We know we have been talking a lot about UCU work on the national level, in particular the on-going Get The Vote Out campaign for the 2019 Pay and Equality ballot. However, there’s been a lot going on locally as well, and it’s time for an update. We’ll also be discussing these issues at our next General Meeting on Wednesday 27th February at 1pm in Moore Annex Lecture Theatre – mark your diaries now.
The academic restructuring process has been grinding on since Council approved the plans to reorganise our Faculties into Schools in November. The impact has mainly been hitting professional services colleagues who provide administrative support to departments, as the process has been designed to cut costs by slimming down personnel. Although a great deal of labour has supposedly gone into mapping the tasks done by individual members of staff, a lot seems to have been overlooked in the final plans, leaving both professional services and academic colleagues wondering how on earth everything is going to work when the new system is implemented in August. The cuts will particularly affect the student experience as it will take away the important personal relationships our students build with our professional services staff supporting our academic departments – current students are already asking about the impact it will have on them, and departmental letters and petitions objecting to the changes are in circulation.
Professional services colleagues have also been having one-to-one meetings where they have been informed of their options in the new structure. The process takes no account of a colleague’s experience of a particular department, but instead is ‘skills-focused’ – completely ignoring the accumulated knowledge and memory that will be lost along the way. All three campus unions are working together to support affected colleagues, so there’s a lot going on behind the scenes even if it isn’t visible to branch members on a daily basis; there will be meeting for staff affected next week, so keep an eye out for details.
If you see a professional services colleague experiencing treatment you don’t think is right as part of the academic restructuring process, please tell your department UCU rep, or let the branch know by e-mailing us at rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.
We would suggest that members encourage their students to ask about the impact on their studies now, and to write in to the consultation e-mail address – admin-restructure at royalholloway.ac.uk.
Whether the supposed cost efficiencies that the academic restructuring is supposed to provide materialise or not, the financial savings are unlikely to dig the college out of the hole it has landed itself in.
The news that the college is opening a voluntary severance scheme for academics was sneaked out in this week’s Principal’s Newsletter; the heading ‘Why do we research?’ was particularly tin-eared given its content. Similarly, the timing of this announcement after the news that the REF will allow HEIs to submit the work of staff who have been made redundant is very unfortunate. We would remind colleagues interested in finding out more about Voluntary Severance that they should explore the possibility of a clause explicitly forbidding the inclusion of their work in the REF in any VS agreement.
However, as far as the terms of the VS scheme are concerned, we note that they do not make up years of pensionable service lost by taking VS; that the total VS payment is capped at a year’s salary; that colleagues considering early retirement will not be paid added years’ service; and that colleagues wishing to discuss this scheme do not have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative. We wonder what HR think they have to hide if they’re forbidding someone from having support when contemplating a life-changing decision. The terms also claim that an equality impact assessment has identified no adverse impact on any protected characteristic group; given HR’s record on equalities issues, as best demonstrated by their hostility to our branch’s Equalities and Diversity officer for simply carrying out casework, we have our doubts.
Voluntary severance is different from voluntary redundancy: redundancy roles cannot be replaced immediately, while severance roles can, and an employer doesn’t have to demonstrate that there is no need for a particular member of staff (e.g. due to restructuring or cutting a programme) in order to offer VS. That said, a long list of universities have recently opened voluntary redundancy schemes, often the prelude to compulsory redundancy, and it is easy to see a future in which Royal Holloway joins them. Such an unattractive offer is unlikely to make the kind of savings the college needs after its choice to invest in its buildings rather than its people in recent years. The prospect of such a process, along with the uncertainty and worry caused by the impact of the academic restructuring, can only make staff at Royal Holloway feel demotivated, stressed, and undervalued by their senior management team. At any time, this would be ill-advised; at this stage in the REF cycle, it’s utterly nonsensical.
The one bright spot is that we had nine vice-principals on the books last term – perhaps the VS scheme is designed to help us make savings there.
Help us out!
What these incidents show is that our need for caseworkers to support colleagues is only going to grow in the future. It’s the members who make the union, so if you think you can spare some time as part of this vital element of our work, please drop our branch administrator a line at Penelope.smith at rhul.ac.uk.