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Save our Statute!

The University is removing your rights as an academic

You will be aware that the University of Reading management wish to remove the current statute and replace the section that provides additional safeguards and employment protection for academic staff with much weaker policies. The additional protection within statute is recognised the world over and seen as necessary to avoid institutional infringement of academic freedom. However, the management at Reading see this extra protection as a bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of their ability to more easily dismiss academic staff. That is a stark truth that is borne out by even the most liberal reading of the management proposals.

What is the model statute?

The model statute or employment statute are internal rules that govern the procedures for dismissals and grievances of academic staff (and academic-related staff in some institutions). They have legal standing and can only be changed by an application to the Privy Council. Most chartered institutions still retain an employment statute based on the model developed by the Education Commissioners in the early 1990s. This model came about as a consequence of the Education Reform Act 1988 that introduced the idea of redundancies for academic staff – prior to that many academic staff enjoyed an element of tenure.

The reason that academic (and sometimes academic-related) staff are covered by the model statute is to recognise the importance of academic and related staff being able to exercise academic freedom without fear of dismissal. Thus the procedures are an attempt to ensure that any dismissals and grievances considered are undertaken in a transparent way with peer involvement and checks against infringements of academic freedom.

What protection does it offer?

The current model statute features:

  • detailed provisions within the statute itself – so it cannot be changed without approval by the Privy Council
  • academic freedom listed as a guiding principle
  • a redundancy committee – including academic staff – to be established by Council if management wish to make any academic (and related) staff redundant. The Committee must report back to Council
  • the need for a Tribunal – including a member of academic staff – to be established in cases of alleged serious breaches of discipline or capability
  • the right to representation, including legal representation at a Tribunal hearing
  • the right to a hearing by a Board – including a jointly agreed medically qualified Chair – for cases of dismissal on medical ground
  • the right to appeal against dismissal or disciplinary sanctions to a person who holds, or has held, judicial office or is a lawyer of at least 10 years’ standing. That person can decide to sit with 2 other persons – 1 being a member of Council not employed by the institution and 1 being a member of academic staff nominated by Senate
  • the right to representation, including legal representation, at appeal
  • the right to have a grievance heard by a panel including a member of academic staff.

Why are employers trying to change it?

Many employers are now seeking to make changes to the current model statute because they see the existing protection as old fashioned, cumbersome and restrictive on their ability to be ‘flexible’. Many see it as interfering with their right to manage and believe that current employment law is sufficient to protect our members and their right to academic freedom. UCU accepts that some changes would be desirable. However, we do not want to see these made at the expense of our members’ current terms and conditions.

In short, most employers want the provisions by which they dismiss academic (and related) staff to be streamlined, less restrictive and brought into line with other groups of staff. They also want to be able to change them without having to go to  the Privy Council and many want procedures to be removed from Council and Senate oversight. Of course, many just want to make it easier to dismiss our members.

The things that are important to protect and why

The need to go to Privy Council to make changes (i.e. to maintain protections in the statute itself), the involvement of academic peers in panels, the oversight by Council of redundancies, the need for a redundancy committee, the right to representation by any person and the right to an external independent appeal, are all measures to protect the academic freedom of academic (and related) staff and are therefore important to fight to retain. It is especially important in the current financial climate that these protections exist to ensure that academic freedom is not compromised when management decisions are taken.

It is usual for more detailed provisions to be found in ordinances, regulations or locally agreed procedures but having the main principles in statute offers additional protection for academic and related staff.

The way ahead

It is possible for management to work in partnership with UCU to amend the current statute but it is important that university management understands UCU’s position and how changes to the statute can threaten academic freedom. However, heavy handed attempts to detrimentally alter the statute can expect to be met with resistance from UCU.

What You Can Do

  • Talk to your UCU branch about what is being proposed by your institution. Contact anneketley.rucu@gmail.com
  • Talk to your colleagues about any threats to your current terms and conditions and to academic freedom.
  • Assist in any campaign being run by the branch in whatever way you are able. Contact anneketley.rucu@gmail.com
  • Make sure your employer knows how you feel about the issue.
  • Raise the proposed changes at any appropriate meetings and explain to others why they represent a threat to academic and academically related staff at the institution.
  • Keep yourself informed and WATCH THIS SPACE.

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