Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 2 February 1998
Contents of issue 1998-02
|Premature Retirement Compensatation scheme|
In commendable contrast to the characteristic spirit of the ancien regime, our new Vice-Chancellor has set out quite publicly to provide a broad vision and clear set of aims for his tenure of office. He has put down his motto - Access to Quality - to identify the twin goals of widening opportunities and raising standards. His intention of rebuilding the internal management structure, opening up communications, and revising the way the money is spent (and, for that matter, earned), has been made quite clear. So, too, has his view that the University needs a transfusion of fresh blood - particularly young research-active blood - to replace an ailing academic gerontocracy. He has said that he is offering leadership, in a bid to pull us back into the big league of universities. The immediate priority, as set out in his Whitla Hall address and embodied in the recent Planning and Resources Committee Report to Academic Council and Senate, is to enhance the Universitys research rating in the millennium RAE year, and all academic areas are currently undergoing a rigorous review to ascertain where expansion, retraction and reorganisation are needed for that purpose.
In pursuing these objectives, he has widespread support across the institution and within the governing body. Not surprisingly, perhaps, his views mirror those of the Strategic Review, which drew upon a wide range of opinion across the University, and has since been backed by Academic Council and Senate. He has, as they say, the wind behind him. However, to change metaphors, there is a familiar observation about the relationship between omelettes and eggs. As in all revolutions, the downside lies in the potential impact upon individuals in terms of insecurity, stress and potentially foreshortened careers; particularly difficult after the stresses and strains of recent years. The broad strategic objective in the next RAE is to cut the number of units of assessment by about ten, and increase the percentage of staff submitted to 85%. Departments, jobs, traditional practices (even non-Spanish ones), and possibly subjects are under threat. As yet, it is not clear how the Universitys teaching functions will gel with these research objectives. The promised remodelling of both the academic and the academic related management structures will be disruptive, and will undoubtedly occasion a scramble for position as delayering proceeds and roles change.
As Paul Hudson commented in his review the V-Cs Whitla Hall speech (Newsletter 1998, 1) there is much to be welcomed in the new broom. It would, frankly, be quite incongruous if the local association did not do this, having spent so much of the last decade publicly criticising the way that University business was being run
Our primary purpose, though, is to assist and protect the interests of our members. This means offering advice, support (local, and where necessary, national), and representation if jobs and careers are threatened. The central principle we have always espoused is No Compulsory Redundancies, and we are pleased to see that, so far, Professor Bain has talked only of premature retirement arrangements
We advise you to seek out information in your own College and School about the proposals being put to the Academic Planning Group on 26 February. These may have important implications for the academic shape of the University and individual careers. Please forward any information you get to AUT officers. We are seeking early access to information about these plans, in order to assess the impact upon colleagues in different areas, and we will assist in challenging inaccuracies and poorly-conceived proposals for change.
We will support members in resisting any attempt at bullying, harassment, threats and the dissemination of misleading information designed to pressgang individuals into making unacceptable career choices. If you are summoned to meet your Director or Provost in this context, you would be well-advised to be accompanied by a colleague or AUT officer
Professor Bains track record elsewhere in managing change while minimising pain is, we hear, impressive. We are sure that he will be as concerned as ourselves to ensure that the imminent changes in Queens are handled without rancour and in the best interests of all concerned.
The University will be sending PRCS offers to selected individuals aged 50 plus and we think it might be helpful if members had some background information on the scheme.
PRCS has been operating, UK-wide, since the early 1980s. Its rules were drawn up by USS at the request of the CVCP. PRCS philosophy is to allow universities to "release" older staff, bring in new blood and also to assist universities faced with a sudden reduction in income. Part of the cost of PRCS is met by the individual institutions, which buy their retiring staff extra years, and the remaining expense, for paying out a pension early (often the larger portion), is found by USS at a global cost of around 1% of the total UK pension contribution. (The USS contribution is in effect a form of collective insurance by all universities.) Some universities benefit more than others, but almost all institutions approve of PRCS a recent challenge to the scheme by one vice-chancellor, who wanted to scrap it, failed to get support.
The universities apply the scheme in the "managerial interest". No one has the right to early retirement and the University has the option in deciding how many extra years they are prepared to purchase. The best schemes offer the maximum number of enhanced years (up to 10) that a member would have accumulated between the date of early retirement and the normal retiring age. In addition they offer re-employment at one third of the salary for three years, or the cash equivalent. Queen's has, in the past, matched the best schemes.
Last year terms were less generous, in that no re-employment or cash equivalent was offered. Advice from AUT was to tell members to decline such reduced offers. The result was that only those (mainly administrative staff) who had pressing reasons to retire, did so.
Consequently there are still on the payroll a number of academic staff who would have preferred to go last year. Perhaps this time round they will get more attractive offers. We have not been consulted about the terms so the only advice we can offer is to make sure that you take an AUT officer with you, should you be invited to discuss your future outside Queen's.
No one under the age of fifty can be offered a pension, (unless on ill health grounds). Consequently, anyone whom the University would like to encourage to leave will have to be offered a lump sum. We have no information yet of what the University has in mind. AUT advice will be available on an individual basis once the University proposals are published.
The AUT lodged our pay claim on 20 November, but it will not be until 19 March that we have the opportunity to make an oral presentation to the employers negotiating body, the University & Colleges Employers Association. As all the unions are due to make their presentations on that day, further time has been set aside on 27 March. The employers are expected to make the same offer to all types of staff.
If that offer is unacceptable and/or our employers do not maintain their commitment to arguing within the Independent Review Committee for a statutory pay review body, balloting on industrial action will be initiated. The forms of industrial action to be proposed will be decided nearer the time. A consultative ballot calling for no further voluntary work to be undertaken on higher education courses to be delivered in further education institutions unless funding is forthcoming, will go out to members at the same time as the industrial action ballot. The earliest that action can begin within the legal framework will be mid April.
The one-off Independent Review Committee recommended by Dearing is finally starting. Its remit covers pay levels, conditions and pay determination machinery. The committee will have a budget of approximately £¼M raised by a levy of CVCP members. It has a secretariat comprising seconded DfEE staff headed by a senior civil servant, Peter Thorpe, who set up the teachers pay review body. The chair is Sir Michael Brett who was chair of the nurses pay review body 1990-5 and chair of the armed forces review body and president of the Institute of Personnel and Development. The members of the committee are:
Philip Love (Vice-Chancellor Liverpool University and chair of UCEA board)
Richard Shaw (Principal Paisley College, Scotland)
Derek Fraser (Vice-Chancellor Teesside University)
John Rae (Principal College of St Mary and St John, Plymouth)
Peter Humphreys (chief executive UCEA)
Nigel Horn (recent chief executive of a private company and now a consultant with KPMG)
Admiral Sir John Kerr (served on pay review bodies)
David Henshaw (chief executive Knowsley borough council)
Lief Mills (ex-general secretary Banking, Insurance and Finance Union)
Sheila Forbes (retired human resources director and chair of governors Thames Valley University)
Tom Wilson (Assistant General Secretary, AUT)
Paul Talbot (National Officer, MSF)
Elaine Harrison (Head of Higher Education, UNISON)
Liz Allen (Head of Higher Education, NATFHE)
Chris Kaufman (TGWU).
The review committee has its first meeting on 26 February.
I understand that Personnel are about to write to those subject to the exercise informing them of the timetable for completing the appeals round, and hence bringing to an end this stage of the process. Seriously.
Well, no not really. Next, those individuals who were in post during the first shot but for one reason or another were not covered, have to be dealt with. Then we have to address the fact that the job content of many staff has changed substantially over the last three or so years, and hence we will need to move into another round of evaluation. (A new Job Evaluation Panel is currently being trained for these purposes. The original Hay Six stood down last year, one member has since left Queens, and the Chairperson formally resigned for specific reasons.)
I am told that there is no intention automatically to rehear the cases of those staff whose appeals were heard by the Appeals Panel under Professor McAleese before she abandoned ship. This runs counter to the statements which were made publicly by the previous Director of Human Resources, who asserted the importance of continuity in having her as the Chair for all the appeals. [Without wishing to labour a point, we gave two major pieces of advice to the University authorities in the course of this exercise, both of which were rejected: (a) dont introduce an expensive and controversial, job evaluation scheme, but concentrate upon reviewing the existing procedures and criteria for career-advancement; (b) dont appoint Professor McAleese to chair the Appeals Panel, because she has far too many irons in the fire to do the job properly. QED] Our own view is that the University has since made serious efforts to clear up the mess and get a reformed panel in place under Professor Clarkson. However, there is obviously an issue of continuity between the old and the new. If your appeal was heard by Professor McAleese, and you want a rehearing, then you should write to Una Short in Personnel saying so. Let us know, and we will support your case.
It should be noted, however, that there is now a question-mark hanging over the whole scheme. The Strategic Review recommends that all job evaluation schemes operating for different categories of staff in the University should be reviewed, and it particularly notes the problem of rewarding individual merit under existing arrangements. In addition, a new national scheme of job-evaluation covering all University staff (HERA) has been under discussion for some time, and was recently piloted in a number of universities. Boycotted by both AUT and NATFHE, there is every reason to believe that the results of the pilot are as unwelcome to the Vice-Chancellors organisation, CVCP, as to ourselves. However, even in its current unsatisfactory state, it makes the Hay system appear crude and anachronistic.
Following on from the above, there are forty-odd research staff whose review arrangements were unilaterally abandoned by the University in the early nineties, and who were eventually informed that they would be subjected to a Hay evaluation. They should have been told that this will not now happen. While pragmatic reasons on the part of the ASMG may have been decisive in this decision, I should say that we have been particularly insistent upon the need for any review of research staff to take into account the specific characteristics of such posts, and have argued that unreconstructed Hay cannot do this. We are told that Personnel is currently looking at alternative schemes, and we have been pressing very hard for the issue to be pushed up the priority list. As yet, however, I fear there is nothing to report.
Once upon a time, the above title would probably have read simply discretionary pay, Christmas bonus, or some such. In an earlier issue, we noted that the Bursar was considering proposals to divert the discretionary fund to other purposes. At our recent meeting with the Senior Officers and the new Vice-Chancellor, it became clear that this is now a live issue.
The main proposal on offer is that, for this year at least, the fund should be dedicated to recruiting new staff, with an eye particularly on the next RAE. (We should also remind ourselves that Professor Bain has made it clear that he intends to initiate the long-foreshadowed task of reviewing the appraisal system and developing a new performance-based pay scheme. But thats perhaps one for another day.)
We have warned that many members of staff, even those alienated by the present system of a percentage bonus for all, may be very unhappy with using the fund primarily for recruitment purposes - not least since the vice-chancellor indicated in his Whitla Hall address that reserves were available for this purpose. In particular, we have noted that proposals to reintroduce accelerated salary increments and the use of discretionary points above salary scales were drafted last year by Personnel, accepted by ourselves, approved (we understand) by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and were then abandoned at Executive Board level.
It seems unfortunate that an attempt to widen the flexibility of the reward system - a flexibility we ourselves have advocated - has once more been put on the back-burner. The only thing to say is that discretionary funding was originally introduced as part of the Twenty-third Report in 1989 to be used for the purposes of recruitment, retention and motivation of staff. If the fund is to be plundered this year to support a one-off recruitment exercise, existing staff who have carried the brunt of work in the University will surely expect that retention and motivation will attract corresponding recognition.
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