Vice Chancellor Communication

Members will be interested to hear that subsequently to the response made by the Chair of Council, the VC felt compelled to make his own direct response in a letter to UCU Local Association.
In accordance with the request made in the covering email to which the letter was attached, we hereby share this with members.
The letter:
Dear Chris,
 
Baroness Taylor has passed a copy of your letter to me of 26 April 2017. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the specific issues which you have raised.
 
As you are aware, we have set out an ambitious 10 year vision to become a word (sic) leading technology university. A significant programme of work is in place to help the University achieve this vision. I recognise that a programme of this magnitude is challenging and will bring about significant change across the University, which can be unsettling and unwelcome for some staff. In order to support staff we have put in place an extensive programme of support to assist them through this period of change.
With regard to your specific points:

Academic Redundancy Criteria

Joanne Marshall and her tea m have considered your feedback on the academic redundancy selection criteria. Whilst some of your feedback was directed more towards the circumstances that have led to potential redundancies, or to the principle of making redundancies, your specific points on the criteria have been carefully considered and amendments have been made.

Administrative Restructuring

Whilst we recognise that there is a reduction in posts at Grade 5 and an increase at Grade 4, the Student and Academic Administration Review has been driven by an extensive business process assessment.  This assessment informs the roles which are required and the duties and responsibilities within these roles. These new roles have then been subject to a very thorough job evaluation process. Throughout the consultation, assurances have been provided with regard to future career progression within the structure. There will be an extensive programme of development put in place to support our commitment to career planning, professional development and promotion.

Academic Portfolio Review

The Academic Portfolio Review fulfilled the University requirements to meet the expectation within Chapter BS of the UK Quality Code. Students were involved in programme review activities through the following means: student meetings at both undergraduate and postgraduate level to explore their learning experiences; student feedback gained througsurveys, namely the Bradford Student Survey, National Student Survey and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey; evidence from StaffStudent Liaison Committees; and data ostudent complaints and appeals. The APR methodology was designed to ensure the student voice played a big role.

Effectiveness

Colleagues undertake business travel and attendance at many events and venues throughout the academic year. These are agreed with the appropriate managers through the normal University processes and are informed by the University‘s PDR process and the University’s strategic objectives. We continue to build on and improve our communications and engagement throughout this process to help colleagues better understand how we are working towards achieving the vision .
 
I recognise that this continues to be a challenging time for many colleagues across the University. I urge you and the other campus trade unions to continue to work constructivelythrough the established University forums and procedures to assist us in achieving our strategic objectives. I thank you for your help and efforts so far.
 
Yours sincerely
Brian Cantor

University Chair of Council Baroness Taylor Responds (sort of!)

UCU Local Association committee were pleased to receive a response to our letter of 26th April (sent both by e-mail and hard copy) which arrived in in-boxes on 16th May late in the afternoon.

Sadly the letter does little to suggest that Council considers the current strategy places the institution, its staff and students at risk.   Nor is there any suggestion that current failings might lead to a change of view.   The Baroness makes no mention of our request for a meeting with her to discuss member concerns, and also we note that the letter was channeled via the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

In particular, the Baroness explains thatthe role of Council is to provide strategic oversight of the governance and management arrangements of the University but not to become involved in operational decision making which properly rests with the Vice Chancellor supported by his Executive Team”.

This is a worrying perspective which suggests that Council are only concerned with ensuring that the rules are being followed and that the management team and structure is appropriate.

In fact, HEFCE expect that Council follow the principles of the Higher Education Code of Governance, a Committee of University Chairs code of practice.   That places the responsibility upon Council to be assured that appropriate steps are being taken to deliver (institutional sustainability, through its mission and strategy) and that there are effective systems of control and risk management.”

UCU suggests that Council oversight must extend beyond simply ensuring that the right boxes are ticked, to include a responsibility to ensure that the strategy is delivering in a timely manner and in line with the promises made that led them to approve it.

Since implementation, targets for recruitment have been missed, as have the subsequently “revised down” targets.   We simply ask how long this pattern of failure can be allowed to continue before Council begins to question the efficacy of current policy.

Baroness Taylors letter is reproduced here……

“Thank you for your letter written on behalf of the UCU Local Association dated 26 April expressing UCU concerns following the Extraordinary General Meeting.

I think we all know that these are challenging times for the whole HE sector with so many changes on so many fronts and that our University is also having to update in many ways. These changes will inevitably need careful handling and I can assure you that Council is aware of this.

Perhaps I can start by saying that the role of Council is to provide strategic oversight of the governance and management arrangements of the University but not to become involved in operational decision making which properly rests with the Vice Chancellor supported by his Executive Team.

As a Council we fully support the University Strategy and associated action. Council approved the establishment of the Bradford Excellence Programme, fully recognising the need for change in the University. Council is also fully aware of the pace of change and note that this is not uncommon in the sector with many other universities taking forward ambitious change programmes in response to Government policy and funding changes.

Obviously I have brought your letter to the attention of the Vice Chancellor and his team. I will report your letter to the full Council at the next meeting later this month and we will (as we always do) receive and question reports and updates on all these issues.

I will contact you after the meeting of Council with any views of members.

Yours sincerely

Baroness Ann Taylor”

Suitable Alternative Roles

Colleagues within scope of StAAR are now being faced with some stark choices as the fallout from the review begins to crystallise.   In particular, those that have not been fortunate enough to survive the process of matching and slotting are being encouraged to apply for alternative roles often at a lower grade than their current one.

UCU understands also that managers are being briefed to advise staff in this position that if an employee does not engage with the process in this respect that they face the prospect of not being offered a redundancy (which may be the outcome once all avenues have been exhausted).

UCU believes that the approach being adopted is legally questionable at best, and has sought guidance from the UCU regional office on how the legislation around this issue is couched.   The guidance provided is included for your information below, however for the avoidance of doubt UCU Committee are clear that a decision to withdraw from the process, however distasteful that process might be, should not be taken lightly.

If the employer has made the business case for a restructure that may result in redundancies they have to comply with the law regarding consultation.  The purpose of collective consultation under section 188(2) TULCRA is to:

  • Avoid dismissals;
  • Reduce the number of employees to be dismissed; and
  • Mitigate the consequences of dismissals.

Roles can be downgraded to avoid dismissals and can be used to support a case for a restructure.  However, a post would not be considered redundant if the same role continued but on a lower rate of pay.

In a redundancy process, this is what the law says in relation to alternative work.

Alternative Work

An employer should give employees at risk of redundancy the chance to apply for suitable alternative work.  In general, failing to consider suitable alternative work can make a redundancy dismissal unfair.  An employer should be looking for alternative employment opportunities from the moment they realise the role is at risk.

Offers of suitable alternative employment are covered by section 141, ERA 96.  This states that any offer must be made before the old contract ends and must begin within four weeks of the date of the end of the original employment.  An employee who unreasonably refuses a suitable role that is the same as or not substantially different from, their previous work can lose their redundancy pay.

The issue of whether work is suitable is considered separately from the question whether an employee is reasonable in refusing it, although there may be some overlap.  The more suitable the offer, the greater the scope for the employer to show that refusing to accept it is unreasonable.

Whether work is suitable depends on objective, job-related factors such as the terms and conditions and the skills required, taking into account individual skills and experience.  Work is normally considered unsuitable if it involves material changes in pay, skills and experience or status.

The reasonableness of a refusal to take up an offer often depends on subjective factors personal to the employee.  The test here is whether the employee had sound and justifiable reasons for refusing the offer, taking into account personal circumstances such as domestic arrangements, health and housing.

The manner in which an offer is made can be relevant to the reasonableness of any refusal, especially where this has damaged the parties’ relationship.

The employee should be consulted about alternative work and given enough information to be able to decide whether it is suitable.  Failing to do this is likely to make a refusal reasonable.

Where a member opts to accept a new job at lower grade to avoid redundancy, unions may be able to negotiate a period of pay protection preserving the old terms and conditions, known as “red circling”.

UCU LA Appeals to University Council

Members will know that UCU and other Campus Unions are working hard to encourage senior management to engage in meaningful and fruitful negotiations to protect jobs and minimise the effects of BEP, APR’s and the fallout from those programmes.

Members are also no doubt acutely aware that despite this the University has recently announced that there will be compulsory redundancies, and in at least one case this despite their being a role with a job description that closely matches an individual’s current role.

As part of UCU’s ongoing commitment to representing the views of members and to ensure that our voices are being properly heard at the highest levels of governance, a letter was issued to all lay members of Council last week, with a request for a meeting with the Chair of Council to relay our concerns not only for members jobs but also for the future of the institution.

Here is the letter…

 

26th April 2017

Dear Council Member

We write to you to express our concerns at the situation in which the University now finds itself.

UCU understands that the Vice Chancellor is keen to reposition the University and make it “fit for purpose”, and certainly would agree that there is an appetite for change and that may itself present some challenges. We fear however that the current policy is failing to achieve some key objectives.

The initial promise was for a period of reduced recruitment that would soon be overtaken by strong growth as league table position improved as a result of improved outcomes. To date that has not happened and indeed the University has just fallen five places in The Complete University Guide. The Five Year Plan is now a Ten Year Plan (for the moment at least), and there is a real sense that the current and ongoing process of restructuring is being driven primarily by a desperate need to reduce costs to offset the lost income caused by worsening undergraduate recruitment.

UCU fears that the current “big bang” policy to reposition the University simply isn’t working. Moreover a lack of honest and effective communication has left members (and others) at best bemused, and in some cases alarmed and distressed.

We believe that contrary to the views of some at the executive level morale is languishing in the lower reaches of the scale, indeed some are talking of a 40 year low in this respect.

During our last UCU General Meeting members raised concerns about a lack of confidence in the current University strategy and it was agreed that it was essential that we take this unusual step of writing to you to make sure that the views of our members are communicated directly to Council.

In addition to the broad themes articulated above, some more specific issues emerged and these are detailed below.

Academic Redundancy Criteria

The University has introduced a new set of standards that are based on a 5-year performance, where staff can be selected for redundancy despite a long track record of excellent performance up to and including their most recent review period.
To be clear, UCU is fundamentally opposed to any form of compulsory redundancy, a commitment that was recently confirmed by motions passed at UCU EGM. It was however willing to collate the observations of members and pass those to management. Those observations were not taken into account and indeed the selection criteria remain as they were originally presented.

Administrative Restructuring

It appears that where administrative areas are restructured, the inevitable outcome is a wholesale reduction in middle and upper middle grades either through their abolition or downgrading of posts; grade 5 appears to have been virtually abolished. Alongside this comes an increase in the highest administrative grade (11) which some might consider is being funded through this wholesale downgrading and job losses; note that grade 11 was up until very recently the rarest of grades. The resultant “grade void” will have the effect of severely limiting promotion prospects for those on the most common grade 4.

Academic Portfolio Review

Members lacked confidence in the quality assurance processes followed to approve courses as part of the APR’s. For example, there is evidence of “deficiencies” in terms of the guidelines as set out in Chapter B5 (Student engagement) of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

Risk

Members also wished for some reassurance that adequate contingencies are in place to militate against the effects of perceived risk factors, in particular the significant potential impact both of Britain’s exit from the European Union and the introduction of the UK Higher Education Bill.

Effectiveness

Many in the University continue to face uncertainty about their employment status or their remuneration as a consequence of review and restructuring. Moreover, the regime of austerity touches many of us when undertaking everyday duties and particularly in the maintenance of professional development through courses, attendance at academic and professional events etc. Members feel that it would be helpful if the outcomes and deliverables evident from corporate travel and attendance at events by those at executive level were communicated more widely, and that their relevance to the University’s stated aim to be the “Technology University of the North” should be effectively articulated.
Yours sincerely
UCU Local Association

ucusupport@bradford.ac.uk

Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions Restructure – 6 Months Review

Recently announced, the 6 month review of the BEP MRA Restructure is now under way.

It was interesting to note in the announcement of the review that there were a couple of caveats contained within that appear to pre-empt some of the potentially negative feedback that one might expect.

In particular, the announcement was swift to highlight that “Recruitment to vacant posts in the new structure has unfortunately taken longer than anticipated, and service levels over the last six months do not therefore reflect the potential of the complete structure”.

This might be construed as an admission that promised service improvement has not been forthcoming; perhaps a failure to recruit to posts is itself a symptom of the fragility of the restructure?

The announcement goes on to say that “The full impact of the review will also only be realised once one full student recruitment cycle has taken place.”  

So any observations about the effectiveness of the restructure as a driver for improved recruitment will be deemed invalid; we simply have to wait and see, by which time the review will be well and truly closed.

Campus Trade Unions have been asked to provide feedback for the review by Tuesday 4th April.   UCU realise that some of you will have been asked for your feedback directly and in some cases you may have already provided this.

We are though aware that some members do have concerns that openly providing honest feedback could potentially lead to victimisation.

UCU is however keen to ensure that all members can provide honest feedback without fear of the consequences and would therefore like to invite you to share your feedback with us, particularly any points you did not feel able to report back directly (for whatever reason).   We will include your anonymous feedback in our response.

Please reply to us by Friday 31st March so that we can collate your feedback and draft our response in time.

University Warns of Possible Move to Compulsory Redundancies

Those members who were able to attend the last EGM will recall two motions that were agreed by members and were subsequently communicated to Management:

Motion 3 – UCU Local Association restates its fundamental opposition to compulsory redundancy.

Motion 4 – UCU Local Association is opposed to all forms of redundancy and severance mechanisms purporting to be voluntary where undue pressure is brought to bear upon those affected.

As a meeting with representatives of HR attended by campus unions earlier this week was winding up, UCU and Unison were advised that the University of Bradford is likely to begin issuing compulsory redundancy notices, where the first of these notices could be issued in a matter of days.

This is an unprecedented move in the 50 year history of the University of Bradford, an institution that has hitherto protected jobs in the face of immensely difficult financial circumstances:

  • In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher cut the University of Bradford budget by a third – the University of Bradford stood firm against redundancies
  • More recently, the Bradford riots led to a severe downturn in student numbers – the University of Bradford stood firm against redundancies

To quote a T&A article published leading up to our 50th anniversary (23 Oct 2015):

“The university and the city of Bradford are intertwined, they stand and fall together.”

Just a matter of weeks ago, the University was eager to report in the T&A that:

“While the current (StAAR) proposals would see a reduction in 14 FTE posts, we hope that this would be achieved through normal rates of turnover and voluntary agreements.”

As you know, UCU has long considered that the term “voluntary redundancy” has been used to describe a process by which when faced with little choice a member of staff “chooses” to accept an apparent inevitability.   Now however it would seem that Management are beginning to accept that this façade is unsustainable.

UCU have consistently maintained that a move to compulsory redundancy is one that it cannot countenance or support and we will be carefully monitoring the situation as we begin to plan for such a development.

The local branch are disappointed of the failure of HR to email a full statement to campus unions by close of business on that day; this had been promised at the request of unions who were present.

More alarming however is the fact that the significance of this announcement appears to be lost on the Head of HR who did not attend the meeting, choosing inexplicably to leave this important task to a more junior member of staff.

UCU understands that this announcement, which was made in line with agreed protocols, is primarily in relation to the outcome of one of the recent Academic Portfolio Reviews (APR’s), and that current negotiations with those affected are aimed at finding a “voluntary” solution.   Yet again the term “voluntary” is being used, in this case with the likelihood that if that negotiation fails the compulsory route will be taken, which would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic for those involved!

We believe that this is potentially the thin edge of a much broader wedge.   As the consequences of APR’s work through it is unclear what the overall impact on staffing will be, and Management are unable or unwilling to put any figures on that.   A steady “drip feed” of job losses may pass under the legislative radar, but such disaggregation of numbers to avoid an employer’s legal responsibilities to notify government would be a cynical manipulation of the law.

University Responds to UCU Letter

Colleagues will recall that a letter was issued to University Management 23rd February 2017.   UCU Committee received a formal response by email on 3rd March 2017, which we include herewith:

Dear UCU Committee,

Thank you for your letter/email of 23 February 2017 regarding the failure to agree in relation to grade protection and matters of concern in relation to the StAAR review.

The BEP programme is an important and significant undertaking for the University and vital for the University’s continued success.  We are fully committed to maintaining a constructive dialogue with the recognised trade unions throughout the BEP process. This has been evidenced by our commitment to weekly meetings throughout collective consultation and beyond together with informal monthly catch ups with myself.  The trade unions have also been invited to join an extensive programme of staff consultation meetings which have been taking place over the past several weeks specifically for the StAAR.

I recognise that the StAA Review is a complex piece of service redesign affecting a large group of staff. In the light of this we have also agreed additional activities to assist you including HERA training and additional meetings with Nikki Piece to address specific areas of concern.

As has been my practice, I and my team operate an open door policy for the trade unions to discuss queries and concerns.

With regard to the concerns raised in your letter we have invited you to put forward your views on grade protection, given that the University believes it is operating in line with and in some cases more generously than many other universities. Over the past few years the university has in all cases provided redeployment with pay protection to one grade only with the exception of an isolated case. Accordingly pay protection to one grade only has been the custom and practice.

I am unclear what you mean by the University’s apparent decision to unilaterally review the Organisational Change Policy.  The policy was agreed collectively following negotiation with the Trade Unions on 12 May2016.  I note your views on the production of personal names but this does not constitute a unilateral review of the policy.  We remain committed to the planned review of the policy as agreed in May 2016 and recognise that the APRs and some of the service reviews have entailed long lead in activities and processes, sometimes by external consultants, which the Organisational Policy does not accommodate. However we maintain that we have followed the Organisational change policy.

We are arranging a separate meeting with Nikki Piece to discuss your concerns in relation to the aims of the StAA Review.  The need for an extension of collective consultation will be considered following this meeting, as the potential impact of any extension on staff wellbeing is also a key concern.

In the meantime you are welcome to join any further staff consultation meetings which Nikki has planned.

Kindest regards,

Joanne

One can see that much of the letter is devoted to meaningless platitudes rather than tackling directly the issues that were raised in our correspondence of 23rd February.

On the matter of our Failure to Agree in respect of pay protection, there is insistence that the Organisational Change Policy (OCP) supports their stance on this matter.   They further go on to claim that UCU have been unable to supply evidence to support our position.

Two facts are undeniable:

  1. Section 10.4 of the OCP states that “Protected pay will apply where a substantive employee is to be redeployed into a post of a lower grade due to organisational change resulting in their existing role being removed from the new service structure.”   It DOES NOT state “…..into a post of ONE lower grade…..”.
  2. Interpretation of 10.4 of the OCP in the manner as described above constitutes a unilateral revision to OCP – something that the Head of HR appears to find it difficult to recognise.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that whilst HR are keen to affirm that there was only one instance (a “special case” where more than one grade loss was subject to pay protection, they are less keen to confirm how many instances of more than one grade loss did result in instant pay reduction.

UCU maintains that pay protection for all grade loss is consistent with the agreed OCP and that any deviation from that is unacceptable.

On the specific issue of extension to StAAR consultation to accommodate campus union concerns, this was clearly too difficult to rule upon without further consultation – it was in the event a flat “No” to that request!

Our concerns over deskilling were virtually ignored save for vague comments about the mechanism of HERA and the training that was offered to union officials.   The specifics of a deskilled role and lack of recognition for skill and experience was frankly ignored, as were our comments on the resultant lack of opportunity that flows from a structure devoid of middle grades.

Equally conspicuous by its absence was any response to our request for empirical evidence to support the contention that the new structure will improve service of student experience.   UCU believes that it is only by first implementing the technology that is constantly being referred to as providing the necessary efficiency gains and service improvements to deliver this “nirvana-esque” future that a new structure can be made to work.   The alternative is less people doing more work for lower pay – which could be the OED definition of workplace stress and dissatisfaction.