Saving Vaughan and the Future of Education for Leicester

Yesterday staff at the University of Leicester’s Vaughan College for Lifelong Learning found out that their place of employment was being shut down. Yet disgustingly the University’s employees did not find out this information from their bosses, but instead read about it in an article in the pages of the Leicester Mercury (“Vaughan centre looks doomed despite counter-proposal,” September 6).

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This blatant disregard for consultation on behalf of the University, led to the workers’ unions (UCU and Unite) sending off a joint statement to management titled “Leicester Mercury get Vaughan news before staff” (September 7) – which expressed the unions “disappointment and disbelief” at the “disrespectful and unfair” manner in which people have been treated.

Shockingly, earlier this morning the University management didn’t even bother to send a representative to contribute towards BBC Radio Leicester’s discussion on the planned closure; merely sending the same press statement they had already issued to the newspaper. As the University spokesman had callously explained to the Mercury:

“Having considered all representations, including the counter-proposal prepared by some of the centre’s staff, the leadership team has unanimously agreed to recommend to the University Council [on September 16] that the [Vaughan] centre be disestablished as an academic department with effect from the beginning of the 2016/7 academic year…” (September 6)

Rob Greenhill, from the Save the Vaughan Centre Campaign, observed that this barrier merely marked the next stage of their campaign. “The university hasn’t been forthcoming in its dealings with us and has effectively stonewalled any alternative proposals,” he said, “but we will continue to oppose this.”

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The viable counter-proposal for maintaining the Vaughan’s centres work into the future by creating a new body for Access and Continuing Education was actually submitted several weeks previously by Vaughan staff with the support of Leicester’s Unite the union branch. At the time, Unite Community Leicester branch secretary Mark Gawthorpe, made clear to the Mercury:

“We hope that the university will look very seriously at this proposal and consider the devastating impact on students, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and who we can directly represent, if this beacon of our local history and heritage were to close.” (August 23)

Unfortunately, when the campaigners kindly offered to give a presentation to the University’s leadership team so they could answer any management questions concerning their counter-proposal they were roundly rebuffed. Instead the leadership team choose to simply present the alternative proposal to themselves, and then, rather unsurprisingly, they chose to reject it (August 22, BBC Radio Leicester).

Later in the same week (on August 26), a petition opposing Vaughan’s threatened closure — that was signed by over 3,000 people — was handed over to local Labour MP, Jon Ashworth, to then pass on the University Vice Chancellor. Speaking to BBC Radio Leicester moments after he received the petition, Mr Ashworth explained:

“In many ways, we all talk about Richard III, and we talk about DNA, and some of the other amazing breakthroughs that the University has been part of, but [Vaughan] is really the jewel in the University’s crown. And for me, for the Vice-Chancellor to be talking about getting rid of it is, for me it is vandalism, he really has to change his mind on this. And if you look at the figures – we have had a chance now to study the figures – because we had a Freedom of Information Request, and [Vaughan] doesn’t cost the University, it looks after itself in terms of the finances. But if we got rid of this centre it would cause huge damage.”

Immediately after Mr Ashworth made this powerful case for keeping Vaughan, BBC Radio Leicester then spoke to a member of the University of Leicester’s leadership team to get their take on events. In this instance, the ultra-patronising interviewee was none other than Kate Godfrey, the University’s head of HR. She then launched into her well-rehearsed spiel, belittling the University staff and campaigners, saying that “there has been a bit of confusion around the numbers” and that actually people need to understand that Vaughan is subsidised to the tune of £700,000 a year (not true).

She went on to add: “I am a veteran of many petitions — and I have never had weather this nice for a campaign that I have been part of — but I am afraid I do not accept the argument that [keeping Vaughan open] would be the right thing to do.” The point is, she continued, “if you really believe in the Vaughan mandate — which is to develop the skills in Leicester, to help us have really successful prosperous people working here” — then effectively you would agree with the University management team that closing Vaughan is for the best for everyone.

Of course throughout the interview, the University’s smooth-talking HR Manager assured us that “no decision has yet been taken” on the future of Vaughan. But it seems that her propaganda line is fooling no-one and the campaign to save Vaughan for our city is now stepping up another gear.

As Mr Ashworth made clear on his own press release following his interview: “The Vaughan Centre is an invaluable resource for the whole of the City and beyond, and we must fight to save it.” An excellent point that he reiterated in his Mercury column the following week, “Closing Vaughan would be a tragedy for all” (September 3), which noted how “We as a community must come together to protect Vaughan.”

Mr Ashworth concluded: “If you want to help the effort to save Vaughan and protect adult education in Leicester, please join the campaign and together we might be able to ensure Vaughan College lasts another 150 years.” I could put it no better myself, so if you want to help fight for the future of workers’ rights and adult education in our city then make sure you spread the word about the lobby on the day that the University Council of Governors will be deciding their vision for the future of Vaughan (September 16, 1-2pm, University Leicester, Entrance 1, University Road).

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