A PDF version of this bulletin can be found here.
by Bruce Baker, Newcastle UCU and NEC
University managers tell us we are in “unprecedented” times. They want to avoid redundancies (except at Roehampton, Sussex, and Nottingham), but they will have to do Bad Things to avoid doing Worse Things. Here are some thoughts, especially on getting and using financial information.
1. No one expects redundancies, like the Spanish Inquisition. Until about five minutes before the Section 188 notice arrives, expect to hear the phrase “no one is talking about redundancies”. Still, better to prepare, just in case.
2. Even if “no one is talking about [definite, costed, compulsory] redundancies”, many branches will be having the potential of redundancies used to push detrimental changes to contracts and working conditions. Treat changes backed by threat of redundancy as if they were redundancies.
3. There is a process for redundancy, and ACAS has helpfully explained best practice here. Familiarise yourself with it.
4. There are basic questions to ask. Without going through all the complexities, the key one is this: are these (threats of) redundancies being made on the basis of a business case or a financial case?
5. A business case means that the employer is no longer doing the same thing and doesn’t need the people who did that. A financial case means they are doing the same thing but can’t afford to keep the same number of staff. What we are facing now are financial cases.
6. At the first stage, employer should make a redundancy plan, in consultation with trade unions, which must include how to share information.
7. If a financial case is being made, then the union should request the financial data which underpins that in order to see if there are other options besides redundancies (or the Bad Thing which is better than redundancies, for that matter).
8. Chances are the management will attempt to fob you off with a document that the Finance Director put together to justify the Bad Thing. It will have numbers in it, which will be scary and will suggest that ‘There Is No Alternative’.
9. Do not accept this. Remember, numbers are only numbers, and it is the narrative they create which has power. A report like this, even if it contains numbers, is a narrative to support the Bad Thing. Get the actual numbers and write your own alternative narrative.
- What is the current operating surplus?
- What are the University’s current liquid assets?
- How much do they expect to lose in the current FY and from where?
- What is the projected income for the next year, broken down, and what is the basis for these projections?
- What are the equivalent projections for the two years beyond the next financial year?
- What is the cost of the normal implementation of [REDACTED] for the current year?
- How much has the normal implementation of [REDACTED] cost over the past three years?
- How much is allocated to pensions in each of the next three years?
- How much is allocated to depreciation of capital assets in each of the next three years, and how is that calculated?
11. When these questions are posed to management, keep the members informed as they might have further ideas. Also, find members with accountancy experience to help dig through what comes back and to insist on getting the full account, not just central books.
12. Check with members at every stage and publicise, publicise, publicise. This is money from the public purse and/or the pockets of students. There is a public interest in seeing that it is stewarded carefully & a public interest in the sustainability of universities.
13. What must be sustained is not the shiny buildings, not the international ventures, not the metrics, but the community of scholars, those whose work supports that scholarship, and those who learn from them. That is all. Reject TINA (sorry to anyone called “Tina”).
BSN is hosting a collection of images, emails, suggestions, videos (when they’re made) and anything else to help branches prepare for the forthcoming strikes. Send your material to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s our first batch.
Strike Handbook for UCU activists
Stickers & memes
Guidance for members
What are the issues? Slides for students
UCU branch information for students
Cambridge UCU 4 page strike explainer EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)
Cambridge UCU 2 page support the strikes EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)
Model branch announcements about the action
Brighton statement here
Royal Holloway statement here
Ulster statement here
Model out of office messages
Guidance on picketing
Very detailed guidance on how to organise your picket lines by Jo McNeill, former president of Liverpool UCU
Information for non-EU staff
See lots more information here from UCU
How to respond to a manager asking if you plan to take strike action
Join the UCU strike (Clare Rowan)
Strike BU – a message to students (Bournemouth UCU)
A comprehensive set of responses from university has been assembled by USS Briefs and can be accessed at https://medium.com/ussbriefs/vice-chancellors-emails-sent-in-relation-to-ucustrikesback-12c0b42a857e
Colleagues at Liverpool UCU are currently balloting for industrial action against a punitive and unreasonable Research Excellence Framework Code of Practice. This article was sent to us anonymously by a member at the University and provides a vivid description of rampant managerialism and the instrumentalisation of research. Please send your support to email@example.com
Imagine a world in which academics could be sacked and disciplined just because one colleague didn’t rate another colleague’s research highly enough. Welcome to my world. My university is now threatening to dismiss staff because of a subjective score made by an anonymous colleague.
No one can deny that Universities must take REF preparation for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) seriously. And although few like it, we recognise it is a game we need to play. But a line has been crossed here. REF preparation is not being used in ways that identify our strengths but is being used to undermine staff and drive an aggressive and toxic management culture.
This is how it works. The University of Liverpool’s ‘Research Policy Principles’ demand that every research active member of staff has their research papers marked using REF criteria (1*-4*). This is normal in REF preparations across the sector, and neither I, nor my colleagues have any particular objection to that.
What is different at Liverpool is that staff must achieve at least four papers or books within the current REF cycle scored at 3* (internationally leading) AND if they fail to hit this target, they face “capability procedures”, the formal procedure that enables dismissal. Yet this level of performance expectations is way beyond the recently confirmed REF expectation of an average of 2.5 submitted outputs per research-active member of staff in each REF submission.
Our dispute is not simply about the level of expectation, but the way the process is being used. In this system, the reviewer is anonymous but the author isn’t. This means that there is no ‘anonymous marking’ principle that students now universally expect for their assessment. And, unlike the marking of student assessments, because the marker is anonymous, there is no accountability. In other words, there is no safeguard against particular groups of staff facing discrimination in this system.
The system ultimately depends on notoriously unreliable subjective judgments. One of our colleagues was threatened with redundancy for producing work that was rated in one department as an unacceptable 2* (even though it had been published in a respected, peer-reviewed journal) and in another department was awarded the acceptable rating of 3*. External colleagues from other universities are being unwittingly used to participate in this. In one department, an external reviewer was paid piecemeal rates (at £100 per paper) to ‘re-assess’ work that had already been rated as an acceptable 3*. The rating duly came back on both papers as ‘2*’.
The problem with asking for one internationally leading paper every 18 months is that even if this quality and frequency of publication by everyone is possible (researchers need a long lead-in period to produce ‘internationally leading’ research), rising student numbers and pressures to do more and more administrative tasks make it impossible to find the time for quality research. Our dispute also demands a review to the timetabling policy that has failed to give a large number of staff any meaningful research time.
Some academics from other institutions might recognize something like this situation, but the University of Liverpool has made it clear that it will use performance metrics for disciplinary capability activation. This practice is part of a tidal wave of policies being introduced or more closely followed in a relatively short space of time; a tsunami of toxic performance management demands.
And so, at the University of Liverpool we are balloting to go on strike. If my colleagues vote to go out on strike over this, then I for one will be there on the picket line. At the moment this looks like the only way to stop the reckless and destructive fervor that has gripped managers at the University of Liverpool.
This may be the first strike against the use of high REF targets at Liverpool to harshly manage the performance of staff. If we are forced to take industrial action, it will be to a strike to stop the creeping culture of toxic performance management that is threatening to spread across the sector.
by Des Freedman
There are winners and losers in today’s higher education marketplace. Universities pocketed so much tuition fee income last year that they had a £2.2 billion surplus. Meanwhile, students may be impressed with the shiny new buildings,but they are graduating with increased levels of debt and stress. And staff have seen their wages decline by some 19% in real terms in the last 10 years, with many in the sector also facing attacks on their pensions.
Now the market is delivering yet another unwelcome product: job cuts.
An audit of universities conducted by the branch solidarity network of the University and College Union (UCU) this summer has found that some 1,400 members of staff have been made redundant or had their jobs put at risk in the last two years, through both compulsory and voluntary schemes. The network’s members heard from only a minority of institutions, sothe real number must be much greater.
These job cuts include announcements of jobs at risk, such as the 104 jobs currently threatened at Middlesex and 70 at Leicester, through to wholesale redundancies such as those announced at Bradford, Southampton, Liverpooland London South Bank universities.
Sometimes they are even punitive acts enforced on individuals, like the sacking earlier this summer of Prof James Newell at Salford University for failing to agree to seek private partnerships for the university and not meeting research funding targets.
There is indeed financial pressure on some institutions, made all the worse by the removal of caps on student numbers and the intense competition between campuses to recruit. This is a contest that is being won by wealthier and more prestigious universities. Some of the worst-off are former polytechnics with an impressive track record in educating students from less privileged backgrounds and offering adults opportunities for retraining.
But these universities are not necessarily tottering on the edge of financial ruin, as would be expected when layoffs are announced. Middlesex, for example, had a surplus of nearly £9 million in 2017 and has healthy reserves of some £70 million.Equally, two Russell Group institutions, the universities of Southampton and Liverpool – which made surpluses of £40 million and £76 million respectively last year –recently announced significant job losses.
Redundancies are often accompanied by the recruitment of casual labour and increased pressure on remaining staff to cover the work of departed colleagues. We believe this amounts to a kind of “wage theft”, a term used by the International Labour Organisation to refer to the denial of wages or benefits rightfully owed to a worker. It takes several forms: failure to pay overtime, violating minimum wage laws, the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, illegal deductions in pay and forcing employees to work off the clock.
Full-time academics consistently work more than a 48-hour week with no overtime pay. Creative workload models allow universities to under-recognise a large amount of work that is required for academics to maintain careers. This includes writing articles that are often not accepted by journals and grant applications that are usually unsuccessful in a competitive pool of declining funding.
Redundancy programmes drain confidence and can turn staff against each other. Yet there is enormous anger across campuses that ordinary workers are being targeted as vice-chancellors’ pay continues to rise and new buildings continue to go up.
Members of the UCU are currently taking part in a national ballot over pay, while unions at some institutions are balloting for industrial action over redundancies and building campaigns to hold back a tide of job cuts that is neither necessary nor justifiable. As staff, we’re getting ready to fight back.
Reposted from the Guardian