•16/03/2009 • Leave a Comment
Given the following situation, as a union, what would you do?
A major university funding body enacts a draconian change to rules on eligibility on funding:
- Three or more proposals within a two-year period ranked in the
bottom half of a funding prioritisation list or rejected before panel
- An overall personal success rate of less than 25%.
Notwithstanding the restriction to practice that this change brings about, there is clearly a significant problem with regards to the relative nature of the first restrictions. These changes are supposed to have the effect of making the peer review system more effective and reducing the number of poor proposals entering the system. But the current situation has proposals customarily being ranked “outstanding” across the board being rejected, and anything worse than a “very good” result in there being no chance of funding. Now imagine 90% of the “good” and lower proposals are not submitted in the first place, either by applicants falling foul of these retrospective rules or by self moderation/preservation. Since the first of these restrictions is relative – independent of the peer review judgement, just related to its relative position within the list of proposals – then those “very good” or even “outstanding” proposals will inevitably fall foul of this rule. And as far as the second condition is concerned, with an average responsive mode success rate of just 17% in the last 6 months, just about every academic will trip up.
So given this change could easily be the cause of the destruction of research in UK universities, creating an environment that will ultimately leading to a massive brain drain to the Obama administered USA irrespective of academic discipline, what would you do as a union?
Would you start a high-profile media campaign to oppose the changes, use the excellent distribution network (representation in every department in every university) to raise awareness in those disciplines not directly effected by the changes and directly lobby politicians and quango chiefs to reverse these changes? Or would you do nothing, nadda, nought, apart from pick localised fights with university management over the possibility of bringing HR lead performance management into play against those that have been “blacklisted”?
Guess which one of the two options UCU has chosen?
•17/12/2008 • Leave a Comment
A few weeks after I joined the UCU, I had the (dis)pleasure of meeting the officers at a university “getting to know you” bash. It was around the time that the latest “cost of living” pay rise was to be announced. Of course, this is all the officials were talking about. How lucky they were to get such a good rate (5% – timed to be exactly at the peak of RPI) without a care in the world for the university’s finances. One must remember, the university does not get a corresponding increase in its funding – this pay rise will be paid for by cut-backs elsewhere. To be honest, I can understand their glee – an extra 5% pay, only months after I started my new job, is very welcome.
And this was how the conversation went – me expressing my pleasure at getting a very generous pay rise on top of a very generous salary that I had negotiated for myself just months before. And this was the first mistake – “Negotiated yourself?” they all gasped. Apparently, negotiating ones own salary is contrary to their dogma.
To attempt a backtrack, I told them that it was OK as I have locked into this pay scale for 3 years without progression. “Without progression?” they gasped again. This was turning into a very bad first experience. Once again, it appears inconceivable to them that I would rather start at a (much) higher grade than I should and take a 3 year pay scale progression freeze, such that the net effect is that in 3 years time I will still be some 5 points ahead on the pay scale. Even if I ignore the 5 additional points, this deal is worth many thousands of pounds to me over the 3 year lifetime of the freeze. When taking into account the additional 5 points (which would have not been possible were it not for the freeze), it’s worth several tens of thousands of pounds over these 3 years, and much more over the lifetime of my employment.
And what was their objection to my fortunate situation? After all, I believe that I deserve it – the university would not be willing to make me such an attractive offer if I didn’t. After questioning, it appears that their objection was related to the fact that I had personally negotiated a pay deal that was not commensurate with the national pay structure. Do they really believe that everyone is equal? The logic is clearly flawed – does a “Professor” of adventure tourism at Derby or make-up design at Bedford deserve the same pay as a historian or mathematician at Oxford? There is a pecking order in the university system – and that is fact. Even a trade union must acknowledge this.
So no, I truly believe that they do not think everyone is equal. Instead, I suspect that they objected to one of their members getting a much better deal because its very existence threatens their power base. Collective national pay levels are sacrosanct, based on age and/or length of tenure. After all, collective national bargaining (or bullying by another name) is where their strength lies.
•09/12/2008 • Leave a Comment
I am newly appointed academic to a large UK university, towards the higher end of the pecking order. Since the introduction of tuition fees, increasingly the students believe that they are being provided with a service. Effectively, since students now in the UK are paying for their degrees, they expect to come out of university with a good degree and have good prospects. This is not necessarily a good or indeed a bad thing, I simply state the facts as I see them. Of course, this means that if an academic has the tenacity to fail a student on a particular module, piece of coursework, examination or indeed their entire degree, sometimes the student feels it necessary to challenge that decision, whether rightly or wrongly. And that can get expensive.
As a consequence, I decided to become a member of the University and College Union (UCU). Not only can they offer me protection against any allegations that the students may throw at me, I also have their protection with regards to a number of other work-place issues that may arise. But let me make one thing clear.
I am Not a Union Person (NUP).
Whilst unions can, and do, offer great protection against exploitation and litigation, their historical militant tendencies are not something I was fond of. This is why I am a NUP. And since, until I joined, I had very little knowledge of the way in which the UCU operates, I had assumed that this militancy had disappeared long ago, never to be seen again. However, now that I have been a member for some time, I have realised just how naive I was. Militancy, hypocrisy and bullying are rife within the UCU.
And exposing it is the point of this blog.