Belfast AUT Newsletter Issue no. 6- May 2002
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The documentation runs to 133 pages and we have attempted to read between all the lines. The first draft was discussed by the V-C and Senior Officers with Heads of Schools on 13 May and with AUT Officers on 17 May. There will be a second draft which will be discussed on 10 June before decisions are taken at dedicated meetings of Academic Council on 21 June and Senate on 25 June.

With such voluminous documentation it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees, and so we will describe the documents in increasing order of importance. The first is the "Annual Operating Statement and Financial Forecast 2002". This describes the numerous activities/targets that the University (mainly the administration) set itself for this academic year and the progress towards them. You may be astonished at the amount of 'spin' in the claims, but, since the activities/targets for next year are at present blank, it deals with the immediate past rather than plans for the future.

The second is "Review of Life Sciences". In this Ken Brown looked at medicine, biomedical and biological sciences and associated subjects to see whether they need to be reorganised to encourage co-operation in research. Grouping them into a Faculty was rejected, but they are to be co-ordinated in an Institute of Life Sciences, and there appear to be few implications for staffing or resources.

The third is "Development of Research Plan 2002-2006" by Roy Crawford based on work by the Research Committee. The V-C believes that QUB is knocking at the door of the Russell group and wants further improvements in research. But we have less resource to invest in this than in 1998 and the competition is tougher. Should we be more focused? Tables give targets for RAE grade and the number of staff to be included for 2006. There are no entries for Architecture, Planning, Nursing and Agriculture & Food Science (due to the DARD review). Most units are targeted to improve one grade, but not where the cost would be too great. Subjects with reductions in the number of staff to be included include Physics and Social Work.

The fourth is "Academic Plan 2002/3". This arises from the usual annual round in which, by Faculty, each Head of School presented to Academic Planning Committee their plans for the next five years concerning courses, students, staff and resources. Last year's plan demanded action plans from units with deficits over 50% and the progress of these has been mixed. Because of the development of the new Strategic Plan, the Academic Plan 2002/3 deals only with generalities. But the table shows Classics, Byzantine Studies, Philosophy, Anthropology, History and Irish Studies having deficits of over 50%. Units currently with deficits in the 15% to 50% range include European Studies, Chemistry, Biology & Biochemistry, Dentistry and Law.

Besides the surplus/deficit based upon the Resource Allocation Model (RAM) the paper calculates a target student:staff ratio. This is done by starting with values of 15 for laboratory subjects, 20 for non-laboratory subjects and 18 for small non-lab subjects, and adjusting these figures according to a table using RAE grade and proportion of staff entered. I have not seen a validation of this approach. Using these target student:staff ratios, Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Philosophy, Irish Studies, Dentistry and Medicine are shown to have significantly too many staff (or too few students). If, in the medium term, a subject fails to recruit sufficient students to justify its staff, it will be considered for reduction.

The document which trumps all other plans is "2002 APG Plan" written by the Registrar. This has extensive appendices on management tools which are discussed below. Its objective is "to further enhance the standing of Queen's as a university of national and international standing for both teaching and research". Related objectives are: improved position in the research league; enhancement of learning and teaching; getting surpluses/deficits of Schools to be less than 15% of core income from teaching and research; developing the use of the student:staff ratio model; and equity in the distribution of support staff. It also considers academic staff and research students, investment in teaching, research, library and computing facilities, and start-up support packages.

APG is considering where disinvestment and reinvestment should take place and the possible grouping of subjects. APG is assessing subject areas against criteria including: teaching quality (QAA, innovation, ILT); research quality (met RAE target in 2001, omissions in 2001, potential for improvement for 2006 and its cost); student demand (quality, applications, trends, teaching load, international and GB students); student:staff ratios (within 15% of target); financial viability (surplus/deficit within 15% of core income in medium term); and regional contribution (professional accreditation, relevance to the development of the region). Individuals to be examined for "disinvestment" include staff research inactive in 2001, those nearing retirement in Schools deemed overstaffed in both teaching and research, and Research Officers paid from general funds unless alternative sources of funding can be found. APG states that in the support sector there is a rolling programme of major reviews looking at savings, activities to be discontinued and income generation, and makes no additional suggestions.

Due to the failure of the Government to fully fund the RAE, there are severe financial constraints on the strategy and some of it (e.g. PRCS) will be funded from reserves. Reserves not earmarked for specific purposes will be run down over the period to 2006/7 from £22M to £9M. APG want a breakeven position in income and expenditure throughout the period; for the next financial year this already requires a 3.6% real cut across the board. For the other years the situation could be worse, especially as £1.5M is to be top-sliced for re-investment from income every year. This would be added to savings from disinvestment and spent on: academic staff where student demand or the research strategy suggests it; start-up packages for new staff similar to those in 1998; research studentships in priority areas. Capital expenditure will be targeted at priority areas.

In considering these strategic plans there is one event that could change everything radically and unpredictably: in just over two year's time we will have a new V-C and possibly a new broom.

Paul Hudson

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The first management tool is a "Redeployment Procedure". This appears to be aimed mainly at support staff since it excludes posts of a specialist nature. We will enter into negotiations on this to get careful evaluation and guidance of any academic and related staff deemed surplus. Next there are two Redundancy Procedures - one for those covered by Statutes (virtually all AUT members) and one for everyone else. The one for academic and related staff virtually reproduces the existing Regulations and so is not new, but it contains expansion and interpretation, as well as errors and omissions, and we will discuss it with management.

QUB will offer a Premature Retirement and Voluntary Severance Scheme similar to that offered in 1998. For early retirement that means up to ten added years (rather than the reduced period currently offered) and is amongst the best schemes in the sector. It will be offered to academic and related staff in academic areas being restructured. No general scheme will be available in academic support areas unless further restructuring is planned. We will provide advice to interested members when details have been finalised.

The most revealing document is "Guidance on Managing Performance" which, at present, is just instructions to Heads of Schools on how to discipline and dismiss alleged under-performers. Belfast AUT Officers were caustic on this view that the only way to manage performance is with a big stick, but were told that discipline would be used only in exceptional cases, and that appraisal is the main way of improving performance. The document incorporates existing regulations on discipline, but puts an entirely different slant on them as to what is reasonable and appropriate. Negotiations on these could be tough.

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Everyone will be affected by the financial cuts and management tools. This draft does not contain a list of Schools and Institutes to be cut back. You can take the data and apply the criteria and come to your own conclusions. But for any subject different criteria may point in different directions, and there is room for selective interpretation by APG. Unless details appear in the next draft, it will be completely unacceptable to expect Academic Council to sign a blank hit-list.

Belfast AUT have the impression at this stage that management do not want compulsory redundancies. Our interpretation of the finances is that the number of early retirements and severances planned is in the low double figures. Both could prove wrong as the plan unfolds. Rumours are circulating about the future of Philosophy, Classics and Irish Studies. In the Institute of Lifelong Learning there is talk of dismemberment.

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Have your say

Belfast AUT has received memos from two angry P-V-C's provoked by our complaint of lack of consultation made in the last Newsletter. Their responses are longer than the offending words, so we will not reproduce them here, but copies are available from the AUT office.

In essence, they describe what the process is, on paper, to produce the annual academic plan and the research plan. Unfortunately our experience on the ground is that the intended consultation of ordinary staff often does not take place. Any consultation this year was before the financial crisis caused by the underfunding of the RAE became apparent. Anyway our complaint was about the new Strategic Plan being drawn up by APG in which even Deans were not involved.

At least now some consultation has taken place, and the rescheduling of the meetings of Academic Council and Senate provide more of an interval in which discussions at School and Faculty level can occur. You should make sure that such meetings are called so that you have your say and brief the members of Academic Council. The best time is soon after 10 June when the second draft of the Plan is available.

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Special General Meeting

Belfast AUT will hold a Special General Meeting on Wednesday 12th June at 1 p.m. in G07 Peter Frogatt Centre to bring you the latest news on the new Strategic Plan and to discuss it.

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Agriculture

The O'Hare Review of Education and R&D in Agriculture and Food Science has been published. It was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and is available on the web at www.agresedreviewni.gov.uk At present virtually all R&D and technology transfer is done in house at Newforge and the three Agriculture Colleges, and the latter provide sub-degree education to about 700 students. Some of the staff at Newforge are designated as Professors, Lecturers etc. and make up QUB's School of Agriculture and Food Science, producing about 50 graduates per year and teaching about 130 postgraduates. However the academic staff are Civil Servants, paid on Civil Service scales and organised by the appropriate union. AUT has members in the research and support staff, who are directly employed by QUB.

One proposal is for the introduction of a competitive bidding process for DARD funded R&D. This would reduce the amount of research at Newforge, but will present opportunities for other parts of QUB. The most important proposal is that School of Agriculture and Food Science become an ordinary part of either QUB or UU. A transfer to UU would mean the loss of service teaching for Schools on main-site QUB and the loss of facilities and co-operation for research. Integration into QUB could mean a change in pay and conditions for the staff transferred (which may be only some of those presently designated). It would also be an opportunity for QUB to increase co-operation and recruit overseas students. We will contact the other trade-unions and our members in Agriculture and Food Science.

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Fixed Term Contracts

What do universities have in common with the construction and catering industries? - the widespread use of short-term contracts. Other industries have the great majority of their staff on permanent contracts, but universities are one of the leaders in casualisation. The situation has developed slowly, and many of you will be shocked at the figures.

The following is taken from Higher Education Statistics Agency data files for the academic year 1999 - 2000 which is the latest data that is available to AUT. The data refers only to academic staff: that is staff employed to teach, research or both. Data for other types of employment in universities is not readily available. Data collected from other sources or referring to other categories of staff may vary significantly.

The use of successive FTCs is endemic in higher education. In the recent dispute between AUT and UU, some of the staff had been on FTCs for 16 years. The worst QUB case was of a woman paid on contracts (or none) for 26 years for whom Belfast AUT negotiated an ex-gratia payment to supplement a meagre pension. Now, after Belfast AUT pressure, QUB is acting as a comparatively good employer, and nobody in QUB should be employed on fixed-term contracts for more than 7 years without being made permanent. However, it may be difficult to reach 7 years!

In response to a European directive, Westminister is drafting legislation which will limit successive fixed-term contracts to a total of four years starting from July 2002. Some university employers demanded exemption from this for universities. AUT has campaigned against this possible exemption. Locally we have also lobbied the NI Minister, since legislation could be different here.

Belfast AUT is making a special effort to recruit fixed-tern staff using a poster describing their plight. We are using a poster rather than direct mailing because of the refusal of QUB to provide a comprehensive listing of staff. Please draw AUT and the poster to the attention of any fixed-term staff that you know.

Paul Hudson

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  AGM and call for nominations

The Annual General Meeting of Belfast AUT will take place on Thursday 27 June at 1.05 p.m. in G06, Peter Frogatt Centre. This is a change to the previously publicised date because that clashes with a national lobby of Westminister.

The meeting will be addressed by the past National President, Alan Carr. We will also hear reports from the outgoing Officers and elect the bulk of the AUT Committee. (The rest are elected by constituency elections at Christmas.) I therefore invite nomination for the following positions:

All the present incumbents are eligible for re-election. The duties of the various offices are laid down in the rules, and, if you are interested, you can discuss what is really involved with me.

Nominations shall be made with the written consent of the nominee either by the Committee or by any two members of the Local Association. They should be sent to me (s.harte@qub.ac.uk) by 4 p.m. on Thursday 13 June.

Susan Harte, Honorary Secretary


© 2001 Belfast Association of University Teachers
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