Tag Archives: UCU

United, We Can Win – Vote Yes Yes in the Ballot

Please vote in the current UCU Pay and Equality Ballot. Your vote is vital.

UCU is currently balloting its members on whether to take industrial action and action short of a strike. As things stand, University managements, our employers are not prepared to take action on excessive workloads, insecure jobs, a manifest gender pay gap and falling pay.

This matches the picture at Bristol. At this University, just under half of all academic staff are on insecure contracts, restructure after restructure means a state of perpetuity insecurity for professional service staff and 70% of women academics at Bristol are on the most insecure career ‘pathways’ 2 and 3. Workloads continue to go up and up.

And, while we hear whispers of coming cuts and further belt tightening, it still seems far easier to splash the cash on another Senior Managerial position or VC-sponsored capital project than it is to invest in front-line staff.

UCU wants all Universities to take action. Without a vote in favour of taking action, UCU will be unable to make Universities take action on workloads, casualisation, the gender pay gap and fair pay. Our recent successful strike to defend and secure our USS pensions showed that united, we can win.

If you want us to achieve similar results, Vote Yes Yes in the ballot, for strike action and action short of a strike.

It is vital that you vote. A strong union is a union that turnouts to vote. Supporting members through difficult times, changing bad policy, protecting our members’ interests: all of this depends on us being a strong, engaged branch that deserves the respect and recognition of our employers.

The ballot closes on Friday, 22nd February. Your ballot must be posted by Wednesday, 20th February at the latest. Haven’t got a ballot? Go to:


You will need to order a replacement before Monday, 18th February.

Thank you


Latest Update – Gender Pay Claim Negotiations

We are hopeful that a Joint Statement of Intent agreed by UCU and the University of Bristol Management Team (UMT) will be formally signed off by UMT at their meeting on 24th September.

Assuming that statement is formally signed off, UCU obviously welcomes this. We will clearly be looking for actions that match the words.

We had very much hoped to be able to publish the Joint Statement of Intent ahead of our first negotiating meeting ‘proper’ on 11th September but, in part, due to a significant delay in receiving an initial response to UCU’s suggested wording, this has unfortunately not been possible.

UCU had made clear at preliminary meetings that we expected UMT representatives to engage with us in discussing the elements of the claim, as the University is claiming it is committed, at the very highest level, to addressing the issue of the Gender Pay Gap. We understood that this had been agreed. Deputy VC, Guy Orpen, and Director of HR, Claire Buchanan, were both scheduled to attend the negotiating meeting on 11th September, but both pulled out at a very late stage. This was disappointing.

The meeting went ahead, but without senior decision makers in the room, progress was limited. Discussion focussed mainly on the issues of Pathway 2, opportunities for progression, and support for movement between the pathways, and we pushed the point that a commitment of resources is needed to make an impact. The next negotiating meeting is on 3rd October, and we have been assured that the Director of HR will attend this time. We very much hope that the Deputy VC will also be able to attend future meetings, as he had initially indicated he would, as UCU considers that his involvement in this process is vital.

UCU notes Guy Orpen’s message to all staff on Gender Employment and Pay, and welcome the fact that it picks up on a number of the key aspects of UCU’s Gender Pay Gap Claim. We therefore look forward to agreeing targets and timescales on a range of the proposed actions he included in his message, for example:

  • Reviewing how we recognise achievements in research, teaching, leadership and citizenship for academic progression and promotion.
  • Continuing our work to update the promotions and progression process, including the movement up and between pathways and the criteria for promotion

An important date for your diaries

The 1st of November is a very significant date; it’s the date on which the University effectively stops paying women, as a result of the 16.2% gender pay gap across the institution as a whole. We will be marking the occasion with an evening event celebrating women working at the University. Watch out for further details.

‘Power needs to move..’: University of Bristol Governance, Decision-Making and Legitimacy

The recent industrial action has highlighted and exacerbated longstanding concerns amongst staff about university governance.

This was one of strands of our Bristol UCU branch conference in early June. The central problems are a lack of democratic legitimacy in decision-making compounded by a lack of transparency about the information, especially financial information, that underpins decision-making. We need a more democratic mode of governance that better reflects our values as a university community.

Decision-making is currently too centralised. Power needs to move away from the centre, and towards staff. A more devolved approach to governance is needed., This will require both structural and cultural change. If ,however, we are to learn the lessons of the dispute, and to move on as a university, such change is essential. It will not be accomplished overnight, but we outline below some concrete steps designed to initiate the process of discussing and achieving better governance at Bristol.

Potential Ways Forward

  • Review of governance by group of staff and students, including representatives of trade unions and early career academics, to report end of 2018

The group could consider (along with submissions from staff) the following set of proposals Board of Trustees

  • Elected element needs to be restored incorporating provision for gender balance
    taff presence should include some designated representation from union officers


  • Greater diversity in lay membership: certain kinds of private sector experience, especially financial services, are currently over-represented


  • Mayoral/City nominee to Board of Trustees: despite presence of various local bodies in make up of Court, this does not necessarily create a strong link between the university and the city within the Board of Trustees


  • Staff and Student representation on the Remuneration Committee – the recent Halpin Review at Bath proposes this, and it would be best practice.


  • Improved communication from Board of Trustees to university community


  • Senate should be strengthened, and better supported to do its essential work


  • An elected chair of Senate


  • A return to Senate determining the order of business, and which items are to be prioritised for discussion


  • Greater transparency in financial data provided to Senate


Representation for professional services staff. Professional services staff have experienced a wave of restructurings in recent years yet lack any form of representation akin to Senate for academic staff. We note that the Halpin Review of Bath floats the possibility of a Senate-like body for professional services staff. There is certainly a deeply felt need to address the lack of voice and representation for professional service staff across the University.

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.