Email to all members. 1 March 2020
This is a report on recent meetings between UCU officers and senior management.
- The University has refused to guarantee there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of Schools Size and Shape.
- UCU has asked for the role descriptor for Subject Leads to be withdrawn as a breach of the agreed role profiles. Transfer of staff and courses between the new schools should not happen without the consent of those involved.
- The University is planning a wider return to on-campus teaching from 8th March than government guidance suggests. Academic staff should decide what on-campus teaching is necessary.
- The University insists on its right to force staff back onto campus whether or not they have been vaccinated.
- UCU does not believe there is any such thing as a ‘Covid-secure campus’.
- Real-time monitoring of CO2 in teaching spaces should be added to social distancing and other existing safety measures.
Read on for further details …
Schools Size and Shape
The picture regarding student applications for 2021-2 is apparently looking quite positive with undergraduate applications up 29% on last year. This compares with increases of only 6% for the institutions UoB considers its ‘competitors’ and 7% for the sector as a whole. Although Brexit has affected the number of EU applications, those from ‘international’ students are up 11% on last year, 31% on the year before.
On the basis of that positive picture, UCU has asked for a guarantee from the University of no compulsory redundancies. Our request is modest: we do not expect a blanket, long-term guarantee, but simply an assurance that the Size and Shape reorganisation of schools already under way, and due for completion by the start of next academic year, will not result in staff being forced out of their jobs at the University.
The University was not prepared to give this assurance. Andrew Lloyd told us that school reorganisation had not been designed as a mechanism to reduce staffing, saying he did not anticipate Size and Shape to lead to any processes which would result in the shedding of staff. Nevertheless, there was no comment from the Director of People, and no commitment to rule our compulsory redundancies even in the short term.
Why won’t the University give staff some job security?
Why would senior management, following a bruising redundancy dispute and given the improving recruitment picture, refuse to give the simple reassurance that staff are safe in their jobs, at least for the time being?
There are two possible reasons. The first is that they already have plans for another round of redundancies – perhaps starting with a voluntary severance offer but backed up with compulsory measures – but are not ready to inform us about them yet. Or, if not, that they want to maintain their room for manoeuvre to target staff for redundancy as they see fit later this year.
This refusal to give a minimal assurance on job security does nothing to build the sense of collective effort that the Vice Chancellor appealed for during the recent industrial dispute, and puts into context the ‘Thank-you’ we recently received from her for our efforts during the pandemic.
The next stage in formalising the structure of the new schools is to appoint Subject Leads and Associate Subject Leads for each of the designated subject areas. This is an attempt to standardise the roles of Programme Leaders and Division Heads that currently exist. Those taking on these roles will be on the main lecturer grades and will receive remission from teaching in order to carry them out.
However, the role descriptor currently circulating betrays an attempt to turn the Subject Lead into a management role. It features a 10-point section on ‘staff management’ which includes taking responsibility for ‘the day-to-day operational management of staff’ and ‘the performance management and development of all subject area staff’.
Such management responsibilities cannot possibly be part of the duties of Subject Leads. No such responsibilities appear in the role profile for Ac4 (Principal Lecturer), and it would plainly be a nonsense for someone on Ac4 to hold managerial authority over colleagues on the same grade.
UCU did not receive a commitment from senior management to withdraw this document. If the University insists in pressing ahead with its plans for Subject Leads it will mean that it is seeking unilaterally to rewrite the academic role profiles agreed previously with UCU. This would necessarily become a matter of dispute between the union and the University.
Members who are considering applying for these roles should be aware that, whatever management might say, the existing role profiles for academic grades remain in force as a collective agreement and cannot be altered even by individual agreement.
Management are still in some cases insisting that they have the right forcibly to move courses and the staff attached to them between schools. This is despite the fact that the boundaries between the new schools and the location of subject areas is supposed to be part of the ‘engagement’ process with staff, not the result of horse-trading between Deans.
UCU opposes any transfer of staff and courses from one school to another without the consent of the staff concerned. If members find themselves in this position they should contact a UCU rep immediately for help and support.
Return to campus
The University is planning to increase the amount of on-campus teaching from next Monday 8th March.
Government guidance says the following: “Students on practical Higher Education courses at English universities who would be unable to complete their courses if they did not return to take part in practical teaching, access specialist facilities, or complete assessments will also return from 8 March.”
The University has chosen to interpret that as ‘students who would be unable to meet their learning outcomes’ can return on 8th March. Apart from being an interpretation of the guidance that other institutions are not making, it raises the issue of who determines how and when students meet their learning outcomes. The University says a ‘management approach’ to these decisions is justified, but the only people capable of making judgments about learning outcomes are academic staff who teach the courses in question.
Members should challenge attempts by managers to dictate which classes need to return to campus. Now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it would be reckless to risk people’s health simply to appease the possible unhappiness of some students. The University has a duty not only to protect the health of its students and staff, but also not to endanger public health by allowing campuses to become the sites of transmission of the virus that they were last year.
Back to normal?
Courses in Art are among those due to restart. Initially, staff in the School of Arts and Media were under the impression that teaching was ‘back to normal’ from 8th March. UCU has confirmed that this is not the case. Social distancing and other anti-Covid measures mean that student numbers will be limited and student presence on campus staggered. The University’s policy is that on average students should get 20% of their time on campus and certainly no more than 30%.
Compulsion to return to campus
UCU asked the University for a commitment not to force staff to return to campus while they wait for their vaccination. Senior management refused, arguing that it will be necessary to insist that some staff work on site, irrespective of their wishes and their concerns about their health, and that of their families and the wider community.
Members who have concerns, especially if they are in vulnerable groups, should raise them with their Head of School, and contact a UCU officer for representation in any meetings that result.
Students and staff are supposed to have taken at least two Covid tests before their return to campus. The first problem with this is that a negative result on a lateral flow test by no means guarantees non-infection. The second is that the University is not insisting that students or staff take tests or disclose their results. We have to assume that there will be Covid in classrooms.
Members who are scheduled to teach on campus should ensure that the risk assessments for the space they are working in and the activity they are undertaking have been revised, not simply reviewed, in light of the new, more transmissible variants of the virus. It has become increasingly clear that by far the key measure for minimising transmission of the virus is good ventilation. The University now has meters to measure CO2 in the air, which provides a good proxy for air quality in an occupied room. You can make a request via Planon for your teaching room to be tested. UCU believes that meters should be permanently installed so that the CO2 level in rooms can be monitored in real time. A reading above 800ppm would represent an unacceptable risk and appropriate action should be taken.
If you believe that the conditions you are expected to work in represent a serious and imminent danger to your health, you are legally entitled to remove yourself from that situation without suffering repercussions from management. This provision has been successfully used by school and FE teachers in recent months. You are advised to contact a UCU health & safety rep if you find yourself in this position.
UCU’s Health & Safety reps are:
Sheila Cullen – Moulsecoomb
Sue Gollifer, Mary Anne Francis – Grand Parade
Tucker MacNeill – Falmer
Josh Cameron – Eastbourne
UCU Coordinating Committee