Royal Holloway’s Future

The recent message sent to all staff members by Royal Holloway’s Chief Financial Officer followed quickly on from a presentation by another member of senior management. Both have blamed the College’s growing financial problems on staff ‘costs’, and are suggesting that these should be cut. This is ironic because our salaries (except those of senior management) have fallen sharply in real terms in the last ten years.

The truth is that, to maintain its building programme, Royal Holloway has become one of the most indebted of UK’s universities. As witnessed during this year’s strike, investment in staff and what happens inside our classrooms and buildings have very low strategic priority, as does providing first class teaching space.

The Financial Officer’s message is a clear warning that terms and conditions at Royal Holloway will continue to deteriorate. That means that the number and nature of jobs in both professional services and academic departments are under threat.

For the last two years, the local branch has fought against the casualization of the workforce and the efforts to increase ‘performance management’. As you read this blog, Human Resources (HR) is trying to impose new annual review documents that will be part of a heightened ‘performance management’ approach. The confidentiality of the appraisal process will be lost and these documents might be used – if HR gets their way – in capability actions against selected staff.

University staff work as teams within their departments. Performance management by HR working in conjunction with top-down management is bound to fail. It simply shows a lack of understanding of how a top academic institution operates, much less one with the distinctive characteristics of this College.

With its recent failings exposed, HR dislikes criticism. Suggestions that staff ‘costs’ will be squeezed (that is, increased workloads, imposed redundancies, or both) helps to explain its attempts to weaken the local UCU and its decision to suspend its Equalities Officer, Jeff Frank. HR is engaged in effect on an undeclared strategy of de-recognition, and trying to make RHUL-UCU as the staff’s representatives irrelevant.

Colleges like ours undoubtedly have to compete with the expanding Russell Group and the marketing efforts of the less research intensive, post-1992 universities. Royal Holloway has in the past successfully emphasized nation-leading strengths and distinctiveness. Despite our size, we had top departments in the country in a number of areas. We need to maintain the high standards in research and teaching that have made students want to come to Royal Holloway, meeting their needs and interests. Departments, and not HR, are best placed to know how to achieve that success.

A better targeted and more prudent building programme, especially one more concerned with teaching accommodation, would have been money well spent. But, even then, it couldn’t and shouldn’t be done at the expense of the staff who – along with the students – are the College. Investing in staff is vital for our teaching, research and reputation, and the biggest factor in the student experience. Student support for staff during the recent pension strike shows that students understand this reality very well. The current HR team seem to believe that the College can achieve its strategic goals without the support of staff, controlling them through performance management, and cutting a troublesome ‘cost’.

Ironically, while making all sorts of calls for prudent financial management going forward, HR and senior management seem to be willing to throw away money in changing staff around. Moreover, after four months, Jeff Frank’s unnecessary suspension has now reached well over the cost of four students’ annual fees. Would these four hypothetical students be impressed?

Posted on behalf of members of the UCU committee.

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