The Official Letter Arrived Today
I have just been given my redundancy letter – I was the first of many to receive a redundancy letter on what will be a very busy two days for the University of Bath’s HR department. After over 16 years at UKOLN (I started on 30 October 1996) my redundancy letter informs me that I will be leaving on 31 July 2013.
This is clearly a sad moment for myself and my colleagues at UKOLN. The decision to cease the core funding for UKOLN (and CETIS) – which was made in October 2012 but not unofficially announced until December – has had severe implications for us. At the start of 2013 there were 26 people employed in UKOLN but after 31 July, based on current funding estimates for the next financial year, there is likely to be funding for just 3.7 FTEs (although, due to people working part-time, there should be more individuals still based at UKOLN.
The definition of ‘decimate’ is: “to destroy a great number or proportion of [Example]: The population was decimated by a plague.” With cuts of the extent given above it would not be an exaggeration to say “UKOLN has been decimated by cuts”
Sadly, it seems that there is a growing tendency in the sector to refuse to acknowledge bad news. Stephen Downes highlighted this just before Christmas:
Two vaguely worded announcements appeared today on the UKOLN and CETIS websites. As cited by Brian Kelly, “In response to the Wilson review of Jisc, the organisation has confirmed that it will only provide core funding to the UKOLN Innovation Support Centre, up to July 2013 but not beyond.” Same deal for CETIS. (Note that I changed Kelly’s headline, contrary to my usual practice, because the phrase “looking ahead” seems to deliberately obfuscate the content of the messages.)
There’s a danger in making bad news invisible that the value which the organisation has been provided in the past is ignored. It was pleased to See how Stephen (an acknowledged elearning expert from North America) concluded his post be describing how:
I know it’s another country and all that, but let me be clear that to my mind UKOLN and CETIS have been two of the most important organizations in the world of online learning, period, and that should their funding be discontinued it would be a significant loss to the field.
This contrasted starkly with the view from Jisc in response to a question about redundancies:
This is about reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers, organising what we need to do and then populating it with people who can do it reasonably well. I expect the vast majority of the roles and the posts that we need in the new organisation to be perfectly capable of being discharged by people who are in the existing Jisc, and we are not in the business of disenfranchising the existing Jiscers, that’s not the purpose.
This feeling that we are being airbrushed from Jisc’s history was compounded recently when significant UKOLN intellectual work was labelled as being produced by Jisc in an article in a national journal.
The Change Curve
Yesterday myself and a number of my colleagues attended a half-day Change Management workshop. We were presented with a Change Curve, which is illustrated. Many of us identified with the emotions listed in the diagram, and I’m conscious that this post may well reflect the shape of the curve.
The anger is compounded by the significant role that JISC has had over an extended period. The Wilson Review (PDF format) noted such successes: ‘There is no comparable body within the UK, and internationally its reputation is outstanding as a strategic leader and partner.’
Such successes have been based, I feel, on JISC’s willingness to embrace open practices in its approaches to helping to develop and embed innovative practices across the sector. But such open practices are now vanishing, as the Jisc comms department is now controlling messages from the organisation as part of the process of “reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers“. Expect to see good news on Jisc communications channels!
The anger myself and colleagues feel is compounded when we look at how CETIS, our fellow JISC Innovation Support centre has responded to the loss of its core funding. I was aware that a group of CETIS staff had been given responsibility to look at new funding streams and at the recent CETIS conference Paul Hollins, CETIS Director summarised the various proposals for new funding which have been submitted. It looks at though the future for CETIS is much more secure than ours. Although the decision to seek additional funding in the area of informatics appears to have provided an additional year’s funding, this is only for a tiny proportion of staff and it is still unclear as to whether such a small department with limited funding is sustainable (especially when one considers that the director will probably continue on the same salary, despite the organisation downsizing from a peak of over 30 people to 4.7 FTEs. A goal of transforming UKOLN from a organisation with its roots in the Library world to a research informatics organisation may have been successful, but this was clearly a phyrric victory.
Acceptance .. and a Better Future?
But rather than looking back, myself and my colleagues who received redundancy letters today, need to look forward. This will not be along the lines of the official announcement:
While the Innovation Support Centre will cease operating after July 2013, UKOLN will continue and as the organisation enters a new phase, it is a time to reflect on what we’ve achieved.
but the future for the large numbers of colleagues who, from 1 August, will be facing an uncertain future, with bills to pay, families to support and mortgages and other loans which will need paying.
Fortunately many UKOLN staff do have expertise, skills and connections which will continue to be needed (back in December when I carried out the calculation there was about 240 years of staff expertise based on our time in UKOLN!). We have been providing training and support for staff and will continue to do this over the next three months. In a post on Importance of Social Media for Finding New Opportunities I summarised a session I facilitated in December on ways in which social media can be valuable in developing new contacts, strengthening existing relationships and helping to discuss new opportunities. I suspect there will be a number of further sessions along these lines in which we can help each other in moving towards the ‘better future’.
But over the next three months there will be still be work to be done. I am in the process of preparing content hosted on UKOLN Web sites so that is is ready for archiving. I should add that, in light of my concerns that UKOLN’s value to the sector over a period of over 30 years will be marginalised, ignored or appropriated by others, I am working with colleagues to ensure that their involvement across a wide range of activities is acknowledged and that significant intellectual content is not lost. This process involved ensuring that my colleagues deposit copies of their papers, articles, project reports, etc. in Opus, the University of Bath’s institutional repository (and, at the time of writing, there appear to be 424 items in the repository). In addition I have also suggested that authors embed their ORCID ID within papers, which might be particularly important for project reports if the author details are not clear.
But in addition since the large majority of UKOLN staff will be leaving, we will be exploring ways in which our expertise can continue to be harnessed, perhaps through consultancy work. Don’t write us off, yet!
For now, I think I may be allowed to conclude on a rather emotional day by summarising the Change Curve with the words used by Father Jack “Arse, feck, drink, women“. Anyone fancy joining me in the pub tonight? Then maybe be could go clubbing.
Note: A Storify archive of the tweets related to this story is now available.