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.
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.
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.
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.
UCU Local Association