Current Issues at QMUL

The main issues that the branch is currently concerned about are:

1. Restructurings and Redundancies

At time of writing there were at least a dozen departments and schools being restructured across the College. Many of the proposals put forward by management involve making staff redundant. The most extensive restructurings so far have occurred in the Science faculty. In the School of Engineering and Materials Science (SEMS), 20 staff stand to be made redundant. 43 staff are at risk in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. In the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS), 20 or more staff could lose their jobs. These are all academic posts and further restructuring is anticipated later, which could lead to academic-related jobs going too. There have also been restructurings in the Library (where 21 staff were put at risk), and several areas of the central administration. Other campus unions have also seen their members face the restructuring of security services and catering.UCU has a statutory role to participate in the legally-mandated consultations that must accompany any restructuring with 20 or more potential job losses.

UCU’s national policy is to oppose all redundancies. The branch has also passed a motion opposing all redundancies and calling on management to withdraw plans that involve them. We are also seeking to negotiate, with other campus unions, an agreement with management to this effect. UCU has worked with members in affected areas to highlight deficiencies in the restructuring proposals – of which there are often many – and propose alternative ways forward. Where members are prepared to cooperate, as in SBCS, UCU mounts a campaign to defend the School or department under attack. We have many concerns about the way restructuring consultations have been carried out in a very perfunctory manner, with a view to simply ramming changes through as quickly as possible, without proper consideration of the consequences or meaningful engagement with staff.

2. Performance Management

UCU has long argued that the College’s appraisal system, QMPAS, is being wrongfully used as a performance management tool, which it is not designed to do, and in any case has not been agreed to by staff. Management have denied this is the case until very recently, when they finally conceded the point. However, they now propose to impose explicit, rolling performance management on the entire college. One element of the restructuring in SEMS is the attempt to impose new ‘academic roles’ which include metrics-based targets for publications, grant income and PhD completions, with a rolling system of coercive performance management to try to ensure staff stay on-target. A system like this has existed for several years in SMD. The college sees what is happening in SEMS as a ‘pilot’ which will then be rolled out across the entire institution.

UCU’s national policy is to oppose performance management, favouring a supportive appraisal system in which targets are mutually agreed and appropriate support is put in place to help staff achieve them. Locally our position is that what management are trying to do constitutes a fundamental attack on our terms and conditions and on key values like academic freedom. They cannot be imposed on staff but only negotiated with their representatives. The branch recently passed a motion initiating a campaign to resist the imposition of performance management, through industrial action if necessary.

3. Probation

Linked to this is the problem of probation, which all new academic staff must generally go through. There are many serious problems with the conduct of probation, which varies radically across the College. Particularly in the sciences, probationers are often set absurdly high targets then given very little support (e.g. resources, mentoring) to achieve them, or are given unfair teaching burdens. In other departments, unclear targets are set, with progress being signed off, only for retrospective targets to be later imposed. In some departments we feel that a de facto ‘tenure track’ system is being brought in through the back door, with targets being set so high that probationers are effectively being set up to fail and are in practice competing for a smaller number of genuinely permanent posts.

The branch writes to all newcomers to the College setting out our concerns – which are all based on members’ own experiences here – and providing advice on how staff ought to manage their probationary period, in order to ensure that the College sticks to its own policies. In the longer term we are looking to draft improved policies based on best practice in HE and get them adopted and adhered to.

4. Pensions

The financial crisis and associated changes to the funding of public services have led to an unprecedented attack on workers’ pensions. As QM is a pre-1992 university, UCU members here may belong to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). Although USS is not a public sector pension scheme, the broad attack on pensions and the slashing of funding to HE provided an opening for opportunistic university managers to attack USS. Employers imposed radically detrimental changes to the scheme in 2011, forcing through the changes in a profoundly unfair way, including by threatening to sue personally the UCU negotiators who represent all staff in the scheme. As a result of these changes, a new lecturer stood to lose over £100,000 in what is essentially deferred pay over the course of their career.

UCU was forced to take industrial action – largely action short of a strike, i.e. working to contract, plus one-day strikes in coordination with other unions – to compel employers to negotiate with us. The action was suspended in January 2012 to permit talks to take place, but UCU remains in industrial dispute with the employers. For full details, see the UCU website.

5. Pay

Pay awards in the sector over the last few years have been an insult. The rise in 2010-11 was 0.5% and in 2011-12 the rise was a flat increase of £150. By comparison, the pay packages of vice-chancellors has been skyrocketing to astronomical figures. QM’s principal, for example, has a package worth £273,000, which increased 18% in 2010-11. Given the current, relatively high rate of inflation, in real terms the pay of average staff has declined by about 10% in the last three years.

UCU negotiates pay awards nationally each year with the employers. Unlike other campus unions, it has refused to accept the derisory pay increases unilaterally imposed by employers. UCU balloted nationally for strike action over pay in 2011 with a majority voting to support this. However, action has focused largely on the USS dispute instead.

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