How is your summer shaping up? As joyfully as Panamanian World Cup goal celebrations, we trust. To further fever your pitch, or temper your mood, please see this latest edition of the Northumbria UCU Branch newsletter, coming (fairly) hot off the press after our recent and characteristically well-attended, lively and convivial Branch AGM (where the election of new officers and reps was ratified) – thanks to everyone who came. As ever, if you don’t know who your Branch officers or reps are, or you have any queries or concerns, please contact the appropriate person on this list: http://www.ucu-unn.org.uk/2014-10-12-09-07-44/officers-reps
In this issue:
Planning Days – How were they for you?
Timetabling and Research Days
Planning Days – How were they for you?
Across the university, many colleagues have recently participated in planning and review days in their areas. UCU absolutely appreciate the value of getting people together to discuss pedagogic matters, especially when teaching can so often seem devalued compared to other agendas. In that regard, it has been good for colleagues to have time dedicated to work crucial for the forthcoming year, and the efforts of those involved in running the days (not least Programme Leaders and Teaching and Learning leads) is laudable. However, UCU are aware of issues arising from the organisation of these days – staff were brought together to do tasks they had been told to do already (or could do later), some staff were told to cancel long-standing research commitments to attend, the online systems did not facilitate easy editing of uploaded documents, and this method of working does not suit many people. We would like to have your opinion about this process in order to review any different practices across the university and evaluate the effectiveness of the sessions. To that end we have put together a short survey, available here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1gaRXyVPtAFqAtu98dfMUZ_TRnAlY9J-J2ga32JF4l5I/edit?usp=sharing
Timetabling and Research Days
With requests coming thick and fast to review and agree our timetables for next year (please do check yours!), and with demands for research outputs increasing as we approach the REF, it is worth pausing to reflect on the support we should expect for our research in our timetables, especially when it comes to dedicated research days. The university’s policy on timetabling can be found here:
This document is worth looking at for many reasons, but when it comes to knowing your rights about research days it is important to look at these points:
3.2.8 The University encourages Faculties to allow Wednesdays 13:00-14:00 to remain free for trade union meetings and where possible arrange imetabling to facilitate this. This applies to UCU members too (not just officers and reps etc.), because you need to be able to attend/vote in branch meetings etc. You shouldn’t really be having your research day scheduled for a Wednesday (especially an afternoon) because that compromises your ability to do this. Plus, there is the potential you will have lots of other meetings on a Wednesday afternoon to do with teaching and administration. So if your ‘research day’, or even part of it, is scheduled for a Wednesday, point this out to your line manager. If you’re not sure how best to do this, please ask your local UCU rep for help and advice.
3.3.2 Faculties must provide all agreed staff requirements for research and enterprise activity and provide this information to the Timetabling Team by the agreed timetabling process deadline. These will be met where possible but the Timetabling Team retains the authority for scheduling activity to meet University and student needs. This should mean Faculties request research days from timetabling – along with any adjustments for occupational health reasons, or for staff on fractional contracts – before staff are asked to agree their timetables.
3.4.3 Approved staff time to undertake research and enterprise activity will be scheduled in blocks of half and/or full days. While this may not be ideal, because sometimes you need a sustained period of time to undertake research (and a half-day may not provide this), if you have an allowance on your workload for research and/or enterprise you should be given a full day or two half-days to do this. If this isn’t happening, contact your line manager and your UCU rep: http://www.ucu-unn.org.uk/2014-10-12-09-07-44/officers-reps
Victoria Murray and Jacky Collins are delighted to have been re-elected as your Equality Officers last month and look forward to serving you, raising awareness and supporting the University in upholding its equality duties and responsibilities over the next year. Viki and Jacky have already been busy organising lots of activities, as they continue to press on issues including eliminating the gender pay gap, improving parental leave and pay, the introduction of a menopause policy, flexible working, the Dying to Work Charter and fair Athena SWAN workloading:
In addition to the Branch’s own Twitter feed (@UCUNUbranch), the Equalities team are also now on Twitter! Follow the equalities account for news, topical issues and opinion @EqualityUCUNor1
To mark World Refugee Day UCU supported The Crossings Band concert on 15 June. We hope you were able to make it!
You may have heard about the recent controversial Woman’s Place UK protest at Coach Lane. This group has views on trans self-declaration. Neither UCU nor UNISON were notified or consulted about this event. We have made clear to the University our disappointment that we were not informed so that members could express a view about the event or participate.
We continue to be dismayed and frustrated that, as your representatives, the Vice Chancellor continues to bar us from the University Equality and Diversity Committee where we feel we should be able to contribute to discussions and policy on important equality issues. It is interesting to note that the Students' Union has representation at this forum. We will continue to push on this, to ensure that your voice is heard at the highest levels.
We hope those of you who were able to attend the AGM enjoyed the EqualitTEAS biscuits and refreshments.
Black History Month (October) – we plan to have a film screening and guest speaker.
EqualiTEAS Event (November) – join us for tea and chat as we mark 100 years since women could first stand for Parliament.
Do you run an undergraduate option module? Does it run when you are on sabbatical? Do you know of modules being pulled because there aren’t ‘enough’ students? UCU is becoming concerned about inconsistent practice between and within Faculties regarding the delivery of optional modules. For example, in some areas, options run with as little as 3 students; in others 15 is the minimum. Moreover, in some areas options do not run if the module leader (and thus subject specialist) is on sabbatical. In other areas, however, the option does run in those circumstances, but with a different tutor, who might not be a subject specialist. UCU recognise the challenge the university faces in delivering what we say we will: amongst students who are paying good money for their degree there is an expectation that an option trailered at an Open Day, for example, should be available in due course. So UCU understand the drive to make options available even when staff go on leave, for whatever reason. However, when it comes to ensuring the quality of student (and staff!) experiences, it is important the university balances the risk of not providing an optional module against the risk of someone inexperienced or unprepared delivering that option. Why might someone be unprepared or inexperienced? Because they haven’t been given enough notice or time on their workload to prepare, of course! Arguably, too, this problem shouldn’t occur – processes such as sabbatical rotas ought to be sufficiently robust to ensure that leave is accommodated, and modules rested. Students and staff should not suffer because managerial mechanisms are not working. Given these issues, UCU is deeply concerned that if option modules run without their subject specialist leading, the university potentially risks compromising its own commitments to research-led or research-informed teaching as outlined in the PFNA process; risks de-professionalising our profession, and undermining our integrity and expertise; and risks putting sometimes vulnerable, inexperienced staff under undue pressure to deliver material they do not know as well as a subject specialist, but with no additional support or time.
What are your experiences of running an option module? Has your module been pulled because you are on sabbatical, or because of the number of students on it? Please contact Adam Hansen with any concerns, observations or queries: firstname.lastname@example.org
As you will be aware, UCU is currently advocating a boycott of aspects of the PDA (appraisal) process. Here is what we communicated to members earlier this month: “What your officers are advising is that you meet as usual with your appraiser and discuss your development needs. What you should not do is agree to sign off the new on-line form, which is no longer confidential. Members at the AGM suggested for REF purposes we have the PRIP process and PDA should not be about setting objectives (management say almost all staff should be aiming for 3* outputs) which can later be used to discipline staff or even manage them out of the institution – just what we successfully kept back in the 2013/14 negotiation of the process. If you have any questions about this, please contact your local rep.”
Subsequent to this announcement, UCU has had a frank and productive meeting with senior members of HR, to help work on ways forward. We made several recommendations regarding the confidentiality of the PDA documentation, the communication about REFable outputs and support, and the PDA policy overall. We look forward to updating you further, and reviewing our advice, in due course.