Meetings and Consultations Update, 12 October 2016

This report provides an update on local meetings and consultations pertaining to the new Associate Lecturer policy, issues of car parking, workload planning, and the academic framework.

 

New Associate Lecturer Policy

After a considerable amount of hard work on the part of branch officers, numerous meetings with the management and interventions by the Regional Official, the new AL policy has gone to Executive Board for approval.

The new policy, as members will be aware, means that a significant number of staff who have been on AL contracts for at least two years will be invited to take up fractional or even FT posts. Many of these will put them on a higher salary (point 9 on the pay scale or above), as lecturers or senior lecturers which should mean both greater job security, and job progression through increments and from the Lecturer to Senior Lecturer grades.

The new policy represents a significant move at Brookes away from casualization, and the ad hoc use of academic staff on contracts which were both uncertain and poorly regulated. The policy should ensure that those who move across to fractional appointments will be no worse off than they were, and with the move up to the lecturer grade should be better off over time. We are aware, of course, that in some areas some staff will be worse off – largely as a consequence of irregular pay practices in the past in some parts of the institution where additional pay was given for marking and other activities.

Hopefully the new policy will also see an end to ALs being used as module leaders – which is a role specifically limited to SL and above.

Due in large part to the arguments made by the local branch officers involved in the consultation, we have also secured the same rights to transfer from AL to fractional appointments for staff in Oxford Brookes International (OBI) – who the management originally wished to exclude from the policy.

Whilst we have not achieved all our objectives – not least automatic transfer of ALs to established contracts – we feel that the university is moving in the right direction in terms of the treatment of this very vulnerable group of workers.

Branch officers will continue to be involved in the monitoring of the policy to ensure that it is applied fairly and that the unacceptably high use of Associates which characterised some parts of the university, does not return.

Finally, although the adopted policy has the general support of the local officers, it has yet to be ratified by UCU nationally, and the Regional Official is in correspondence with the university on issues that the Ratification Panel have concerns about.

We will provide an update in due course on how many staff have directly benefited or in due course will benefit from this, but at the moment it looks like considerably more than a handful.

 

Car Parking

At the last meeting of the Travel to Work Group, the management reported that there have been some challenges with the arrangements they thought they had agreed with the contractor who have been commissioned to put these in place – in terms of the systems, the hardware and the management of the car parking. The management indicated that they felt the contractors had been less than straight with them on what they could actually provide, and as a consequence delays have arisen in the implementation of the new arrangements. Both campus unions represent on the committee stressed the need for staff to be fully informed about the progress on this issue which will have a potentially detrimental effect on their working conditions – not least staff who will be moving from Wheatley to Gypsy Lane where parking provision is far less ‘generous’.

Apparently On Stream will carry an update on progress on changes to the management of and charging for parking. We have asked the university to at least tell staff when the new charging regime will be taking effect so that they can prepare for this as appropriate.

 

Workload Planning

The WLP Working Group met briefly in Week 2, but the meeting had to be abandoned due to the fact that several key members of it were at another important university meeting.  However, UCU members on the group are very aware of the myriad concerns of academic colleagues with both the WLP tariffs and the implementation of WLP across the university, and will continue to pursue these concerns with vigour. In particular, we are pressing management on the assessment allowances, module leadership and administration allowances, and the increasing burden of work required outside of the classroom on the quality of our core work – which is teaching and research.  Aside from the issues of stress and the impact of WLP on work life balance, we are, of course, making the obvious (to us) arguments about the link between WLP and the quality of the student experience as reflected in the NSS.

We will provide a further update when the group actually does meet in early November.

 

Academic Framework

Local UCU officers have been sent a draft statement of the broad policy changes proposed by management with respect to the ‘academic framework’, and there will be a meeting in week 3 to talk through these. In essence, the university is proposing to rationalise the number of modules offered – particularly in the first year of undergraduate programmes; to move end of semester 1 exams to the beginning of semester 2, and to shorten the Christmas break by a week. In addition, there may be only one point in the year when formal exam committees meet to sign off marks – at least this is our reading of the proposal.

UCUs concerns here are the implications for the possible elimination of some modules;   the impact of moving exams and assessment to the start of semester two – i.e. the potential overlap of assessment and teaching; and  the sense or non-sense of having only one sign off point for modules in a year.

The Academic Framework policy will also need to be aligned with the PUTS initiative (i.e. changes to the academic timetable with respects to teaching slots which in turn is aligned to concerns about ‘inefficient’ use of university teaching space). Whilst UCU branch officers were consulted earlier in the year on PUTS, the outcomes of any scenario modelling to see if any of this is feasible (i.e. testing how a new timetable would look, factoring in such variables as the caring responsibilities of staff, adequate provision of support services – somewhere to get a bite to eat –etc ; the need to avoid split shifts, and so on and so forth) have not yet been shared with us. But we will endeavour to keep you up to date.

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