StAAR – Setting out the Facts 1

Some will be aware that Unison’s decision to go into dispute over StAAR led to some reporting in the local media and supportive comments from the local MP Naz Shah. Read the Telegraph and Argus article.

As one would expect, the University was quick to go to print to “set the record straight” although it is interesting to note that their “Setting Out the Facts” article was not offered to the local press as a full response despite asserting in the response that there were some factual inaccuracies.

So – let’s start with the first assertion that the review is “aimed at improving processes that support the student journey from enrolment through to graduation with the aims of improving the student experience, improving the quality of our student data and ensuring that we are operationally more efficient.”

No mention here of saving money, despite the fact that the review comes at a time of ongoing financial difficulty brought about by an ideological and dogmatic adherence to recruitment policies that are seriously damaging our recruitment performance.

The review is heavily reliant upon the implementation of technologies to streamline processes – something that the University has singularly failed to do on numerous occasions; restructuring without successful introduction of those technologies will serve only to increase workload for those that survive the cuts.

Job losses seem inevitable – the new structure is clearly designed to reduce the overall number of posts.   The report gave figures to those reductions of 30 posts (18 FTE’s) which the University disputes, arguing that the review is still ongoing and changes may be made.   Further, the University argues that “the review does not know at this stage if a reduction in posts would result in any actual redundancies, since some members of staff may be redeployed elsewhere in the University or the reduction may be achieved through natural wastage.”

All well and good, but as every area of the University is under review and that largely that is resulting in staffing reductions, it is difficult to imagine that redeployment is the answer.   The suggestion that redundancies will be voluntary or reductions made via natural wastage is also to some extent a moot point.   Being painted into a corner where the only options are MARS or some other “voluntary” package is redundancy by any other name.

For the record, UCU fundamentally opposes compulsory redundancy.

Unison & UCU United 2

Following on from the recent meeting to address members within scope of the Student & Academic Administration Review (StAAR), Unison will be hosting a stall between 12:00 and 14:00 this Friday 10th February in Richmond Atrium.

As well as making a visible statement of the depth of feeling of members, the event is also an opportunity to raise awareness of “Heart Unions” week.

StAAR places a large number of staff “at risk” either of losing their jobs or seeing their salary reduced, in some cases by two full grades with no pay protection. UCU stands alongside Unison as they seek to protect jobs and pay.

You can show solidarity by going along today.   Bring your friends, and if you can also wear something red to make it as colourful as possible.

Unison & UCU United

Members of UCU were invited to attend a meeting called by Unison to speak to members in scope of the in-progress Student & Academic Administration Review (first MARS and now StAAR!).

What was clear from the outset was that there was a strong feeling that the process was unfair, the impact on staff unjust, and that the potential impact on student experience was catastrophic.

Those who have attended StAAR briefings held over the last few days will be well aware that this is not an uncommon view. The new structure will lead to a number of job losses as well as significant salary cuts in particular at grade 5, with the attendant damage to morale (judged incidentally by the VC to be at around 8/10). There is no doubt that increased workload on lower pay will lead to lower morale and ultimately has the potential to damage the relationship that student facing staff have with students.

Equally as perplexing is the potential impact upon academics of having a demoralised administration team with less workload capacity to support them in the joint aim of providing the ‘excellence’ for students that we all aspire to. Without that support, more and more will inevitably be left in the hands of academics who are themselves facing ever increasing workloads.

Note also that a detailed assessment of roles reveals the interesting fact that it is student facing roles that are most likely to be downgraded – which is clearly at odds with the University’s stated aims to enhance student experience.

When quizzed about the apparent paradox of less staff, each doing more, the stock answer is that technology supported process improvement will deal with that.

All well and good, but given this University’s track record on systems implementation (attendance monitoring, centralised timetabling, etc.) one can see that unease about that as a solution is anything but misplaced.

Workload Models – An objective assessment?

The University of Bradford has recently begun to implement a new workload model for academic staff.

Colleagues will possibly be aware that the principles of workload modelling have been the subject of much discussion, and some areas have implemented their own independently. This changes with the decision to implement a common framework across the Institution, with the first phase being undertaken in the Faculty of Engineering and Informatics.

You will perhaps be heartened to hear that the model chosen is the same one that is used at some 30 Russell Group universities. This fits rather well with the lofty ambition to compete with the very best institutions; comparisons with the best in the area of workload has the potential to expose any deficiencies that if rectified could indeed “turbo-charge” the improvements in academic performance that is at the heart of the BEP’s stated objectives. We can also be confident that a robust, tried and tested mechanism has been adopted.

So – what are the early indications from use of the model? A number of staff have reported their score to be well in excess of 100% (as much as 150% in some cases). One should bear in mind that only trained users of the model can input the necessary data, and this is done through collaboration with each staff member. Furthermore, the final report is subject to sign-off by the relevant Dean. One can see therefore that the process is designed to ensure fairness and balance. Scores in excess of 100% serve only to confirm what has been known all along – that reductions in staffing have left those that remain “holding the baby” and that this is a damaging and ultimately unsustainable situation.

This is an interesting development. The outputs have been signed off by the acting Dean , who presumably in doing so has confirmed his view that the results are a fair reflection of his understanding. The model has a degree of validity borne of its wide use by respected institutions, those very institutions that Bradford is seeking to emulate. One might therefore presume that the answer is obvious – manage the workload such that it is evenly applied, increasing staffing if necessary to ensure that resources match workload. It might be contended that “overload” is one of the key factors that holds us back.

Remember our confidence in the “robust, tried and tested” mechanism? With early indications in hand the University was quick to issue a “disclaimer”, arguing that weightings contained within the existing model were not necessarily appropriate for Bradford and that there would be “some tweaking” necessary before the final outputs from the model could be accepted. Rather than accept that workload is both excessive and unevenly distributed, it seems that the contention is that the model is flawed, not the “robust, tried and tested” mechanism that we (and those Russell Group Institutions) were led to believe at all!

Those that remember the HERA implementation will recall that similar tactics were employed when role assessment yielded grades that were unacceptable to management – careful re-assessment and tweaking of the role profile to downgrade the role but with no change to the actual work.

Is Wellbeing as Embedded as UoB Would Like Us to Believe?

The principles of staff wellbeing seem to be at the very heart of our employer’s relationship with its employees – or so we are led to believe.

The Wellbeing Fair encourages us to get fit, take time out, adopt stress reduction strategies, but there is one fundamental here that we should all remember.

Taking personal responsibility for one’s own health is laudable, and clearly is something that we all have a vested interest in, but this approach CANNOT be seen as a proxy for the employer taking responsibility for the circumstances and situations that are often at the root of some of these problems.

The biggest single issue in the sector is workplace stress, and it is incumbent upon your employer to make sure that its workforce is properly supported to minimise the causes of stress.   That DOESN’T mean telling you to “calm down”, “take a chill pill” or suggesting that you are in some way part of the problem because of your inability to cope.

As we continue to endure the consequences of the Bradford Excellence Programme, that means properly managing significant and far-reaching changes through the application of its own union approved Organisational Change Policy and Stress Management Policy; these are absolute responsibilities of the employer that it would appear seem to be taken as optional dependent upon circumstances.

This is high level stuff but by sticking to these basic and agreed rules the Institution would send a signal that our raison d’être is to support a culture that actively contributes to employee wellbeing.   Perhaps then we would not see instances such as the following!

In a supreme paradox, the January meeting of the Faculty of Life Sciences Safety Panel was scheduled for 12 noon to 1:30 pm, which some of you might recognise as the contracted period for lunchtime.

Clearly there are times when a meeting has to take place urgently, and lunchtime might have to be sacrificed, but when pre-planned regular meetings are scheduled to take place over the whole of the lunch period, it might be suggested that workload limits are clearly being breached.   Moreover, it is fundamentally unfair to place employees in such a position where they have to make a choice.   Some of us will stand up for our rights, but others may well feel that to do so would be perceived as petty, or be concerned that by declining they may in some way miss out or be disadvantaged.

It would appear then that lunchtimes are a moveable and/or disposable feast (pardon the pun) that remains within the gift of our employer.   So much for wellbeing!

MARS Scheme Resurrected

With recruitment still in the doldrums it was perhaps no surprise to be greeted on our return to work after the Christmas and New Year break with an announcement that there is to be another round of the Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme (MARS).

For some this might be seen as a late Christmas present, but we should all remember that this “downsizing” of the workforce comes as a consequence of decision-making in the infinitely more secure and rarefied atmosphere of senior management.

Some of you may remember the furore surrounding comedian Jimmy Carr’s involvement in a legal but nevertheless morally questionable tax avoidance scheme, leaving a contrite Jimmy to make a much publicised apology.   Those who are contemplating a ride on the “rocket to MARS” might wish to reflect on that as they very carefully consider the implications of a scheme that is in itself clearly structured to avoid the legal responsibilities placed on an employer that flow from the implementation of a redundancy programme.

The MARS scheme in effect transfers risk to the employee, who due to the nature of the scheme is left ineligible to claim benefits, which may have significant implications for those of working age or for whom retirement remains unviable.

Also worth considering is the nature of your contract of employment.   All academics and some academic-related contracts have provision for a 12-month notice period (or payment in lieu by agreement), whereas the previous MARS scheme was capped at a payment equivalent to six months salary.

As the Bradford Excellence Programme continues to impact adversely on job security it is understandable that some of those who fear the worst might consider MARS rather than enduring the pain and distress of continued employment uncertainty.   Your Local Association of UCU would advise all members that MARS should not automatically be seen as a practical alternative, and would urge anyone contemplating such a move to consider all possibilities before doing so.


Your Concerns Regarding the Redundancy Selection Criteria IGNORED; Employment Security Forum Suspended

Campus Unions continue to urge the University’s management team to manage the Bradford Excellence Programme in a way that is fair, reasonable, and has robust and measurable positive outcomes.

In recent months it has become clear that the BEP programme is primarily focussed on reducing cost; the oft repeated “better for less” philosophy, and that a significant area for cost reduction is seen as staffing.

At the time of writing all completed restructures have resulted in there being less posts available, and management have utilised “voluntary” strategies in pursuit of this area of saving.

UCU would contend that often by painting a member of staff into a corner, the choice is essentially that of Hobson, making the voluntary nature of any severance at best debateable.

We further are concerned that the separation of the BEP programme is designed primarily to disaggregate the overall impact of the programme in respect of job losses.   Several UCU requests for an impact projection for the full programme in terms of job losses have essentially been ignored.

As a part of the BEP process, unions engage with management through the Employment Security Forum, with the expectation that management endeavour to protect jobs at all costs.

Members will recall that the LA gave you the chance to feedback your views on the Redundancy Selection Criteria that management proposed.   That feedback was collated and issued to management for consideration by ESF.   Management’s response was swift and it would appear unequivocal; ESF has been suspended with immediate effect, with the prospect of its resurrection in the New Year.   The protocol has been implemented with no apparent changes to reflect members views.   UCU has considered for some time that ESF had been reduced to little more than a platform for management to supply the information that they wish to divulge.   All vestige of the principles of consultation and/or negotiation have been displaced by pronouncement, and this most recent development only serves to reinforce that perception.

Please be under no illusion.   Your union is ideologically opposed to compulsory redundancy, and will do all in its power to resist such an approach.   It is however prepared to proceed with caution where genuinely voluntary schemes are being offered to all staff to ensure the best possible outcomes for those who wish to take up such an offer.