Reading University UCU Rotating Header Image

April, 2016:

Reply by Reading UCU president to letter from President of Council, 22 April

22 April 2016
Dear Christopher,

Thank you for your letter of 19 April about the outcome of the vote of no confidence. As you mention, the vote was not organised by Reading UCU, although we did lend support towards its organisation. Thus, I will share your letter with Sally Pellow, and ask her to share it with the Vote of No Confidence Committee, who may wish to reply to you in due course.
A vote of no confidence has, by convention, to be against a person, not an organisation or other more nebulous body. In this case the VC, as head of the University, is the appropriate person. I made it clear to the Vote of No Confidence Committee that this was not to be a personal attack on the VC but rather a vote of no confidence in the wider management of the university, which the VC, as head, represents. This was accepted by the committee and I have come across no cases of personal attack on the VC, and neither has the VC mentioned any such personal attacks to me. Should you be able to substantiate the allegations you make in your letter please take this up with the Vote of No Confidence Committee.
You will be aware that votes of no confidence are not commonly held in UK universities. They are not something staff run to over slight differences of opinion. Rather, they only occur over deep-seated and long-term grievances and where there is a sense that the valid and serious concerns of staff are not being listened to by management. That is why a vote of no confidence was the right and proper action of staff in this circumstance.
This is the first vote of no confidence held at Reading in its 90-year history as an independent university. Thus, I find your comments that ‘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’ very disappointing. The fact that over 1000 staff members were prepared to vote against confidence in the University is surely telling, but should not be a surprise. Staff at all levels up to Deans, along with Reading UCU, have repeatedly expressed their grave concerns over this process to the UEB and you will recall that two highly experienced lay Council members strongly cautioned against such a wholesale reorganisation when the University first brought its proposals to Council.
Reading UCU remains ready and willing to respond positively to approaches from the University that recognise and seek to address the concerns of staff in this matter. We will not, however, respond positively to attempts to belittle or ignore these genuine concerns.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Paul Hatcher

President Reading UCU

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

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.