Essex University invokes ‘capability’ for research staff after mini-REF, and claims probationary lecturers ‘not academics’

From the national UCU website:

In September 2017, approximately one-eighth of the research-active staff were sent letters warning that their positions might be in danger, including the invocation of Capability proceedings to remove them from their jobs. This represents an alarming increase in the use of Capability at Essex. It is evidence not of individual failure of academics but a system that creates failure. As the eminent sociologist C. Wright Mills argued, if there are 1-2 people unemployed in a city, we may look to their individual psychology for answers, but if it is 5-10% of the population, then it is a social not an individual problem.

This development is linked to the invention at Essex of an internal REF process, requiring all researchers to achieve 4 publications which judges in our departments believe to be 3* – two of them accepted by September 2017 – even before national REF targets had been set. We now know only one is required. Linking this setting of internal publication targets to job security is an unprecedented move, practically unique to Essex, and one that has led to a widely-perceived de-professionalisation of academics and job threatsIt also represents mission creep: Capability procedures have never been systematically used for this before.

Another extremely serious issue, again unique to Essex, is the declaration by senior management that academics with probationary status are not “academic staff”. This curious claim is not just a matter of semantics – it appears intended to deny probationers the protection of Ordinance 41 which covers procedures for capability, disciplinary, grievances, and redundancy that management cannot easily change, and guarantees academic freedom and “the principles of justice and fairness”.

The national President of UCU, Joanna de Groot, when she visited Essex this month, expressed shock at this move and questioned the wisdom of the senior management failing to recognise probationary staff as “academic staff”, given the possible impact this may have on hiring the best new staff in future. She rightly insisted probationers are certainly not fixed-term staff and are entitled to the same protections as other academics.

More information

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Manchester redundancies letter

Stop the Manchester cuts and redundancies

To be submitted to the Guardian.

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As staff across UK universities we are appalled at the proposed staffing cuts at the University of Manchester (Guardian, 13.05.17) including but not limited to the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, and Alliance Manchester Business School. The proposals meant that 171 members of staff are set to be axed despite annual income from tuition fees exceeding £423 million (2015/16). The way in which these cuts are being made and the treatment of these committed teachers and respected scholars is abhorrent.

Unfortunately these plans are resonant of a Higher Education system now rooted in the market and underpinned by rampant managerialism that has little interest in critical public and inclusive education and a general disregard for the views or experience of academic staff. At the same time as cutting 171 jobs, the University plan to create 100+ posts for early-career academics. In our experience these positions are unlikely to offer security in contractual terms or opportunities to pursue scholarship.

In the context of Manchester University’s plans and our own current experience in universities, the necessity for a government committed to an alternative model of higher, further and adult education which will abandon a system based upon crude market competition and league tables, and abolish student fees and debts has never been more urgent.

Prof Sian Moore, University of Greenwich
Prof Andy Danford, University of Leicester
Prof Phil Taylor, University of Strathclyde
Elizabeth Lawrence, Sheffield Hallam University (retd.), UCU Immediate Past President
Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, UCU NEC member
Sean Wallis, University College London, UCU NEC member, UCU Branch Vice President
Paul Errington, Teeside University, UCU NEC member, Senior lecturer
Xanthe Whittaker, University of Leeds, UCU NEC member
Jon Fanning, University of York, UCU committee
Gordon Asher, University of the West of Scotland
Richard Holmes, University of Bradford
Helen Mayall, Manchester Metropolitan University, UCU Site Convenor
Carol Cody, City of Liverpool College, UCU NW Women’s Equality Officer
John Yandell, Institute of Education, University College London, UCU Branch Secretary
Saladin Meckled-Garcia, University College London, Senior Lecturer, UCU Branch President
Tom Hickey, University of Brighton, Council for the Defence of British Universities
Lisa Palmer, Birmingham City University
Prof Dennis Leech, University of Warwick (retd.)
Prof David Midgley, University of Cambridge (retd,), Council for the Defence of British Universities
Rich Moth, Liverpool Hope University
Mehdi Husaini, Teesside University, Lecturer (retd.)
Elane Heffernan, Hackney College, UCU NEC elect
Marian Meyer, Bournemouth University, Senior Lecturer, UCU Branch Vice Chair
Tim Goodall, University of Leeds, UCU Branch President
William Edmondson, University of Birmingham (retd.), UCU Chair, West Midlands Retired Members
Christina Purcell, Manchester Metropolitan University, Lecturer
Geraldine Lee-Treweek, Manchester Metropolitan University, Principal Lecturer
Joao Florencio, University of Exeter, Lecturer, UCU LGBT Members Standing Committee
Annie Jones, Sheffield Hallam University
Rajesh Patel, Manchester Metropolitan University, Senior Lecturer
Mandy Brown, Lambeth College, UCU NEC
Gabriella Alberti, University of Leeds, UCU Equality Officer
Ruth Dar, University College London (retd.), UCU Branch Treasurer
Eda Ulus, University of Leicester, Lecturer
Julie Ryan, Manchester Metropolitan University
Prof Julian Williams, Manchester University
Prof Helen Colley, Manchester University
Cuneyt Suheyl Ozveren, Abertay University, UCU Branch President
Sean Doyle, UCL Institute of Education, Lecturer
Prof Cahal McLaughlin, Queens University Belfast

Add your name to this letter

Please note names will not appear automatically. The above is a subset of signatures that have already been collected.

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The higher education stand-off of 2017: an assessment – Prof David Midgley

There was much rejoicing back in January when the government was defeated over the first amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill to be put to the vote in the House of Lords. That amendment introduced a definition of the functions of UK universities into the text of the bill which included their freedom “to act as critics of government and the conscience of society”. Its effects were dispersed and diffused in subsequent re-wordings, but it was the first of several major amendments to command support in the Lords.

At the end of April, however, in the “wash-up” before parliament was dissolved on May 3rd, the bill became law, and much of the effect of those amendments was lost. What should we note about that process, and where does it leave us?

It is worth recalling that the bill was always intended as a consolidation on the new system for funding university teaching, based primarily on tuition fees and loans, that was introduced in 2012. It was widely recognised during the parliamentary debates that some adjustment to the regulation of the higher education sector was needed in the light of that, and that students who were being required to invest financially in the courses they took needed access to adequate information about those courses and an appropriate regime of consumer protection. But the bill that had been brooded over in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for five years before it was presented to parliament in May 2016 was much more ambitious than that. It sought to make it easier to establish new institutions that would provide training in particular specialised skills considered necessary to drive the economy forward, and it included measures to incorporate the research councils into a new overarching funding body, along with the agency that acts as a facilitator for the practical application of research outcomes, Innovate UK. Continue reading

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Where next after the HE Bill? – Sean Wallis and Lee Jones

For a week or so it appeared as if the Conservatives had pulled the plug on the Higher Education and Research Bill (HE Bill) by calling a Brexit General Election on June 8th. Only negotiations with the Labour front bench could allow the Bill to become an Act in time for the enforced closure of Parliament.

The earlier ‘debate’ in the Commons had been lamentable. No notable amendments were accepted in the Committee stages in the Commons. The Conservatives simply kept to the party whip and refused any amendment.

Then the Lords set to work. Through a series of 240 amendments, voted on and accepted in the House of Lords, their Lordships took apart key elements of the legislation.

The position taken by the Conservatives in the Commons differed sharply from the position taken by a variety of Lords – Liberal, Labour, Conservative and cross-bencher.

The official Tory position on the Bill was expressed in the infamous Green and White Papers. Higher Education ‘reform’ was required to permit private providers to ‘access’ undergraduate students and full fees in competition with universities of long-standing. The UK Government should allow Group 4 or Pearson to compete with Cambridge or Liverpool. The market is king. Private companies must be allowed to enter this market, charge £9,000+ a year, and reap the rewards. As a result ‘standards’ would, miraculously, be raised.

To create ‘a level playing field’, the existing regulatory framework, including the Quality Assurance Agency and other bodies, must be disbanded. The standard of academic environment and the inspection regime required by the QAA were too onerous for precious new private providers. Hence the TEF. University teaching was to be evaluated not in terms of whether students were challenged and their minds expanded to the frontiers of human knowledge, but whether the experience of attending university was personally satisfying.

The ideas were so poorly constructed that most staff and students who actually read these Papers were perplexed at how little knowledge of education was on display. Absent from the Papers were any notion that education might be about teaching students difficult and challenging ideas, or encouraging them to develop their own ideas. At most, the implied conceptualisation was instrumentalist: spoon-feeding and teaching-to-the-test.

Indeed, what is striking about the so-called ‘debate’ about the HE Bill, is that – beyond the ideologues of the DfE and the direct beneficiaries of the Bill busy lobbying them behind the scenes and a few self-interested, renegade Vice Chancellors – the proposals gained no public support. Continue reading

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An act that Labour must repeal to save higher education

(published in The Guardian 12 May)

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We commend the Labour Party for calling for the end of the current £9,000 student tuition fee-and-loans regime – for HE and FE.

High tuition fees have been catastrophic for social mobility. They triggered a collapse in part-time study and cut late returners to Higher Education. It is nonsense to claim that the fee regime is ‘progressive’.

They are also, paradoxically, more expensive than the previous £3,000 fee. In 2014 the Guardian reported the Treasury admitting that the rate of student debt write-off was predicted to ultimately be over 45%.

The high fee was designed for one purpose: to make HE privatisation profitable. David Willets introduced the fee as part of a package of measures: the partial abolition of the ‘block grant’, removal of caps on student numbers, and now – with the appalling Higher Education and Research Act (HE Act) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the effective deregulation of the sector. The Conservative aim, outlined in their own Green and White Papers, is to allow companies with little or no track record in education to set up private universities, paid for by the taxpayer through fees and loans, offer ‘degrees’ without oversight, and – if it all goes wrong – shut up shop abandoning students to their fate.

We commend Labour for demanding an end to the tuition fee regime, but we call on them to go further. If the Party is serious about rescuing HE in the UK it must commit to repealing the HE Act, and support the reintroduction of rigorous academic standards in the sector.

Yours sincerely,

Sean Wallis, University College London, UCL UCU VP, UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) member, and joint editor of the Alternative White Paper for Higher Education (AWP)
Prof John Holmwood, University of Nottingham, Campaign for the Public University (CPU), AWP joint editor
Rachel Cohen, City, University of London, UCU NEC, AWP joint editor
Tom Hickey, University of Brighton, Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU), AWP joint editor
Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London, CPU
Prof Des Freedman, Goldsmiths University of London, UCU Branch Secretary
Malia Bouattia, NUS President 2016-17
Bruce Heil, Open University, UCU NEC
Patricia McManus, University of Brighton, UCU NEC
Chris Jones, Neath Port Talbot Group, UCU NEC, vice chair UCU Wales
Xanthe Whittaker, University of Leeds, UCU NEC
Sue Abbott, University of Newcastle, UCU NEC
Julia Charlton, Northumbria University, UCU NEC, Senior Lecturer, UCU NEC member and Branch Chair
Julie Hearn, Lancaster University, UCU NEC
Elizabeth Lawrence, Immediate Past President, UCU
David Muritu, Sandwell College, UCU NEC
Paul Errington, Teesside University, UCU NEC
Jo McNeill, University of Liverpool, President, University of Liverpool UCU, and UCU NEC
Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, UCU NEC
Carlo Morelli, Dundee University, Senior Lecturer, UCU NEC
Lesley McGorrigan, University of Leeds, UCU NEC
Mandy Brown, Lambeth College,  UCU London Regional Secretary, UCU NEC
Sean Vernell, City and Islington College, UCU NEC
John Murphy, Blackburn College, UCU branch vice chair, UCU NEC
Margot Hill, Croydon Gollege, UCU NEC
Christina Paine, London Metropolitan University, UCU Coordinating Committee, UCU NEC elect
Lesley Kane, Open University, UCU NEC elect
Richard McEwan, Tower Hamlets College, UCU FE national negotiator
Nita Sanghera, Bournville College, UCU NEC elect
Rhiannon Lockley, Halesowen College, UCU West Midlands Chair, UCU NEC elect Continue reading

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Emergency Lobby of Parliament over HE Bill – 12 noon 26.4.17 – Parliament Sq


Lobby of Parliament

Government ‘concessions’ not nearly enough, say academics and UCU

London Region UCU has called a lobby of Parliament today (26 April) at 12 noon. The lobby is supported by UCU and the Campaign for the Public University.

What is at stake

The Government has made some concessions to attempt to get the Higher Education and Research Bill onto the statute books before the General Election. The Bill faced nearly 250 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. They need votes in both Houses of Parliament to get approval.

The House of Commons will take a decision on the future of the Bill later today. London Region UCU has called a protest and lobby in Parliament Square from 12 noon. Union members are being urged to write to MPs.

Analysis by UCU, the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) and the HE Convention is that these “concessions” do not go far enough.

Yesterday UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt wrote to all members. She writes that

Amendments which are NOW AT RISK include:

  1. blocking plans for a crude rating of teaching quality
  2. removing the link between teaching excellence and tuition fees
  3. ensuring any organisation awarding degrees meet improved quality standards
  4. removing international students from net migration targets
  5. protecting overseas staff

Prof David Midgley, a leading member of the CDBU, notes that the Government has provided little detail in its response to many of the Lords Amendments, and some amendments are not addressed at all.

His analysis, published today by the HE Convention, observes that the Government has potentially made minor concessions on points 1 and 3 above, but has refused to remove the link between the TEF and fees, and has made no improvements to protect international students and staff.

Republished from UCU London Region.

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Analysis of Government responses to Lords amendments – David Midgley (CDBU)

Higher Education and Research Bill

A summary of the Government’s responses to the Lords amendments, as published on 25 April 2017.

Amendment 1 (definition of a university):

Struck down in favour of guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State following consultation with interested parties (to be inserted in clauses 51 and 52: Use of university title, etc.).

Amendments 12 (prohibiting ranking), 209 and 210 (Schedule 2, i.e. fee
limit, subjecting the prescription of by the Secretary of State to
affirmative procedure):

Struck down. The effect of the various insertions proposed instead is difficult to decipher, but the insertion at p. 67, l. 12 appears to exempt the power of the Secretary of State to award above-inflation rises in the fee limit at the top end from the strong form of parliamentary control (i.e. by affirmative procedure).

Amendment 15 (registration of students on the electoral roll):

Struck down in favour of “such steps as the OfS considers appropriate for facilitating cooperation between the provider and one or more electoral registration officers”, etc.

Amendment 23 (quality assurance subject to independent evaluation):

Struck down in favour of deleting sub-sections 5 and 6 in Clause 25 (referring to “standards”) and inserting a new clause (at p. 16, l. 23) requiring the Secretary of State to appoint a person independent of the OfS, and with suitable experience, who would “command the confidence of registered higher education providers”, and who would produce a thorough report on the assessment and rating procedures (i.e. the TEF), including the descriptors used for rating purposes and the impact of the process on the “providers” concerned, “after the initial period” (i.e. the first year after section 25 becomes operative); and that the report be laid before Parliament.

Amendment 71 (conditions of registration):

Struck down, removing the requirement that a new provider demonstrate satisfactory validation arrangements for 4 years before authorisation. Some re-drafting is also proposed in this area.

Amendments 78 and 106 (the Judge amendments):

Struck down in favour of allowing the tribunal concerned to take into account “evidence that was not available to the OfS” and making explicit the range of options open to the tribunal.

Amendment 156 (international students):

Struck down in favour of requiring (in clause 59: publication of information) the consideration of information that would be useful to international students and institutions that provide for them, including information about numbers of international students.


Page references are to The Bill as introduced to the Lords (HL Bill 76).

The consolidated list of Lords amendments referred to (posted 6.4.17).

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