All posts by ucuoffice

Bloomin’ freezing but we chanted their socks off – Keep Going Everyone

Dear all,

Another brilliant day on Monday, despite the freezing weather – thank you so much for continuing to support the action. We are already seeing impressive results, but we must keep going. Plans for next week are further down including a reminder that you are working to contract – so please keep reading!

Following yesterday’s announcement that UUK have agreed to meet with ACAS, we have received some queries as to whether we should be returning to work. The following message has been sent to us from UCU HQ this morning:

The action has to stay on. As soon as we stop, the employers will lose any incentive to engage. We do not have meaningful negotiations – all we have is a (welcome) willingness to attend arbitration and a general commitment to make progress.

It is really critical as we go into ACAS that members support the negotiators who have asked members to keep the action going.

Sally Hunt’s message last night contained brilliant new proposals from the UCU negotiators, combining thoughts from expert UCU academics and vice-chancellors, as well as the national negotiating team. UUK have agreed to meet ACAS, and we have increasing confidence that a deal can be struck if our resolve and commitment stay strong. But, be clear, strike action and action short of a strike continues.

You will also have seen the quotes in Sally’s message from many vice-chancellors. Hugh Brady’s call on Friday to return to negotiations was very welcome, but not strong enough. We now need our Vice-Chancellor to actually listen to our concerns (including concerns of many Heads of School and other senior staff), show leadership and come out publicly in support of the continuation of a decent defined benefit scheme.

Yesterday morning the Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow stood on the picket lines with his staff and made a joint statement with Glasgow UCU. In contrast, on Monday, our senior team went in the back door to the Wills building.

Our UCU Senate members, however, went in the front door with a petition signed by 1500 people asking the VC to call for negotiations without preconditions. Following a noisy student occupation inside the building and our chanting outside, two students and our own Vice-President, James Thompson, were allowed to speak briefly to Senate.

In response Hugh Brady said that “the only essential precondition is that it is a viable solution” – no argument with that. Now, Hugh Brady – join your fellow Vice-Chancellors and make that public.

So please continue to write to the VC asking for negotiations which retain a decent defined benefit scheme. Our sample text is available here, but do please adapt.

Please report all impact that the strike action and action short of a strike is having, so cancelled classes, events, meetings, submissions delayed/missed, purchase orders not raised, marking not done, admissions not processed. Anything and everything. We will collate these and send them to the Vice-Chancellor on a regular basis so keep sending reports in whenever you have something to tell us.

Our local hardship fund now live. Details on how to donate are available from the Bristol UCU Website.

Students continue to support our action. At last night’s Annual Members meeting the Students Union overwhelmingly passed a prioritised motion to support our action. The students’ constant support, presence and enthusiasm during this campaign is critical to our success and so valued. Join the student/staff solidarity group to give your support back.

Media coverage – great coverage by the Bristol Post on Monday and an excellent article from one of our own rally speakers, Rowan Tomlinson. Richard Harris writes in iNews. Brilliant placards and more on our Bristol UCU Facebook page. See also fabulous strike day photos from Julian Eastoe (see further links at the end of the message).

Forthcoming action

Thursday 1 March onwards – return to work – working to contract

This Thursday will be your first day back at work. You are working to contract, so 35 hours per week maximum for grades I and below, 48 hours per week max for J and above. DON’T DO MORE. Prioritise your work as you see fit unless you are told to do otherwise: however, do not refuse a reasonable request unless it is to reschedule a class or to cover for others.

NEW – Monday 5 March

8.00 am – 10.00 am – picketing in all locations
10.00 am – rally at Senate House followed by march to Wills Building

Wednesday 7 March – UCAS Post offer day

8.30 am – picket outside of the Wills Building. Registration and all central events will take place inside Wills from 9.00 am
8.00 am – School of Humanities picket for Head of School interviews
12.00 noon onwards – picketing the academic schools which have not cancelled (locations TBA)

Thursday 8 March – International Women’s day

8.00 am – School of Humanities picket for Head of School interviews (all welcome)
12.00 noon – International Women’s day event at Woodlands Church, Woodland Road

Confirmed speakers include:
Joanna de Groot (national president of UCU),
Prof. Josie McLellan (UoB, History),
Prof. Havi Carel (UoB, Philosophy & University EDI Champion)
Dr Susan Newman (UWE)
Dr Maud Perrier (UoB, Acting Director of the Gender Research Centre)

See our Gender Pay claim motion for information. Other activities on the 8th include an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Choir and a Gender Research Centre cake and book sale.

Monday 12 March – our final week

8.00 am – 10.30 am – picketing in all locations
10.30 am – rally at Senate House followed by march to Wills Building

Don’t forget our local web pages – your first call for FAQs and resources. Please only contact ucu-office@bristol.ac.uk if you really can’t help yourself – we are still drowning in emails!

We will win this battle, so stay strong.

With best wishes

Tracey

ps If you would like copies of the photos we have taken, there are two ways to do that

1. to view on flickr

https://www.flickr.com/photos/146257883@N07/?

2. to download files for keeps/distribution/printing

26-02-18

<https://fluff.bris.ac.uk/fluff/u2/chjge/rcu7YPvxsz78YxsN5Zlz0QhtK/&gt;

https://fluff.bris.ac.uk/fluff/u2/chjge/rcu7YPvxsz78YxsN5Zlz0QhtK/UCU_march_-_26-02-18.zip

22-02-18

<https://fluff.bris.ac.uk/fluff/u1/chjge/4DZaHX6ZQio6cK2H1m4gIwhpE/&gt;

https://fluff.bris.ac.uk/fluff/u1/chjge/4DZaHX6ZQio6cK2H1m4gIwhpE/UCU_rally_-_22-02-18.zip

There are no copyright issues, and you are free to use any of these as you see fit.

Advertisements

USS Letter to Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire

Dear Thangham,

It was really good to meet you prior to the General Election. Once again, congratulations on your reelection. At that meeting, the academic and academic-related staff pension scheme – USS – was a topic of conversation. As you have probably seen, this is now very much a live issue, with UCU currently balloting over our employers’ proposals to cut our pensions.

It is an issue that affects a majority of University of Bristol staff, many of whom are also Bristol West constituents.

We are writing to ask for your support in lobbying University of Bristol, and the HEC sector in general over these proposed changes, in short, a shift from a Defined Benefit (DB) to Defined Contribution USS.

We note the current Early Day Motion ‘Defending Academic Pensions’ that states ‘… all staff working in universities should have access to a secure and decent pension; notes with concern the proposal by Universities UK to close the defined benefit portion of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to all future service…and calls on the Government to review the current situation and urge Universities UK to work with University and College Union to find a better solution which ensures that USS remains competitive compared with pensions offered to other education staff and those in other professional occupations’.

We also note shadow education secretary Angela Rayner’s welcome recent intervention.

Would you be willing to back Bristol UCU in its call to retain DB for University of Bristol staff as well as joining us in questioning the assumptions that erroneously frame this debate?

The Bristol UCU branch officer team is happy to discuss this further.

Yours,

Bristol UCU Branch Officer Team

Celia Hollingworth

Everyone who was active in the AUT/UCU at Bristol University knew Celia, it would be hard not to have been familiar with her presence at meetings and demonstrations, she could always be counted on to be the first to turn up at a picket line, first to speak out at meetings, clearly articulating her views and her totally committed socialist opinions, never wavering in her dedication to a cause, the cause, in which she believed so passionately, and to which she adhered when many others fell away.

No doubt some members, who only knew her from her public pronouncements, found her views tiresome in their predictability but others, especially her departmental colleagues, knew of her tireless and extraordinarily kind support to anyone who found themselves in difficulty at work. She understood how some work cultures could oppress those who found themselves sidelined or marginalised at work, and in many cases worked to help her colleagues maintain their positions and could succeed in preventing unfair dismissals when that was threatened. When, despite her best efforts, staff were forced to resign, or in worst cases, be dismissed, she remained at their side, a friend and comforter. She could be ferociously angry with anyone in positions of authority, including union officers, but she never lost patience with her ‘cases’, seeking to help and empathise.

During the period in which I was active in the union, including my two terms as President, Celia never put herself forward for election to the committee, or any office, I suspect she would have found holding office a betrayal of her principles, though this was never stated. The nature of her death has horrified all her knew her, it is difficult not to read it as more suited to a Greek tragedy, than the post-retirement activities of someone who had developed a passion for Greece and its history. May she rest in peace.

Liz Bird, Past President, Bristol UCU

11.10.2017

Your Pensions Under Attack. Stand with UCU. Vote YES to defend our benefits.

VOTE NOW, VOTE YES

Bristol UCU met on Monday with the university’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Kerse, to discuss our pensions. Employers are responding this week to a consultation from USS following the recent valuation of the scheme.

USS’s trustees say that a further 6.6% increase in contributions is required in order to maintain existing pension benefits at their current level. UCU’s national position is clear: we do not think that there is a need for increased contribution or a reduction in benefits.

Bristol UCU noted the fundamental soundness of the scheme, given its strong cash flows and significant investments. We continue to challenge the methodological assumptions underpinning the declared deficit. We stressed the importance of pensions to members as hard-earned deferred pay, and made clear our determination to defend a viable pension scheme, that was jointly created by employers and employees through our union. Bristol UCU also reiterated its opposition to any drive towards transforming USS to a wholly Defined Contribution scheme.

We formally requested that the university’s response to the current employer consultation be shared with all USS members at Bristol.

There is no doubt that our pensions are under threat. You can read more about the problems with USS’s approach to valuation here:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8705/Progressing-the-valuation-of-the-USS-First-Actuarial-Sep-17/pdf/firstactuarial_progressing-valuation-uss_sep17.pdf

Colleagues from Leeds have also produced an excellent summary ‘USS pensions – is there really a big hole in the finances?’:

http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/archives/2664

Please note: Pauline Collins, who chairs the UCU Superannuation Working Group, and is at the centre of the negotiations, will be coming on October 12 to speak to Bristol UCU members. We will be in touch with further details.

This is a critical moment and UCU’s elected negotiators now need your help as they fight to defend your pension. Please do take your opportunity to vote in the consultative e-ballot on willingness to take industrial action to defend pensions.

Very Sad News – Celia Hollingworth

A short statement to Bristol UCU members:

Dear Members,

Many of you will have read the awful news of the death of Celia Hollingworth. Celia worked for many years in IT at Bristol, and was a longstanding UCU representative. Lots of members have already been in contact with branch officers to express their sense of loss, and to share memories of Celia’s huge contribution to the life of our branch.

Celia was a tireless advocate for Bristol UCU, an extraordinarily hard-working case worker who supported many members in difficulty, and, more generally, a stalwart of our branch. Her energy, determination, and willingness to put others above herself, was an inspiration to many of us.

Branch officers will be liaising with Celia’s colleagues in IT as to how best to commemorate her great service and to celebrate her life.
Once we have further details, we will pass them on.

Our thoughts are with her family, and her workmates.

Best wishes,

Tracey, James, Jamie, Stephen and Suzy

Framing the Discussion on Academic Progression at Bristol

Bristol UCU are concerned about the terms of debate around Pathway 1, especially progression from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer.

In the case of Pathways 2 and 3, the current institutional turn to taking these pathways more seriously is to be welcomed. In the case of Pathway 1, though, what seems to be missing from the debate is the HE National Framework Agreement and its incorporation at Bristol.

Academic progression in its current form at Bristol is not simply a cosy University of Bristol arrangement. It is the translation of the HE sector-wide collective agreement at Bristol, negotiated with local campus trade unions in the early 2000s.

In short, it is Bristol’s version of a bargain struck between HE leadership and HE academic staff: staff get a incremental pay rise per year of service and management get a degree of performance management and a cap i.e the top of the pay scale.

As Bristol UCU contributions to the Review process have made clear, ‘the evidence is overwhelming that our staff routinely and comfortably meet the expectations delineated for progression from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer’. And when it does come to individual cases where progression is deferred or delayed, Bristol UCU would question whether it is the clear-cut decision it is portrayed as.

As for the ‘myth’ that progression is something possible to ghost through: ‘contrary to those, for example, who may consider progression ‘too easy’ between Lecturer and Senior Lecturer, Grade K to Grade L, we believe that progression is a rigorous process – a skim through the HR pages on ‘Academic Progression Procedure’ confirms this. Only those unaware of the easily accessible Guidance for Managers would consider the Progression Procedure vague or lax’.

Brighton Rocks: Bristol UCU Congress Report 2017

What were the headlines emerging from UCU’s Annual Congress last week? What were the issues that vexed University of Bristol UCU delegation in sunny Brighton? Your Bristol UCU Newsflash respondent reports.

From a HE perspective, the big decision was whether to accept the national negotiators’ recommendation to run a consultative national ballot of members on the pay offer: should UCU accept or reject the final pay offer made by our employers?

If the outcome of the vote is to accept, then UCU will formally agree with the offer; if it is to reject, UCU will trigger a dispute, with a formal industrial action ballot to follow.

Congress voted in favour of the national negotiators’ recommendation with the exception of its suggestion to hold the ballot this week – instead, a new, non-General Election clashing time, will be proposed.

The other news as regards UCU efforts to boost pay, reduce workloads and the casualisation of contracts is the creation of a new UCU Commission to discuss our future industrial strategy. This was proposed by Sally Hunt in her General Secretary speech, following her re-election as General Secretary this year. The Commission will ‘look at the pros and cons of all different forms of industrial action’

As for other issues, members may remember the Bristol UCU consultative ballot we ran before Congress, asking for members’ take on Congress motions.

On the proposal to hold a special sector HE conference in the Autumn – a chance for all HE branch delegates to discuss UCU pay policy – HE Conference voted to hold one. Amendments to dilute the motion fell.

On the proposal to look into a merger with other educational trade unions, Congress voted to explore a merger – 143 votes to 129. Bristol UCU delegates voted against this motion.

On the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, Congress instructed UCU to carry out a range of measures. These include requesting Sally Hunt to write to VCs urging them to protect staff from malicious accusations and circulating a detailed press statement on UCU’s criticism of the IHRA definition to members.

As for the issue of REF and portability, HE Conference decided to remit, or refer the matter for further consultation. While there were concerns that the removal of portability would hurt early career staff, many spoke up for the end of institutional game playing at the senior end of the research scale. Conference did vote to protect intellectual property and early-career positive discrimination.

On the issue of subscriptions, the outcome was to accept a review of subscription bands as a matter of urgency. Bristol UCU delegates were minded to vote against amendments which diluted the motions, but following the carrying of the previous motion to endorse subscription rates for 2017/18, delegates were left with little choice but to vote for the amendments.

For more information, please consult the full report of Congress business:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2017

Pay, Workload and Next Steps: After the AGM

The result of the Bristol UCU e-ballot was fairly conclusive. Of those who voted, roughly 2/3 voted to accept the pay offer, 1/3 voted to reject – 62% to accept; 38% to reject.

On this basis, and following the Bristol UCU AGM, Bristol UCU delegates have a clear message to send to those decision-makers within UCU who will determine our next steps. With UCU Congress on the horizon, the pressing decision there will to be to hold an all-member ballot or to act on the feedback from branch delegates.

It is worth noting that the headline figure on pay is not the entirety of the pay offer.

Workload and casualisation are two other key components of the pay offer. On both of these issues there is not much to sing the praises of. Workload continues to be an issue, but our employers do not wish to negotiate it nationally.

Addressing casualisation remains elusive. The only commitment in the the pay offer is ‘to wait for the outcome of the joint working group that already is considering fixed term and variable hours contracts. There is no commitment to reduce the use of casualised contracts.

The decision to accept the pay offer, to take our medicine and move on does not reflect broad contentment amongst staff. More, it reflects the strategic impasse which UCU finds itself in. Members are clearly unhappy on a range of issues but not sufficiently angry enough on the specific issue of a pay percentage to take the kind of industrial action that would make a difference. The concept of victory remains elusive in UCU. The 2006 success, where campus unions secured a multi-year catch-up pay increase, seems a long time ago.

While settling for the pay deal may be said to reflect a general defeatism or indeed is a proxy for general staff contentment, other indicators would suggest staff at Bristol and beyond are increasingly discontented with their workplace.

A result less celebrated from the most recent 2015 University of Bristol Staff Survey shows only 29% of respondents were ‘confident that my ideas and suggestions are heard by decision makers’ (p. 15). Compare this result with the recent Guardian national university staff survey which found ‘two-thirds of those surveyed said they had less than an hour’s contact time with senior management on a weekly basis. While half said they were happy with the level, 40% wanted more access’.

On the positive side, there does seem a willingness from members locally to start exploring other issues for national (and local) actions. UCU needs to think creatively about the issues associated with casualisation – the shift away from security to precarity in academic and academic-related employment – and the manifest injustice of Higher Education workload. In the case of the latter, the ever increasing burden of task and responsibilities placed on staff, without the commensurate reward of time or money, is something that university managements refuse to take seriously. If the first step is acknowledging you a problem, universities are nowhere near the road to recovery.

Workload is an issue that Bristol UCU has invested in a great deal recently, even if the fruits of the labour remain somewhat hidden. Branch reps continue to advocate and help plan Workload Models across the University and take up individual cases on the basis of our University of Bristol Workload Agreement. Members may remember our Survey which we formally tabled with University management next year,

This, though, has had limited effect. Despite a lot of talk, the University as an institution consider workload an intractable quandary. As expansive and investment-heavy as our new Strategy is, as a driver for change, workload is conveniently sidelined.

This is why Bristol UCU is committed to ramping up the pressure on Bristol to take workload seriously. We plan, again, to raise UCU’s concerns with workload with Bristol management. We will be demanding an institutional approach, the recognition of the issue and set of concrete actions .

 

A View On Stern: A Bristol UCU Take

The Stern Review – a review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) by Lord Nicholas Stern at the behest of Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science – cannot easily be caricatured. Yes, the Review is fairly unambiguous – ‘to deliver quality-related research funding we need a REF’ (p. 7) – but one needs to look closely. As pointed out by SOAS Senior Lecturer Brenna Bhandar, ‘though broadly in favour of it, [the Review] includes some important criticisms’ of the REF. Indeed, it can hardly be cast as yet another piece of government-sponsored policyspeak: according to Bhander it stands in ‘distinct contrast to the government’s recent White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’.  Stern speaks of, for example, academic ‘career choices, progression and morale’ (p. 19). – the academic as potentially adversely affected worker makes a welcome return to HE discourse.

Reflecting this nuance, UCU members in Bristol (and no doubt beyond) have mixed feelings about the Sterne Review. Many welcome much of the Review; more critical comment has largely focused on specific aspects of the Review, notably the question of portability.

In the Review, Stern suggests stopping portability; that is, stopping academics taking their research output (their book or articles) with them if they move to a different university. ‘Outputs should be submitted only by the institution where the output was demonstrably generated’ (p. 21). Stern’s non-portability stance is designed to address REF ‘gaming’ –employment of academics with attractive outputs on short-term contracts, hardly indicative of research-as-process.

Diversity of views amongst Bristol UCU members reflects broader differences about the REF itself. In principle, many retain deep misgivings about the REF. This is, though, tempered by a concern that a reformed REF is the only realistically available option in the current HE marketplace.

This speaks to a wider strategic and tactical dilemma for the REF-sceptical, the UCU’s default position for many years. Should one support another improved REF-type exercise in 2020 – the main conclusion of the Review; that is, reform the flawed nature of the exercise (coincidence standing in for causation; dubious data such as citation data). Or is something more fundamental required from a UCU perspective? Should REF- scepticism reflect more UCU’s long-standing principled objection to the REF itself?

Outputs

Many Bristol UCU members are sympathetic to Stern’s proposed reduction in the average number of outputs per fulltime equivalent academic post, and the suggested flexibility over the number of outputs submitted by a given individual (p. 19-20). This could improve the exercise’s sensitivity to the differing circumstances of individuals, and potentially provide a less-stigmatising means of addressing issues around fractional working, caring responsibilities, and disability.

At Bristol there is widespread support for Stern’s proposal of a genuinely inclusive REF exercise that reduces games playing by universities as regards the selection of REF-able staff, along with the concomitant stresses upon individuals, and the conflicts that have resulted in some institutions over this.

The very process of ‘selecting’ individuals for submission has clearly led within the sector as a whole to instances of discrimination. As ever, the goal of eliminating such games-playing and selectivity is challenging, given the tendency of universities to seek the ‘best’ REF submission possible not necessarily the most ‘accurate’ or ‘holistic’. Concerns around selection centre on whether certain staff will be moved on to teaching-only contracts as the census date approaches, moving them out out the REF’s beady eye, given the Review’s suggestion that all research-active, research-employed staff would be entered into the REF (p. 19).

Inter-Disciplinary Submissions

Stern recognises difficulties in assessing truly inter-disciplinary work: disciplinary ‘silos’ are replicated by the REF’s Unit of Assessment (UoA) panel structure [webpage] for instance (p. 15).  Repeated iterations of the REF, its research activity predecessors such as the Research Assessment Exercise and Research Selectivity Exercise have said similar things, and this problem clearly remains.

At this point, it would make more sense to see this as a fundamental shortfall of a UoA-based REF-style exercise, rather than as something that will – finally! – be solved.

Concentration of Funding

UCU as a union has long noted and criticised the ever increasing concentration of funding in a small number of institutions. In the case of Bristol UCU members, it needs acknowledging that the University of Bristol is an institution that benefits from this, and members here are not unaware of that.

As a matter of public policy, however, many Bristol UCU members would continue to support a more pluralist and equitable approach to allocating funding. Strikingly, perhaps because it does not obviously fall within his terms of references, Stern says little about how funding should be related to scoring, except in the very interesting Appendix c, point 13 on international comparisons (p. 49). Point 13 makes clear just how unusual the UK is in the degree of concentration (…one of the few countries…), and shows how this flows from an approach whereby funding rises exponentially not linearly as scoring goes upward.

Impact

Many UCU members in Bristol remain opposed to the use of impact in a REF-style exercise, with some exceptions. The sections of the Review on impact contain some of the weakest arguments of what is generally – whether one agrees with its various proposals or not – a thoughtful and serious piece of work (pp. 16-17; 21-23). The ‘benefits’ of the impact agenda are asserted rather than established, and the very considerable cost [£55 million!] is glossed over. The claim – no doubt made by some universities – that the costs of impact will diminish in its second iteration is dubious. Many universities – including Bristol – that see themselves as having under-performed in impact in the REF are likely to invest heavily in buyouts, consultancy, and support for impact case studies authors. Competition will be fierce; all universities will seek to provide further evidence – including expensively generated evidence – of the ‘impact’ of research. It seems more likely that costs will rise from their already high levels than that they will fall.

That said, some of the proposed changes on impact have the potential to improve aspects of this component. It makes sense to consider a body of work, rather than to insist on tight connections between particular outputs and impact. Stern is ‘clear that impact case studies should be based on research of demonstrable quality – over a period of time (which could be quite long)’ (p. 49). The scope to consider impact on teaching is welcome (p. 17), though more might have been done here. UCU has made this point previously, but the exclusion of teaching from notions of impact – not to mention ‘public engagement’ – has always been problematic. Given that work is already well in train on potential impact case studies, these changes will of course have costs in terms of refocusing existing projects. Previously, there has been much discussion in universities of the official distinction between ‘impact’ and ‘public engagement’ – the Stern Review renders those (often lengthy) discussions obsolete!

The reduction in the minimum number of impact case studies required is worthwhile (p. 22). Stern recognises a problem UCU has previously identified, namely the tendency of the impact component to lead to increased selectivity in terms of the number of individuals submitted, and attempts to respond to this. It is, though, worth noting that impact was always presented as inclusive: in practice, it had the opposite effect.

Portability

As UCU has noted, there has been some discussion of the proposed loss of portability of outputs. Some early career academics in particular have expressed concerns about this. At Bristol there is a variety of views on this question. Concern is partly a principled objection to the idea that an academic’s work somehow ‘belongs’ to the institution, rather than to the individual academic. There is also significant concern amongst ECRs about the potential impact on job prospects, and the uncertainty created by the change in system.

My personal view is that the demise of portability would be a net good. A strong track record in research is bound to recommend a candidate, whether previously published outputs are portable or not. The focus on existing outputs in early career appointments has not made it easy for colleagues in teaching fellowships to compete against those with research fellowships. It is at senior, not early career, level that portability has driven the market, and the yields of this have been captured by the few not the many, and have distorted the REF.

Metrics

Again, UCU members are not united here. Most members I have spoken to at Bristol – certainly in arts, humanities and social sciences – are sceptical about metrics, but some in science differ.

My own view would be relief that the Review has not gone further down the direction of increased reliance on metrics. Stern only notes ‘[d]ata and metrics are increasingly used by HEIs and funders to manage and assess research’ (p. 29). Certainly, in my own discipline of History, the very citation data itself is unreliable, leaving aside the question of what, if anything, it is supposed to tell us. Most obviously, researchers working in less populated fields can do superb work that generates fewer citations than that of similarly able researchers working in more densely populated parts of a subject. UCU should support the position of many learned societies and other professional bodies of seeking to minimise use of metrics.

Strengths of the Review

Stern recognises a number of the problems with the operation of the REF. It does seem more connected to the lived experience of academic life than some of its predecessors. There is some good analysis of gaming (pp. 28-32), and selectivity (pp. 32-35). The section on encouraging focus on ‘big problems’ (p.14) is suggestive, though that kind of language fits better with the way research proceeds in some areas than in others. It is good that there is some more explicit recognition of the need to treat part-time workers equitably (p.16), and at least some attention to the idea that (certainly in some subject areas) teaching and research are jointly-produced (p. 17).

Methodology and Production of the Report

It is noteworthy that the Stern Review panel –including Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, Professor Julia King, Past President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Professor Sir John Tooke, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, immunologist and Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge University, Professor Anton Muscatelli, economist, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Glasgow University, and Professor Linda Colley – met only 4 times over 6 months. Given its composition, no doubt scheduling difficulties were acute. Even allowing for non face-to-face communication, this does raise questions about the degree of ownership of the Report on the part of the panel as a whole. The composition of the panel is also striking: Oxford and Cambridge are highly atypical UK universities yet a fairly small panel included a representative from each.

It is regrettable that the panel included no early, or mid-career, members: UCU should surely argue that future panels should better represent those who usually bear the greatest burden in combining teaching and research, and are closer to the day to day experience of the majority of UCU members working in higher education.

Lastly, the money spent on external consultants does not appear good value: I see nothing here that civil servants couldn’t have done, as well, or better. I suspect that it is now thought to be the case that the input of highly paid external consultants is essential for ministers to take a review seriously.

Overall

While views amongst UCU members at Bristol on the Stern Review differ, a common view – shared by the author – is that – leaving aside fundamental misgivings about the very existence of the REF – the Stern Review is better than some of its predecessors, and that parts of it have the potential to make REF less of a burden on the HE community.

                                                         James Thompson

Bristol UCU Vice President

 

 

 

UCU EU Referendum Emergency Motion

This motion was passed by UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday, 1st July. For information, NEC is UCU’s National Executive Committee and UUK is Universities UK:

HEC very strongly welcomes the motion passed by NEC and recognises the need for some HE specific campaigning.

HEC resolves to ask the General Secretary to contact UUK to arrange a meeting urgently to discuss common interests related to the outcome of the vote.

This should include:
1. Joint public statements opposing racism and welcoming EU and international students and staff and their very valuable contribution to UK education, research and the economy.
2. Agreement for joint work between UUK and UCU on supporting current staff and students from EU and pressurising relevant Westminster government departments for them to be given indefinite leave to remain.
3. Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure that EU staff and students will continue to be welcome, have easy access to the UK and not be charged increased fees.
4. Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure by appropriate mechanisms that UK staff and students (where appropriate) are still able to participate in EU research programme and exchanges on the same basis as currently.
5. Agreement for joint work between UUK and UCU on repealing restrictive conditions on international staff and students from outside the EU and introducing a more welcoming climate with regards to repeat of points based immigration requirements, reduction in fees and easier entry requirements.

HEC further resolves to:
1. Contact branches to contact their principals and VC to ask them to agree to work jointly with UCU on supporting current EU staff and students, ensuring (by appropriate means) that they are given indefinite leave to remain, and that EU staff and students will continue to be welcome in the future without increased fees or other negative conditions.
2. Produce a branch briefing to support the above.
3. Encourage branches to actively involve migrants and refugees in action round pay, gender pay gap and anti-casualisation campaign – both from our own membership and from appropriate organisations e.g. as speakers at events.

 

 

Suggested draft letter to be included in branch briefing.

Dear Principal/Vice Chancellor/Provost etc

We are writing with some urgency following the EU referendum result.

The result places [institution] staff who are current EU citizens but who do not currently have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK in a specifically vulnerable position.

Some staff have told us they have begun looking for work elsewhere in the EU. Others may find themselves having to apply for the right to continue working while in [institution] employment. We risk a brain drain while the City faces a capital flight.

The current position [1] is extremely unclear. Government has made no guarantees that, once two years are up and negotiations concluded, current EU citizens residing in the UK will be permitted to stay. However, during the campaign, both official Leave campaigns [2] pledged that such citizens would “automatically” be given this right, i.e. be given ILR.

This uncertainty helps no-one.

We believe it is time to demand that the Government agrees to the up-front commitment made by the ‘Leave’ campaigns and protects EU citizens living and working in the UK.

We are writing to invite you to support a joint public statement, from [institution] and its trade unions, to that effect.

For politicians, there are good grounds for acceding to this call. The UK can ill-afford to lose EU workers. Processing three million individual ILR applications is not feasible in the timescale available. Making this pledge would reduce the threat of a reciprocal deportation of 1.3 million British people from Europe. Finally, in the current febrile atmosphere, it would represent a clear line against those who would wish to blame migration for economic ills.

We are open to discussing the wording of a joint statement. For example, it could be extended to include demands for guarantees regarding the position of EU students and EU research funding.

However, the most immediate call, and the one that would address the fears of EU staff, would be an up-front guarantee from Government that they would be granted ILR within the next two years, independent of the outcome of any exit negotiations.