GCU Staff still hoping for dialogue regarding New York hub

A week after the third all-staff meeting expressing concern about the lack of clarity and dialogue over GCU’s New York hub, press reports suggest some confusion over the amount of support for the venture from other New York educational establishments (see follow on blog post above on the Times reports)

The meeting, called by all campus unions updated staff on the successful lobby of Holyrood, where 20 MSPs were in contact, or spoke directly to our cross union delegation. Staff were also informed of our regret that Court members had not taken the time to dialogue with concerned staff at the follow up lobby of their meeting in the Britannia building.
Staff at the meeting – who represented all 5 campus unions – were surprised that a response from the university from GCU to the Presiding Officer of Holyrood following his intimation of concern about the project, stated that opposition had been expressed ‘from only two unions’, and ‘supported by one union representative in particular’, and were also surprised to find that following a  letter of concern from John Mason MSP, the head of communications at GCU had suggested that the sum total of opposition to the project might be limited to the eight or so delegated union reps who had travelled to speak to MSPs.
It is unfortunate that rather than acknowledging the issues of concern from the academic, professional service and support staff, and student community, there seems to be a preference to suggest, the concern is really not there, or somehow it’s confined to a vocal and presumably unrepresentative minority.
When according to press reports, $15m has been invested in a project at a time of austerity – with no positive results as yet, then we need a serious and respectful discussion with staff, rather than a dismissal.
We also expect Court – where the responsibility lies to ensure that university management are given adequate guidance on strategy – to at least acknowledge that staff and students may have an opinion about this.

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Little willingness shown by GCU Court to discuss with staff

Despite staff concerns about the investment of up to £15million into a New York hub, which still does not have a licence, and no students, and a wages bill of over £500k, staff members attending the lobby of Court were disappointed that no Court members, apart from staff reps, took any time to discuss their concerns with them.

In a contrast with the attention given by MSPs at the previous week’s lobby of Holyrood, the Court seems to have given little thought to the increasing concern in the university community over the use of critical resources. Some Court members took the joint union leaflet requesting dialogue (found here), but others did not take the leaflet.

A short video of the event (only on twitter at the moment) can be seen here.

Last year, the normal meeting for staff to question the Chair of Court, and staff governors was cancelled, in favour of an invite to staff to attend  a lunch time buffet with some members of Court. At present there appear to be no plans to re-instate the yearly meeting – which was the only one which allowed a video link with staff in GCU London.

Likewise the Trade Unions who requested observer status pending the two places being made available for TU nominees have had their request postponed for future discussion later in the year by Court.

Neither have invites to Court representatives to observe all-staff meetings (which were expressing concern about New York) been taken up.

Minutes of Court meetings which ought to be on the university website have not been posted since March of last year.

In her response to a joint letter from the Campus unions, requesting that 5 minutes were spared to talk to staff at the lobby, the chair replied:

“Thank you for the information about CUC’s plans to lobby Court members tomorrow and the suggestion that I come to hear staff concerns about GCUNY.  I’m afraid the latter would be difficult as it is already a very full day.  This includes a Court lunch at 12.30, followed by a presentation on the Caledonian Club, and we will move immediately over to the Board Room for the Court meeting”.

She went on to assure the Trade Unions that

“GCUNY has been a prominent item on the Court’s agenda since it took the decision to establish a presence in NY and seek a licence to award degrees.  This vigilance will continue.”

Speaking to the lobby before going in to the meeting of Court, Staff representative Douglas Chalmers, assured those present that together with Davena Rankin, he would endeavour to convey the feelings of staff to Court on this and other issues.

It is understood that following the lobby, the intention of the CUC is to call a meeting of staff and ask the chair of Court to address staff concerns about this issue.

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GCU staff and students raise concerns about New York Hub at Scottish Parliament

MSPs from Glasgow and wider afield met the delegation and shared concerns over GCU New York

GCU staff and students brought their campaign for an independent investigation of the events surrounding the university’s New York hub, to Holyrood MSPs today.

Concerned MSPs, including the presiding officer had already been in touch with members of GCU staff regarding staff concerns about the expenditure of £10 million, including salaries of £250,000 plus for one staff member and over £100,000 for another. It is believed that there are four full-time staff employed at the hub, despite the campus having no students, and the hearing for the licence application being postponed yet again to the 22nd May, with a decision ‘likely to be taken by the Board of Regents in early June’

The delegation of union representatives from all campus unions, and notably also from the Students’ Association explained their concerns to MSPs and asked for their support for an independent inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the GCU Students Association said “Our Executive committee is deeply concerned at this stage about the future to recover expenditure from the GCU New York campus and the level of expenditure so far. This is particularly hard to take given the funding cuts we face on our Glasgow campus”.

Dr Nick McKerrell, Combined Union Convenor, said:

Staff are up in arms over the whole GCU New York project. This unnecessary extravagance has taken place when staff in Glasgow face the age of austerity. It is now three years behind schedule and has cost £10 million. This is despite not one student crossing the threshold as the application for a teaching licence has not been awarded. It looks like no proper due diligence was done initially, leaving us in this untenable situation. Both staff and students are now united in their calls for an independent investigation. There are serious financial questions to be answered.”

In a message to staff yesterday, GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies indicated that the campus once up and running would no longer be named a University, but would rather have the name of Glasgow Caledonian New York College,  ‘in line with naming of other higher education institutions in the USA’ .  Professor Gillies stated that ‘the application process has been rigorous and we have complied thoroughly with each aspect. This has included our investment in premises designed to meet the requirements of NYSED, as part of our application’. She also stated that ‘there was no possibility of a licence without our holding suitable educational premises’, adding ‘we are now at a very advanced stage of NYSED’s application process with some encouraging signs of a good outcome, although nothing can be assumed’.

The University Court has been notably silent on the issue of GCU New York. This year the standard practice of a meeting for all staff to question the Chair, lay governors and staff governors was replaced by a chance for staff to chat over lunch with Court members. Invitations to Court representatives to attend and observe all staff meetings have not been taken up.  Staff are now hoping that the Court will talk to staff regarding their concerns about the continuing situation at our New York hub.

In 1998 a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into events at that time in GCU referred to the need for continual critical scrutiny by Court of management actions. In the words of the report, which still merit attention.

“The Council were concerned that, where lay governors are greatly dependent on the executive for information, there is a danger of creating a culture in which the governing body place too much reliance on such information without being in a position to critically evaluate it. In such cases senior management may effectively control the form and content of how issues are presented and limit and restrict any challenge from lay governors. The Council concluded that in a number of instances at the University the Court did not receive adequate information”.

It is important that the Court makes it clear what the case is for the New York hub and how their monitoring has been carried out.


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Victory for GCU Catering workers – no jobs to be lost

Campus Unions reacted positively to the news today that an apparently positive ending had been reached to the catering fiasco which had been threatening Cordia workers jobs. According to a statement from the university, reported in the Evening Times here, an agreement has been reached to transfer the catering contract to BaxterStorey with staff now being offered the opportunity to transfer to the new company under TUPE regulations.

As originally reported in Caledonianunion, https://caledonianunion.com/2016/11/04/a-dark-day-for-the-university-for-the-common-good/ the proposals first put forward seemed likely to lead to a massive loss of jobs, and such was the anger of staff and students that following a long campaign with the city unions that represented the Cordia staff, a temporary reprieve was granted (https://caledonianunion.com/2016/11/14/reprieve-for-threatened-workers-as-catering-common-sense-is-applied-at-gcu/)  After this staff at a mass meeting voted if jobs were to be lost, to boycott any new outlets, (https://caledonianunion.com/2016/11/22/gcu-staff-vote-for-boycott-if-catering-jobs-are-lost/), and concerns were raised in the Scottish Parliament about the university’s handling of the issue: (https://caledonianunion.com/2016/11/16/scottish-parliament-support-reprieve-for-gcu-catering-workers-jobs/).

Campus unions had argued that catering should be taken ‘in-house’ as is the case in many other universities, but could not sway management in favour of this.

However, our main task of safeguarding Cordia workers jobs and pensions has been successful but we will be maintaining a watching brief on how the handover progresses and how the transition is achieved. And of course our admiration goes out to the women and men in GCU catering who have served us so well over the years, and who stuck together in the long battle to eventually win victory.

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GCU Unions Lobby of Holyrood postponed due to Westminster events

Following the dreadful events at Westminster yesterday, and the knock-on impact on today’s proceedings at Holyrood, campus unions consulted with the MSPs who had agreed to meet us to discuss shared concerns regarding the GCU campus in New York.

Following these discussions it was felt appropriate to cancel today’s planned lobby and  to re-arrange our contact and discussions with the MSPs – a process which is now underway.

Earlier there had been coverage of the issue in the Glasgow Evening Times, which is downloadable here. Our demand for an independent audit of the NY project still holds, and the leaflet outlining the background to this is downloadable here

It was agreed that the monies saved from the cancellation of the chartered bus (the firm were very understanding in the circumstances and waived their charges), would be donated to an appropriate charity dealing with the aftermath of the Westminster events.

The Combined Union Committee will be meeting next week to discuss the next steps in our campaign for more transparency and dialogue with staff.

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Caledonian unions celebrate impact of migration

onedayStaff and students came out for a quick pic on the nationally organised ‘One Day Without Us’ day of action on February 20th.

Speaking after the photoshoot UCU local president Douglas Chalmers said “there’s hardly a family in the West of Scotland which isn’t built on immigration either now or in the past. And it’s not only Scotland that has benefited from migrants coming here – waves of Scottish born people have taken their talents abroad and used them for the benefit of others.

The University sector has gained particularly from foreign born talent coming here and helping our scholarship and research – and of course we’ve benefited from the may hundreds of thousands of students who have experienced Scotland’s education and who have then decided to stay on and use their talents for the betterment of all”

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Staff extremely concerned with GCU New York situation


Nick McKerrell, Chair of the Combined Unions opened the meeting

Second all staff meeting within two months voices concerns.

A second concerned meeting of GCU staff called by the combined unions discussed the situation in GCU New York, and the effect that the current failure to obtain a licence was having on the Glasgow campus through knock on budget pressures. Following only two months after an earlier packed meeting which discussed the situation facing catering staff questions were asked about the current abilities of management following the turning of a projected surplus into an unheard of level of deficit in the last ten years.

Note was taken of the continuing bad press for the university in relation to New York and staff heard that the unions had raised the apparent use of the NY Wooster Street premises for various ‘pop-up’ activities, rather than educationally focussed activities. Many of those present had not seen the You Tube video Le Marché Bleu launch New York shop with quintessential Parisian luxury items and showed concern at how the premises were being marketed on-line. Assurances from the Vice Chancellor James Miller that the video did not accurately convey the actual situation were noted, but the general feeling of the meeting remained one of dismay.


Staff were concerned at how GCUNY was being marketed given possible reputational damage

It had been reported in the press that the head of GCUNY was earning an annual salary of £268,000 – even greater than the £266,000 which the annual accounts revealed was the current salary of the principal.  Disappointment was expressed by the meeting that the annual accounts had also indicated that 18 senior staff were earning annual salaries of over £100,000 – an increase of 2 from a year ago, and an incredible change from zero in 2005/6 (when only the principal earned over £100,000). Compared with Post 92 Scottish universities with a similar staff size, Robert Gordon’s only had 5 ‘super-salaried staff’ in the £100k+ bracket, Edinburgh Napier 6, and UWS 7.

The meeting also noted with regret that GCU currently rates worst amongst all other post 92 Scottish universities in terms of Student Staff ratio, with a current average figure of 21:1 (which in some instances was  39:1), which was the highest in the sector. In the discussion during the meeting there was a clear perception expressed that the current portfolio review was in danger of becoming more and more cost driven, rather than academically directed, and that other staffing pressures were being exacerbated by the opportunity cost of the monies used in the New York venture.

The meeting agreed on a timeline for a number of measures to show our concern about the situation, including a lobby of Holyrood, and a follow up staff meeting before the end of March 2017.

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