Thinktank purchase splits opinion

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Employment thinktank the Work Foundation declared that it had been purchased by Lancaster University for an undisclosed sum on 22 October. The announcement was made the day after the Foundation declared insolvency.

However, doubts have been raised regarding the wisdom of making this purchase. The Work Foundation became insolvent due to a pension deficit of £26.9 million, providing for approximately 600 members. Although Lancaster University stated that it will not be inheriting the pension deficit, it is not clear who will, nor is it clear where the funding to purchase the group came from within the University budget.

Many worry that the acquisition of a business and orientated thinktank by the University is part of an increasing shift in the direction of profit orientation over academic values. Chris Witter, a Lancaster PhD Philosophy student who has been vocal in his criticism of how Lancaster is being managed, questioned the logic of this purchase. “The thinktank produces the same policy that is making students struggle. Is this the direction we want to see our money go?”

The Foundation conducts independent research, provides advisory consultants, and advises policy for the government. The Foundation owns an office complex in Westminster, makes an annual revenue of £5.98 million and has 43 employees, including Will Hutton, who was appointed by David Cameron to lead an inquiry on cutting public sector pay in May.

As well as Hutton’s review of cuts to public sector pay, the thinktank has given talks at the Conservative Party Conference, and has made arguments in favour of cuts to education in a press release, stating “given the current fiscal climate, the only option available to the government is to increase fees.”

Despite this, many of those involved with the pairing form the Work Foundation and Lancaster University are positive about the move. Economics professor Ian Walker stressed that there was no risk of the Work Foundation influencing Lancaster’s policy decisions. Professor Walker also stated that the group have a “long time reputation”, and will bring “innovative ideas”, also that Lancaster is a “good match to the institution”, and that the two combined will be “greater than the sum of their parts”.

The Work Foundation is recognized as one of the UKs leading thinktanks on employment and work. It was initially established in 1918 to promote the welfare of young men working in munitions plants, on the basis that benign employers and improved working conditions would produce a better productivity than strict discipline and hardship. During the 1920s and 30s the group supported the struggle for basic workers’ rights. The group shifted its efforts during the 60s from promoting better working conditions towards creating better human relations at work and was re-named the Work Foundation in 2000.

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