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Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 8 July 1996

This Newsletter is principally addressed to those who will have received letters from the Vice-Chancellor asking them to consider the voluntary severance offer. By the time this reaches you, you should have received the second letter from Professor Sean Fulton, which spells out a timetable for dealing with the offers, and sets out various calculations about the financial offers based upon severance/early retirement on 30 September this year, and 30 September 1999. Let us make a number of points at this stage.

 

1. Timetable

There seems to be some attempt within the university administration to push people into taking a definitive decision by 30 September 1998 about whether they are prepared to take the severance offer. This cuts across the Vice-Chancellor’s publicly-stated view that the University would be looking for an initial indication of your intentions by 30 September 1998, and would not expect final decisions to be taken until March 1999. (Obviously, if you wanted to leave before October 1998, your definitive decision would have to be taken pretty soon.) I am not sure that we have been entirely successful in rolling back this attempt to bounce people into taking early decisions. It certainly makes no sense, in that there is a very clear commitment to give individuals the opportunity to talk over their future with Professor Fulton in the period up to Christmas. If you decide to complete the form which is being sent out, we would advise: (1) there is no need to put your signature to anything unless you are absolutely clear about what you want to do; (2) if you haven’t made up your mind, and don’t feel that you can do until you have been afforded an opportunity to discuss your future if you decide to stay at Queen’s, then say so in your reply.

 

2. Additional benefit for taking severance/early retirement on 30 September 1998 rather than 1999

The additional incentive to take severance at the end of this rather than next academic year is a lump-sum payment of 1/6 of salary and re-employment for the year at 1/3 of current salary.

We have made a rough calculation, taking into account changes in National Insurance and USS contributions, which has been examined by the Bursar’s Office (we differ slightly over what the return might be from investing the lump sum from USS, but otherwise the calculations are close).

An individual aged over 55 earning say 30,000 p.a., who retires in 1998 rather than 1999 on a USS pension and is re-engaged, could be, on our calculations, a little less than 5000 better off over the year than (s)he would have been. By contrast, the Bursar will be some 12,600 better off through the saving of salary and contributions, less the incentive. We had pressed the administration that, in the specific circumstances which the University has created, the balance of advantage in these savings should fall to the staff who were being targeted for early retirement. The Academic Planning Group has rejected this view, arguing that the only reason for inviting people to go this year rather than next is so that it can use the saving to buy in new blood earlier. Assuming that the Bursar in fact does release the money, if you take advantage of this generous offer you may therefore have the pleasure of being able to overlap with the person who is taking over your job.

Those aged 50-55 and some others would permanently reduce their pension by leaving early. So it is important for anyone interested in leaving early to do an individual calculation.

For the under-50s, who will not be able to take advantage of early retirement, the calculations are very different if you take up the offer to go in September 1998 not 1999. Indeed, because you will lose a both year’s salary and a year's pensionable service, you will almost certainly be a net loser overall.

 

3. Severance for the under 50s

Partly to discuss the calculations relating to this, we are holding a meeting in

Committee Room A this Wednesday, 1 July, at 1.15 p.m.

specifically for the under-50s offered severance

for whom the benefits of taking severance are likely, in general, to be low unless other employment is readily available. Anyone who wishes information, advice, or just to discuss their circumstances, is invited to attend. If you wish, alternatively, to discuss anything in private, ring extension 3089/90.

4. Closure of departments/termination of subject teaching

Anyone in an area targeted for closure could, technically, at some stage in the future, be threatened with compulsory redundancy (though not, of course, without all kinds of legal complications). Currently, everyone wishes to steer clear of this possibility. However, because it exists, two things will be happening. One is that the Personnel Office is intending, so we understand, to identify posts coming up within the University for which current members of staff in the relevant departments might be potential applicants, and to develop procedures for possible redeployment. As yet, this is not ‘firmed up’, but do not be surprised if you are in an affected department to receive job information in the internal mail. The second is that, once Professor Fulton has settled in, AUT will be seeking formal discussions on the implications of closure.

For both reasons, it is important that staff in these departments begin to consider the implications of possible closure if they do not wish to take severance, and that members in these departments discuss the options with us. Again, for discussions with AUT officers, ring 3089/3090.

 

5. Criterion of selection for targeting

Outside the subjects/departments identified for closure, the Vice-Chancellor’s letter to targeted individuals carefully avoids stating the criterion for selecting them, and not others, to be recipients of his communication, although all public statements indicate that potential inclusion/non-inclusion in the 2001 RAE is the dividing line. The letter is a simple invitation to consider severance, and individuals are of course at complete liberty to accept or to decline it: indeed, there are apparently some individuals who, in the current climate, are aggrieved not to have received it. However, there are issues that have emerged which are a source of great concern, and which we are currently exploring with our legal people: e.g. where the decision may have been based upon inaccurate information or poor judgement; where staff have been positively encouraged to engage in non-research activities (sometimes allegedly by the very people who eventually ‘fingered’ them to APG), and where rebuilding a research track record at the appropriate level may prove virtually impossible; where the fact that an individual has been included in the targeted group may have indirectly led to a specific detriment. There are different issues surrounding whether the process itself might have been fundamentally flawed, and whether specific individuals might have been unfairly targeted.

 

6. The ‘second stage’ (McLaughlin) review

Commitments were made at Academic Council and Senate that a review would be undertaken of the ‘research activity’ criterion in the light of a person’s other contributions to university life. However, I see no evidence that these verbal commitments are being taken seriously in practice. There is no indication as yet of serious thought being devoted to identifying procedures and criteria for such a review. The message coming out from APG and the finance people to Provosts downwards is that retaining current staff for non-research reasons will simply cut funds for recruiting new staff and hence compromise the whole strategy. Imaginative proposals for relocating staff into primarily non-academic responsibilities appear to be getting nowhere. Clearly, it is early days yet, in that Professors Andrew and Fulton have only just taken on the task of implementing the strategy. But isn’t it the University itself which has set September as its deadline for decision-time?

 

7. Resignations from voluntary positions

You may be aware that a number of individuals have resigned from voluntary posts (e.g. as harassment counsellors) whether in protest at the APG plan or because they believe their tenure to be incompatible with other priorities. In a circular letter to all Directors (Balanced Excellence) the Vice-Chancellor has sought to insist that ‘research’ is not the be-all and end-all, and that everyone should pull their weight across the board. However, such a ‘balance’ is far less easy to conceptualise and achieve in circumstances where the whole University is being required to haul itself up principally by its research bootstraps, in circumstances of relatively adverse student:staff ratios, and with an inheritance of byzantine administrative and decision-making processes. ‘Getting the balance right’ will prove to be a rather difficult thing to engineer in practice, and we shall undoubtedly be going through some painful and complex renegotiations of the various compacts upon which the work of the University has latterly been based.

However, while the potential future careers of a number of staff are unclear, and while the ‘second stage’ review might wish to consider translating a number of voluntary responsibilities into more permanent positions, we think that it would not be appropriate for members of staff to agree to take over voluntary positions and duties from which their colleagues have recently resigned as a result of the APG Review.

 

8. Stress

APG’s proposals have caused enormous distress and deep hurt across many parts of the university. Many colleagues who formerly felt themselves to be valued members of the community because of the active contribution they were making to the life of the University have been made to feel second class citizens, and are staring at uncertain futures. Nor is life necessarily easier for those who have escaped the dreaded letters: meeting the targets set for RAE 2001 may prove to be extremely demanding. The sense one gets from our medical people, chaplains and those with a reputation for pastoral care is of an institution experiencing enormous stress.

It is important to recognise that a great deal of the ‘blame’ for this lies not with individuals themselves, but with the institution, which has failed to develop a strategy for evolutionary improvement over the last decade, and which has chosen to shift the goalposts, even since the last RAE. That said, it is vitally important that individuals who feel under pressure as a result of the current circumstances do not neglect the symptoms of stress, and act to secure proper professional help if necessary.

 

9. Help

Various AUT local officers will be available thought the summer to discuss with members their futures, to accompany them to interviews, or to negotiate specific proposals. If you cannot reach your favourite officer directly then you can leave a message on ext. 3089.

 

You may also wish to contact an AUT Help Line:

For Legal Help: 0990-234-500

or their Stress Line: 0990-234-533

Treasurer’s Report to the Annual General Meeting

The accounts are audited at the end of the financial year (31 August) and the results are presented to a November General Meeting. The main purpose of this report is to justify any change in the local subscription for the coming year. On 24 June our accounts showed: Current account 796.21, Money market account 6,606.72, Building Society 27,984.44, Cash -2.80, Total 35,385.07 .

Last year the total was 32,553.11 . In both cases our apparent wealth is inflated by subscriptions which have been collected but which are not due to be paid to Headquarters yet. The last audited accounts showed net current assets of 27,215 plus 1,215 fixed assets. If you leave out money belonging to HQ and expenditure that will be refunded in full by HQ, then we show a surplus of 4,403.73 to date in this financial year. There is a special item not included in the figures that I have given you. The floatation of the Alliance & Leicester Building Society has provided us with 250 free shares now worth about 1,600.

Our membership last year was 750 which represented a 20% growth in three years. It is now 862. This jump is partly due to the exciting times in Queen’s, but the bulk are nurses and midwives who have joined AUT as a result of their transfer to the School of Nursing. However, there is plenty of room for further improvement in membership. A few words from a face they know is a better way of recruiting members than the letter that we send them. Your help would be appreciated.

There is a high workload on the local officers due to personal cases, including early retirements and severances. Our new facilities agreement with QUB may provide some compensation to their departments, but the officers are under pressure to be research active or face the consequences. So we intend to use our secretarial assistant, Patricia McKnight, to do the routine financial and membership work. For this reason our expenditure will rise, but I would still expect a financial surplus next year. One reason for this surplus is that we do not have sufficient people able to go to the many meetings to which we ought to send representatives.

The AGM agreed that local subscription rates remain unchanged for yet another year.

New Subscription Rates Starting 1 September

Full member whose annual salary is more than point 6 on the Lecturer scale (17,570 from 1/10/98) —

Monthly 8.22 (National) + 1.27 (Local) = 9.49 per month (previously 7.73 + 1.27 = 9.00)

Annual 98.64 (National) + 11.24 (Local) = 109.88 p.a. (previously 92.76 + 11.24 = 104.00)

Full member whose annual salary is not less than the Lecturer minimum (16,655 from 1/10/98) but not more than point 6 on the Lecturer scale (17,570 from 1/10/98) —

Monthly 6.58 (National) + 1.01 (Local) = 7.59 per month (previously 6.18 + 1.01 =7.19)

Annual 78.96 (National) + 8.92 (Local) = 87.88 p.a. (previously 74.16 + 8.92 = 83.08)

Full member whose annual salary is not less than half (8,327 from 1/10/98) but less than the whole of the Lecturer minimum (16,655 from 1/10/98) —

Monthly 4.94 (National) + 0.76 (Local) = 5.30 per month (previously 4.64 + 0.76 = 5.40)

Annual 59.28 (National) + 6.72 (Local) = 66.00 p.a. (previously 55.68 + 6.72 = 62.40)

Attached member (not registered as unemployed), or Full member whose annual salary is less than half the Lecturer minimum (8,327 from 1/10/98) —

Monthly 2.08 (National) + 0.33 (Local) = 2.41 per month (previously 1.96 + 0.33 = 2.29)

Annual 24.96 (National) + 2.66 (Local) = 27.62 p.a. (previously 23.52 + 2.66 = 26.18)

These figures do not include the political fund contribution of 0.08, 0.06, 0.04, 0.02 per month respectively paid by those members who have opted in. Attached members (registered as unemployed) and retired members who were full members for at least 15 years and returned the appropriate form are free, as are the other retired members who paid a one-off fee of 11.88. Joint members with MSF, RCN, RCM, or the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists should check the rates and the timing of the change with me.

The new rates start in September and annual subscriptions will be collected at the end of October. I would remind members that 2/3 of the national subscription is tax deductible.