‘Shaping for excellence’ or academic extradition?

Written by Muzammil Khomusi

An odd title and I’d agree with you. How can you extradite an academic? Make them redundant of course, and as painful of a joke that seems, that is the reality for the staff in the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour (NPB).

Despite the indifference of the university regarding their students’ concerns surrounding this reality, as a module representative for BS2066 (Behavioural Neurobiology; taught by members of the department whose redundancies seem to have been planned despite them teaching), I had to stand by these staff members and take students’ concerns to the top. These include: how will we be able to understand how what we learn can be applied in the field, aren’t I going to struggle if the lecturer whose lab I would like to do my third-year project in is made redundant, and why am I paying a full year’s worth of fees when I have only been on campus twice?

Aware of the threat to my learning and future prospects, I had to fight back. I started writing an ‘email of protest’, which I then circulated amongst Biological Sciences students in light of the planned redundancies. Inspired by the ‘Students Against Redundancies’ petition attracting 644 signatures as of 21 February, I knew I was not fighting this fight alone. I knew this fight was worth fighting.

“My heart sort of sank when I heard my lecturers telling me that they may not have their job next year”

The planned redundancies of members in the Department of NPB were included in the University’s Shaping for Excellence proposals and the email that I wrote stood on a milk stool of arguments steadfastly against these changes. That is to say it stood on three legs: the first was the effect on research reputation the proposed staffing changes presented, the second was the effect on third year research projects and the third was a concern all students, not limited to the School of Biological Sciences, share – a concern about value for money.

My heart sort of sank when I heard my lecturers telling me that they may not have their job next year before proceeding to lead a wonderfully engaging and informative tutorial. It dawned on me, the cost of another year of full tuition fees without being taught by people who have dedicated their lives to their research, and topics which are fundamental to the degree streams myself and my peers study on, are too great. Without their expertise, the research projects available to us next year will be limited and it could also affect our degree classification.

As easily as my lecturers brushed off the risk they faced, Professor Nishan Canagarajah just as easily did not make any comment in his reply to my email when I pointed out the banners attached to lampposts on University Road, and around campus, proudly highlighting the achievements at ‘one of the world’s leading research-intensive universities’ had been taken down. The irony being that proposed staffing changes go against something the University is still advertising on their website to attract more students. The fact is that many Biological Sciences students were attracted to the University because of the research it led and is currently undertaking, yet a cut in research staff will harm not just the University’s reputation, but the quality of teaching to current students, and deter new students from enrolling. This will undoubtedly continue the cycle of cuts and further harm. 

“proposed staffing changes go against something the University is still advertising on their website to attract more students.”

However, Professor Nishan Canagarajah reassures me in his reply that “The College research strategy emphasises collaboration between different disciplines, supports research that has an impact on society, for example within local NHS trusts, and improves research success.”

He continues, “The majority of researchers in the Department of NPB are retained, with research activity in NPB focussed in two areas: the Vision Sciences research theme and the Health and Wellbeing (including Ageing) research theme. These areas would continue our strong research programme in translational and applied neuroscience, particularly as it applies to health and wellbeing in ageing and disease, including in cognition. Teaching, including research-based final year projects, will continue to be informed by our research.”

But am I to take the word of the Vice Chancellor of the University whom I have not seen on campus except to book his COVID-19 test – and even then, it was a video of him, who says, “We aim to improve the student learning experience […]” but still has not let students have their say in their own learning experience? Although he has told me that my “views and feedback […] be considered as part of this consultation exercise”, to what end is he fit to conduct such an exercise given that he graduated from a place in the previous century; a place which says, “Hinc lucem et pocula sacra” or “from this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge.”

 If that is the case then the proposed staffing changes should be discontinued because “knowledge is the death of research”.

Muzammil Khomusi is a second year Neuroscience student, stressing out about uni work but he manages his time well enough to workout, binge shows on Netflix and write. You can find him on Instagram at @muzammilkhomusi

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