A controversial Welsh university where staff say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly about what they claim is chaos, has made far more ‘free’ offers than any other higher education institution in Wales, documents examined by The Eye reveal.
The papers show that last year 72.4 per cent of new potential entrants to Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) were given “offers with an unconditional component”. The next highest in Wales is Bangor University (BU) at 56.7 per cent.
This means that an unconditional offer is 724 times more likely to be granted by CMU than at nearby Cardiff University (CU)
One lecturer who is involved in admissions at a Welsh further education college told The Eye: “Cardiff Met are totally undermining the A level and BTEC system in Wales, they are in effect saying: ‘why not come to us at 16 because your A levels don’t count’”.
The news comes as concern grows about the numbers of unconditional offers that are now being given generaly to potential students, and whether they will then be able to do the work that is required, with the head of the organisation representing all university admissions saying some universities were behaving selfishly and irresponsibly in making these offers simply to put “bottoms on seats”, ignoring the fact that youngsters are then less likely to achieve their predicted exam grades.
Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), urged teenagers to ditch unsatisfactory unconditional offers and shop around for courses with better prospects. Universities UK (UUK) have also said making unconditional offers was a “concern”.
Yet they have also been granted a lot in the past at CMU’s neighbour, the huge University of South Wales (USW). In one internal document our journalists have seen at USW, admissions tutors were urged to make unconditional offers to students predicted to achieve certain grades at A-level.
The email to tutors states: “Any students with predicted grades of BBC or above will automatically receive an unconditional offer. Those below will be offered conditional places if found to be suitable”.
The contentious practice across much of Britain has come in for enormous criticism. Alistair Jarvis the Chief Executive of UUK has in the past told The Times: “The past year has seen concern in the media over the use of some unconditional offers — those which do not depend upon meeting specific grades in upcoming exams.
Three years Ms. Marchant said the higher education sector needed to have an “open and honest” debate about unconditional offers after figures showed a 40 per cent rise in them on the year before, and that this was a “concern”.
Yet it is the news now that CMU is making far more of them than any other university in Wales which may raise eyebrows, coming as it does after years of controversy disclosed by The Eye.
Last week we showed how CMU proclaimed it was looking for a full time Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) declaring that it is “a driver of education and social transformation” but said, wrongly, it was for CU, and published that institution’s logo as well as photograph.
In the advert CMU announced that it “was recently awarded the title of Welsh University of the Year 2021 by The Times and The Sunday Times”. This title, though, may apply uneasily to an institution which is responsible for such a mix up and says it is a ‘driver of education transformation’.
CMU has been undergoing huge change and states in the advert for a new DVC: “We are now a community of over 11,500 students based at our two main Cardiff campuses, with a further 8,700 students studying with our international partners in 15 countries”.
But The Eye have also received a huge number of critical comments from academics, that the mainstream media in Wales, have ignored the mounting crisis at CMU as officials undertook the enormous alterations needed to accommodate thousands of extra students.
The Eye have received, too, alarming complaints that the fresh people who have been brought in are of low calibre, and subservient to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Cara Aitchison.
After a recent meeting of the Vice-Chancellor Executive Group (VCEG), unhappy staff were sent recruitment rules that every appointment panel must be chaired by a member of the group or a Dean of another school at the crisis-hit university. Yet a ‘whistleblower’ at CMU says it is just further evidence of “more controlling and lack of trust”.
Another contact told The Eye earlier: “I can’t wait for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) results … Research across the university is at an all time low”. The Eye have shown previously how a different source at CMU told us the atmosphere was “feverish”, while more than two and a half times the amount of money had been spent on legal fees compared with the year before, and the astonishing events at the university became a source of amusement for our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
One angry former worker at CMU gave us the names of others who had sought their own legal advice, but in his words they “have been shown the door”.
A further one of our contacts at the university said to The Eye: “It has become obvious amongst all of us that anyone in CMU mentioning (The) Eye is immediately under suspicion for being one of your sources. They are afraid of the truth about the shambles … at CMU getting out into the mainstream media. Even UCU (University and College Union) colleagues are afraid to speak out which is indicative of the atmosphere here.”
Documents showed that at one point CMU had set an ambitious target of reaching a level of 26,425 students by 2023, while staff claimed they were under-resourced for an enlargement on this scale, and students were admitted who simply could not cope with degree work.
Yet, despite CMU’s proud announcement in the mixed-up advert, it seemed the massive changes at the university did little to improve its performance earlier. It was ranked 108 in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019 – which meant it had plunged 18 places in only a year, and one of our sources at CMU said it had “nose dived”.
But our own inquiries of the university about the growing crisis under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation were met with a blanket refusal to provide answers. As with our questions to another controversial Welsh higher education institution, officials at CMU have stated that the queries to them from our Editor Phil Parry were “vexatious”, although it was clear that all was not as it should be within CMU.
It all came as another internal document to staff at CMU, and passed to us, was condemned by one of our whistlebowers as “the latest attempt by our Vice Chancellor to persuade us all that everything is going well and according to plan, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way”.
A number of Professor Aitchison’s staff had analysed the statistics given in the document and were deeply unimpressed.
One told us: “In the VC news update there are some obvious discrepancies in some of the cherry-picked figures that any academic can spot”.
The source claimed there were major differences in anticipated turnover in the paper for 2018/19 to the statistic given in the Strategic Plan for CMU, and continued: “So which figure is correct? The previously published strategic plan or the latest Pravda update?”.
A staff survey of Health and Wellbeing was carried out after we revealed it had been postponed, but the timing has been questioned by staff who claimed it was conducted following our disclosures. One told us: “(The) Eye must have hit a nerve as the VC tells us that ‘one priority is to address any concerns raised by staff in the Staff Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted last month’”.
Even as the scandal at CMU has been kept from the mainstream media, The Eye were inundated with desperate comments from distressed academics, and one said they are “demoralised and demotivated”.
A contact told us earlier: “Staffing levels are completely inadequate. Sickness levels and grievances are through the roof across the university.” Another of our sources within the Welsh university sector said:“They are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. A different unhappy academic has told us the university is in “turmoil” and in a state of “carnage”.
The university responded to an earlier request for details under the FOIA completely denying information from one of our contacts that Professor Aitchison and her deputy had been placed on ‘sick leave’ as the huge changes unfolded and the drive for more students came under fire from academics at CMU. We had also asked officials who now is in charge at the university amid accusations from the academics,that it is a “rudderless ship”.
Normally responses to FOIA requests take several weeks, as in the case of the refusal on the grounds our questions were “vexatious”, but remarkably these denials came within hours, and CMU officials stressed that “Professor Cara Aitchison … is working normally”.
The questions were also sent to a senior official at CMU who is one of Professor Aitchison’s acolytes marked “urgent” but there has been no reply.
Perhaps if they had been contained in an envelope marked ‘unconditional offer’, there would have been a response!
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary decades long, award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book A Good Story’. Order the book now. The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!