Axing Staff Voices in a Time of Crisis: An Update On Proposed Governance Reforms

It was very encouraging to see so many members at the UCU open meeting on 10th June, and, further to the governance discussion at that meeting, we felt we should restate why currently there is a real risk that in the autumn there will be only one academic member of Council. This risk is arising at a time when, at Royal Holloway, as at many HE institutions, financial models are being produced which propose significant numbers of staff being made redundant. Any redundancy proposals will need to be signed off by Council as the governing body.

The problem over council membership will arise because one elected member, Liz Schafer, is coming to the end of her period of office, having served two consecutive terms of 3 years. Another elected member, Bob Fitzgerald, is coming to the end of his first term of office of 3 years. He may not be able to stand for election again because the current governance proposals seek to abolish elections. However, unless an election is held, it does not seem possible for a new academic member to join Council in time for potential redundancy discussions in the autumn, simply because there is not time to work through the proper procedures for changing the statutes. Will, therefore, staff elections to Council be guaranteed this summer, and for the full term as clearly set out in College statutes?

The new Chair of Council, Dame Margaret Hodge MP, has stated that she is uncomfortable with staff electing members of the College’s governing body, and wishes to end a right that has existed since Royal Holloway’s founding.

The procedures

While there is plenty to be positive about in the governance reform proposals, the proposed changes in Council membership pose serious questions with as yet no convincing answers, and they require an alteration to the College statutes. The first step in this alteration process would be two meetings of Council where a vote on a special resolution to change the statutes would be made (see article 7 of the RHUL founding Act). The next step – submission to Privy Council – also requires evidence of consultation with stakeholders. Currently, there is scant evidence of any consultation.

With no open discussion so far, significant changes are being proposed regarding the stake staff have in the College, at a time when all of us are being asked to deliver more. Royal Holloway’s Council risks becoming one of the least representative of leading UK universities. Is that the type of institution we should aspire to be?

What has happened since the 1 June blog written by concerned Academic Board members

On 3 June, the governance proposals were discussed at the end of a meeting of Academic Board (AB). Considerable opposition was expressed both to the reduction in academic members of staff and to the proposed change that RHUL will move from electing academic and professional service members of Council to a system of appointment after interview (by two lay members of Council, plus the Deputy Principal who acts as College Secretary). Despite AB’s opposition – no one spoke in favour of the proposals and the Teams chat board indicates a wide range of opposition – this was not reported to Council which met on 4 June. At the end of this long meeting, Liz Schafer asked for the opposition to be acknowledged; the Principal downplayed this opposition stating that a ‘vocal minority’ only had expressed dissent.

Last time statutes were changed, a whole range of stakeholders were consulted, including the three campus trades unions. Moreover, in the interests of transparency and due process, a Steering Group published its minutes and papers. In our view, completely ignoring the opposition expressed at AB does not constitute ‘consultation’.

What can you do?

As we are unlikely to be attending AB in future (as we may no longer be elected members of Council who sit on AB), we are asking members to consider writing to the Principal, their Heads of Department, and/or to Chair of College Council (via secretariat at rhul.ac.uk) expressing views on the possibility of there being only one academic member of Council in the autumn; to request meaningful consultation on ending the right of academic staff to elect representatives to Council, their governing body and employer; and to discuss this situation with non-UCU colleagues so that they too are aware of what is at stake.

Liz Schafer
Bob Fitzgerald

National pay consultation

Branch members should have received an e-mail on Wednesday inviting them to vote in a consultation from UCU National on the pay offer of 2% that has been made by the higher education employers.
UCU National is recommending that members reject the offer for the following reasons:
  • 2% is well below the current rate of inflation which, as measured by the Retail Price Index (RPI), is currently 3.4%
  • 2% does nothing to restore ground lost against inflation since 2010 which UCU estimates to be 21% when pay settlements are cumulatively compared to rises in RPI
  • 2% reflects a continuing de-prioritisation of staff pay; while the proportion of university expenditure spent on staff has fallen to just 54.7%, reserves held by institutions have increased by 259% and capital expenditure by 34.9%
The branch committee encourages all members to vote in this consultation. If you have not received an e-mail inviting you to take part, you can find a link to request a replacement here.
The ballot closes at 12 noon on 27 June 2018.