said: "A new post in Literature and the Creative Industries was held up during the last academic year for various reasons, but we are about to advertise it and we expect to make an appointment for 2016/17."

Should this post be filled, the English Dept would still be five members of staff short.

Furthermore, Pusateri claims that the SSR is misrepresented online. According to The Complete University Guide 2016, the SSR for the English Dept is 14.8:1. The true ratio is, allegedly, 20:1, far above the University's average of 15:1.

Reported student to staff ratios are, however, dependent on circumstance. David Duncan, University Registrar and Secretary, told Nouse: "Reported SSR is for a snapshot in time; at any particular time the Department may be at full staff complement or may be between appointments."

Neither Robinson nor Watt chose to respond to the allegation of misrepresented ratios.

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