LEXXER Welcomes Signs of Growth

LEXXER has long campaigned to see funding and development in our higher education to ensure that it is a world leader. Our vision of our Universities as the New Shipyards of the Future took a step closer today with the news of expansion at Queens.

Queen’s is to treble intake of international students showing that our education is one our biggest export businesses.

Queen's University, Belfast
Image captionQueen’s University, Belfast, has set targets for its staff to increase their intake of international students and the amount of research funding QUB faculties generate

The number of international students at Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) is set to almost treble, according to an internal presentation seen by the BBC.

QUB wants to increase the number of students from just over 1,500 to about 4,200 across its faculties by 2020.

International students pay much more in fees but their intake does not reduce the number of places available to students from Northern Ireland.

QUB staff have also been set targets for the research funding they generate.

Some faculties have been asked to double their research income, while staff have also been set individual income targets.

According to the document, each faculty has been set targets to increase the number of international students.

Graphic showing QUB plan to increase the number of students from just over 1,500 to about 4,200 across the university's three faculties by 2020

In 2013-14,  the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences had 510 international students, but by 2020 this is expected to increase to 2,020 students. Here we view this as not only revenue but the future as we have for the first time a reversal of the brain drain. It is a golden opportunity for Northern Ireland not to simply educate these students and send them home but to keep them. The benefit to our economy of a growth in research and other related services is immense.

The other faculties – Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Medicine, Health and Life Sciences – are expected to at least double their intake to 1,243 students and 905 students respectively.

While students from Northern Ireland – and those from European Union countries – attending QUB currently pay £3,805 a year in tuition fees, international students can pay anything from about £13,000 a year to just over £33,000 a year for those taking specialist medical courses.

Places available for local students are capped, while places for international students are not.

Graphic showing the difference in fees charged to UK and international students

QUB has also set targets for staff at each faculty to raise the amount of research income they generate. Here LEXXER hopes to work with departments to gear them up to be world beaters and leaders when it comes to research and development. Our teaching and training skills are another massive knowledge resource which has yet to be fully exploited. The potential to broker the knowledge of academics and researchers to wider markets as well as domestic commercial and community based clients offers to solve many of the financial problems local universities face.

Staff in Engineering and Physical Sciences are expected to more than double the faculty’s research income from £19.6m to £38.6m.

In Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, research funding is also expected to rise from £30.1m to £60m.

Individual staff have also been set targets to bring in research grant funding as part of their job descriptions.There is clearly a need to look as sustainability training and help for staff to meet these ambitious but necessary targets.

For instance, a senior lecturer in English is expected to generate £48,000 by 2020, and a senior lecturer in history £69,000, but a senior lecturer in Anthropology is expected to raise almost £200,000 over the same period.

While the University and Colleges Union (UCU) has expressed concern about the implications, we beleive that if the University invests first in training and development to build the capacity and to shape the way Departments view and vie for funding them this is a realisable vision. However we would counsel that there must be strategic approach and the proper support and training framework put in place, with a clear process to assist in drawing in funding.

It is worrying that a survey carried out by Queen’s UCU indicates that 90% of respondents considered that the targets being set by management were excessive and beyond what was expected in comparable institutions.

“Setting very high income and other targets for staff under already under pressure is not the answer and risks severely damaging the morale of hard pressed and loyal staff and their confidence in management.”

There must be a balance set to ensure that academics are free to research and develop to read and to research to write and to teach not simply to become bureaucrats driven by targets and shaped by funding necessities

In April, QUB announced it was cutting 236 staff posts through a voluntary redundancy scheme, but last month it warned staff it may have to make compulsory redundancies. We wonder if it is time to see if these staff could not be redeployed into realising this new vision.

An internal review into the future of QUB is also currently ongoing, which is expected to report before Christmas, and may recommend the closure of some courses and departments. This is both bad timing in the mouth of christmas but will carve away the staffing base needed to develop. The answer is for the Stormont Minister to recognise the hard work and vision of Queens as it adapts to more austere times and to respond with funding to allow for growth. QUB’s funding from Stormont’s Department for Employment and Learning was cut by £8m earlier this year, and LEXXER believes that with the right lobbying approach these deep cuts can be negotiated.

The solution is to share a vision of our universities which will make them a front line service, an export industry and the foundation of a new knowledge economy. In such terms the absolute necessity of investment would be agreed and the future secured. We hope to work with Universities to ensure this happens.