University of Nottingham threatens staff with redundancy

Overview:

The University of Nottingham is proposing compulsory redundancies in the Faculty of Arts to save 11.5 FTE in staff costs. These cuts are on top of over 20FTE of savings made by the Faculty since 2015. These proposed redundancies are part of an ongoing process of review that will affect all departments in the University in order to generate a £30 million annual surplus at a time when the University is also undertaking an ambitious range of building projects.  We are asking that the University rule out compulsory redundancies and enter into a process of meaningful discussion over the Arts Portfolio Review and the contribution ratings used across the institution. Following a motion passed unanimously by over 200 members on March 16, UCU has entered into dispute with the University and is undertaking this indicative e-ballot on industrial action.

Redundancies and the University’s fiscal priorities:

UCU is concerned that the current review of the Faculty of Arts represents a considerable escalation of the use of redundancy to reduce staffing costs across the institution. We have expressed concerns that these redundancies are part of a larger programme of redundancies and have received no assurances that other departments/schools are not being prepared for similar levels of redundancy in order to secure the University’s target of an annual £30 million surplus. At the same time, the University is financing a highly ambitious programme of capital investment for which Management has provided us with a cost breakdown. This capital investment programme will see expenditure in the range of £580 million from 2014 to 2020. Of this amount, £240 million has already been committed to projects like Project Transform and a new Sports Village, but significantly £340 million remains uncommitted. While some projects will involve contributions from external partners we are awaiting further details about the levels of contributions from these partnerships and we retain our position that staff are the most important resource of a university.

We are awaiting information on how this plan of capital investment compares with the building programmes of other Russell Group institutions. We do, however, have figures published by the Russell Group in October 2014 indicating that the average capital spend of a Russell Group university is £62.4 million. Averaged over six years, the University’s planned capital investment of £580 million suggests that the University of Nottingham is considering an investment target of £96.6 million per year, a full £34.2 million per year above the 2014 average for the Russell Group. While not all of this money will come from the University budget, UCU has serious concerns about planning this level of investment while undertaking compulsory redundancies.

The mechanism for ensuring the generation of this £30 million surplus is the contribution rating that sets the target for the surplus that each faculty in the University must generate, and this is often broken down with different rates for different departments. UCU has raised questions over the process by which these targets are set and is awaiting a response from the University. We are similarly awaiting information on the different contribution ratings for all schools across the institution.

Consultation thus far

Despite the request from the Branch Committee to engage constructively with the new Faculty PVC in drawing up proposals regarding the Faculty of Arts, made on September 30th 2015, the first meeting did not take place until January 14th. At this point it was clear that the decision to incorporate a significant number of redundancies in the proposals had already been taken and that alternative proposals, such as redeployment, investment in recruitment, a lower student tariff and alternative cost-saving measures, would not be given serious consideration. A call for voluntary redundancies in affected departments was made in 2015 and a number of staff took these up. There is a second call open at present but Management does not believe that this will achieve the target reduction in staff.

It was also clear that considerations over Student Staff Ratio (SSR) were secondary to those relating to financial targets. UCU does not believe that the consultation process thus far has moved the University to any position to avoid these redundancies and a number of significant questions have not been answered. On 1 April, UCU formally entered into dispute with the University and opened an indicative ballot.

Staffing provision in the Faculty of Arts

Between March 2015 and March 2016, the Faculty of Arts has seen a reduction of over 20 full time equivalent staff (FTE), largely through retirements and voluntary redundancy. The effect of the proposed staff reductions on the international reputation and marketability of the departments in scope has not been adequately considered. The impact of the decision to continue reducing staff costs on pedagogy and workload across the Faculty has similarly not been explored. The current proposal is to cut staff now and then establish a working party to consider the shape of the department and curriculum delivery throughout 2016/17 on the basis of which staff remain after the proposed redundancies.

The UCU has been told that a key aim of the current proposals is to equalize Student to Staff Ratios across the Faculty. The University is aiming for each department to have SSRs between 16-20 students for each member of staff. However, redeployment or investment in departments with an SSR greater than 20 has specifically been ruled out of the current proposals. One department with an SSR of 15.9 is expected to lose 2 full time members of staff while other departments will continue to have an SSR in excess of 1:20.

No rationale for the 16-20 SSR target has been provided. This absence of explanation is all the more significant in comparison with publicly reported figures that show the average SSR for the University and the Russell group both fall BELOW 16. According to the Complete University Guide (2016), The University of Nottingham SSR is 1:14. According to the same figures, 14 Russell group universities have a lower SSR than the Nottingham. Likewise 14 Russell Groups have better NSS results than the University of Nottingham and yet while considerable expense has been devoted to improving these results, the University’s position on SSR is going in the opposite direction. In terms of the Russell Group’s own figures in October 2014, the average SSR across its members was 1:8. While these figures may rely on generous ways of counting staff, they remain significantly lower than the minimum SSR being imposed upon the Arts.

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