It’s a gas, gas, gas

The much touted UWE Stadium, to be built on land purchased from Hewlett Packard, and which is planned to be a new home for Bristol Rovers FC has run into many problems. The deal relies on Rovers selling the Memorial Stadium, their current home in Horfield, to Sainsbury’s for a new supermarket. This was opposed vociferously by TRASH (Traders and Residents Against Sainsbury’s Horfield). Their long campaign ended when they lost the case in the High Court. They had argued that the new superstore would have an adverse effect on traders in nearby Gloucester Road but their application for a judicial appeal of Bristol City Council’s decision to give planning permission was refused.

Now an application has been made to list the ground as a war memorial. It was opened in 1921 as a memorial to local rugby union players of the city killed during World War I. Memorial Gates at the entrance are grade II listed and it is argued that protection should be extended to the ground itself. This has further held up the development of the new stadium at UWE.

To add insult to injury, Rovers were relegated from the Football league in May and will now play in the Conference Premier, the fifth tier of English football. It is unlikely that they will be able to sustain their recent attendance figures of around 6,000. So why are they planning to move to a 22,000 seater stadium? How will they be able to afford to run it? Or even build it? £40 million is nearly double the money Rovers would get from Sainsbury’s if that deal goes through. Some sources have stated that that Sainsbury’s are paying £29 million for the current ground. Where is the rest coming from?

Steve West and Finance Director Bill Marshall should be rather worried, I think. They have repeatedly stated that that the stadium will not cost UWE anything. But they are dealing with a top property speculator in Nick Higgs, chairman of Rovers, and more importantly chairman of the Memorial Stadium Company which actually owns the ground at Horfield. There is nothing to stop him trousering the money from Sainsbury’s and spending it on something else.

Watch this space for further developments.

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Tiny’s absenteeism

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What is the most important event in the career of most University students?

Graduation? Yes, most likely.

What is the highlight of the year for most hard-working academic staff?

Graduation? Yes, most likely.

So why were students and staff of the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education let down by their Executive Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor Alex ‘Tiny’ Gilkison, who failed to turn up to the graduation ceremonies at Bristol Cathedral in July 2013? Did he have pressing business in the Seychelles? Or a golf competition at Muirfield? Did he not feel that the achievements of his students and staff were worthy of recognition? The dates of the ceremonies for his faculty were well publicized, so he really had no excuse at all. Staff were agog with speculation as to whether he had left the University or been sacked.

What a disappointment this man is.

Strange also is the complete absence of any published papers or books by this self-appointed “media expert”. Could it be that he has no academic qualifications at all? Even his boss, VC Steve West, has a few papers and book reviews on podiatry to his name.

Tiny’s four day week

At a “thank you” do for staff last Christmas, VC Steve West suggested that staff could all work a little harder in 2013. Strange that he hasn’t noticed the slacking by Alex “Tiny” Gilkison, pro vice chancellor and executive dean of the faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education. Most Fridays, when he isn’t off on an expenses paid jaunt to Singapore or other parts of South-East Asia, Tiny airily announces to staff in “S” block that he is off to Bower Ashton, where the Creative Industries part of his domain is located. Strangely, despite the aid of sat-nav, he ends up bypassing Bower Ashton and parks up at Bristol Airport in time to hop on a plane to Glasgow, where he arrives in time for an early round on the golf course with his pals from Scottish Higher Education. Four days a week for £250,000+  (It has been pointed out that this is probably rather high, but sources indicate that it is excess of £100,000) Nice work when you can get it!

I now hear that he flies down from Glasgow on Mondays, so only puts in a half day then!

Versailles

17th-centry Wallscourt Farm, situated on the main UWE campus at Frenchay, Bristol, is the base for VC Steve West and his acolytes, an ever expanding clutch of pro and deputy vice chancellors, commercial secretaries and directors of transformation. Extensively refurbished over the last few years, whilst the university’s classrooms continue to deteriorate, this semi idyllic habitat, far removed from the realities of UWE life for students and staff, is a place for dreamers who can gaze over the landscape and contemplate the soon to be erected UWE stadium, future home of Bristol Rovers, a football club who languish in the lower reaches of England’s league system, and now a hotel is to be built nearby.

The amateur property speculators who inhabit the farmhouse are under the delusion that they are venture capitalists and industrial magnates. Of course the money that they risk is not theirs and they will not suffer any penalties when they inevitably fail.

Perhaps this is why ordinary staff are beginning to refer to the farmhouse as Versailles.

Killing off the Humanities

Alex ‘Tiny’ Gilkison’s vendetta against Humanities at UWE continued in Spring 2013. In VC update 56, posted on the university’s web site on 13 February, it was reported that Politics and International Relations undergraduate programmes were being considered for closure due to the programme facing “considerable competition from other local institutions such as Bristol, Bath and Exeter, who are looking to grow this subject and our applications have fallen sharply.

When Gilkison was appointed as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Creative Industries, Arts, Humanities and Education (CAHE) at UWE in 2010, his first act was to change the name of the faculty to ACE (Arts, Creative Industries and Education). Shortly afterwards, the surviving half awards in French and Spanish were shut down. Politics and International relations were next in the frame, as noted above. However, staff, students and academics from other universities mounted a vigorous and ultimately successful campaign to resist the closure. In a volte face, in VC update 57, vice-chancellor Steve West announced that “Instead, we should explore a different future for Politics and International Relations, as well as Philosophy and Sociology (which have also been identified as ‘at risk’ in our portfolio review). This will be delivered as part of a new UWE Bristol Social Science offer, unique in character and in line with our strategic focus on practice-led and professionally recognized programmes. This will be based in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, working with Social Sciences and Psychology already located in that Faculty.“

So Philosophy and Sociology are next in the firing line. What next? History and English? Or will they escape because Gilkison has an MA in English and History? By the way, a Scottish MA is equivalent to a BA in England!

Dithering and confusion at the University of the West of England

In 2009 the university announced that it planned to move the outlying Glenside, St Matthias and Bower Ashton campuses up to Frenchay onto land recently purchased from neighbours Hewlett Packard.  This would take place over a period of 15 years or more with the first closure being that of St Matthias campus in 2012.  A master-planning exercise was set up with several rounds of consultation.

 It was planned to build a new media centre to accommodate St Matthias activities in a former Hewlett Packard warehouse, Building 2.  Plans were drawn up and the move was planned to take place in September 2012.  Building work was due to begin in November 2011.  Then abruptly in July 2011, ‘Tiny’ Alex Gilkinson, the dean of the faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education announced that this would not now happen, but that instead Bower Ashton campus would be moved up to Frenchay in 2015.  As part of this it emerged that Journalism (currently at St Matthias) and Filmmaking and Creative Media (currently at Bower Ashton) would move up to a new “Media Hub” at Frenchay as from September 2012.  Plans for this new “modular” building were submitted in February 2012, with many objections from residents on the Creswicke estate adjacent to the UWE campus.

 Then in another abrupt change of direction a decision was made in May 2012 to cancel the media hub project (despite it receiving planning permission on 14 May).  Now Journalism and Media and Cultural Studies (re-branded as Media Culture Practice) would be moved to Bower Ashton.  Bower Ashton would be kept open and St Matthias closed in September 2013.  Students on Joint Honours course would now face the prospect of studying at both Bower Ashton and St Matthias or Frenchay, on opposite sides of the city.

 Best estimates are that over £3,000,000 has been spent in consultants fees, planning fees and architects costs for these abortive projects.  An unknown amount of money will have to be spent on temporary buildings and refurbishments at Bower Ashton to accommodate an estimated additional 400+ students.  And the work will have to be done between now and September.

 Meanwhile, university Vice Chancellor Steve West announced a “ground-breaking” agreement with Bristol Rovers FC to build a new football stadium with a capacity of up to 25,000 on the former Hewlett Packard estate. Rovers currently languish in League Two (the old fourth division) with average gates of around 6,000, so why the massive increase in capacity is warranted is unclear.  West trousered an additional 2.4% pay increase in 2010/11 bringing his salary and pensions contribution up to £266,000.  Meanwhile UWE staff faced an imposed 0.5% pay increase.  Nice work when you can get it, eh Steve.  Makes you wonder what the governors of UWE think about all of this.

Rewarding incompetence

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In the last few months, Steve West, the former NHS manager who currently heads up UWE, one of Britain’s largest universities, has carried on ion the fine British tradition of rewarding incompetence with promotion, vastly increased salaries and a growing bulge of senior management.  Former head of HR, Ian Apperley, who has managed to piss off all three trade unions by ignoring existing agreements and refusing to negotiate in a reasonable manner, has been promoted to Director of Transformation (and removed himself from the university phone directory). In addition, the former Director of Finance has been transmuted into Pro Vice-Chancellor (Commercial Director and Corporation Secretary)

.We now have two deputy vice-chancellors, seven pro vice-chancellors and a director of transformation. All because vice-Chancellor Steve West can’t make up his mind about anything and needs a lot of pals in the Farm House (where the top brass hang out) to keep him company.