Response to HSS Restructure Proposal 2022 on behalf of UCU members in the Faculty
University and College Union (UCU) members across the Faculty welcome the opportunity to contribute as a group to the proposal to restructure the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS).
A meeting to which all UCU members in HSS were invited has facilitated this collective response. A draft of the response was then distributed to all UCU members in HSS inviting further comments and feedback from union members.
In essence, the proposal for the restructure identifies recruitment challenges, across some programmes in HSS, as the problem and identifies the solution as “…a reduction of the number of academic Schools within the Faculty from five to two (with a relocation of one programme within that new structure) and a new management structure within each of these new Schools”.
UCU members are concerned that the restructure will not deliver on the goals it sets for itself.
Our key concerns relating to the proposal are outlined in more detail below.
It has been suggested that the proposed restructuring will produce ‘economies of scale’ by virtue of the fact that instead of five heads of school, under the new structure there will only be two heads. There will, however, also be four deputy heads if the new structure is adopted, creating a management structure of six people instead of five.
Economies of scale would only be achieved if decision-making structures are made increasingly top-down, which is a real concern of UCU members given the way the benefits of the new structure have been presented to staff. Moreover, Heads of School in the new structure will need to be responsible for a diverse range of subject areas making it hard for them to identify the kinds of changes that might be needed to ensure the sustainability of existing degree programmes. It is also stated that the new Heads will take an external-facing role but UCU members are unclear as to how they can do this effectively for such a wide-range of subject areas.
Marketing and Student Recruitment
The proposal claims that it will “establish a strong vision, identity and value proposition for each of the Schools and the disciplines within them, which will enable more effective and efficient marketing activity”. However, by merging more programmes together into ‘super-schools’, the vision, identity, and value proposition for programmes loses clarity and will become more difficult to market. Moreover, the proposal fails to identify the underlying causal factors in marketing and admissions that are contributing to student recruitment challenges.
Collaboration and communication between Programmes
It is also suggested that the new structure will reduce the barriers to working across subjects but the evidence shows that there are already multiple cross-Programme and School initiatives at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Additionally, the seven university-wide Research Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Networks, three of which are currently chaired by staff in HSS, draw together postgraduate research students and staff from across Schools and Faculties and already facilitate a “culture of successful bidding for external research funding by drawing researchers into different groupings and offering new opportunities for training, sandpits, and sharing of good practice”.
The restructure proposal does not demonstrate any awareness of these existing structures of the research environment, nor does it provide any evidence or examples of the so-called barriers that it claims to remove.
UCU members are very concerned at the proposed speed of the envisaged changes. Jobs deemed at-risk appear to have been identified before the consultation process on whether to move forwards with the restructuring has even been concluded. Implementing such a dramatic change to the way the Faculty works in the middle of an academic year is likely to lead to significant disruption to the staff experience and indirectly impact the student experience.
Staff Recruitment and Retention
UCU members feel that it will be harder to recruit and retain new staff without a more specific disciplinary division of Schools. If we are serious about competing with the ‘old’ Universities within the UK and internationally, then it is important to note that such large multi-disciplinary Schools or Departments are the exception rather than the norm
UCU members are concerned that a loss of subject expertise within management structures will lead to workload allocations which are less aware of subject or discipline specific restrictions on staff flexibility. If these dangers are to be avoided, then it is important that sufficient division of schools is made, with associated disciplinary autonomy retained.
The Size of the Deputy Head Roles
The Deputy Heads are billed as having specific roles to play within the schools, such as being the deputy head for strategy. However, in response to staff concerns during the consultation process, it has also been suggested by Faculty Management that these Deputy Heads will have subject specific and discipline related roles in addition to their overall focus. As such, UCU members are concerned that the proposed Deputy Heads will face unmanageable workloads. This, in turn, may lead to delays and breakdowns in decision making processes and an increased workload for Programme Leads.
The Impact on the Role of Programme Leads
The exact roles of Programme Leads are unclear in the proposed new structure. It is suggested in the proposal that the restructure will “support the realignment of workloads, taking some of the pressure off the role of Programme Lead which is overburdened at the moment” but at the same time it is stated the PL roles will remain the same. Given the significant changes in the management structure above them, UCU members are concerned that it would appear that in reality they will be expected to take on much greater responsibility. As noted above, given the significant expectations placed on Deputy Heads in the new structure, in particular, there are no concrete examples provided of how the role of PLs will be made less burdensome.
Other Causal Factors of Falling Student Numbers
Given these serious concerns about the effectiveness and implementation of the proposal, UCU members suggest that the Faculty consider important issues that have contributed to the fall in student numbers across some programmes over recent years. All of these relate to factors outside of the control of academic staff in HSS.
- Marketing support has been reduced substantially and as a result the use of external agencies has become commonplace. UCU members in HSS have given negative feedback concerning their recent experiences working with ‘A Thousand Monkeys’ in updating misleading and incorrect course copy for the University website.
- Admissions has been a cause of real concern for UCU members in the Faculty. Course leaders for our PG programmes, in particular, have reported significant problems including long delays in responding to applicants and the complete breakdown in communication between Admissions and the relevant academic staff relating to the adoption of the new CRM Recruit system.
- UCU members agree that the implementation of the Academic Framework has had an overall negative impact on the ability of staff to offer the most attractive and intellectually engaging courses at both UG and PG levels.
UCU Members have been willing to cooperate with marketing and admissions to make improvements, but it is clear that most of the issues they face are beyond our control. That said, there is no evidence that the current School structure has affected this process in any way, nor that the restructure would improve it.
In sum, UCU members in HSS feel that if we are to address student recruitment issues that are identified in this proposal for restructuring the Faculty, then we need to focus on drawing on the passion and knowledge of their subjects that our academic staff have. Creating a more vertical decision-making structure and two large and incoherent Schools will not, in our opinion, address the real challenges we face as a Faculty. Such a restructure will consume substantial time and energy that could be better spent on addressing the more fundamental issues that we have outlined above.