Category Archives: Workload

Branch Negotiators’ Update

At our Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee (JCNC) last week, the University’s senior team signalled that they wished to discuss pay at the University of Bristol, as part of the institutional response to the COVID-19 emergency.

Campus union negotiators – UCU, Unite, Unison – have not agreed to any proposals on pay – either a freeze or a cut – or to changes to contracted terms and conditions. As of yet, no proposals have been put to campus unions.

Formally, Joint Union negotiators have requested a ‘data pack’ spelling out the rationale for any proposals. We anticipate having sight of the University’s emergency budget for 2020/21, with its assumptions and proposals, next week at Tuesday’s JCNC. UCU negotiators will report back at the General Meeting on 20th May. Our branch Executive Committee met yesterday to discuss anticipated proposals and a range of possible branch responses.

Bristol UCU negotiators have been keen to establish the financial rationale for current policy and future proposals. Precarious contract staff are already currently facing the cost of the institutional approach to risk. Any discussion about their future and the future of all staff must take into active account alternatives to contracts not being extended and workload simply being added to the already excessive workloads of substantive staff.

Our main priority has been to look to secure members’ jobs, their existing terms and conditions and question the grounds for profound institutional decisions made before the true institutional balance sheet of COVID-19 is known.

As negotiators and a branch, we are faced with choices. Do we enter further ‘scoping’ discussions now before any firm proposals are made? Do we rule out all potential detrimental changes? Do we now look for certain guarantees as a condition of entering further talks? These questions will and should be determined by members. It is imperative (if unfair given current workload) members start discussing among themselves the policy and position of the branch, and feed this back to negotiators and Branch Reps.

Pathway 2 and 3 colleagues have already begun to do so, proposing a branch ‘Motion from Academic Staff on Fixed-Term Contracts from Pathways 2 and 3 regarding the University of Bristol’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic’, demanding ‘the University adopts a ‘jobs first’ response to the current crisis. Securing ongoing employment of existing University staff should be the institutional priority, and the priority of Universities UK (UUK)’ [link].

Plans and Guidance for Industrial Action – Bristol UCU

Picketing

Our plans are to picket actively from 7.30 am to 10.00 am on Monday Nov 25th, Tuesday Nov 26th, and Wednesday Nov 27th. On Monday 25th, there will be a rally outside the Victoria Rooms at 10am followed by a march to College Green.

On Friday the 29th we will meet our students at 10.30am at Senate House to walk down to join the Climate Strike march.

On the second week our thoughts are to have “stay away” days on the Monday and Tuesday with picket lines and rally on the final day – Wednesday 4 December.

Branch officers will be acting as official picket supervisors, resplendent in their high-vis jackets. Local picket leaders at each location will be also be clad in yellow tabards.

If you are unsure where to picket, get in touch with your local rep or ucu-office@bristol.ac.uk The main picket for Professional Services staff will be at the Victoria Rooms, and anyone is welcome to join that picket.

There is a list of picket locations at https://bristolucu.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/picket-locations/

National resources

Please make use of national resources. There is lots of useful material and information available at

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

These include FAQs, guidance on working to contract, leaflets, posters and much else. There is, for instance, an answer to the FAQ ‘I am a head of department, line manager or in another senior academic/related role. How can I best support the action?’, along with further carefully lawyered advice.

Local resources

We will be updating the Bristol UCU web page at https://www.ucubristol.org.uk/ so you can also look there for guidance. We suggest making the national guidance your first port of call.

Local hardship Fund

There’s information on claiming from the local hardship fund at

https://www.ucubristol.org.uk/guidance-note-claiming-from-the-bristol-hardship-fund-for-hourly-paid-teachers-hpts/

and on donating at

https://www.ucubristol.org.uk/bristol-ucu-hardship-fund/

Do I have time to join and take action?

Yes, our membership is growing every day. Please encourage your colleagues to join. Postgrads who teach can join for free and can take part in the action. As soon as someone’s application has been submitted on our web-site they are eligible to take part in the action.

I’m not going to strike because …

UCU’s position and that of the branch is that union members – in all roles – have voted strongly in favour of striking, and so we encourage everyone to strike on every day of industrial action if at all possible. To do otherwise weakens our position. Through national and local hardship funds, there is more financial support than ever before for those taking industrial action. The University has confirmed that there will be no deductions in December, and deductions will be spread over January and February.

Notifications to HR

DO NOT notify HR in advance of 25 November that you will be taking strike action or Action Short of a Strike (ASOS).

When to notify after taking strike action

We advise that you notify at the end of the planned strike action on December 4.

We encourage staff to use an out-of-office once the action begins:

I am a UCU member and taking industrial action in defence of a fair pension, pay and conditions. Please follow this link to find out more about our dispute.

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

Part-timers notifying

Deductions will be made at total salary x 1/365. Part-timers should make sure they specify exactly how many hours they have taken as strike action each week and specify your total hours to ensure you’re only deducted for the hours struck.

When to notify of Action short of a strike (ASOS)

The university has said that in their view two of the strands of ASOS do not constitute partial performance and cannot attract pay deductions – these are working to contract and not undertaking voluntary duties. These do not need to be notified, though we recommend that you create out-of-office and signature files to say that you are working to contract and that emails will take longer to be answered.

The university has advised us that two areas of ASOS can be deemed partial performance, these are not covering for absent colleagues and not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action. The university has advised us that, as in 2018, its policy is that colleagues cannot be required to reschedule teaching cancelled due to strike action. If you are advised that you are going to face a deduction for participation in the ASOS, please let your departmental or divisional rep know.

There is guidance on ASOS for members in professional services at https://www.ucu.org.uk/ASOS-and-ARPS

Notifications of pension contributions

The University has specified that it ‘will still pay your pension contributions if you participate in the strike or “action short of a strike”’. The university has provided a form to inform them that you wish to pay your pension contributions and for the university to do likewise. If you wish to fill in the form, you should do so after taking industrial action.

What to tell students

If you haven’t already please start “trailing” the action with your students and encourage them to support us by writing to the VC and joining us at our rallies. Make sure that students understand that we are losing pay for every day that we strike. I think lots of students don’t realise this. There is a range of material produced by UCU to help you explain the issues to students https://www.ucu.org.uk/heaction

Putting materials on BlackBoard

As far as we are aware the requirement to put materials up on BlackBoard 48 hours before a lecture is a DDA requirement so only applies if you have students with disability adjustments in the class. We believe that you can meet that requirement by emailing those specific students the materials in advance.

HPT Fee claims

HPTs, like others, should not inform HR in advance of taking action. HPTs should submit their claim as normal for all teaching (and preparation) completed or due to be completed in that month/period.

I’m due to be on leave – what do I do?

If your leave is already booked and essential, consider taking your leave and donating to the strike fund. If you are able please cancel your leave and join the strike! Even if you are away you can still be counted in the numbers which helps our position.

Teach outs

In 2018 we had some brilliant teach outs. We can provide information on possible venues, pay for booking costs, and help publicise events. Please get in touch with your branch officer team.

One Year On From The USS Dispute – Message from the Branch President, February 2019

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to you for several reasons. Firstly I would like to celebrate with you the first anniversary of our transformative, successful USS strike action last year. That extraordinary experience saw a wave of unprecedented joint staff and student activity that secured our USS pension scheme, keeping its current defined benefit component. Our branch is renewed, bigger and bolder, giving us successes, for example, with the timing of Easter holiday this academic year. Our case for change, forcefully made this time last year, has been reinforced by the findings of the recent Staff Survey. As I noted in a previous message to members, ‘[o]ur branch has gone from strength to strength, and will continue to do so with your help’.

To celebrate this USS strike anniversary, I and other Branch Officers have organised ‘We Are Still The University! One year on from the USS strike’ next week, Thursday, 7th March, starting at 5pm at Celia’s bench in Royal Fort Gardens moving on for a drink at the Highbury Vaults (we’ll be there by 6pm latest for those who want to meet us there).

I am also writing a few days after we learnt the result of the recent Pay and Equality industrial action ballot. Once again, as in the previous ballot, members who participated voted to take strike action over workload, casualisation, gender pay and our ever decreasing pay, but the government’s 50% turnout threshold needed to take action was not reached.

Although we will not be taking action as a result, the vote in the ballot demonstrated a strength of feeling among members that cannot be easily dismissed.

I would like to highlight once again our branch negotiating priorities and objectives, recently confirmed at our January General Meeting. These priorities include:

With your support and with your backing, Bristol UCU can secure our objectives. As branch reps have reported, significant progress has been made on each of these points, for example, the incorporation of 11 Workload Principles into current University policy drafts, a manifest University ‘commitment to reducing casualisation’, and a review of Grade J and above staff with a view to making these roles progressible, to name but three. Taken with the open recognition by senior University management of the importance of engaging with staff, this represents a step in the right direction that UCU branch officers applaud.

However, as in all negotiations, there have been a number of challenges, sticking points and points of disagreement. If we are to resolve these in our members’ favour, to push for more than our negotiators are able to secure on their own, we need a frank and open discussion with members on what is required to secure our further objectives. To this end, we invite Bristol UCU members to attend our branch General Meeting, on Wednesday 13th March at 1pm to discuss further.

It is also important to note that there are a whole host of pressing issues for members: the threat of Brexit, draconian REF performance management, University belt-tightening, the ongoing, very much still live USS pension dispute, the threat to jobs and wellbeing generated by constant change management churn in Professional Services. If we are to begin to tackle these, we need to not only recall the spirit of USS ‘18, #WeAreTheUniversity, but to put it into practical action, mobilising our resources, be that branch officer, rep or member. Our success during the USS strike was based on a branch working as one, able to come together, discuss and decide upon concrete actions.

I would also take this opportunity to note the news of the resignation of our General Secretary Sally Hunt due to ill health. I hope that I speak for all when I wish her all the best and thank her for her service and dedication to UCU and the trade union movement over many years, not least her work in securing our USS strike success.

#WeAreStillTheUniversity,

Tracey

Workload Principles for a Common Approach

This Bristol UCU paper/blog post provides 11 principles to guide academic workload modelling across the University of Bristol.

With very few exceptions, academic Schools now use an explicit, formal workload model. There are commonalities across these, but also differences. It is rare that there is one model in a Faculty. Yet important workforce planning occurs at the Faculty level, without any real sense of how workload varies between Schools. At university level, decisions are similarly made about the allocation of posts without a real sense of comparative workload between Faculties and Schools.

While Bristol UCU welcomes increased attention to Staff Student Ratios (SSRs) in recent years, these do not provide an adequate proxy, given that different subjects have differing requirements. It is hard to understand how the Establishment Review Group can proceed, other than by induction from past patterns, given the lack of robust data on workload. Attention to Russell Group median SSRs is positive in that it has brought resource to hard-pressed departments, but better modelling of workload remains essential.

From a university perspective, closing the gaps in workload model provision, and establishing common principles for workload modelling can inform good workforce planning. From a Bristol UCU perspective, a common approach is equally required. All Pathway 1 staff need time to produce research; all pathway 3 staff need time to do scholarship. Staff are assessed against a common set of university criteria for promotion and progression. Natural justice and the ambitions of the university’s Vision and Strategy likewise point to common standards (eg 40:40:20) that should apply across all six Faculties. Common principles in workload modelling will enable the university to identify areas where workloads preclude staff spending appropriate amounts of time on research and/or scholarship. If done realistically, it will also enable an informed critique of existing structures and processes based on a serious reckoning of the time spent on various managerial and administrative tasks.

These points are not new. What has hampered discussion in the past, however, is framing the issue in terms of a ‘single workload model’. This terminology is unhelpfully ambiguous, and immediately creates understandable concerns about the implementation of a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We need to distinguish between a common platform, common principles, and a common model. If common model refers to a single set of items with precisely the same weighting applied across all subjects, there are good reasons to reject this. There are real differences between PhD supervision in the Arts and PhD supervision within a research group in the hard sciences, not least in terms of the relationship between the PhD supervisor’s own research and that of the PhD student. This is why workload models in the Arts tend to weigh PhD supervising more heavily than those in the Sciences. A common platform, such as the software Simitive provide, allows considerable flexibility in modelling. Currently, our luxurious variety of workload models largely sit on a common platform, namely Microsoft Excel. A common platform has no necessary implications for how modelling works.

Objections to a common model do not, however, hold for common principles of modelling. There are, for instance, very good reasons to use hours (or hours translated into credits as a means of turning 4 digit into 3 digit numbers) rather than to use a % model, as the latter says nothing about the actual or relative volume of work. This paper sets out a set of common principles that should inform workload modelling across the University of Bristol. The paper is informed by hundreds of conversations with academics across the University about workload and workload modelling, by a review of (anonymised) data from several of the workload models currently in use, and by UCU’s national work on best practice in workload modelling.

Common Principles

1. Workload models should measure time.

Time is what a workload model measures, not money. The weighting attached to tasks should be solely derived from the time taken to accomplish them. A good model does not ‘incentivise’ behaviours by weighing some tasks more heavily than others, regardless of the relative time required to complete them, on the grounds that some tasks are more profitable than others. We should not, for instance, weigh research less heavily within a model as it is less lucrative than teaching overseas students. This principle needs to be consistently upheld in modelling.

2. The currency of the model should be hours not percentages.

As noted above, models based on percentages simply fail to deliver key requirements of a workload model.

3. The hours assigned to tasks should be realistic.

Some workload models currently in use at Bristol do not adequately reflect the realities of work. This is evident, for example, in the time allocated for marking, which often does not align with pressures to provide better feedback for students. It is, of course, the case that individual academics even in the same subject area will vary in the time needed to perform certain tasks. Hours allocated should reflect the time needed for a competent member of staff do the task properly. This is best determined through discussion with staff. This approach is both rooted in the reality of how long work takes while also providing a useful yardstick to staff: if the marking is taking much less time than the model suggests (not in practice a common experience!) you are probably not doing it properly; if it is taking far longer, you may be providing more feedback than is actually useful to a student.

4. The aim is to capture the full workload.

A model that undercounts workload is not a good workload model. As well as realistically modelling time required to perform a given duty, the model should seek to capture the full range of duties, including research and scholarship. This does not mean that a model should seek or claim to be exhaustive: some important aspects of academic life, such as a student coming to see a member of staff outside consultation hours, cannot be predicted in advance, and the costs of monitoring this activity would be both prohibitive and undesirable. The workload model should include an allowance for this unscheduled activity of at least 160 hours per annum.

5. The workload model should be developed to the highest standards of EDI.

Staff often note the tendency of WLMs to undercount the time involved in certain activities: teaching; teaching management; personal tutoring. By contrast some work is rarely undercounted – consultation with staff suggests research management roles are usually appropriately weighted. There is here a gendered pattern: roles that are under-counted are those disproportionately undertaken by women. In building a WLM, robust scrutiny of both the categories adopted and the tariffs included from an EDI perspective is essential. This is itself an argument in favour of more comprehensive approach rather than heavily trading off comprehensiveness in favour of simplicity: adopting the latter strategy is more likely to undercount women’s work, and hence to perpetuate inequality and injustice.

6. The workload model should be transparent and shared amongst those whose workload it captures.

There is already some good practice at the University of workload data being shared at School level and made available to all those whose workload is included in the model. Where this has happened, the experience has been positive: the capacity to see the workloads of others in the School has driven up the quality of information in the model, made for greater equity in workloads, and reduced (at least somewhat!) ill-informed comment upon the workloads of others.

7. The details of costings (eg how many hours does it take to supervise a PhD student in Chemistry?) should be built from ‘the bottom up’ through discussion amongst staff in the relevant unit.

8. There should be a single model at an appropriate level of unit, which will be at least that of the School, but would better be that of the Faculty.

There should be a single model in a School, rather than multiple models. It is, though, both possible and preferable to have a single model across a Faculty. This does not mean, for instance, that there is no scope for acknowledging particular unit types that require additional teaching; this already happens where there is a Faculty-wide model (eg Arts). Given the role that Faculties play in determining staffing levels, a single model per Faculty would be the ideal. The fact that at least one Faculty (Arts), and a very diverse Faculty at that (consider the differences between Spanish, Philosophy, and Film) has implemented a single model gives the lie to claims that this is impossible. It might be that the model, even within a single School, weighs the same task differently: it might, for instance, be the case that within the School of Geographical Sciences some PhD supervision conforms to an ‘Arts’ mode, some a ‘Science’ mode; the model should recognise that difference. Any such Faculty-wide model would be derived through principle 7.

9. Models should explicitly include time for research (P1 and P2) and for scholarship/pedagogy (P3) in accordance with contractual expectations.

All P1 staff regardless of Faculty are expected to conduct research. Workload models across all Faculties and Schools for P1 staff should include hours for research that reflect these contractual demands. This is likely to be of the order of 40% (ie c. 600 hours), given the ambitions of the University’s strategy for research, and should be similar regardless of School/Faculty. All P3 staff are expected to pursue scholarship/pedagogy, and hours in WLMs should reflect this. This is likely to be in the order of 30% (ie c. 450 hour), given the contractual demands on such staff, and the ambitions of the University’s strategy for educational innovation.

10. Core research time should be treated as a single block of time.

Some existing models (eg Arts) largely treat core research time for staff as a single block. Others (eg SPS) build up core research time from specific tasks (eg writing a grant proposal; writing a paper for a journal). While the latter approach is appropriate to understanding the time involved in teaching and management work, the former better reflects the autonomy, and flexibility, inherent in academic research. It also reduces the set up and maintenance costs of running a WLM.

11. Buy out for research should not be secured by reducing research time for others.

Many of the most difficult conversations around workload modelling concern buy out, usually for research, of staff time, and how this should be accounted for in the model. External grants are only one source of money for research and are not a meaningful proxy for the quality or quantity of research undertaken by either an individual or a group. There is wide variance in the significance of research grants as a funding stream across different disciplines within the university. Core research time should not be restricted to those with active grants. It may, however, be appropriate to award grant holders additional research time beyond core time, as long as this does not drive up the workload of others to levels where ‘real’ research time is reduced below the level set out by the ‘core’ research tariff.