Boing. Boing. What’s that? No, not the arm-rest on your office chair buckling, but the sound of Spring…springing. To put even more of a bounce in your step (or, perhaps, rain on your parade), here’s the latest UCU Northumbria newsletter.
In this edition:
Technology and Workload Survey – The Results
Building Surveying Degree – Who is Next?
Dates for your diary
It was brought to UCU’s attention that staff were being instructed that their online work profile must contain their image. We pointed out to HR that for some people this is causing great distress. For example, anyone escaping domestic violence has the right to privacy and this cannot be right. UCU supports this as good practice in the main in marketing, but could not support the compulsory nature of this. HR have subsequently agreed noting images are useful but should remain voluntary. We appreciate their cooperation, and the successful resolution of this potentially stressful situation.
Technology and Workload Survey – results
All members, the Students’ Union, HR, and senior management, have already been sent the results of UCU Northumbria’s of members to gather quantitative and qualitative data regarding people’s experiences and concerns when using technology for teaching and administration. We are all using online technology more and more, from E:Vision to Panopto. This has potential advantages and disadvantages, and while no-one is suggesting using technology is inherently a good or bad thing, it is important that we move into the future aware of the challenges it can cause, particularly in relation to workloads, stress and work-life balance. Those challenges are significant. In summary, our results show that the overwhelming majority of respondents are using technology for teaching and administration more and more, but that despite some positivity about the benefits and opportunities of technology, this is having negative effects on colleagues’ levels of stress, efficiency and work-life balance. Furthermore, there needs to be recognition and action on the effects of technology on student learning: while 33% of respondents said technology has made the student experience better, 67% reported it had made it worse.In a positive spirit, appreciating members’ responses and contributions, and mindful of any forthcoming Staff Survey and the arrival of Blackboard Ultra, UCU Northumbria will take a lead in ensuring HR and senior management acknowledge and work to counteract these effects, if any future implementations are to be successful.
As detailed in the recent Branch meeting, Northumbria UCU’s Equalities Sub-committee is now revived and ready for action (cue loud hurrays!), under the inestimable stewardship of Jackie Collins and Victoria Murray, UCU Branch Equality Officers (even louder hurrays!). Any member is invited to join the group (please contact Jackie or Victoria to do so), and it particularly encourages members from black and minority ethnic communities (BAME).
Working with members, HR and the Students’ Union, the group will be seeking results on a range of issues including: achieving a better deal on maternity provision (that doesn’t discriminate against certain staff, or make that better provision conditional on cuts in other support); designing policies on domestic violence and sexual harassment (the university doesn’t have any); getting appropriate workload allocations for those undertaking Athena Swan duties (the process should not enshrine the inequalities it seeks to address); and the gender pay gap. On this last issue, Jackie and Victoria have already issued the following statement: “We welcome the University’s Gender Pay Report and its commitment to tackling the evidenced pay gap and related issues. The overall gender pay gap is 16.38% (mean) and 22.74% (median) but these figures include all University employees so are not transparent in terms of gender pay gap for academic colleagues. We will press the University to provide specific information about the gender pay gap for academics and will take every opportunity to encourage management to implement more progressive steps to support female colleagues who are currently underrepresented beyond grade 8. We will campaign for stronger measures to be taken to redress the imbalance. This will be a significant ongoing piece of work for us as the University implements its action plan. The report can be accessed here: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/-/media/971f24e7aace44de91e24b0e25cbc878.ashx”.
UCU have for several years been asking for more consistency and more precise details about the processes and judgements that inform the very serious decision to close a degree programme. What criteria matter? Who is consulted? What are the timescales? Answers to these kinds of questions are needed now more urgently than ever given what is happening to colleagues on the Building Surveying (BS) Degree Apprenticeship (DA). In the interests of informing members across the university about what can happen to even hugely successful and in-demand programmes, we’re sharing their story here. The recent announcement to close the programme after 1 year, comes on the back of the Department of Architecture and Built Environment being awarded the highest outcome in every category in their Periodic Review with the panel identifying a number of strengths, including “commitment to students’ learning experiences, involvement with industry and the provision of authentic learning experiences”. Some members of the teaching team have attended meetings with the Faculty senior management and been told a range of reasons behind the decision. These include a requirement of a minimum number of 15 students to make part time route viable (other courses don’t recruit this number), the concern that part-time study makes timetabling complicated and messy for full-time students, and the reality that with VS and staff leaving there is a reduced teaching team (50% of 2016 levels), exacerbated because the Faculty has not been able to recruit the calibre of academic required by the University (ie. PhD-qualified). The vast majority of the modules taken by the DA students are also taken by the full-time UG students, so even later in the course they will still be taught in larger groups. For these reasons, the students of all three pathways should be considered as a single cohort when considering whether or not the programmes are sustainable.
Colleagues have been told that they are not here to simply provide for local employers and unless the course can be profitable then they won’t run. This, despite the fact that the degree currently has 35 part time students from 31 regional employers across the course, and it qualifies students to work anywhere, enhancing their social and geographical mobility. Moreover, there is currently a shortage of Building Surveyors and hardly a week goes by when the team are not contacted by an employer looking for a graduate or placement student. Many of these employers have been considering the apprenticeship route, particularly those that pay the levy. Northumbria could pride itself on being one of only 12 institutions in the UK currently offering DA in Building Surveying and the nearest other courses are at UCLAN and Sheffield Hallam. This means that many levy-paying firms in the North East will no longer have a local institution to send apprentices to. We have an excellent longstanding relationship with the professional body who accredit our course locally and nationally along with regional and national employers, and this decision, which has been made without consultation with that body or employers, is likely to damage this relationship. Those employers who have already decided to take on a school leaver to start the DA in September have been put in a very difficult position by this decision and we are already receiving complaints about it.
Rest assured, given what is at stake here in terms of the student experience, staff concerns, and Northumbria’s role and reputation in the region and nationally, UCU will be taking this up with the relevant Faculty, and the Board of Governors. But who’s to say when this might happen in your area? If you have similar concerns in this regard, please contact your local rep or any branch officer: http://www.ucu-unn.org.uk/2014-10-12-09-07-44/officers-reps
‘Facility time’ is the name given to the workload allowance for any staff engaged in formal UCU activities as reps, or as members of the branch executive and committee. As you might appreciate, those activities are very demanding, in terms of energy and time. Your UCU reps and officers deal with (lots of!) casework from individual members, negotiate on terms and conditions, review university policies, conduct health and safety surveys and other research, undergo training, and attend many meetings with HR and senior management at departmental, faculty and University level.
As a whole the branch gets an allowance of 1 FTE (+ TDRA, making up 74 hours) for all activities, officers and reps. UCU nationally recommends much more. Why? Because doing union work properly is demanding and takes time! And we already know how much time because over the past two years, UCU officers at Northumbria have compiled two audits, logging every hour of UCU service they conducted. In 2017, the audit revealed that UCU’s branch officers conducted an average of thirteen hours per week of UCU business; in 2018, this figure was eleven hours and forty minutes. Both audits saw executive members spending over three hours per week in meetings with either Human Resources or University or Faculty leaders. How do branch officers make up the difference? By donating time that would otherwise be spent marking or researching or with friend and families. No rep or officer is complaining about this – we love the work we do in support of members, and for the greater good. But, just as everyone would prefer more time for marking, preparing for teaching, or using new technology, we’d appreciate more time to do the things we need and are required to do.
We have been pressing the university for a modest increase in our allowance but have been rebuffed at every attempt. Such responses do not recognise that many of these activities not only benefit members but the university as a whole. In other words, UCU fulfils a vital role for the effective functioning of our workplace. So this year we will be asking for more ‘facility time’, to help us continue to do what we do to the best of our abilities. Please remember that the more time we have to devote to UCU activities, the better we can perform in our roles, and the better we perform, the better the university will be as a place to work for everybody! As these discussions develop, we trust members will be as supportive of their reps and officers as we try to be of them.
Come along with friends and family and join with UCU Northumbria Branch officers (and banner-carriers!) for this ever-popular event. The speakers include UCU’s President Joanna de Groot and Laura Pidcock MP, and the march will be led by the Backworth Colliery Band. The fun starts at 11am in Exhibition Park and the march will make its way to Grey’s Monument for a 12pm rally with live music.
14-18 May: UCU Northumbria Recruitment Week
Thanks to the efforts of Branch officers (and inclement socio-political conditions!) this has been a great year for recruitment, but there’s always more to do: the bigger the branch the stronger. So look out for activities across the campus in a couple of weeks. All colleagues are welcome to help staff stalls, knock on doors, and chat to anyone interested. Contact your local rep if you’d like to be involved: http://www.ucu-unn.org.uk/2014-10-12-09-07-44/officers-reps
Please join other members and Branch officers to review the successes and challenges of the year just passed and to agree our priorities for the year to come. We will be joined by an excellent speaker from the TUC, who will be talking to us about the TUC’s 150th anniversary and women’s suffrage. Do remember that the university agrees to keep these times free from meetings so that you can attend these events.