Belfast AUT Newsletter Issue no. 10- September 2002
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go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext University Funding Crisis - Complain to the NI Politicians

The draft Northern Ireland budget has just been published and it is bad news for higher education. AUT has been warning for some time that, as government funding passes through the NI Executive and Assembly, the money for higher education could be diverted to other purposes. That is what is implicitly proposed in the "Public Expenditure Plans: 2003-04 to 2005-06", and you have until 15 November to make your views felt. The plans are published on www.nics.gov.uk/dfp.htm and you can comment via that website or by email to budget@dfpni.gov.uk

In the budget there is money for SPUR2, for an extra 330 f.t.e. higher education student places in 2003-04, and money to "widen access to tertiary education for students from lower income families, through improvement in the level of bursaries and changes to income thresholds "

What is missing is any money for the proper funding of the RAE. In England there is ring-fenced money for research and the RAE will be fully funded by 2005-06. A key assumption in the QUB Academic Plan is that the RAE QR earnings for 2002/3 (£14.2M) will be boosted by £2.5M per annum in subsequent years. It said: "Given our discussions with DEL and the priority for additional research funding identified nationally, and in the 2002 Spending Review, the University is confident this assumption is conservative." AUT too had been assured by the Minister of Employment and Learning, Carmel Hanna, that research funding was the Department's top priority in its budget bid. Obviously, supporting international and national level research is not an interest of the NI Executive. The implications for the development of Queen's are grave.

The Vice-chancellors of QUB and UU have issued a hard-hitting press release which can be read in full on the University website. In it they say: "The Executive is in danger of making short-term spending decisions at the expense of Northern Ireland's medium and long-term future. It is only by creating a strong knowledge-based economy that we will be able to create the resources necessary to sustain funding in crucial areas such as health and education. The continuing failure to fund world-class research at comparative levels to competitors will do lasting harm to our economic competitiveness and our future as a health, stable community."

They go on to say: "Northern Ireland remains the poor relation of all the UK regions in terms of investment in university research and development. The Draft Budget does nothing to address our fears that Northern Ireland and its people could be consigned to the fringes of the new knowledge economy and the global marketplace with its exciting opportunities. We note with concern the recent announcement that Scottish universities will benefit from an extra £70 million of ring-fenced research funding for the next three years. Some £250 million has been awarded to universities in England. University research in the Republic of Ireland received  305 million in the period 1999/2001, with the single aim of making their institutions 'world class research centres'."

AUT heartily endorses these views. You have worked hard to raise the standing of Queen's. If the proper RAE funding is denied the Northern Ireland universities will rapidly become the poor relations of the university system. Without the funding we cannot afford to carry out all our national and international level research. Research teams will break up and we will then lose research contracts. Jobs will be lost and careers will be blighted. Our attractiveness to students, especially postgraduate and international students, will decline. The economic benefits that a strong research base brings to the Northern Ireland economy will dry up.

go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext How we will fight the proposed cut

If the Northern Ireland universities become the poor relations of the university system, the prospects of all staff will be seriously harmed and the benefits that the University brings to the local community will be diminished. We cannot let these short sighted proposals go unchallenged. We will be campaigning to get these funding proposals changed, and in this we will have the co-operation of the University management.

On 27 September the matter was discussed by AUT National Executive We will be using the resources of HQ in the campaign, but most of the organising will be done in Northern Ireland.. Immediately the news broke the Regional Official, Brian Everett, requested an meeting with the civil servants in the Department of Employment and Learning. A meeting with Robson Davison and David McAuley is now set for 29 October. AUT already had a meeting set up for 2 October with the new chair of the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council. We will now use this to press Tony Hopkins on funding.

The most effective way to get these proposals changed is to put pressure on local politicians both directly and via the media. To this end we need to mobilise the membership. We need you to fight to preserve your prospects and the benefits that QUB brings to the community. In the next Newsletter we will explain how you can put pressure on Assembly Members and give details of public events. As a start, we need volunteers who can explain clearly and concisely how their research benefits the community and how it will be damaged by lack of funding. These people should be prepared to give media interviews and to act as expert witnesses to politicians. If you are willing to do this please email me (p.hudson@qub.ac.uk) with your name, phone number and research area.

Paul Hudson


go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext Public support on funding

82% of the public want Government funding for higher education to increase to match the planned expansion. This is the result of a telephone poll of 1000 people, aged 16 upwards, by Taylor Nelson Sofres between 23-25 August. The question asked was: 'The government wants universities to educate 20 per cent more of the nation's young people by 2010. Should university funding also increase by 20 per cent to help ensure standards don't fall?'

Under Government plans, universities will have to take 670,000 more students by the end of the decade, but so far public funding has failed to keep pace with the growth in people attending university, which has been underway for several years.

AUT General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said, 'I think people, particularly students and parents, are very concerned by what they see is going on in education. They can see that unless funding is adequate the quality of education that can be provided by universities is clearly going to go into decline.'

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Joined up Government

AUT general Secretary, Sally Hunt, has written to Tony Blair 'I am writing to ¼ ask that you convene an emergency summit of higher education stakeholders to discuss the many problems in the sector and identify practical solutions.'

Amongst the problems which need to be addressed are:

HQ Circulars


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"Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land"

If anyone accused the Vice-Chancellors of "living in Cloud Cuckoo Land" I would normally shout "Hear, hear!" But not when the speaker is Margaret Hodge and she is talking about university funding. Those of us who can remember the line of ministers responsible for higher education stretching back beyond Margaret Thatcher, would find it hard to name one as arrogant and wilfully deaf as Margaret Hodge.

The Vice-Chancellors, in the form of Universities UK, had costed the investment needed to maintain the quality of research and to teach the additional students the government is demanding. They were asking for £9940M over the next three years, and AUT regards this as a conservative estimate. She told a Guardian-sponsored conference that the government was working to reverse a generation of underinvestment in universities and colleges, but ministers had to work within an envelope set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The higher education minister for England said: "We are not going to underwrite all the sector's demands, no matter how plausible you may think they are." "It is cloud cuckoo land because it [Universities UK] has not addressed priorities and it assumed a public spending envelope which is totally unrealistic."

Ms Hodge said the government's priority was to maintain leading edge science by providing good laboratories and enabling universities to employ the best brains - implying that the bulk of the science budget would be concentrated in a few top institutions in line with the RAE. Incidentally, AUT HQ believe that even the money for science will appear only on the eve of the next General Election.

On the other hand, Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England said: "We intend to give all universities a core of funding for research." He promised radical changes to the RAE and conceded that the underfunding of the 2001 exercise had damaged morale amongst staff. But he also said that for the past 25 years, research had been given higher status among academics than teaching or other activities. "We must take steps to redress the balance of what has become an obsession with research."

My impression is that, rather than cloud cuckoo land, those in charge of higher education are inhabiting several different planets.

Paul Hudson based on the Educational Guardian

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Salary Anomalies

The removal of points from the bottom of the lecturer scale means that some staff with a few years service find themselves being paid the same as recent appointments. We also have complaints from people who feel that they have not been appointed on the right point of the scale given their experience and previous earnings. At AUT insistence, QUB has reinvented a mechanism for dealing with salary anomalies. This is distinct from rewarding exceptional performance by means of accelerated increments or discretionary points, although it is described in the same part of the promotions documentation.

Unfortunately, QUB will not allow you to apply yourself. The Head of School will be supplied with a list of salaries in the School. After systematic consideration of every member of staff in the School and after consultation with appropriate senior colleagues, he/she will decide if there is an anomaly to bring to the attention of the Discretionary Pay Committee. This is of little help to you if your comparator is in another School or if senior staff do not know the full merits of your case. So our advice is to bend the ear of your Head of School as soon as possible.

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So That's what "Community Service" is!

Community Service was one of the performance categories in both promotion and appraisal last year. However there was widespread confusion as to what this meant. Subject to approval by various committees, the documentation for the next promotion round contains an explanation of Community Service.

It says: "Contribution to the community involves a staff member's efforts to generate, transmit, apply or preserve knowledge and/or expertise for the direct benefit of external audiences in ways which are consistent with the University's mission. This includes work for government, local authority, professional, community and commercial bodies. It may also include work undertaken for the University in the external community."

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Part-time staff

By law, a part-time worker should enjoy the equivalent rights to a comparable full-time worker in the same work place. This covers basic rate of pay, contractual sick and maternity pay, access to training, leave entitlement (including maternity leave and family responsibility leave), and treatment in a redundancy situation. If any part-time member believes that they are being treated less favourably, they should contact an AUT Officer.

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Fixed Term and Casual Staff

As a result of European legislation, The Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 comes into effect on 1 October. Also in June there was a national agreement between university trade unions and employers called "Fixed-Term and Casual Employment - Guidance for Higher Education Institutions". Together these could revolutionise the conditions of employment for fixed-term and casual staff once local negotiations have implemented them in Queen's. We will report in more detail in the next Newsletter. In the meantime, any member of such staff who is asked to sign an employment document should inscribe it "subject to the National Guidance on Fixed-Term and Casual Employment - June 2002 and local negotiations".

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Pay Deal Reluctantly Accepted

In the consultative ballot of AUT members on the pay offer 69% of the votes cast were for reluctant acceptance. The turnout was 51%. The National Executive believe that the vote reflects the real fears many of our members have about job security. They are pressing ahead with a campaign on funding.

Members of other campus unions have voted in the same way and the formal acceptance of the offer will be confirmed to the employers. The deal runs from 1 August 2002. Although there is a lot of work involved, we are hopeful that you will see the money in your pay-packet at the end of October.

Paul Hudson


© 2002 Belfast Association of University Teachers
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