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League table musings: Ulster is plummeting, but not because of the staff

February 21, 2018

Well, the Guardian league tables are out and they make for eye-watering viewing. We came 96th out of 121 institutions, down from 79th in 2017, with an overall score of 49.6 down from 53.9. Meanwhile, Queen’s is up 10 places from 48 to 38.

What is most striking is the breakdown of the various evaluations that led to this overall ranking.

We are much higher up the table for the scores that arise from the work we staff on the ground are responsible for – the work that universities are all about, like teaching and providing good courses. Sadly, UU is heading staggeringly close to the bottom for areas that come within management’s control such as student staff ratios and spend per student. The statistics appear to indicate our management are failing our students and us to an increasingly dramatic degree.

We are 40th for students’ satisfaction with their course and 66th for satisfaction with teaching, both much better than our overall position of 96 illustrates. But we are 107th for spend per student, and 108th for student staff ratio. Yes, you read right, 107th and 108th out of 121.

The detailed picture compared with last year is depressing, but it’s not surprising. On spend per student and student staff ratio we have fallen 30 and 31 places respectively.

We’ve also fallen in the area we have previously excelled in, down 34 places for satisfaction with teaching, and 32 places for satisfaction with course. You’re probably already ahead of us and have realised this means that last year, we were just on the cusp of the first quartile for teaching (32nd), and in the top 10 for course satisfaction (8th. Yes, 8th out of 121).

We were punching well above our weight in the past, and management should have been shouting their gratitude from the rooftops. But what did they do instead? Cut lecturing staff so severely that almost 150 of our colleagues had to go, many forced out by course closures and proportional cuts that lacked any rationale. Support staff restructured to within an inch of what they could withstand. Is it any wonder we’re plummeting to the bottom?

If our VC was a football manager the board would have given him a vote of confidence by now.

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