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.


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