News

Update on New Phase of the Campaign

On 11 March 2024, the closure of Music is still ongoing and both members of staff facing CR were served notice last week.  This is a very sad time for Oxford Brookes and we will continue to fight this any way we can.
Brookes’s communication on the VS and compulsory redundancy situation states that aside from colleagues in music (and we are still fighting this), all staff who were at risk of redundancy no longer are. In large part this was because the union argued that the VS scheme should be widened so those whose jobs were at risk could be saved – and also because we persuaded the management to accept reductions in hours of those colleagues in the at risk groups to protect their jobs.
Whilst this can’t be counted as an unadulterated victory, members are in a better place than would have been without the branch’s efforts.
The threat of industrial action will also have helped persuade management to think again.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning, and the negotiating team along with UNISON branch officers will be meeting regularly to negotiate and propose non staff cost savings: so my message is that the stronger we are as a union, the greater our chances are of avoiding job cuts through redundancies in the future.
Please continue to support us, and please ask colleagues who are not yet members, that they should join UCU: the more we are the stronger we are.
Here is what your reps are pushing for at the moment:
1.)  In response to the university’s proposed revisions to its currently incomplete Compulsory Redundancy Policy, we have counter-proposed a Redundancy Avoidance policy and have refused to further discuss the university’s initial proposal until we receive a formal response on our counter-proposal.
2.)  We are initiating a cross-program, cross-faculty (i,e, university-wide) “Save Research at Brookes” committee to put a stop to the competitive race to the bottom in terms of research allocations and other  measures in place that have traditionally supported research (such as teaching buy-outs, sabbatical schemes, university funding and research centres). The aim of this committee will be to share information and strategies that can help to maintain research as a priority of the institution and as integral to our teaching.  We believe this will be incredibly important as the university continues to look for ways to save costs and as teaching demands rise as a result of VS and increases in the number of vacant posts (as staff who leave are not replaced).
3.)  We are demanding that staff members who agree to VS and/or are made redundant be treated with due respect for their contributions at Brookes and that efforts are made to enable them to retain their Brookes’ email addresses, library access and access to their offices, as necessary, for a reasonable amount of time after they leave their posts.  We understand that there are security issues involved, but the branch position is that staff who voluntarily leave should not be treated as security threats; rather, they should be treated as valued alumni.  This is especially important with the quick time-frames in which VS and CR have been implemented.

Save Our Lecturers Protest, 15 February

The Save Our Lecturers campaign held another protest on 15 February. Sadly, compulsory redundancies are still threatening members of staff.

There will be a branch meeting on 5 March, 4-5pm to update UCU members on the latest developments.

UCU’s ReclaimHE campaign will officially launch on 28 February, and more information can be found here.

Speech from a member of staff who, after 20 years of work at Oxford Brookes, has taken voluntary redundancy.

Update from our campaigns organiser. While the threat of industrial action did achieve some results, compulsary redundancies are still on the table.

THIS IS NOT THE END: Response by UCU exec to Brookes VCG announcement on 26 January

This is the Brookes UCU exec team’s response to VCG’s announcement sent to members on Thursday 1 February 2024

THIS IS NOT THE END! WE’VE ACHIEVED SOME THINGS, BUT THE FIGHT CONTINUES.

We are writing to give you an initial response to the VCG’s announcement on the ‘Outcome of consultation on University cost savings measures’ on Friday 26 January. We held exec and branch meetings on Wednesday 31 January to discuss and clarify this announcement and its various implications. Apologies for the long message but there are several issues we need to report and clarify our position on.

To restate our official position, we are officially in dispute with the university, and we held a consultative e-ballot mid-December 2023. We asked the membership two questions:

  • Do you support taking strike action in response to proposed compulsory redundancies and suspension of staff progression and promotion?
  • Do you support taking industrial action short of striking (ASOS) (excluding a marking and assessment boycott (MAB)) in response to proposed compulsory redundancies and suspension of staff progression and promotion?

On both questions members who voted did so affirmatively by more than 86%with a majority of our membership participating in the e-ballot. We decided then to wait until the end of the consultation period scheduled for 17 January 2024, at which point we submitted a 22 page report to VCG including a variety of cost-saving alternatives and arguments for why the VCG’s process had been highly inadequate and unfair. Individual departments also submitted their own reports and proposals.

Following the latest announcement, we believe important progress has been achieved thanks to the threat of industrial action and detailed negotiation. There is no doubt that the stronger we are, the more we can achieve. History and Anthropology, thanks to significant sacrifices from staff, have been declared safe, for the time being, and their VS pools are being closed. The VCG has agreed to open the VS scheme to other departments, which is a way to try and mitigate the threat of compulsory redundancies.

However, these new measures will also cause a range of further problems for staff and students. Crucially, 2 people remain at threat of Compulsory Redundancy (CR) in Music, and this is simply unacceptable to us. Several departments (English, Architecture and Film), where pools of VS schemes remain open, are still on hold as to whether they are safe or not from CR. Their situation is dependent on the outcome of the new VS scheme. Music and Maths are still to be closed.

There also remains significant problems and questions regarding policies and procedures for cuts and redundancies, and regarding impact on remaining staff. Information shared with us reveals that in some cases, such as English, staff’s workloads could increase by 50%, and this was calculated before even the new round of VS.

Regarding impact on students, PhD, MA, and UG students are losing their supervisors and advisors with very little to no extra support. Students remain confused by the situation and are having modules closed at very short notice.

The full impact of VS on staff and students this semester remains very unclear and unsettling, and we are still collecting information from you about this, so please get in touch with any updates.

The response from VCG of concerns raised by the Students’ Brookes Union remains particularly unsatisfactory to us, especially in relation to 1) MA and PhD research students losing supervisors, 2) the vague promise of more wellbeing support, and 3) the need for much clearer and more accessible communication to students about the cuts.

Another important decision made by VCG regarding students (and linked to proposals for savings) is the announcement that the University will be charging students for any modules they have to repeat, even when they have received a disregard based on exceptional circumstances. We are very concerned about this change of policy and how it will negatively impact students awarded disregards and students with disabilities, caring commitments, and health issues.

To recap, this is where we think things stand:

Achievements: 

  • Reduction of CR from 28 to 2 full time staff members
  • Broadening of VS scheme (though this comes at significant cost and is still being done on a questionable basis regarding the selection of departments)
  • Progression from L to SL for those at the top of the scale
  • More inclusion of UCU/staff in negotiations as we believe our involvement has been central to the progress achieved

Ongoing (and new) problems:

  • No one is safe: We have been given no guarantees that there will not be the need for CR in the future; in fact, we have been explicitly told that in the current ‘environment’ no such assurances can be given.
  • 2 people still at risk of immediate CR.
  • Closure of Music and hence CR of remaining staff (3.5 FTE) during and at the end of the teachout.
  • Closure of Maths.
  • Impact of VS on staff and departments and on students – in terms of workload, continued uncertainty, and student experience.
  • The rationale and implications of the broadening of VS
  • PhD students, MA students, UG dissertation students losing supervisors and potential risk of ‘fire and rehire’ if supervisors rehired as ALs

In sum, this process has shown that no one is safe, both from financial decisions being made by VCG – which we continue to question and ask for more information on –  and from a range of external problems, which most universities in the UK are suffering from as well. We need a strong union to be able to push the VCG on all of these issues, as they are likely to continue and even get worse. We disagree with the VCG’s narrative that this is a problem caused only by external problems. 

We believe that the redundancy proposals are driven first and foremost by the university’s ambitious capital development project which, as indicated in the HESA report, has led to Brookes being the second most indebted university in the UK with anticipated cash flow problems. We believe it is this that is driving the sudden need for redundancies after assurances (just in October) that the university was in strong financial health with a rosy future ahead. In other words, yes, we are in a challenging, post-92, sector-wide environment, but the ‘external factors’ that university management keeps pointing to were not only foreseeable, their impacts have also been exacerbated by decisions by Brookes management to invest in buildings in the belief that this would solve the university’s financial problems.

We now understand that the University is extending the VS scheme to programmes where the SSRs are deemed inappropriate (this is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are seeking clarity on how and why departments have been included). If this concerns you, you should already have received a letter setting this out from the VCG. The VCG has stressed to us that this does not mean that those programmes are at particular risk; and currently there are no plans for further job cuts, but these are not being ruled out. There will be a series of meetings over the next few months between the employer and the unions to discuss and propose further savings, in the hope that these can be achieved without going down the CR route, which of course we would oppose vigorously.

To conclude on our response, following discussions yesterday, the Branch Exec thinks that at this stage, considering various factors including the ongoing uncertainty about the exact number of CRs, and the extension of VS, it is not in our best interests to trigger an industrial ballot at this point in time. However, this remains a very significant threat, especially as we continue building and reacting to the increasing workloads and problems faced by staff and students as Semester Two teaching begins.

We believe that this branch needs to continue campaigning on the following fronts, and we NEED YOUR HELP! Please contribute any way you can to maintain this campaign, which is undoubtedly going to continue for a while. #stoptheSHAMcuts.

Our goals remain:

  • The removal of remaining staff from CR.
  • The mitigation of impact of VS on remaining staff (in terms of workload) and on staff who may be offered this opportunity yet (in terms of growing unease about the futures of their departments, etc).
  • Achieving a commitment from VCG to open their books to staff and unions.
  • To push for the development of a UCU standing committee that has regular access to financial and strategic data so that we can avoid future compulsory redundancies
  • To achieve an agreed policy framework and procedure (with regular meetings and sharing of relevant financial data and strategic reports) so we can work with the university to avoid future compulsory redundancies – as recommended by national UCU policy guidance
  • To achieve a commitment to implement changes in procedures and organisation of admissions, marketing, recruitment, and website/IT departments, where affected staff have raised significant concerns in terms of how this is affecting their ratings as departments and thus putting them at risk of CR and VS.

Rally Report and Campaign Update 13/12/23

Dear members,
A lot happened last week, so here is a report from our event and the student protest. Please find below also an update on our upcoming actions, most urgently the need to vote in the consultative e-ballot by 12 NOON on Thursday 14 December, and how to support the campaign. Thanks!
 
– Report from ‘Stop the SHAM cuts’ launch rally and student protest on 6 Dec 2023
Brookes UCU organised a very well attended event on campus last week with 80 people present from both the staff and student community. Dr Jo Grady (General Secretary, UCU) spoke passionately about what is happening at Brookes and around the country in terms of terrible managerial decisions and attacks on the arts and humanities. Aberdeen and Stafforshire universities are also facing redundancies at the moment, and we witnessed large redundancies earlier this year at Brighton, Liverpool, and Goldsmiths, for example. Jo pledged to help and support the campaign through a national fund for campaigning, as well as the national strike fund, if things had to sadly get to that stage. We are not alone, and we will not fight this alone, was the key message.
SEE CLIPS OF JO GRADY’S SPEECH HERE.
Members of our negotiating team updated us on the very frustrating obstacles, delays and challenges they are facing when asking management for clarifications and rectifications due to problematic calculations.
A very eloquent student representative of the Save Our Lecturers campaign spoke and reported from their communication with management, which left students feeling patronised and ridiculed, and even more angry against the decisions which, in spite of management’s claims, will necessarily affect them, especially postgraduate cohorts, which seem to be always be scandalously forgotten, in spite of the unique and long-term contribution they make to our institution.
Dr Barbara Eichner (Reader in Music), Prof Alex Goody (English and Creative Writing), and Dr Tom Chambers (Senior Lecturer in Anthropology) made emotional and powerful pleas for supporting them as directly affected staff. They related specific info about the research and pedagogical merits of their departments, and why these cuts are morally shameful, financially challengeable, and ridiculously shortsighted.
Chris Jarvis, Oxford City councillor and Leader of the Green Party Group, spoke first as an alumnus of the Brookes MA History cohort, and reminded us of the value of providing education to local students, in small cohorts, who otherwise would not be able to attend university. The decisions to cut staff and close departments directly affects Brookes’s ability to carry out this social mission of resisting an increasingly elitist university offer. We need to keep post-1992s teaching arts and humanities! Let’s not go back in time, again! Sadly, these cuts are ideological, and another symptom of a short-sighted and managerially quantified neoliberal society.
On the same day, students from the Save Our Lecturers campaign staged a sit-in protest inside JHB forum. You can read a report of the protest here. Thank you so much to the students who are leading the way in terms of campaigning against these cuts!
 
NEXT ACTIONS:
 
– The Brookes UCU consultative e-ballot will close at 12 noon on Thursday 14 December. Don’t forget to vote! We have requested access to UCU’s national strike fund in case our ballot returned a vote in favour of industrial action in the new year. If action is decided, there will be financial support for it.
– Wednesday 13 December: STUDENT PROTEST IN JHB FORUM AT 12PM! This is the students’ last chance to get attention before everyone leaves, go support them!
– Students are also lobbying students to contact the SU to voice how they are affected by the cuts, and show their support for the campaign, as otherwise the SU cannot do much in terms of support for us.
– The Branch is meeting on Thursday 14 Dec to discuss the results of the e-ballot consultation.
– The Branch’s campaigns officer (Maia) is meeting reps from other branches facing cuts (e.g. Aberdeen, Staffordshire) on Thursday 14 Dec (organised by UCU national and Jo Grady)
– ‘DON’T LEAVE STUDENT RECRUITMENT TO THE MARKET!’ We are contacting Oxford MPs Anneliese Dodds and Layla Moran to launch a campaign to re-introduce some kind of targeting and planning of student recruitment at national level to protect universities like ours from suffering unfairly from student recruitment problems. Please support this by also writing to your MP and demanding that student recruitment is not just left to market competition. We are working on providing a template for this, so we will be back in touch about this.
– We are continuing to seek support from the Chancellor Patterson Joseph, who spoke on Twitter about gathering information before making a statement. We hope to hear from him this week and will continue to lobby him.
– We are also requesting minutes from the Board of Governors meetings when the cuts were discussed.
 

SHAM Cuts Friday Update, 1/12/23

As you will all know, 48 posts are currently at risk at Brookes across a number of programmes; and the department of Music and Maths are both for the chop.

The negotiating team along with our Regional Official, have been pushing on a number of fronts through a process of negotiation, to save these jobs and departments.

So far we have got the management to agree an extension to the consultation period, to give us longer to interrogate the university finances, and make counter proposals in terms of savings.

We are also looking closely at the criteria for the jobs they want to cut, to challenge where we can, any spurious or simply wrong calculations they have made.

We’ve also been supporting members in individual meetings with local managers to see if we can get a better deal in terms of VS, or a partial buyback etc.

However, the employer seems to be adamant that it is ‘imperative’ that the savings they want to make are made now – and certainly in this financial year. We are doing our own work in the background to find out the real reasons for this haste, because we believe the arguments about external pressures, and falling numbers fail to explain it.

At the recent VC talk to staff, the Finance Director told colleagues that more ’efficiency’ savings may need to be made next year – and when challenged, the VC said that further job cuts couldn’t be ruled out as part of this.

So it could be your job next.

That means that collectively we need to fight the current cuts, and make it as difficult as possible for the management to feel that the easy way out of a financial hole is to sack staff, and to force them to look for other savings – particularly given that the five year plan forecasts significant growth and an increased surplus.

The fight is on two fronts: our campaigns’ rep – Maia Pal –  has organised a rally next week, on Wednesday the 6th, at 2pm in Chakrabati in the JHB building – with external speakers, including Dr. Jo Grady, General Secretary of UCU. We will also be leafleting, and doing other things to raise awareness of the crisis the university is in, and our response to it. Please make every effort to come along, where alongside Jo, members of the negotiating team will be able to answer your questions and let you know what more we have been doing on your behalf.

We have got the support for the campaign from the Students’ Union, who are understandably seriously angry about losing lecturers and whole subjects, and about the impact this will have on the quality of the student experience.

Second, we will be running an e-ballot to consult members on next steps – with a view to taking industrial action if the threat of compulsory redundancies is not withdrawn: this will give us the authority to formally ballot for six months of action, including strikes if necessary. So please look out for this.

So join with us to stop the SHAM cuts!

In solidarity,

Alan Reeve

OBU UCU Branch Chair

Oxford Brookes UCU Motions on Redundancies

Oxford Brookes University Branch Motions:

Motion 1:

This Branch has no confidence in the financial management of the university by the VC, which is causing staff to be put at threat of compulsory redundancy.

Motion 2:

This Branch notes:

In order to meet claimed financial challenges, the VCG at Oxford Brookes University have proposed significant academic staff cuts across a number of programmes in the university, affecting up to 48 colleagues. These cuts may include compulsory redundancies, a block on any progression or promotion, and the closure of two departments – Maths and Music.

It further notes that the University intends that the majority of these cuts will come into effect from the end of January, 2024, prior to the start of the second semester, and therefore part way through the academic year.

The Branch believes:

First, based on the University’s own public accounts, that these cuts and other measures are unnecessary in order to resolve the current financial challenges of the institution, and are based on untested and unfounded long-term predictions of the student market in general.

Second, that there has been a failure to consult the union in any meaningful manner, and that the consultation period is inadequate for staff and their representatives to provide a substantive response.

Third, that the withdrawal of progression from L to SL is contrary to the principles of the Post 92 Framework Agreement to which Brookes is signed up as a member of JNCHES

The Branch demands:

1. That the threat of redundancies be withdrawn

2. That the university enter into meaningful consultations with the union over an appropriate period to arrive at an agreement on financial savings, avoiding the need for compulsory redundancies, which as a union we oppose; and to avoid the closure of Maths and Music.

3. That the university remove the block on automatic progression from L to SL, and on promotions.

If there is failure to reach agreement on these demands in good time, the Branch will consider possible further steps including industrial action.

Passed at the Extraordinary OBU UCU Branch Meeting, on the 17th of November, 2023

Oxford Brookes UCU Branch Motion on Palestine

This motion is to express solidarity with the millions of people directly affected in Gaza, Palestine, and Israel by the ongoing conflict. We are also expressing concerns at the attacks on academic freedom and freedom of speech in the UK. Finally, we express our sadness and devastation at the recent immense suffering and loss of life in Palestine and Israel and we unequivocally condemn the murder of civilians, no matter their religion or nationality.

This branch notes:

  • The situation of the current conflict has a long and complex history in the region, and beyond.
  • The attacks on 7 October by Hamas in Southern Israel.
  • The launch of a bombing campaign and ground incursions on the Gaza strip by the Israeli government.
  • The UN General Assembly vote in favour of a resolution calling for a ‘humanitarian truce’ on 27 October 2023.
  • Voices including 250 UK lawyers, the UN General Secretary, Oxfam, MSF, Amnesty International, the Runnymede Trust, BRISMES, UK trade unionists, and 800 legal scholars worldwide are underlining that international humanitarian law and customary international law are not being upheld.
  • UCU nationally, GS Jo Grady, and UK scholars have issued statements of solidarity and empathy with Palestinian and Israeli civilians, and a growing number of branches are passing resolutions expressing solidarity and concerns about attacks and threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom (e.g. SOAS, Edinburgh, Sussex, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, UCL, Strathclyde, LSE, Brunel).
  • On 11 October, the UK Secretary of State for Education sent a letter to all UK Vice Chancellors, suggesting a close monitoring of events and external speakers discussing the conflict under the ‘Prevent Duty’.
  • There are Palestinian and Israeli people, and people of all faiths and none, from across the world, who are against all forms of aggression and who wish to see a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

This branch believes:

  • That academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the right to protest within the law, must be upheld.
  • That a peaceful solution should be sought and can be found following the guidelines of international law, and the UN resolutions, and in accordance with international humanitarian law.

This branch resolves:

  • To support the call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
  • To reaffirm the UCU’s position on the Prevent Duty.
  • To support students and staff in their right to protest within the law.
  • To support students and staff who are affected by challenges to academic freedom and freedom of speech.

 

Oxford Brookes Student Union Supports Strike Action

On the 15th of November, Brookes Union’s Executive Committee voted in favour of supporting the UCU staff going on strike in the coming weeks. This was following the precedent of the all student vote in General Meeting last year and after they collected feedback from a variety of students.

Following this vote, the Student Union will write to all students and to the Vice-Chancellor’s Group, making their support clear.

You can see the first statement from UCU here, calling for student support here.

Strike Action: Answering Student’s questions

We know that many students will have concerns about the upcomming strike action and it would be disengenuous of us to claim that there will be no negative impact on students.

What is important to sayis that we really don’t want to strike because not simply because we obviously lose pay in doing so but also because we all want to see our students do as well as possible. The issue of course is that the employers aren’t recruiting enough lecturers, they aren’t financing support services well enough and they aren’t paying wages which mean we can recruit enough staff.

All of these things have been going on for years and the quality that students experience has inevitably fallen as a result (unlike their fees). So if we don’t make a stand now then it will simply get worse and worse.

We want the same as students: To provide the quality of education they deserve and which is value for money. It is a real shame that the only way we can get the Universities to provide this is to strike.

Recently we asked the Oxford Brookes Student Union to invite questions from students and below are the answers provided by the Chair of the Oxford Brookes UCU Branch.

Will I and if so, how can I claim monies back from missed lectures due to lecturers not being there.

This would have to be taken up with the university, via Head of School – the union is not in a position to reimburse students for lost learning – we lose pay every time we go on strike, so it would be a double whammy!

Will the strikes impact exams? will we be assessed on missed content?

There is no simple answer to this. In the first instance, if you are concerned about this you should speak to your lecturer and seek their advice: I am sure they will be sympathetic, but need to balance this against the need to ensure that the learning outcomes and assessed appropriately – particularly if the programme is externally validated, so we can’t guarantee their won’t be some impact – but the sooner the employer recognises the union’s claim the less risk there is of this.

What happens about the topics I miss during the strike? Am I just expected to learn about them myself?

As with the previous answer – seek guidance from your lecturer on managing learning and assessment expectations.

Why Can’t the university pay staff what they’re asking?

UCU believes they can – but this is really a question for the VC and governors.

Can you give a breakdown about how we have needed up in this situation and why lectures are striking?

The union has been attempting to negotiate over pay and other issues – workloads, equality and, precarious contracts – for several years, with little progress. The purpose of the strike action is to try and get the national employer – UCEA, which represents all universities and HEs across the country – back to the negotiating table and to put a serious offer to us on all of these. The value of academic pay has gone down in real terms by at least 20% in the last twenty years, and pay has not kept pace with the rise in the cost of living. The employer has imposed a 3% deal for this year and we are seeking a 12% increase, which will only go part way to making up for pay lost over the years. Striking is a last resort – and all members across the country were balloted, and the majority voted in favour of taking this action – so it’s not just Brookes.

This link gives further details: UCU why we are striking

Could you potentially give a rough estimate of which faculty’s will be most impacted?

Impossible to say – we have strong representation across the university, and hopefully all members will be supporting the action.

Will lecturers tell students beforehand if their lectures are cancelled or could we show up to no lecturer?

This will be up to the lecturer – there is no obligation to tell the university if someone is going on strike , only after they have taken the action. My advice to colleagues is that they can tell students, and I can’t see a problem with asking whether a class is going ahead or not – but don’t pressurise the lecturer for an answer.

How are students who are going to be impacted by the strike going to be supported due to missing on on learning time? If there is a support plan, how will lectures be held accountable for providing support?

Lecturers are held accountable by not being paid for time they are on strike. It’s the employer that needs to be accountable for not providing adequate pay and other conditions of employment. If a class is missed because the lecturer is on strike, they will not be required to reschedule since this is work they won’t be paid for.

For the university: what are your plans in regards to raising wages to meet the rise of inflation of living costs?

Good question. You can find the Vice Chancellor’s contact details here. Students should feel free to email and ask

Can students get exceptional circumstances for missed lectures/ delayed responses from strikes and will the uni tell them this if so?

We haven’t seen any guidance on this, and it is not a decision those on strike can take – it should be addressed to the university via Heads of School and Deans

Why is it always students who lose out when there’s an issue? Has anything been done to reduce the impact on students?

Staff are also losing out by losing a significant amount of pay – in the longer term students should benefit from having better motivated lecturers who are properly paid and not overworked, but the point is taken.

Will we be told in advance if our lectures are cancelled? Can we get refunds for travel if we turn up and our lecturers don’t?

See above – if students have suffered unnecessary costs then they should contact the university – Dean or Head of School. In the past, the university has put any pay saved from striking staff into a student hardship fund, so there may be a mechanism for claiming against this under certain criteria which we do control.

Response to HSS Restructure Proposal 2022 on behalf of UCU members in the Faculty

 

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.

Decision-Making Structures

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.

Timeframe

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

Workload Planning

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Conclusion

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.