Response to issues raised by the ‘Defend LSBU’ Group:
General issues raised:
London Southbank University (LSBU) reiterates that we accept the right to peaceful protest and supports students in responding to national debates on higher education in whatever way best suits their needs. We would, however, always continue to urge students to use those means available to them as part of the ‘day-to-day’ operation of the University – the Students’ Union being a central pillar in representing the student voice. It is difficult for a large and complex organisation to respond to a large number of disparate (and sometimes conflicting) opinions, and thus some co-ordination and prioritisation of student concerns is always helpful.
We are operating in a period of increasing financial stringency in the public sector, with a clear indication from the Government that there is a finite amount of resources available. LSBU is a publicly-funded organisation, and is responsible to our funding agencies, as well as to our Board of Governors, for demonstrating that we take that responsibility seriously. This entails ensuring that we use funds for the maximum benefit for the majority of our students and, increasingly, this has caused us to have to re-evaluate our work, both as an academic institution and as an operational unit, to ensure that we use our funds wisely and to the best purpose. This has involved us in making some decisions which are unpopular with some groups within our student and staff bodies, but we have always made those decisions through correct processes and with communication and consultation with those involved.
To address the three specific issues raised by our students:
The Language Centre:
The Language Centre provided a certain amount of support for a very small number of students (less than 1% of our total student population) and was, in many ways, looking backwards to an older model of higher education, where the University itself delivered language-related courses and where other forms of language learning (online, for example) were not widely available. Whilst we recognise that by closing the centre, we have reduced the availability of language support to some students, it was uneconomical to continue to provide such a resource and, with our funding being reduced in many ways, we have (as iterated above) to use our resources to best effect.
Whilst we are sure that some aspects of the work of the Language Centre provided support for international students, there are other support mechanisms available to them – either with their courses or via such opportunities as ‘pre study’ courses during the summer. All of our academic courses have entry requirements which specify the minimum competency in English language of all international participants (usually expressed as a score within the internationally-recognised International English Language Testing System [IELTS]). The underlying premise of these entry requirements is that all students should be capable of undertaking work at the level of their terminal award using the medium of English. We do feel, therefore, that we are damaging the chances of international students through the closure of this facility.
LSBU recognises that a small number of students will wish to study a foreign language whilst at LSBU – for this reason, all of the online and personal study materials are being retained and transferred to the library. The room itself is being transformed into a quiet study area, which has been requested by a large proportion of the student body, so will be able to benefit more students overall.
The former London Language and Literacy Centre (now LLU+) came to LSBU only a relatively short while ago, as a result of other agencies being unable to fund or to adequately support its work. LLU+ is, we acknowledge, a unit which performs some important roles, particularly in the fields of adult skills and offender learning, but much of this work is not at degree level, and that which is, tends to be very much focused in areas of our provision which are already stretched in terms of resources (the Education Department, for example, which has recently suffered from reductions in funding from the Training and Development Agency)
Other areas of the work of LLU+ is funded at pre-degree level, and whilst this was possible (though not easy) during the existence of the existence of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), it has become increasingly more difficult now that the LSC has been split into two separate bodies, the Young People’s Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency. This move has seen our overall potential funding dropping year-on-year, from something a little over £500,000 in 2006, to around £300,000 in 2009, and has both limited our opportunities to bid for additional finding and tied existing funding to performance measures which we have, at times, failed to meet (resulting in further reductions in funding). At the same time, the Skills Funding Agency has recently informed us that it will withdraw funding from all providers with an overall grant of less than £500,000, potentially cutting this source of funding off altogether.
Thus, whilst we are reassured of the value of the work accomplished by LLU+, it is not work which contributes to the mainstream, core teaching of the University (LLU+ has always operated very much as a separate entity outside other faculties and departments), and is not delivering outcomes which are at an educational level which allows cross-subsidy of this work through other funding mechanisms. The decision to close the unit was taken with the full consideration of the Board of Governors, and on the provision that we help LLU+ to seek alternative modes of operation – either in partnership with another educational provider, or as a separate operational entity. We are continuing these discussions in a number of areas, and will do so until perceived opportunities are exhausted.
Closure of the unit has no impact on the dyslexia support available to students at LSBU, which is provided through the Disability and Dyslexia Support Unit within the Centre of Learning Support and Development.
Emergency Loans were implemented to support students who, for one reason or another, fail to have sufficient funding in place at the beginning of their courses. This has been particularly an issue in terms of the known problems with the operation of the Student Loans Company in previous years, but these problems have now largely been addressed, and there is little reason why a student who has made adequate preparations should not be able to secure funding in time.
The issue of whether or not to continue with the loans was brought to the Committee for Student Affairs in June 2010. The problem facing is was that, looking at the operation of the scheme during past years, we have faced significant problems in asking students to repay the loans made, with a large number of defaulters. As these funds come from a finite resource, also used for the Access to Learning Funds, other students facing hardship later during the year have been unable to receive any help, because those who we have helped already (and who have not returned their loans) have used all the available funding. Committee for Student Affairs, although asking us to keep an eye on the situation, agreed that the need for the emergency funding should be reducing, and that we should use all the available resources for Access to learning Funding.
Whilst there is no real evidence that a large number of students have been placed in difficulties through this decision, we do recognise that there may be continuing implications for first-year students (particularly those who enter the University through summer recruitment and thus may not have sufficient time to complete the documentation required for funding purposes). We will, therefore, look at other sources of temporary funding that we may be able to make available to such students and seek to implement a process for 2011 onwards which provides emergency support to a more limited number of students.
Dr Phil Cardew, BA PhD FRSA
Pro Vice Chancellor (Academic)