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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Some thoughts from an old fogey


Some thoughts from an old fogey

What is important for your career in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool

With Project SHAPE progressing in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, we have now moved onto the compulsory redundancy stage. As a senior member of staff who went back to the trenches after ten years in management, I have been contacted informally by a number of staff who have been sent a notice that they are at risk of redundancy. So I used my experience in management and my knowledge of the University to figure what may be important for retention in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool and, perhaps more important, what may kill your career and result in a P45.

1. Publish work that is well cited, regardless of any ethical or quality issues.

2. Obtain grants as a PI that are registered on the university’s IRIS system as external funding.

3. Taking on an administrative role. The original list was 77 strong, 30 were removed before letters were sent out to individual staff, because they had important administrative roles.

What is not important to your career and may put you at risk of redundancy, because these factors are not considered in redundancy.

1. Overseas PhD students that pay full fees. This, despite the fact that Liverpool has a lower PhD/staff ratio than comparator universities and increasing PhD student numbers has long been a priority. However, these funds do not count as ‘grant income’.

2. UK sourced awards for PhD students, over and above the DTP programmes. As for overseas students, such training awards often do not count.

3. Three  or more times the number of papers required for REF and that meet internal standards of REF 3* and 4*. Staff with this number of quality papers are, of course, the dream for REF panels, as they can pick and mix to suit narrative, etc., but this will not save your job.

4. Co-investigator status on a grant. This is despite the averred  ambition to increase cross disciplinary work, which is one of the publicised drivers behind Project Shape and the obvious fact that cross-disciplinary research requires input from different disciplines, but only one person can be PI (usually the person that fits the remit of the funder best).

5. Leading a teaching module. With ~75% of income from undergraduate teaching, this is apparently not a task that is important and certainly not as important as an admin role.

6. Maintaining student/staff ratios such that a degree remains professionally accredited and so attractive to prospective undergraduates.

7. Running a major Facility and obtaining large equine grants that ensure it is state-of-the-art. Facilities that are 100% ‘open access’, that is open (with full training provided) to intramural and extramural users, the latter including industry is core to a strong research enterprise and collaboration with industry.

A number of points are worth noting.

(i) The only academic staff on Research and Teaching contracts who pay their way by research and don’t have to teach (but they usually do) are those who are externally funded.

(ii) The Faculty of Medicine of the past was always in notional debt to the Centre. That is, its contribution to the Centre per staff FTE was below that of the other Faculties. I suspect this was a driver of the merging of Faculties in 2010, as the publicised reasons (more streamlined, fewer layers between staff and the Vice-Chancellor) did not bear a nanosecond of scrutiny (the number of layers was Staff-Department Head-Dean-Pro VC-VC = 5, now it is Staff-Department Head-Dean (or Head of School)-executive Pro VC-VC = 5). 

So, by bolting on two units from the Faculty of Science, and the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine and Dentistry, it was hoped to make good the deficit in the Faculty of Medicine contribution/staff FTE. My suspicion is that no one bothered to do the calculations and there is still a deficit. 

(iii) It is possible to improve the research output of a unit, small or large. I was involved in this over three decades in Biochemistry and then in the wider context of Biological Sciences and what we have today is unrecognisable.  How the present re-organisation will strengthen research has yet to be explained: what weaknesses are addressed and what will be the evidence that they have been addressed?

This augurs badly for the long-term strength of the Faculty. There will be a strong buyers’ market for staff post REF. Moreover, BREXIT has not only strangled the supply of staff from the rest of Europe, but existing non-British European staff (especially the young, the leaders of the future) will continue to gradually leave. The result is filling posts and recruitment are going to be more competitive than ever, yet the above sends a clear signal to staff to seize external job offers without hesitation, will make people hesitant to apply for jobs in Liverpool and competition form other UK universities will be fierce.

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