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Florian Hansen and the Impact of King’s ‘Strategic Inefficiency’

Courtesty of Roar photographer

Florian Hansen, a PhD student, has been struggling with “strategic inefficiency” from King’s College London’s administration over the last three years in regards to mental and physical health issues; financial vulnerability; and homelessness. They tell Roar about the ongoing battle with King’s which will reach its peak in January, when they will likely be made homeless.

Florian has raised seven written complaints with King’s, two of which are still ongoing, with their specific case being given to over 20 groups within the university, including the King’s Doctoral Students Association (KDSA) and several deans. They have now set up a new campaign through King’s College London Students’ Union (KCLSU) called Adjust KCL! to raise awareness about vulnerable students who are neglected by the College. Florian reached out to Roar as his ongoing case against King’s draws to an end.

Florian’s story highlights the common practice used by the King’s administration of  “strategic inefficiency”. Not a deliberately malicious tactic by the university, but a culmination of human error and stagnant bureaucratic processes. In Florian’s case, it being so complex and long lasting, these not only compound, but also provide the university with more excuses for their inadequacies. These issues will likely resonate with anyone who has dealt directly with King’s system and come across the complex web of its internal processes.

Starting the Program

In 2019 Florian started their PhD project on how to use virtual reality to measure motivational problems in people with experiences of psychosis. Being neurodivergent and having had their own previous experiences of psychosis, they were very connected to their field: a connection which, according to Florian, will often attract more support from grants and funding bodies. 

In November 2019, Florian suffered from predatory letting agents and fell ill, which triggered mental health issues, throwing them off course with their project. At this time they applied for sick leave from the university. However, the university had no programme for paid sick leave for PhD students, despite claiming to have been pushing for it for some time. Florian’s supervisor, noting that they were behind on their PhD after falling ill, told them in February of 2020 that they would get a Conditional Progress Report. Although this gave Florian time to catch up on their work, the progress report stressed they couldn’t fall behind again.

Later, Florian found out the university had then introduced a paid sick leave programme at the beginning of January 2020 – without notifying them. Florian states that those responsible at the university had full knowledge of these circumstances, but then failed to pass on the information to allow Florian to claim paid sick leave. The university claimed this was irrelevant because Florian did not ask for sick leave during that time. Instead, Florian had set up a personal patient directive as a means of protection in case their own psychosis symptoms caused a loss of capacity. It was also at this time that the university staff took over recording minutes from them.

Lockdown

During lockdown, Florian lived in a small flat with limited workspace, and as a result they conducted much of their work sat on the floor. King’s reached out, after a week, to ask if Florian, as a PhD student, needed any equipment to work from home. However, they did not respond when Florian replied asking for a desk and chair. After trying to get in contact for over a month, King’s responded that Florian should speak to their supervisor about this, which they did the next day. Their supervisor did not follow up, however, and so Florian relented and wrote their own report on their rights to a healthy and safe working environment, which the university should provide as per their contract.

Evidently, addressing this issue (called a ‘business case’ by the university) directly was not the correct way of handling the situation. Florian’s supervisors accused them of being “very rude” and “inconsiderate” to the staff of the university, and claimed there was no money to get him adequate equipment. Six weeks after their initial request for a table and chair, King’s admin agreed to provide them with some. At that point, Florian had already picked up suitable items from the street, and a flatmate had gifted them a table as well.

Florian began developing pain problems because of the inadequate work conditions, which pinched and inflamed nerves in their neck. These problems developed to be severe enough for them to check in with a specialist, and, following their advice, Florian decided to take an interruption of their PhD to rehabilitate for at least 1.5 months.

However, during lockdown, problems with their flatmates had been severely detrimental to their mental health. Despite not having fully recovered, Florian believed they should return to their research as it seemed the to be the only accessible way to cope, given the lockdown restrictions. Around this time, disability support reached out to Florian. Having registered with them three months before with no response, the service recommended that Florian apply to an England-based funder for additional financial support. However, having studied in Scotland before this had made them ineligible for the English funder and, therefore, they had to apply to the Scottish equivalent. This resulted in a further five month delay in reasonable adjustments, which eventually Florian would never receive.

Florian took a second interruption to try and recover mentally, and to work through their newly-developed pain condition to continue researching at full capacity, which was helped by their problematic flatmate leaving. At this time, the university began reviewing the progress of Florian’s PhD. Their position at the university was not secure due to a lack of work and research progress, according to the university.

After recovering for as long as they could financially afford, they came back to their research and began engaging with the processes of their case and complaints. According to Florian’s account, the details and records of their case presented by King’s were thoroughly inaccurate. The university only admitted to disability services forgetting about Florian for three months, fully ignoring the further five month delay caused by giving incorrect information.

Florian complained about the inaccuracy to King’s, but they either denied the inaccuracies, or claimed they were not relevant, just as they had with issues over sick-pay. The university claimed that every other aspect of Florian’s case had been dealt with correctly. This, Florian appealed, and was rejected. King’s did provide a £1000 goodwill payment for the issues they admitted too. However, this would have meant conceding that everything else had been handled correctly, including the five-month period where Florian had repeatedly chased up the incorrect funder and disability services, until they eventually recognised their mistake. Florian was subsequently removed from the university in November 2021.

Further Appeal and Reintegration Process

After being removed, with few personal finances left and their previous housing dissolving after more problems during lockdown, Florian was effectively made homeless and moved into a squat for several months. In April 2022, despite these adversities, Florian won his appeal to be allowed back into King’s. They recount that at this appeal the representative for the university was spontaneously replaced, as the original had taken an impromptu annual leave. The representative for the university also sent in their statement in an encrypted file, which could not be opened.

Now came the task of reintegrating back into the university. In a meeting after the appeal, King’s told Florian they were unable to find a replacement supervisors because the previous supervisor believed Florian would not be able to complete their research, therefore meaning progress was halted anyway.

Florian has reached out to 20 potential supervisors; they said they received rejections from those interested after the supervisors speak to the university. King’s instead suggested looking for supervisors or PhD programmes in other universities, with some suggestions on who best to ask – effectively suggesting Florian should withdraw voluntarily. However, Florian’s funding and project are bound to King’s, so transferring is not a viable option.

“Let’s not forget”, Florian told Roar, the people responsible for reintegrating them back into the university were also the ones representing the university during the appeal, who tried to bar Florian’s re-entry.

In August 2022, as a way of attaining more sustainable housing to complete their PhD, Florian applied to be a Resident Welfare Lead at King’s Stanford Street student accommodation. They were given the role and moved into the accommodation, hoping that it would lead to some recovery. The stable living situation helped in setting up routines and essential support structures, despite not having much money left. The International Hardship fund was able to give more financial support after Florian began to seriously run out of funds a few weeks ago – enough to support themselves until the end of December 2022.

However, there is a serious caveat to this situation: to hold the Resident Welfare role and claim the residency you must hold a full student status. Florian is still currently interrupted in their PhD because of the lack of supervisors, and therefore the university has given them until 7th January, when they must vacate.

Having exhausted the internal complaints and appeal systems within King’s, Florian has appealed to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator of Higher Education (OIA), a body which deals with complaints once internal systems have not worked. The OIA believes that some aspects of this case are employment matters and not education affairs (for example, the issue around paid sick leave), and they may dismiss parts of Florian’s case.

Florian then consulted HR within King’s as this was an employment issue; they also dismissed this claim because it was, for them, a student issue. It remains unclear, even weeks after, what aspects of Florian’s case will be considered by the OIA. This being so despite it claiming to be a fair and transparent process.

Currently: The Campaign and Approaching Deadline

The OIA will take months to sort through Florian’s case and return their verdict. However, King’s insists Florian vacate Stanford Street accommodation by the 7th January deadline, effectively making Florian homeless. The university has concluded that without any supervisors for Florian’s PhD, they have to ask them to leave. The university will provide £5000 and a reference letter if Florian accepts this termination.

A KCL physician suggested to Florian the potential of getting an official diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, as their residual pains could become chronic. With not enough money to support themselves if they leave in January, Florian reapplied to the International Hardship Fund and they, in writing, have they will provide another bursary although it is unclear when this will be. Any financial support provided is only aimed at supporting Florian for the next 2 months, after which he can reapply for support if needed. Given that after these 2 months Florian will be homeless, they have tried to explain that 2 months’ worth of support is inadequate. Another condition of accepting deal with the university is that Florian’s complaints will be terminated.

On 7th January Florian will have to leave their accommodation, regardless of whether they can even financially afford to do so. The Student of Concern team will at least provide an external housing advisor, but Florian is yet to receive a written follow up. They have applied for role as a cleaner as a means of keeping their accommodation.

The lack of transparency and bureaucratic inadequacies evident within these disputes are now being challenged in Florian’s student campaign, Adjust KCL!, which achieved its necessary signatures in under 48 hours. The campaign is aimed at improving disability administrative services and support for vulnerable students.

Even if they are removed in January, Florian is hoping that this campaign will be continued by others who feel passionate about these issues or are affected themselves. This case, although extreme, demonstrates the chasm between the university’s administration and academic standard. Complacency towards students and staff has very real consequences, which could have harsh effects on peoples’ lives.

Roar reached out to the university for comment. A King’s College London spokesperson said: “While we do not comment on individual cases, the safety, welfare and support for all of our students and staff is our top priority and students who face a range of complex challenges are continually supported by the university including on welfare and in accessing financial and housing support.”

Readers can sign the Adjust KCL! campaign petition here.

And follow the campaign on Instagram here. 

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