Freeman Centre update from doctoral students

On Monday July 23rd, a delegation representing PhDs from the Freeman Centre and beyond met with the Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing.

A number of points raised during the course of the hour long meeting are worth noting here:

  1. Farthing was absolutely clear he would not sanction any delay in the move out of the Freeman Centre.
  2. He apologised for the manner in which occupants of the NAB had been chosen, in particular the failure to communicate that decision much sooner.
  3. He committed to contacting Ian Davidson by phone that day raising our concerns directly with him.
  4. He replied “yeah, absolutely” when asked if all the Brighton/ESRC legal steps had been taken to ensure transfer of use for the Freeman Centre though he told us he did not have time to go into the detail of those steps in the meeting.

During the course of that meeting, it was made clear to the Vice Chancellor we were unhappy not simply with the proposed move, but had grave concerns over the ongoing identity of SPRU, the deterioration of working conditions for PhDs and indeed other researchers once the move has taken place, and the ongoing governance of the school, which would seem to be creaking under the strain of rapid teaching-led growth.

At the time of writing (Wednesday evening), Ian Davidson has yet to contact us to address our concerns, despite Farthing’s confirmation via email that he had indeed talked to him following our visit.


As a group, we are rapidly losing confidence in the management of the school to address our concerns, however we do remain hopeful of, and wish to be actively involved in a constructive resolution. We believe there are a number of core issues in play:

This is not about Summer 2012: To be clear, we feel the botched handling of the move is indicative of wider problems which may lead to greater threats in the future. We know that there are plans for more growth and that the NAB will not be able to accommodate this. What happens to SPRU then?

The place and role of doctoral students within BMEC is unclear. We feel SPRU offers an exemplary PhD experience to researchers in training, an experience which should be emulated by the wider school, not dumbed down.

The governance structures within the school has been non inclusive, teaching rather than research-led, and has alienated many in SPRU and beyond. We need to see a real commitment this will change.

The SPRU identity is under threat: We feel there is a long term threat to SPRU’s unique academic identity. We have been told on occasions that this is valued by both the wider school and the university, yet real steps to maintain, and indeed enhance this have not been proposed.

After weeks of poor communication and a business as usual approach from the senior administration of the school we feel it’s time to act.To date, doctoral students have not received a single direct communiqué from the senior management of the school, and our efforts to engage on a day to day level with move activities have been visible rebuffed. We feel this frustration is shared by many other researchers in the Freeman Centre.

What next

We will retain some level of faith in the management of the school and university that our concerns will be addressed, and we will see real action quickly.

Now we’re deciding what to do next and we’d like your input. The more of us who make a stand now, the better chance we have of making a long term difference to how the school is run. We will be calling directly on the head of school for real and immediate engagement on these issues. At the same time, we have not discounted any form of action; we can refuse to pack or refuse to leave the building altogether.

In the meantime we’d encourage you to tell us how you feel, contribute ideas and lend us your support. We understand many people are away and not everyone feels comfortable contributing in an open meeting. So if you’d prefer to grab one of us in a corridor or send us an email please do so.

Thanks for being involved,

Annie, Cian, Frederique, Jose, Kieron, Verónica and Yusuf on behalf of the Listen to US group.


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Freedom Of Information – Documents

On the 19th of July 2012, the University of Sussex responded to our Freedom of Information request by sending us more than 80 files related to the decision to use the NAB to house BMEC and SPRU.

These documents span a period from September 2011 to May 2012 and include reports, emails, and minutes from meetings. The majority of which are communications between members of the senior management team, such as the Vice Chancellor Prof. Michael farthing, and Prof. Ian Davidson, head of BMEC.

Listen to US is currently looking through the documents and putting together a time-line.

As soon as we have analysed the data, we will be posting our findings here, so stay tuned.

If you would like to help with the documents, or would just like to read them, email us at

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Stories of Sussex: A Listen to US exhibition

A visitor stops to have a look through our exhibition

A visitor stops to have a look through the exhibition

Over the past month, members of the University of Sussex community have been coming together to figure out how we make sure decisions taken by the university leadership team are taken with our best interests in mind. On Tuesday we held our first public event, our own photo exhibition in Library Square.

Inside the library, vice chancellors and other senior figures from Sussex’s past and present were celebrating the university’s rich tradition of strong academic standards, top quality research, and great leadership. The occasion: the unveiling of a new painting featuring the current and all past VCs. Meanwhile, outside, we were making sure that those university traditions aren’t forgotten in the dash for growth.

Displayed at the bottom of the library steps were a series of personal stories from around the campus. From the creche, to SPRU and CENTRIM in the Freeman Centre to Residential Services, these stories had a common theme, in the rush to push decisions through, the university leadership is in danger of sidelining and alienating vast swathes of students and staff.

The response on the day was incredible, dozens of visitors for the unveiling ceremony stopped, chatted and offered their support. There was a strong turn out from Sussex’s PhD community, indicating just how important Sussex’s reputation as a strong research university is to them. There were academic and services staff there to offer their support, and even a few undergraduates still on campus.
The level of support and encouragement from all quarters is a strong indication that right now it’s time that the leadership of the University of Sussex started to listen to us.

If you’d like to get involved, contact Cian at, we’d love to hear from you.

Some more photos:

Viewers at the exhibition

Viewers at the exhibition

More viewers at the exhibition

More viewers at the exhibition

Posters at the exhibition

Posters at the exhibition

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A story from SPRU

A year ago I decided to come to SPRU to work on a PhD. The decision was easy, world class experts in my field, a long history of real-world impact, and a research-led tradition right at the core of the University of Sussex. Except, I’m not so sure it’s like that anymore.

Now it looks like the University leadership is putting short term growth ahead of long term research. Poor management decisions and even worse communications are alienating staff and students alike. The latest round of musical chairs involving moving SPRU and LPS seem just the latest in a long list. It’s time for our University leaders to stop, pause and listen to us.


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News from around the web

Universities and colleges must take ‘deliberate steps’ to engage students

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has advised universities and colleges to actively involve all students as partners in the quality of their higher education.

Published today as part of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, the new Chapter on Student engagement emphasises the ‘positive influence’ that involving students directly in quality management can have on educational experiences.

University of Sussex adult learning cuts ‘hammer blow’

BBC News
Up to 15 full-time jobs are at risk as the University of Sussex proposes to axe some adult learning courses.

Anger as top college drops chemistry

The Guardian
Sussex University shuts prestigious department in fresh blow for science.

Protests as Sussex University axes linguistics courses

The Argus
Hundreds of students and lecturers staged a protest after the shock announcement their university planned to close a course ranked among the best in Britain.

University of Sussex approves £5m cuts – and 107 job cuts

Brighton & Hove News
The cuts have prompted a storm of protest, both from students who have staged demonstrations and sit-ins, and from members of the University and College Union

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