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Reply by President of Council to letter from Staff against PAS committee (19 April), addressed to President of Reading UCU

Dr Paul Hatcher
President of the Branch Committee
UCU

19 April 2016

Dear Paul,
I am writing further to a letter dated April 15 which I have received from your colleague Sally Pellow and others informing me of the result of a self-styled vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor and asking me to call an emergency meeting of the University Council. If you do not have a copy of the letter, Richard Messer can supply one. In all the circumstances, I felt it most appropriate to respond to you, though I appreciate you are not the author of the letter. I am happy for you to share the content of this letter as you judge fit.
As I know from our discussion on March 21 and as was brought out at a meeting of Council later that day, there are concerns about the changes which are to be introduced in teaching and learning support arrangements, which fall within the professional and administrative support services component of the current efficiency and effectiveness programme. I fully accept the legitimacy of students and staff raising these concerns, and in turn management has accepted the validity of certain of the points made and has recognised the importance of change being introduced carefully and with appropriate transitional arrangements, the exact scope of which remains open to discussion.
I do think, however, that it is a matter of regret that differences on this matter have been overly personalised on the position of the Vice-Chancellor himself, which at times I understand have included unpleasant and unprofessional aspects. I do hope this will now come to an end. It is relatively easy to vote ‘no’ in a token vote of no confidence, but the outcome of such exercises has no bearing on the issues at stake and undertaking such exercises is not, I believe, helpful to the wider interests of the University. It does, however, prompt me to make clear that the Vice-Chancellor has the full confidence of the University Council and, I believe, the wider university community.
As to the possibility of an emergency meeting of the Council, I will not be taking up this suggestion. The efficiency and effectiveness programme, which was initiated some three years ago, was welcomed and endorsed by the Council in response to the need for the University to improve its core financial performance and to enhance the quality of its central services. This was and remains critical to the sustainability of the institution, and is part of a broader range of initiatives brought forward by the Vice-Chancellor which have been improving the position of the University and which continue to unfold. The Council and its committees have kept the programme under review and will continue to do so. There was proper consideration of the immediate concerns around the changes to teaching and learning support at the Council meeting on March 21, taking account of your views, those expressed by RUSU and the letter of March 15 from the Vice-Chancellor. The outcome was an endorsement of the Vice-Chancellor’s approach.
I know the Vice-Chancellor wrote to you on April 13 on the efficiency and effectiveness programme, setting out his views on the matters which have been raised as well as a framework within which he would expect to handle any outstanding issues. I know from our earlier conversation that you are genuinely concerned about serving the best interests of the University and, while inevitably there may be different views on specific matters as to where that best interest lies, I do hope you and your colleagues will respond positively to the approach the Vice-Chancellor has now set out.

Kind regards
Christopher Fisher
cc Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor
Dr Richard Messer, Chief Strategy Officer & University Secretary

Letter of Staff Against Pass Committee to the President of the Council of UoR, 19 April regarding the result of the Vote of no Confidence

Staff Against PAS Committee
c/o Chris Drake
TOB1, Earley Gate

Mr Christopher Fisher
President of Council of the University of Reading
Delivered via Richard Messer
15 April 2016

Dear Christopher,
We write to confirm to you the result of our poll calling for a Vote of No Confidence in the Vice Chancellor in his capacity as leader of the Senior Management Team. 1213 votes were counted, of which 1071 were in support of the vote: this amounts to 88.3% of the votes received. Based on the figures in the last published Report and Accounts, this equates to 35% of the current workforce expressing no confidence and 5% expressing confidence.
Our concerns remain unchanged. We firmly believe that unless urgent steps are taken, the university will not be in a position to continue with business as normal after August 1. As academics, technicians and administrators, we work on a daily basis with students and are committed to the success of each student and of the University. We fully understand the systems that exist at present, and the hazards of rapid and wide scale change. We can already see the adverse consequences of the restructuring, the loss of key staff and the dangers of the process changes. The teams responsible for implementing these changes have given us no information which reassures or convinces us that they understand the implications of what they plan. We are particularly concerned about a large net loss of administrative capacity, research student activity and about vulnerable students. Years of essential expertise is being lost: this is not easy to replace and will leave some areas denuded of crucial support and knowledge. We do not want to see this university fail.
We ask that you call an emergency meeting of Council in order to discuss these issues. Some of them were raised under AOB in the last meeting of Council by RUSU, but these were not actually discussed. We are in the process of preparing packs of documents and will send these to all Council members next week.
You may wish to know that we are also in the process of taking legal advice over our concerns.
We assure you of our commitment to the future of the University and the welfare of our students and staff.
We look forward to your reply.

With kind regards,
Chris Drake
Nick Bardsley
Nikos Georgantzis
Karin Lesnik-Oberstein
Sue Mott
Sally Pellow
and 38 further members of the Staff Against PAS Committee
on behalf of 1071 members of staff at the University of Reading

The case against PAS

The Case Against PAS

The University of Reading is implementing far-reaching changes under a review of its Professional and Administrative Services (PAS). These are intended to change the entire administrative structure of the University with a target date for implementation of August 1st 2016. The argument it has given to justify these changes is that there is an operating deficit evident in the recent accounts, which requires improvements in the University’s efficiency and effectiveness.

We submit that the case for PAS is fallacious, and is actually a pretext for increasing central managerial control of the University to help operate it as a wholly profit-oriented corporation. Firstly, in 2014-15 the University actually ran a surplus of close to £1m. The University management attribute this to the success of its efficiency and effectiveness programs so far, including a new website fronting, but the truth is that this was the first year in which a cap on student recruitment had been lifted. The University’s performance (an increase in UG recruitment of 20%) is mediocre in this regard within the sector.

Secondly, we note that in the accounts preceding 2014-15, the deficit recorded was not presented as a cause for concern, and was attributed to spend on the Malaysia campus and changes to the financing arrangements for the sector (plus in 2013-14, largely to PAS itself). Given these earlier reassurances, it is inconsistent to present the same deficit subsequently as necessitating a wholesale restructuring.

Thirdly, we submit that the way to secure any necessary improvement in performance is to invest in the Schools which constitute its core activity rather than, as at present, running them on a shoestring.

Finally, even were it the case that it was necessary to restructure everything, it does not follow that everything should be done all at once. In whose interests is this? It is certainly in the interests of the commissioned consultants, since it is far better financially to receive a larger fee up front than the same sum over successive years. And £20m in two years (University accounts 2014-15, p42 n8) is truly eye-watering, compared to a sector average reported recently in the THES of just £400k per year. This was paid to consultants with no particular expertise in higher education, as part of £36m costs overall.

So the case has not been made for PAS. It will also create very serious problems. The University is trying simultaneously to cut costs and increase revenue. This seems to be an unusual approach to structural organisational change and suggests a strong current of wishful thinking. The view from the ground is that simultaneous reorganisation of everything will result in chaos and will impact heavily on core activities, as is already happening as experienced staff leave to take voluntary redundancy. One may cut salary costs in this way but will also impact on income from student recruitment (witness the recent protests) and academic activities (for example, research support capacity is undermined and academics will have to pick up administrative work). We submit that these negative impacts on income have not been quantified.

The spend on PAS to 2015/16 is astonishing, as noted. We submit that a variety of seemingly contradictory figures have come from the management concerning the financial projections for PAS savings. For example, in early papers a figure of £2.4m savings a year is mentioned, which subsequently is revised to £7.8m. In articles in the Times Higher, management claimed it would recoup costs in 4 years, suggesting £9m per year. In recent pronouncements, PVC Van de Noort states that the spend on PAS will be recouped in just two years, implying savings of £18m per year. Management convened a meeting with UCU and the Staff Forum, after the Vote of No Confidence was first mooted. When challenged on this figure it was admitted that nobody present, including PVC Van de Noort, had actually seen a breakdown of the relevant figures. In short, it seems that the numbers produced to justify PAS are made up spontaneously, despite the vast sums spent on it.

Further questions arise if one supposes that the University is genuinely in a financially precarious position. Why spend £40m on refurbishing the library when its latest refurbishment has only just been completed? Why have large, unsecured loans been taken out, and based on which assurances? Why have halls of residence been sold off, presumably with loss of control of this income stream? Why has a large risk been taken developing a new School of Architecture from scratch, a field in which there is an oversupply of graduates? Then there is the question of executive pay; in 2011 the University had 28 staff at a salary of above £100,000 pa., costing £3,64 – £3,91 million. In 2015 the figures were of 41 staff costing £5,17 – £5,57 million. To put this in context, in 2011 such staff constituted 0.9% of university staff and about 3.5% of total salary expenditure. In 2015 the figures are 1.3% and 4.4% respectively. This forms a continuous trend since 2008 when 12 such staff, 0.3% of the workforce, cost c.£1.5 million, 1.7% of salary costs. In the same period, the average salary at the University did not keep pace with inflation.

Developments at other Universities, most recently the University of Nottingham, suggest the restructuring will not end with PAS. In fact, at Reading PAS was first proposed as the initial stage of more comprehensive reforms, the next stage of which would be an ‘Academic and Related Services’ review. Presumably this would be coupled to the imposition of new contracts (recently overwhelmingly rejected by UCU members), which make academic redundancies easier to implement. It is important that staff lay down a marker that changes that are adverse to the institution will be resisted, and that pressure is applied to the management to reconsider their approach. For all of these reasons we propose a Vote of No Confidence in the Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell in his capacity as leader of the senior management team.

Staff Against PAS.

“Working Ourselves To Death…

… Discourses of Attachment and Overwork in the Economy of Academic Labour”

A blog post for CSTOnline by Catherine Johnson (University of Nottingham) that may just be of interest to readers of the Reading UCU blog. Enjoy it here:

http://cstonline.tv/working-ourselves-to-death 

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education.

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.

RUCU response to staff portal message about proposed changes to USS

There is a message from the university on the changes to USS on the staff portal of the University of Reading web site: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-598390.aspx . Here is OUR RESPONSE to the various points made by the university which are in our view not an accurate, but a biased representation of what’s going on.

1. No Formal Proposals. While the final proposed changes to USS have not yet been formally approved, the main features of these changes have been clear for some time.

2. Consultation. There is a legal obligation on the employers to consult the members, but when we were consulted on the previous changes in 2011, the result was a long running industrial dispute and threats of legal action against the five UCU members of the Joint Negotiating Committee. So much for consultation and negotiation.

3. Size of the Deficit. The calculation of the scheme deficit relies on forecasts of future asset returns, interest rates, longevity etc for the next forty or fifty years. Therefore there are a large number of possible estimates of the deficit, and USS itself produces five different deficit figures at each valuation using five different valuation methodologies. Therefore, any deficit figure is just an opinion.

4. Not Cost Reduction. The cost of providing the proposed pensions will be substantially lower than is currently the case because the proposed pensions are substantially inferior to our current pensions, and it is quite possible that the employers will be able to reduce their contribution rate.

5. An Excellent Scheme. First Actuarial have produced some illustrations of the effects of the proposed changes to USS. Someone who joined the USS final salary section at the age of 35 and retires at the age of 69 with a final salary of £70,000 will have a pension that is 45.3% lower than it would be under the existing scheme – a reduction of £18,551 per year. If this person had joined the current Teachers Pension Scheme (which covers the post-92 universities) their pension would have been £12,175 per year higher than their USS pension will be under the proposals.

6. Public Sector Scheme. USS is not a public sector pension scheme.

More information and resources are available on the UCU web site: http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/ and http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/resources/

Best wishes,
Reading UCU

Welcome

Welcome to Reading University UCU’s new web pages. Our previous site was in need of a new host server, so we are taking the opportunity to renew and revitalise our internet presence.  We will be providing information about the union’s activities on campus and will be covering issues that affect your working life at the University. To find out more, contact the Branch Administrator, Anne Ketley, a.m.ketley@reading.ac.uk, 0118 378 7245 or pop in to our office at Room 105 JJ Thomson Building, Whiteknights Campus.