The Sunday Times, one of the most established sources when it comes to University rankings, has recently bestowed upon to us the award of ‘University of the Year 2023’. In its profile on our University, Bath is named to be an ‘academic powerhouse’, ranking particularly highly in the categories of ‘student satisfaction’ and ‘graduate prospects’ as well as the league tables for several of the courses offered here.
The Vice-Chancellor, Ian White, labelled these achievements as being based on the unique ‘ecosystem’ of our institution. Mentioning the various roles of those employed on our campus, White put the lofty achievements of Bath University down to ‘what we’ve achieved together’, working hard in ways to ‘enhance every aspect of student life’.
In more ways than one can describe, our Vice-Chancellor is correct in this summation. Our university, like all, is not a group of buildings built not for a vague purpose but to help enhance and facilitate the connection between professor and student, to ensure that the period one may spend on our campus is its most fruitful possibility. The learning that one does at Bath University exists to both explore one’s academic passions and provide the knowledge and experience for what may lie after it. As Confucius once said, ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do, and I understand’.
As an individual who, bar the inconveniences of the lockdown, has largely been satisfied with the level of teaching within my course, as well as being able to receive the benefits of Bath’s prestigious placement program, attending Bath University feels like a privilege in this lens. The news that Bath has won ‘University of the Year’ can certainly be considered deserved. However, before I declare the need for us all to shout a communal ‘yahtzee!’ and recline in our armchairs, can we really consider the recently positive press to truly reflect the atmosphere within our university? As a ‘community’, are we meeting the concerns and needs of all? The short answer to these questions is no.
A crucial tension within the University of Bath community comes in the form of its financial dissonance. In the last few years, over £150 million pounds has been invested in brand new campus facilities, such as a state of the art management building. Simultaneously, our University has been fraught with strikes over pay and pension cuts. In an open letter published exclusively in Bath Time earlier this year, Dr David Moon, the University of Bath president of the UCU union which lead the strikes remarked that academic and professional staff service members have already faced ‘two decades of real term pay cuts’. Moon elucidated the urgency behind the strike, conveyed through a pension scheme cut of 35% percent. As of August 2022, the UCU and Universities have not encountered a conclusion to negotiations, amid the prospect that further strikes may also take place in the coming academic year.
It could be said that there are many inconsistencies with the actions of our university, which despite significant infrastructure investments refuses to invest in fair wages. The UCU have called to an end to ‘vanity projects’, arguing that Universities across the UK are choosing to invest up to 4.2 billion pounds into unnecessary infrastructure, rather than improving the working conditions of the people that are at the core of academic performance and the student experience. As Dr Moon mentioned in a further Bath Time interview; ‘our working conditions are your learning conditions’. The economic insecurity experienced by academic and professional staff creates an unjust, lower quality education system that directly negates teaching standards, in turn lowering the performance and stature of the University.
As a university we should be proud of our place within the academic Universe. The fact that we have gained the prestige to win awards is something to be prideful of, and this will undoubtedly lift the employment prospects of many graduates. But like the Vice-Chancellor mentioned our university is an ecosystem: one that requires sustainability and maintenance. Unless we sustain the University of Bath ecosystem in all its aspects, such as treating those who give so much to our community fairly, then it is likely to come crashing down.