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Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 3 April 1998

 

ACADEMIC RESTRUCTURING (cont)

The sound of rumour mills grinding merrily - or not so merrily - away is rising. Sadly, the flurry of information which we had in January seems since to have dried up. The last letter from the Vice-chancellor in January spoke of special meetings of Academic Council and Senate before Easter to debate proposals for restructuring in the academic areas. That timetable slipped some time ago. Where are we now? .

The meeting of Planning and Resources Committee which met on Tuesday 7 April received an update on progress. Paul Hudson reports below some important information conveyed to it, but in the main the messages were very general. Detailed proposals will be finalised by AMG over the next few weeks. A special meeting of Academic Council is being planned for Wednesday 27 May, and a special meeting of Senate for 2 June. Here is where we get the full monty. Among matters we would bring to your attention at this stage are the following.

  1. The detailed restructuring proposals are being developed in strict secrecy. Directors have, of course, been involved in the process, but the information flow and feedback amongst Provosts, Directors-Schools, and Departments-Divisions appears to be quite varied across different areas. Some academic areas and subjects have been given gloomy indications about their possible future - others have been given reassurance - some have received indications of rosy prospects.

    We would repeat the advice which we gave in a previous Newsletter - it is in your interests to search out information, especially, but not only, if your subject appeared as one of those identified in the Strategic Review as in need of attention. Subjects with low student enrolment, unbalanced budgets, low RAE ratings and/or a relatively low percentage of RAE-included staff are clearly those that will be under closest scrutiny. But also there will be subjects which feel entitled to a greater share of resources. Do you know just what is being said about you? And is it right? If you have not spoken up already, you are getting perilously close to the wire. It is clear from the information given to us that a number of areas are unhappy with the proposals drawn up by their Provosts and submitted to APG. While we may be accused of subverting the natural hierarchy, it is clear that, if you have good arguments which you feel may not have been put to APG by others, you should be putting them yourselves.

    Note that this exercise is identifying both subject areas and individuals for review. There will be early retirement and severance packets available (see below). Proposals to establish ‘teaching only’ contracts appear to have run into difficulties. However, there is also talk of subjecting some individuals to performance reviews, and of returning to the idea of setting up a Redundancy Committee. You already know AUT’s views on this, as do the university authorities.

  2. AUT is not being officially incorporated into this stage of the review process, nor are the bodies on which your elected representatives sit. The vice-chancellor’s intention is to bring forward a comprehensive package of executive proposals for decision by the appropriate university authorities, and then to engage AUT in relation to the practical implications for staffing levels and contracts. That, of course, does not stop us from trying to dig out information where we can, meeting staff in areas that feel vulnerable (we have met two groups of staff in the last couple of weeks to discuss their problems), and feeding back comments and views as appropriate. Get in contact with your local officers now if you anticipate bad news.

We intend to hold a  General Meeting on 29 April to discuss Hay, Pay and Restructuring at 1.00 in Lecture Room 121, Staircase R, Lanyon Building., and a Special General Meeting on Thursday 28 May after the special academic council meeting (details later).

Premature Retirement and Voluntary Severance

Although it has formally to be approved by Senate, I understand that QUB intends to announce premature retirement and voluntary severance schemes similar to those on offer last year. The main difference is the possibility of re-engagement of academic staff for a limited period. These schemes only apply to academic staff and also to academic-related staff if appropriate. These schemes will not be available to all academic and related staff, but only to targeted individuals. That does not stop you expressing an interest (if that is what you desire) to your Director or Provost. If the staff released are in an area targeted for investment, the post will be refilled.

Premature Retirement is only available to people age 50 or more, and the terms offered are the maximum available under USS. For most people there would be an enhancement of pensionable service by 10 added years, or the length of time to normal retirement age, whichever is the shorter. For people with between 5 and 10 years pensionable service the enhancement can only equal the length of pensionable service. If you have less than 5 years’ service for USS purposes you must take Lump Sum Severance instead.

Lump Sum Severance is mainly for staff under age 50. It would be calculated at the rate of one month’s salary for each year of reckonable service plus one month’s salary for each year of reckonable service after the later of 5 year’s service or 30th birthday. There would be a minimum payment of one year’s salary.

QUB has just set aside a further 1.5M for premature retirement and severance which brings the accumulated pot to 2.75M. A further 300K is provisionally budgeted for 1998/9. In total this equates to at least 50 people leaving.

Once the full details are known, Belfast AUT will prepare a leaflet of advice similar to those we issued for previous schemes. If you want a copy, leave your name at the Belfast AUT office (ext 3090). The same applies if you want someone to accompany you to an interview. We strongly advise you to be accompanied by an AUT officer at any interview concerning your future. Even if you wish to leave there is the question of timing and the possibility of redeployment to be negotiated. Many people are more willing to consider premature retirement if they can maintain links through access to such things as computing and library facilities, office space, etc. These have been regularly granted in the past. It has also been AUT’s experience that it may be possible to negotiate a financial package that is a variant of, or an addition to, the standard offer.

What happens if you are targeted and do not want to leave? You can always say "No". If you have tenure (basically if you have been in the same post since without promotion since 20 November 1987), you cannot be dismissed, although that does not mean that you can continue with exactly the same duties as before. You should note that " the University will take steps pro-actively to manage underperformance " For those without tenure the possibility of compulsory redundancy exists, and the University officers are still talking of setting up the necessary Redundancy Committee. The procedures are long drawn out and it would be difficult to focus on individuals in the way that they desire. The use of compulsory redundancy would be very strongly resisted by the AUT.

To be fair, the University also wishes to avoid compulsory redundancies and will seek to redeploy staff. The sole object of this exercise is to remove the bulk of teaching and research staff who are not expected to contribute sufficiently highly to the next Research Assessment Exercise. Transfer to a teaching-only contract is no longer favoured by QUB since it appears that such staff would still be counted as eligible staff for the purpose of the RAE. Indeed, the next RAE may make the inclusion of all teaching and research staff compulsory. To achieve this RAE aim, redeployment would have to be to an area outside of teaching and research. Another possibility is to redeploy the staff to the Institute of Continuing Education where the bulk of the teaching is presently done by part-time or casual staff. Where a whole subject is proposed for closure it may be possible to redeploy research-active staff to cognate subjects.

This concentration purely on research is beginning to provoke a backlash, and some people are now arguing that QUB should do more than pay lip service to teaching and be prepared to retain excellent teachers who are research-inactive. This argument has yet to be won, and at present subjects with an excellent reputation in teaching are under consideration for closure.

Paul Hudson

Pay News

Or rather no news. You will recall that the employers offered all types of staff 2% from their due date (1st April 1998 in our case) with a further 1.8% to be paid 8 months later. This was rejected by all the trade-unions. There was to be a further meeting on 27th March, but it was cancelled by the employers as they were unable to make a significantly improved offer. A meeting has now been set up for 22nd April. You will remember that the employers were anxious to reach a quick agreement in order not to hamper the workings of the one-off Independent Review Committee set up as the result of the Dearing recommendation. This delay is solely due to the employers; AUT submitted its pay claim in November.

This pay offer is worse than those made to virtually all people covered by a Pay Review Body, and is especially poor compared to that being paid to Clinical Academics. It is worth only 2.6% in the year. No doubt the employers would argue that it promises an eventual 3.8% on the baseline. The problem is that due to the employers’ own bad employment practices, few people can afford to take this long-term view. Nationally more than half of recent appointments are fixed-term and these people cannot count on a long-term future in universities, and indeed many will have left before the second tranche would be paid. Then there are the hordes of part-time casual staff who do not know if they have a job from one month to the next. Finally there are those who may be leaving by Premature Retirement or Lump Sum Severance; they would not get permanent benefit of the 3.8% until it had been paid to them for a full year.

Paul Hudson

Landslide for Apathy

The recent AUT national elections had the worse turn-out ever. In the election for National Treasurer 10% of the electorate voted for me, 12% for Alan Waton (who duly won), and 78% did not vote at all. The same percentage failed to vote in the elections for the National Executive elections; John Lynch was eliminated after the second stage and Max Goldstrom was elected only at the seventh stage.

AUT turn-outs used to be around 34% and this apathy is a great cause for concern. Interestingly, AUT is getting better responses from random sample surveys of members on particular issues. Anyhow, if you did vote, thank you from all concerned.

Paul Hudson

Pride No Prejudice

This is the title of the new AUT publication on equal opportunities in higher education; it has the subtitle: a lesbian, gay and bisexual perspective. Copies will be sent to those with responsibility for appointment, promotions, etc. Further copies can be obtained from the Belfast AUT office (ext 3090).

Economic Reports

AUT recently appointed a new Head of Research at HQ. He is Chris Trinder, who has a strong background in economics and pay review. He has started producing weekly Economic Reports on national economic developments which affect pay and higher education. These include an analysis of the budget. These reports have proved so popular that they are now available to all members at the national AUT web-site.

Paul Hudson

Pension rights for part-time staff

Members may recall that in 1994 the European Court of Justice ruled that it was discriminatory to exclude part-time staff from occupational pension schemes. Queen's reacted to the ruling by admitting a small number of permanent part-time staff into USS and telling the rest that Queen's will contest their claims in the courts. Most part-time staff, such as term time tutors, were far too frightened to take their case to a tribunal but, even so, eighteen very low-paid women have lodged cases against Queen's. The latest information we have is that the House of Lords has referred a number of test cases (organised by the TUC) to the European Court and we are confident there will be a happy outcome in perhaps a year's time.

We have on a number of occasions asked Queen's to discuss the issue with us, and resolve the problem in advance of the final court ruling, in fairness to those who have been waiting for such a long time. Our requests have been ignored. We find this puzzling because a number of employers have paid compensation to their excluded staff and have arranged to place them in a pension scheme. The compensation costs have proved to be surprisingly low — largely because most of these women have earned very little over the years. This is in stark contrast to those who are providing Queen's with its legal advice in the cases!

To concentrate the minds of the administration we will help more staff to lodge cases at the Tribunal. If you know of anyone currently excluded from the pension scheme (male or female) please tell them that local AUT will help them pursue their case. Successful applicants who lodged their cases in 1994 may have their pensions backdated as far back as 1974. New applicants may have their pension rights backdated by two years. We are also exploring the possibility of approaching the Pensions Ombudsman. He has indicated that he will consider the cases of individuals who have not applied to an industrial tribunal.

Max Goldstrom