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Redundancies comment #3 – Plan for Maths doesn’t add up

Published: 21st January, 2021

Earlier today the Vice-Chancellor did a live Q&A in which there were many questions about the University’s planned redundancies. This one is particularly relevant to the proposals facing School of Mathematics & Actuarial Science.

Lots of questions in the chat about redundancies. Here’s one: Staff have been put through very damaging and problematic ‘transformations’ by several of the current leadership team in both 2016 and 2018.

The Vice-Chancellor, in response, distanced himself from prior transformations, which is interesting, because the current excellence-shaping plan to eliminate pure maths research and most pure maths teaching has eerie similarities to 2016 plans that failed after international outcry.

Snippets from DataHE report on undergraduate recruitment trends, that the Vice-Chancellor said definitely hasn’t been used in shaping business cases in today’s Q&A, were presented during pre-change engagement as evidence that Maths BSc student recruitment would plummet in next 5 years.

Without increasing curricular attention to trending applied topics like AI & data mining, where we already have strengths, and the staff who do them want to preserve pure maths in both teaching and research because its integral to maths as a coherent discipline.

When they tried to get rid of pure mathematicians in 2016 there was international outcry from heavyweights in the field, including the late Sir Michael Atiyah, who the University’s own obituary says “was widely regarded as Britain’s greatest mathematician”.

So, many leading mathematicians thought this was a really bad idea in 2016, current staff, both applied and pure, said it continues to be a really bad idea in 2020 pre-engagement, but for some reason the University leadership thinks it’s a really good idea in 2021? Why?

They seem to think pure Maths is to blame for a projected future decline in student recruitment, but this was projected by an external consultancy that the Vice-Chancellor said today aren’t being used to inform the redundancy proposals? Does this make sense to ANYONE?

Is research performance to blame? No. Pure maths staff attract significant funding from EPSRC and contribute a lot to Maths REF return (although now that the REF census date has passed the University can benefit from that research performance while ditching staff who made it)

The Vice-Chancellor made clear in today’s Q&A he’s not interested in thinking about the mistakes of past leadership teams. Based on this summary of flaws in his visionary plans for Maths, does anyone want to suggest that… maybe he should?

Because nothing about this “strategic vision” seems visionary to us. In fact, the vision for the future they insist looks like “excellence” to them, looks to us like a repeat of terrible decision-making of yesteryear, intellectually impoverished, corporate violence.