Student admin services are being restructured by the University in order to accommodate a £2.6 million cut. This will see the individual school offices centralized into eight new ‘hubs’ providing admin services for several degree courses.
This is part of the University’s ‘Transition Programme’ which aims to deliver a £10m cut to University expenditure by August this year. The programme is reforming 20+ ‘academic units’ in eight new faculties, and admin services are set to follow this transformation.
Student and Academic Administration (SAA) are responsible for the ‘behind the scenes’ work of each student’s academic experience, right through from application stage to graduation. Under the cuts, they have been asked to reduce their wage bill by £2.6 million, nearly a quarter of their annual budget.
Discipline-specific administration has been in place at Southampton since 2003, but the University hope the changes will increase efficiency and provide a better service, as well as saving money.
The current service, described as “fragmented”, means the staff/student ratio, and the quality of service, differs across subjects. The new system aims to provide the same level of service to all students.
It is hoped that several flaws of the old system will be removed. Some offices are currently staffed by one member and close if they are sick or unavailable. The new system will eliminate this problem, and also result in offices that are open continuously from 9am to 5pm.
There has been some criticism of the plans from students however, with archaeology students mounting a campaign to keep their school office open. Students on that course feel the loss of their subject specific office will mean a loss of the personal link with subject-based administrators.
However, under the new plans, each subject will still have a Discipline Administrator who acts as the public face for students to talk to about their course.
The introduction of a single office for an entire faculty has also led to fears of longer queues and a lower standard of service.
Under the new system, there will be less admin staff working at the University at a time when they are actively seeking to increase student numbers. As noted in a University report dated 10th January 2011: “there is now a mis-match between the externally driven agenda to recruit more students… and the internally driven agenda to cut MSA staff numbers who directly support services for those students.”
The plans for the new system will deliver a cut of £1.75m in expenditure on salaries once implemented. This is £850,000 short of the original target of £2.6m. Initially, the University planned to achieve this further cut by December 2011.
However concerns were raised that this second cut would come too soon into the life of the new system to be manageable, and would “threaten the student experience and our long term reputation as a University.”
It was noted in a letter sent to University management on behalf of the Associate Deans that the ability of students to “interact with a stable team of people in an identifiable location who take the time to listen to their concerns” was essential for many students, in particular international students. It was felt that without such a connection there would be “many student casualties.”
In response to these concerns, it was agreed to push this further cut back until July 2012, and the author of the report informed us that she was confident the new system would be able to accommodate the cut without damaging services once new IT systems were introduced and the new structure was up and running.
Whether the new structure will see the better service the University promises, or whether any of the concerns that have been raised will be materialised is something that will only be known once the new system ‘goes live’ next academic year.