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Bristol UCU Response – University of Bristol REF2021 Code of Practice

As part of our JCNC response, Bristol UCU would like to raise several points regarding the current Code of Practice (CoP) draft.

1) Submitting Redundant Staff Outputs & Selection of ‘Self-Directed’ Researchers

The proposal by UK funding bodies that universities will be allowed to take credit for the work of academics who they have made redundant has been probably the most controversial REF2021-related announcement. The University has incorporated this principle in the CoP. To quote ‘[o]utputs from former members of staff, including staff who have been made redundant, will be included in our submissions only where their predicted quality exceeds that of outputs from current members of staff’ (p.6).

UCU has called on REF institutions ‘to make it clear publicly that your institution will not be submitting the outputs of former staff who have since been made redundant and that this commitment is explicitly included in your 2021 REF Code of Practice’. UCU does not consider the submission of redundant staff’s work appropriate. This encourages the type of REF ‘gaming’ around staffing decisions that REF2021 was meant to address, and it is also highly unfair to those staff whose reward for contributing to our institutional REF submission is a loss of employment.

The University may argue that it is following the rules and guidance as laid out in the REF Guidance on Submissions, and that this applies to a small number of possibly very senior staff, but it is Bristol UCU’s understanding that other institutions have taken a different approach. Birkbeck, University of London, for example, has committed to submitting former researchers’ work only if they have left for reasons of retirement, voluntary redundancy or moving onto new jobs. Bristol UCU would ask the University to adopt a position similar to that of Birkbeck.

We would also like to question the definition of self-directed research, and the cut-off
point for a self-directed researcher being between Research Fellow (profile c) and Senior Research Fellow (profile d). A Research Associate (RA) would not be submitted unless they are a principal investigator, manage staff or have significant input into the design, conduct and interpretation of research. How does this apply to those RAs who are employed to undertake others’ research but who also produce their own independent self-directed research? For example, the Arts and Humanities Research Council suggests that Principle Investigators allocate time to RAs for them to work on their own publications – are they then not REF-able?

2) EDI & Staff Circumstances

Broadly speaking, Bristol UCU welcomes the EDI focus of the CoP. The Equality Impact Assessment proofing outlined is also to be commended. We would also welcome a recognition, alongside the discussion of a lack of female representation, of similar issues concerning academics of colour, lgbt+, with disabilities and who are first generation academics.

Given the career implications, Bristol UCU asks that there is UCU representation during any appeal or Staff Circumstances Panel process for UCU members. In practice this means any appellant or researcher putting a case to the staff circumstance panel is entitled to be accompanied by a union, most likely UCU, representative.

Bristol UCU welcomes the Staff Circumstances Panel to determine when an individual’s circumstances have had an exceptional effect on their ability to produce an eligible output, and where adjustment or removal from the process is appropriate. We also broadly welcome the stipulated grounds for adjusting or removing expectations, such as equality-related circumstances that, in isolation or taken together, may have affected research productivity during the assessment period

As things stand, the CoP lays no positive duty on Unit of Assessment (UoA) coordinators to take an active role in identifying and supporting research-active individuals who potentially may wish to apply for the exceptional status of not being required to have 1 output ‘tied to them’, or indeed research-active staff who wish to make a case to be considered as Category A staff.

We believe that UoA co-ordinators could be given guidance to encourage staff when
appropriate so that the onus was not solely on the individual concerned to make such
a request or appeal.

3) Performance Management

Bristol UCU has repeatedly raised concerns about REF as regards its application as a form of capability management for those staff deemed to be not contributing to the REF ‘project’.

The CoP is largely silent on what will happen to research staff who are not able to be treated exceptionally because of a Staff Circumstances appeal. With the REF2021 goalposts now shifting away from the consequences of one’s research outputs not being submitted to the consequences of not having one’s research output excepted, we would like some clarity as to what would happen to the staff member concerned.

We welcome the acknowledgement on page 7, as regards one’s overall output, ‘that there may be reasons why individuals publish at different rates and there is no expectation that all eligible staff will contribute equally to the volume of outputs submitted’, and are keen to see this as directive that no staff member is treated detrimentally because of their output volume.

We would also welcome a statement by the University, on behalf perhaps of the University Research Committee and accompanying REF2021-related communication, along the lines of a 2013 email from then DVC Guy Orpen on the University’s REF2014 Policy.

This noted:

[t]he REF is an exercise with important financial and reputational consequences for the University and it is vital that we maximise our potential outcome through an appropriate Submission Policy. However, the Policy does not set our research expectations for staff nor does it of itself act as an indicator of individual performance.

This is an excellent statement and we like to see its reiteration in the current REF2021 cycle. Research, to quote again from the 2013 email, should ‘not be judged through the prism of the REF alone’.

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‘Progress to Report But Also Areas of Disappointment’: Bristol UCU Promotion and Progression Update

Bristol UCU Branch Officers continue to meet with Human Resources to discuss the ongoing Review of Academic Progression and Promotion, on which UCU has had representation from the start.

There is considerable progress to report but also areas of disappointment from a UCU perspective.

Change of Pathway Three Job Titles

As trailed in last week’s staff bulletin, the Review has proposed harmonising the job titles of staff on Pathway Three with their equivalents on Pathway One. This would mean that current Senior Teaching Associates and Teaching Fellows would be given the title of Lecturer; and Senior Teaching Fellows would become Senior Lecturer. The titles are already harmonised on all pathways at Reader and Professorial level. The role of Teaching Associate would remain unchanged as there is no equivalent on Pathway One.

Your branch officers consider this a positive move, but would welcome your comments.

Reader vs Associate Professor

The other job title change in the original recommendations was the change of Reader to Associate Professor. Current feedback suggest that some Readers wish to retain their current title. Is is now proposed that new appointments and promotions take on the new title but existing Readers can choose if they want to update their title.

What are members’ thoughts on this compromise?

Progressability of Pathway Three Roles 

All Pathway Three roles should be reviewed during 2018/19 as part of the current Integrated Planning Process (IPP).

There is an expectation that the majority of Pathway 3 staff on profile b (grade J) upwards will become progressable. Discussions should be starting to happen now with affected Pathway Three staff, so that they are clear about what progressability means and ensuring they are given as much time as needed to progress successfully.

If you’re in this situation and no one has talked to you yet do speak to your Head of School (and obviously get in touch if you think you need our support).

Sadly, we consider that this review will have no benefit for Teaching Associates on profile a (Grade I) or language staff at all levels in the School for Modern Languages (SML) and the Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies (CELFS) as their roles are deemed ‘transactional’. We will continue to press for opportunities for this disenfranchised group of staff who are very often the face of University of Bristol to our students.

Pathway Two Roles

Pathway Two roles are also being reviewed as part of the IPP process but it is expected that only a tiny number would become progressable as a result. We have been told that more effort is being put into staff development activities for this group of staff. I’m sure this will be little comfort for our research colleagues.

Movement Between Pathways

A recommendation was to make the process of movement between pathways clearer and on the basis of excellence not underperformance. Draft guidance states “Whilst there is no right to move between Pathways, in any direction, such moves are not exceptional and should be considered as a normal part of an academic career”. However .. “the contractual and funding arrangements in each pathway must be equivalent. This means progression requirements of the position must be the same”. We believe that this will enable and movement between pathways 1 and newly-progressible staff on pathway 3 but no opportunities for externally-funded pathway 2 staff.

Reader Remuneration

It has been agreed that, from 1 August 2019, the 3 discretionary points at the top of Grade L will be used for a Reader scale. Readers, on promotion, will move to spine point 50. Increments thereafter will be awarded every two years following consideration of an evidence based cases. Increments will be consolidated and pensionable..

Note, though, that academic staff will no longer be eligible for consideration within these increments via the Discretionary pay policy (any discretionary points already awarded will remain in place).

New Promotions Criteria

A new promotions framework has been developed based on the Boyer’s model of four types of scholarship: Discovery (research), integration (Multi/interdisciplinary), application (in service of others) and teaching. A local, fifth, category for leadership and citizenship has been added. This promotions framework is now ready for wider consultation which will commence in the Spring.

As soon as the draft framework is cleared for publication we will also seek your views.

So Far Yet So Much To Do – Message from Tracey Hooper, Bristol UCU President

Dear Colleagues,

It is nearly a year since the start of the USS strike and our resulting #WearetheUniversity campaign, so I thought I would update members on where we are, our current branch priorities, celebrate some of the progress we have made, but also sound a note of caution. We still have a long way to go.

I think it is fair to say that without the transformative nature of our four weeks of strike action this time last year, we would not be in the strong position we are today. Thanks to everyone who participated – it made a real difference. A huge rise in membership, a Staff Survey that coincided with the strike, a sense that our strike was about more than just pensions: together these factors created a perfect storm and has meant our Bristol UCU branch is even more an influential voice on campus. Note, for example, the University has recognised in its Staff Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy for the first time that ‘issues such as the gender pay gap, casualisation in the workforce and workload can impact on overall wellbeing in the workplace’. These are three of our key branch priorities.

You will be aware that we have lodged formal claims with the University on both Anti-Casualisation and Gender Pay and have agreed joint statements of intent for both – see here and here. Whilst other UCU branches are submitting similar claims, I think that there are very few who have seen as much progress as Bristol. We are now involved in negotiations with the University leadership team to agree action plans, with Human Resources staff allocated to project manage these. I am hopeful that there are some quick wins within the Anti-Casualisation Claim.

I am not suggesting that all is rosy in these negotiations. We do have real concerns at the pace of progress particularly with our Gender Pay claim. For example, our current University strategy states ‘we will also eliminate the gender pay gap within the professoriate within the lifetime [2020] of the plan’ – more likely to be 2050 unless hard actions and resource are put in place.

Workload is another key branch priority. After many years of deflection and circular discussion, Bristol UCU Branch Officers feel workload concerns are finally being taken seriously with regard to workload modelling and allocation. Our 11 ‘Workload Principles for a Common Approach’ have been taken up by the leadership team and we are now in detailed discussions to agree a University-wide policy around the ‘fair, reasonable and equitable allocation of work’. This should be accompanied by a common workload allocation platform to allow data to be captured in a consistent way.

On the review of academic Promotion and Progression, there are many positive proposals for some (but little comfort for others). Positives in discussion include:

  • the planned harmonisation of job titles across pathways one and three for staff on profile b upwards (see last week’s staff bulletin)
  • the progressability of the majority of pathway three roles (profile b upwards)
  • staff movement across pathways to become a norm rather than an exception as well as making the process for movement between pathways clearer, consistent and on the basis of excellence in the future pathway (pathways one and three only)
  • the use of the three discretionary points at the top of L as a Reader scale

Coming shortly will be a University consultation on a new promotions framework – an aim is that it “will provide more flexible and inclusive career progression”. We will welcome your thoughts when we consult with you on this ourselves in the coming months.

Sadly, we consider that these proposals will have no benefit for Teaching Associates on profile a (Grade I) or language staff at all levels in the School for Modern Languages (SML) and the Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies (CELFS), as their roles are deemed fixed or ‘transactional’. We will continue to press for opportunities for this disenfranchised group of staff who are often on 10 month and/or part-time contracts but are the face of University of Bristol to many of our students.

There is also little for our research Pathway 2 colleagues who, despite having open-ended contracts, continue to live the precarious life of fixed-term funding and redundancies alongside scant hope of promotion or progression.

Finally, it is important for colleagues to know that we continue to see restructure after restructure within Professional Services. Throughout these often unpublicised processes, Branch Reps fight for the best interests of our members, supporting them through this stressful and demoralising experience. It is here that your Branch Reps do so much for members, preventing redundancies and detrimental changes.

So, in summary, we have taken great forward strides as a branch, made significant progress on USS and beyond, but there is still much to do and still much noise to be made, and I hope that we will have your support should we need to make noise this coming year.

One suggestion: if members have any suggestions regarding celebrating the anniversary of the transformative #WearetheUniversity strike, please let myself or ucu-office@bristol know.

With best wishes

Tracey

BSSG Letter of Support – Current Industrial Action Ballot

Dear Staff Member,

We, as concerned students and participants to the Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity Group wholeheartedly invite you to vote ‘Yes and Yes’ in the current ballot and commit to supporting you every step of the way in this chapter of our new collective struggle.

After last year experience, we are aware that you are understandably worried about the impact any industrial action may have on the studies of current students. However, we also believe that last year strike has provided each of us, students and staff alike, with opportunities, feelings of belonging, friendships and a new sense of community that we thought was not part of our University. Moreover, it is clear to us that this strike – which aims at tackling the abominable growth in casualised labour and the anachronistic pay difference between male and female members of staff – is absolutely necessary in improving Higher Education for everyone, including students.

This ballot was unsuccessful once. It was not for lack of interest but because of the incredible growth in membership. More people voted than the previous ballot, but was not enough. Thus, it is absolutely imperative that every member votes in this ballot so that the 50% threshold is crossed in every institution where the ballot is organized. We do not think that we exaggerate when we say that this strike is essential in the defence of Higher Education from increased managerialism, marketisation and elitism. Not only this, but it offers the opportunity to create an impetus for a revitalisation in the Union movement for the liberation of the whole sector precarity and exploitation.

Hugh Brady takes a £20,000 pay increase whilst the lowest paid workers in our community work over 50 hours a week for a below minimum wage salary. We must fight hard against this injustice to create free, accessible and liberated education for all before it is entirely taken away from us.

Voting in support of strike action is the first step of a longer journey of engagement and empowerment. As we did before and during the last strike, we commit to organise student support and to be at your side. During the ballot and in case a new strike was launched. We learned the importance of students-staff solidarity last year and we want to do even better than the past in terms of engagement, participation and solidarity. We will work hard to provide alternative education spaces for students. We will stand in firm solidarity with you on picket lines and between them.

We are sure this will be an opportunity to build upon the spectacular sense of community we developed together during the momentous strikes last year and organise further to create the University that we and not the managers and the market want. It is clear that the Senior Management Team’s efforts are not in your interests despite Hugh’s infamous ‘Lightning Rod’ speech last year, and that this struggle will be long and difficult but absolutely necessary.

Solidarity forever,

Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity Group

Whither Bristol UCU – Let’s Be Bold

Dear Colleagues

So we finally have the outcome of the consultative ballot. Personally, it’s felt like a very long and difficult 10 days. There has been so much debate and discussion over social media, some of it unpleasant, that it’s been difficult to remain positive, and the memories of the remarkable achievements gained during our extraordinary strike action have dimmed somewhat.

Well, now is the time to restore those memories and build on our successes … that first rally and march to Wills … the student occupation … Hugh Brady listening to Josie McLellan speak on the steps of Senate House ….the International Women’s Day event to celebrate the submission of the gender pay claim… HUGE membership increases … and we now have a group of fantastically active reps. We have a lot to be proud of. Our branch has gone from strength to strength, and will continue to do so with your help.

We now need to put our trust in our national negotiating team and let them do their work with the Joint Expert Panel. I have known Sally Hunt and Paul Bridge for many years and am confident that they, alongside our elected member negotiators, will continue to work towards obtaining the assurances desired by many of those who voted against the proposals. If the outcome of the panel is not to our liking then we know (and they now know) that UCU members will not be walked over – we will come out fighting again in defence of a decent pension. We should take ownership and be proud of what we have achieved through our collective strength nationally; we have utterly transformed the situation from that first cold morning on 22nd February, and we must remain vigilant to see these gains are not lost.

Locally, the result of the ballot means the suspension of strike action and action short of a strike. But remember, we are not the union or the staff members that we were back at the end of February: we are transformed. Now, we are powerful, we are strong, we are unified; we ARE the University and we will make change happen.

Speaking frankly, I think the university we work for now doesn’t deserve all that we have given it. I urge everyone to stick to working reasonable hours, to put a lunch hour in your calendar and a time when you’re going home, use your annual leave. If we all do it (and why don’t you agree within your School or Division that you will all do it) then the University will soon see that their workload models don’t work, that it’s impossible to meet the demands of our roles. We know that workload models have a huge impact on our casualised staff as their pay multipliers are based on miserly preparation and assessment rates drawn from the models. Saying no will help them too.

This week, the issue of Easter 2019 and term dates has demonstrated once again how staff continue to be seen as a resource to be deployed as and when required, with decisions that have a huge impact on hundreds of staff members – and their families – being taken by a single committee. This has to stop and we must be deeply involved in changing the way decisions that affect us are made. No more human capital.

I could make a very long list of the things we need to change but won’t – for now. Here are just some of the things your Branch Officers are working on that will need your support in the coming months:

  • We submitted our gender pay claim on 8 March to demand that the UMT commit to closing the gender pay gap within three years. We have now assembled our local negotiating team, and we will need your help to push for our demands to become a reality.
  • We are planning our first workload survey in a School, to provide us with the evidence to insist that over-work, and its resulting stress, are health and safety issues that cannot be ignored.
  • We are still involved in the ongoing promotion and progression discussions.
  • We continue to support the many Professional Services restructures.
  • We are planning to hold a Bristol UCU conference before the end of term where we can define our priorities and demands and agree how and who will take these forward – this must include how we are governed.
  • We also plan to hold a lunch time event on May Day to mark International Workers’ Day.
  • As well as all of this, we continue to undertake individual and group casework to support our members.

Finally, a reminder that we have our AGM on Wednesday 9 May. This is where we elect our officers and Executive – we are always keen to have new people on board to please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more. Sally Hunt will also be speaking.

As we enter a new phase – let’s be bold. Unity is our strength.

With best wishes

Tracey

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’.