We are a grassroots solidarity group of University of Reading staff and supporters, seeking to create clarity on & organise against the spin and misrepresentation that has characterised the debate on proposed cuts at Reading. To join our mailing list, please email: ReadingBTL@protonmail.com
As a trade unionist (member of UCU’s National Executive Committee as well as the Reading UCU branch), I am writing this open letter to you, to draw your attention to grave concerns about your letter to staff on the 11th of March 2022 (available via the UoR staff portal).
While there are many worrying elements in the timing, tone and substance of a one-sided letter presented without scope for debate or reply, I would like to specifically point you to your statement that
It was “no” votes that put the most recent ballot over the legally required 50% threshold for it to be valid. I have never previously suggested that UCU members should not vote if they intended to vote “no”. Given the current circumstances, however, colleagues may now consider not voting to be their most effective course of action if they disagree with the prospect of more industrial action.
Your statement appears to encourage our members to essentially sabotage the UCU ballot, by withholding their vote, thus seriously distorting the results using the anti-trade union turnout threshold to achieve your preferred position. It seems to me to be an undue attempt to interfere with legitimate trade union activity. Trade unions are essential to the fabric of a functioning and healthy democracy. At a time when democracy is in peril all over the world, universities need to foster & strengthen democracy, not undermine it.
Given your position of power and influence in the university, your leadership role, and your singular access to the primary means of communication with all staff through the staff portal, I find this a deeply worrying and unwelcome tactic. If you wish to participate in democratic debate within UCU, please do so by standing for elected positions, and being accountable to our members rather than by seeking to unduly influence UCU ballots from the side-lines.
Further, statements such as “While the overall impact of recent strikes on the University as a whole has been limited, for some students it genuinely interferes with their studies and is a cause of real anxiety”, weaponise student mental health. What makes it worse, is that your comments come after a pandemic when all staff have gone the extra mile to support our students on a range of issues including mental health. Staff working conditions are student learning conditions. I am therefore also aggrieved that you are undermining staff participation in a recognised trade union’s ballot and democratic processes under the guise of caring for our students’ well-being.
More generally, slashing guaranteed pensions by circa 35-40%, without justification and without giving due consideration to alternatives presented by UCU (that can provide a long-term sustainable solution for the Scheme), is an act of pensions vandalism. These USS cuts come at a time when many of our members are experiencing a very harsh cost-of-living crisis. Pensions are deferred pay and they take on particular importance during such crises because, for many, savings in other forms, are virtually non-existent. The USS DB provision gives many USS members an important means of food and energy security in old age.
It is also important to note that USS pension cuts also come at a time when the Scheme has grown from circa £66.5bn to circa £92bn during the pandemic. USS’ recent financial monitoring statements make obvious that the Scheme is healthy and cash-flow positive for the foreseeable future with contributions and investment returns far exceeding benefits. The current cuts are being pushed through on the back of a flawed out-of-cycle valuation conducted on 31st March 2020, in the depths of the pandemic and in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. The valuation is not representative of the health or performance of the Scheme. There can be no reasonable justification for the cuts, on the basis of such a skewed valuation.
Your message to staff includes comments justifying such a deep cut to our pension benefits. This is jarring to our members because inequality within our university is visibly stark and increasing. As an example, the gender pay gap at the University of Reading has increased in 2021 to circa 22.1% (with 25.4% median from newly released 2021 data) not to mention other inequalities. On account of casualisation and equalities barriers, as well as a decade of marked by sub-inflation pay rises, many of our members have a relatively small pension pot. This is in stark contrast to senior management remuneration and other expenditure priorities. You have yourself benefitted from pensions contributions of £42,000 in 2020-21 alone (see pg 65 UoR annual report 2020-21).
Rather than helping ameliorate inequalities by contributing responsibly to finding a mediated solution to the USS dispute, or considering UCU’s proposal seriously, your message is seeking to undermine democratic debate within the union (who seek to prevent cuts and protect staff). I request that you remedy this by apologising publicly for a misuse of the position of power, leadership and trust that you occupy at our university. I also urge you to reflect on your conduct, so that such letters are not issued again.
In the interests of balance and fairness, I request that this note be published alongside your original communication to all staff and that staff be explicitly alerted to these grave concerns in full. I will also be sharing this letter with those I represent.
The Universities Superannuation Scheme stands at an important crossroads today. The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) is a key element of the governance of the Scheme and you, as JNC chair have a unique fiduciary duty to the Scheme. Given previous discussions of the JNC, we are now in a situation where the use of your casting vote as JNC chair appears imminent.
Employers’ proposals will ensure an average 35% cut to the guaranteed benefit element of the Scheme. Your decision therefore will make a vital difference to how poor many of the 470,000-odd members of the Scheme will be in old age.
As a member of the JNC elected to defend the interests of those 470,000 members, I am writing to record my grave concerns about the underlying decisions that see us at the current impasse. Any one of the below concerns, in isolation, gives cause for halting and reversing any proposed adverse changes to the Scheme. Taken together, they present a pattern that looks like wilful destruction of a healthy and sustainable Scheme, without reasonable cause.
Choice of date of valuation
Valuations for DB pension funds provide an indication of the direction of travel of the Scheme and are intended to aid with course correction, rather than providing a series of “cliff-edge moments”. The out-of-cycle 2020 valuation was carried out by USS on 31st March 2020, at a time when markets were depressed and in a state of extreme flux and volatility.
The choice of date at the start of the Covid pandemic and the timing & implications of Brexit, mean that a valuation conducted on this date cannot not provide an accurate or reliable basis for future predictions. Actuaries across the world are concerned at the impact on longevity of the coronavirus pandemic, and this will require careful and holistic consideration in the next few years. It is not clear from JNC deliberations, that these factors could have been accurately reflected upon, given the choice of valuation date.
Indeed, subsequent real-world evidence including that published by USS, shows that the 2020 valuation has not provided a realistic assessment of the direction of travel of the Scheme; instead it shows a marked difference in trajectory.
Reckless (im)prudence and extreme pessimism
Experts have for long been concerned about the misuse of the term ‘prudence’ to justify highly pessimistic valuation assumptions for USS, which is a unique sector-wide, open, immature, last-man-standing Scheme. Contrary to the advice of the Joint Expert Panel, the 2020 valuation assumptions have doubled down on extreme pessimism. The sudden and grotesque change in the prudence levels since the last valuation is illustrated by the graph below. The expectations on investment returns, inflation, and demographic assumptions including mortality are particularly concerning within the valuation. These assumptions result in dissonance between reality and the mythical deficit constructed by this ill-timed valuation. No evidence has been provided to the JNC of any other open defined benefit pension fund in the UK making such a drastic and – in my opinion – reckless changes in prudence assumptions at a time when market conditions are so choppy/ turbulent.
Members are being exposed to new and dangerous risks, under the guise of managing certainty in the long-term. When we look at the earlier plans to “de-risk” the Scheme, in terms that introduce greater risks to the provision of pensions and fuel the global debt bubble, it is clear that extreme pessimism is being used to recalibrate reality to fit a discredited and flawed model.
graph courtesy: Jackie Grant and Sam Marsh, UCU
Impact to the covenant of the last-man-standing implications of Office For Students membership of the Scheme
The information provided to the JNC regarding the implications of the government backstop as a result of the last-man-standing feature of the Scheme is lacking in evidence and depth. In the past it has been suggested to us, that the reason the Scheme cannot be benchmarked against the Local Government Pension Scheme is a result of the taxation powers providing the backing to that Scheme. Yet, now when the corollary applies in the context of the Department of Education and the subsequent Crown Guarantee, this consideration is brushed under the carpet as inconsequential to the risk metrics of the Scheme. We have not yet had a convincing explanation from USS’ actuarial advisors or those providing the covenant assessment as to why this element was not previously disclosed to the JNC, and despite requests we have not been provided with evidence demonstrating that the Board has specifically and in sufficient detail documented consideration of this factor. It would be useful for the JNC to be able to consider these.
Denial of information related to projected cashflows
The JNC cannot make reasonable decisions without the ability to review and rely on underlying information. One particular area, persisting from at least 2021, and relating to original requests by our actuaries well prior to that date, is the provision of the projected cashflows.
Having waited several months for that data, we were told that the information could not be provided to us as a result of the ongoing court case where members are seeking accountability for the management of the Scheme. JNC have not yet been provided any evidence that this secrecy associated with the projected cashflows has any reasonable basis. Without understanding the projected direction of the Scheme on the basis of these cashflows, and adequate consideration of this information, it would be irresponsible of the JNC to facilitate any significant changes to the benefits or contributions structures. I urge you to consider the implications of the absence of this evidence in the context of your fiduciary duties.
As someone who has studied the global financial crisis of 2007 in some depth, I would also like to alert you to the parallels between the causes of that crisis and the seductive and selective framing of risk that we now see in this context. In particular I want to alert you to the dangers of relying on modelling that is at odds with reality and the proliferation of a particular kind of group think that results in wilful blindness to risks, (not to mention the supposed “de-risking” that leads to greater longer-term risk of not paying pensions and of increasing contributions and causing the fracture of a well-performing and valuable Scheme).
There are broader concerns too that you will no doubt consider. Among the most significant of these, are the worries re: the integrity of the JNC process, if one party can undermine any alternative proposals from the other from even being considered seriously, using the unilateral withdrawal of covenant support as a mechanism to prevent any proposal other than its own being voted upon seriously. Members are clearly at a loss, if reasonable proposals from their representatives cannot be taken forward despite being put in good faith.
Another concern is the basis on which JNC is making decisions. In particular, I am concerned that when the consultation with employers was carried out, employers’ view of the sector-wide finances could not have been accurate, given the publication of sector-wide results at a late stage and the reliance on grossly pessimistic and out-of-date projections of sector finances to inform earlier stages of decision making that included democratic debate within HE institutions. The consideration of support for alternative positions to that proposed by the employers’ representation body, needs to be carried out with the same rigour as their own proposals. You will note that repeatedly and publicly, employers have used the justification of the finances of the sector to explain proposed cuts. The reality of the current position of the sector is at odds with this and is detailed further here https://beyond-education.co.uk/ussstrike-uss-unis-see-3-5bn-surplus-boost-while-cutting-2600-jobs/.
It is vital that each and every one of these issues is considered in depth and discussed further in good faith by the JNC, so unjustified changes that wreck a healthy, valuable and well-performing Scheme are not introduced. In order to ensure the JNC’s decisions can be trusted, I urge you on behalf of the members I am elected to serve, to consider your fiduciary duties in this context and to apply your powers as JNC chair to facilitate a constructive discussion that is grounded in the reality of what any cuts will mean at this juncture . I urge you not to use your casting vote, not to allow cuts to benefits, and to facilitate further dialogue between the JNC members based on evidence and facts. Please note that I will be sharing this email with members.
Thank you for your letter to me dated 5 October 2020.
Your description of the recent consultation process as a “sham” does a disservice to your colleagues on the local UCU branch, your UCU Regional Officer, the University’s Staff Forum and the many colleagues across the University who engaged constructively with these critical discussions. The agreements reached are difficult but necessary. Furthermore, as you are well aware, the agreement also provides for early and regular formal joint reviews of the under-pinning financial position, and any significant change will be acted upon. “Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best” was, and remains, the most responsible approach to take.
It is disappointing that you continue to attempt to misrepresent issues, both current and historic. It is irresponsible, by way of example, to suggest that casual staff such as sessional teachers will take a pay cut. The agreement expressly excludes such staff from the proposed pay reductions.
Your comments in respect of lecture capture also misrepresent the formal position. You received notification on 16 March 2020, in your former capacity as President of Reading UCU, of the necessary adoption of a temporary policy, designed to enable colleagues to move to on-line teaching speedily but effectively. This was in the interests of our whole community, staff and students. You provided some comments on this on 28 September, more than six months later. There is a commitment to review this temporary policy in the Spring Term, via DELT in the first instance and with an opportunity for consultation with UCU. Your comments will be shared to inform that process.
My commitment has always been to ensure a healthy, compassionate and productive working environment across our community, and I will continue to demonstrate that through open and honest communication and being willing to take difficult decisions when that is in the University’s best interests.
On 12th October, Dr Driver has responded as follows:
Dear Professor Van de Noort,
Thank you for your e-mail dated 6th October 2020, in response to my open letter dated 5th September 2020 continuing correspondence related to the ongoing consultation.
Your e-mail makes four key points (and I trust I paraphrase fairly):
You register your objection to my description of the consultation as a “sham” and explain why you believe this not to be the case;
You take issue with the way I represent issues more generally and rebut the allegation that casual staff will take a cut as a result of phase 1;
You strenuously contest the comments I make regarding lecture capture;
You reiterate your commitment to constructive, open engagement with staff and confirm you are happy for your response to the published.
For a consultation to be able to be meaningful and where necessary generate buy-in from those adversely affected by its outcomes, there are several obvious good practice criteria including transparency, integrity, disclosure, fair interpretation and accessibility. The University will no doubt be aware of these.
In particular, it is important that those initiating the consultation (the University of Reading in this instance):
– present relevant information clearly and facilitate informed debate and opinion
– genuinely offer options and disclose information objectively
– embed equality issues into the consultation
The reason I refer to this consultation as a sham is because it was conceived alongside a threat to fire-and-rehire. The coercion associated with such a threat is severe. The anxiety and stress caused by such a fire-and-rehire on inferior terms threat, is not to be underestimated.
The information provided in the original modelling, showing a purported deficit of £106mn, was extreme in its assumptions, and inaccurate in its calculations. The way in which the subsequent Light Touch Review was constructed casts significant doubt on whether any reviews of the University’s financial position will be administered with accuracy and integrity. In light of the current student numbers for this academic year, any losses will be a tiny fraction of the numbers you have been claiming, and given the University’s commitment to use reserves first, do not justify any job losses or pay cuts.
The effects on casual staff of the way in which this consultation has been conducted has been particularly insidious. The pressures that have been put continually on individual departments and schools’ budgets and management, mean that many casual staff have had their fractions reduced significantly, or have not had their sessional contracts raised for renewal, as a result of the shrinkage in available funds of 15%. This is essentially achieving the same objective but without due scrutiny because of the manner in which they were achieved. It is also a fact that grades 1 and 2 would suffer a pay freeze at a time when many are experiencing financial hardship. Given the composition of our casualised workforce, the disproportionate burden such pay freezes and cuts place on staff with protected characteristics, is also worth noting. There is also no acknowledgement in your email of the fact that 55 members of staff including yourself earn in excess of £100,000.
– it is also vital that any analysis produced by the University is objective and verifiable, and interpreted fairly
– it is also important that actions taken are proportionate to, and appropriately address, any risks that are cited.
Well before this consultation, the management narrative continued to indicate to staff the serious financial precarity of the University. Yet there is precious little evidence of management’s acknowledgement of their own strategic failings (including in Malaysia, on trusts, private housing providers or indeed on the admissions process this year). There is also no clear evidence of efforts made by management to use ‘force majeure’ clauses that are applicable given the global pandemic, and that would reduce the financial burden on the University. My concern in regard to any such relaxation under ‘force majeure’ applies to the payment of loan commitments, commitments to private housing providers, and to efforts to deal with covenants that may put various pressures on key performance indicators and the generation of surpluses.
All this calls in to question the integrity of the efforts put into finding means other than staff cuts, to address financial problems caused by serial mismanagement of the University’s resources. It also makes a very stark point about the moral hazard that has occurred in the way in which management has chosen to mitigate various risks that management have created. Those who have created the risks are certainly passing on its consequences to staff, while playing the narrative of “making difficult decisions”. Consequently, saying that management are “preparing for the worst while hoping for the best” makes it unclear in whose best interests these decisions are being made.
Finally, it is my understanding that the authors of the lecture capture / screencast policy were instructed to delete an undertaking in the policy that would have offered meaningful reassurance to colleagues facing redundancies about restrictions on the active reuse of their recordings after 2021. This is deeply worrying especially when the University explicitly stipulates that it is entitled to use lecture recordings for example even after staff have left / been fired.
I am glad you have reiterated your wish to engage openly and transparently with staff. In light of that I trust that the current sound admissions numbers will ensure there are no grounds for any cuts. To ensure informed opinion formation and decision making, it is vital that any further decisions are made with current year admissions numbers being clearly and accurately contrasted with last year’s bumper admission round, rather than any arbitrary targets or forecasts. I trust that the changes planned to governance will offer us all the opportunity to ensure that the management decisions that put us in these difficult circumstances are addressed and look forward to continued dialogue as we embark on phase 2.
Thank you for your e-mail dated 23rd September 2020, in response to my letter dated 11th September 2020. It is very disappointing that you “neither recognise nor accept your (ie my) interpretation of the University’s position or its conduct, and see no reason to ‘withdraw the S188 notice’.” Indeed, it is because neither you nor many in the senior management team have recognised or addressed these issues appropriately over the years that the university & its staff and students find ourselves in the worrying position we are in today. These failures include problems manifestly evident in relation to trusts, Malaysia, the overuse and misuse of consultancy advice, commitments to private housing providers, the UniBond issue, PAS and more. Therefore, I write again in my capacity as a trade unionist and a member of staff to highlight the key areas of concern that need urgent resolution.
The current admissions numbers (paid-up) as at the end of September 2020 (both international and domestic) are well in line with last year’s numbers. Workload, as a result, is likely to increase given that numbers actually are higher in many areas and there are now multiple modalities of learning and teaching under Covid-19 requiring the use of additional time as well as different skills and tools. Yet management is continuing with its efforts to push through unjustified cuts.
May I remind you that these cuts will mean a wage freeze even for those in grades 1 and 2, and that many staff who are on casualised or fractional contracts earning less than £18,342 will nonetheless take a pay cut of 5-15%. This includes many grade 6 casualised teaching staff for example who are on fractional or low-paid contracts. In contrast to these low salaries, 55 staff members at UoR earn over £100,000 per annum. For example, your VC annual salary is £195,000 per annum (2018-19 data). This is in addition to your annual salary of £17,503 for a commitment of five days per month in your second job with the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee outside the University of Reading. In the light of these high executive salaries, I hope you will recognise how harsh such cuts seem to those of us who have struggled with low and stagnant pay for the past decade.
Management has advanced concerns about decreased student numbers (and corresponding fee and other income) due to Covid-19 as its logic for the current round of cuts and the pay freeze. In light of the actual numbers that we see now, management therefore has no justification whatsoever for pushing ahead with a demand for pay-cuts or the pay freeze.
It is just not enough any longer to say that management are “preparing for the worst while hoping for the best”. This is empty rhetoric. The modelling has been absurd, mathematically flawed and disconnected from reality. The absence of any serious apology from management, thus far for the serious and egregious mistakes in modelling, force staff into a position where we do not feel able to offer management a blank cheque to undermine our pay, terms and conditions.
The appalling threat that we will be fired and rehired on inferior terms, should we fail to agree to this insulting proposal also continues to hang over our heads, preventing meaningful and fair consultation. It is indeed revealing that you do not acknowledge the moral and ethical vacuum in which management seem to be deploying their powers.
Alongside these cuts, and at a time when staff at the University are working extraordinarily hard to facilitate the start of term, we remain understandably concerned by the disjointed and confused response by management to workplace safety issues in relation to return to campus. We are also now confronted with yet another attack on our terms and conditions that falls outside the current consultation. Management has departed from its previously agreed opt-in approach regarding screencast and lecture capture, and listed a policy position that confers a mandatory obligation with disciplinary consequences. While there is a high level of casualisation and members of staff are aware of looming threats of redundancy, it is reprehensible and not in the spirit of good faith mutual co-operation that management appears to seek to use the materials of those who may lose their jobs in phase 2. For many of us the worry is that instead of fire and rehire there is a danger that the University can now fire / make redundant and reuse materials. This position of the University is inconsistent with the terms and conditions as they stand currently – and members must be fully and properly consulted on any changes. Instead, the University has introduced these changes over the summer through the back door using the cover of Covid. The current published documents also appear to be inconsistent with the existing University-UCU joint commentary on changes to terms and conditions
I urge you to reconsider the position of the senior management team, and to immediately close down this sham consultation. Instead, please join us in ensuring a safe return to campus, and a healthy, compassionate and productive working environment for students and staff in pursuit of the University of Reading’s charitable objective to further education.
The required savings stated in the “Final Proposal” – to be paid for by wage cuts and changes in terms and conditions – are £5 million more than the figure the RUCU President’s blog suggests was agreed upon by the consultation group. Why are RUCU members being asked to vote on a deal which contains unnecessary cuts to staff? For reference, £5 million represents almost 1/3 of the proposed savings from the tiered pay cut.
In the original restructuring document  the CFO claimed there was a total of £106 million to be saved. In Phase 1, she proposed to make £46 million of savings from reserves and other resources, and £60 million from cuts to staff.
Deepa Driver demonstrated serious discrepancies in the CFO’s figures. The CFO performed a “light touch review”  where indeed the original figures were reduced but she also included new costs, including £11,667,000 apparently relating to USS pension costs, bringing the proposed total savings to be made in Phase 1 back up to £104 million. However, according to the RUCU President’s FAQs posted on 25th September 2020  the RUCU negotiating team “stripped [the USS] figure from the University’s calculations in reaching the current proposal, as USS has nothing to do with COVID.”
After subtracting the £11,667,000 from £104 million, one would expect that the consultation proceeded on the basis of total savings to be made in Phase 1 of £92,333,000, with £46 million to be covered by reserves, leaving savings of £46,333,000 to be made from cuts to staff. The Consultation group’s “Final Proposal”  still includes the figure of £46 million to be covered by reserves (see point 14 of ).
However, the “Final Proposal” shows a total of £51,397,190 of proposed savings from cuts to staff. This is £5,064,190 more than the £46,333,000 calculated above.
What’s £5 million among friends?
Why have the RUCU negotiating team put forward a proposal to members that includes cuts to staff of more than £51 million while claiming that they have persuaded the University that the amount to be saved in Phase 1 is £5 million less? If the amount to be saved could have been reduced by more than £5 million, pay cuts for the lowest paid members of staff could have been reduced. It may seem that £5 million is not much in this context but it equates to roughly 10% of the proposed cuts to staff. For comparison, the savings made by the tiered pay reduction for 1 year are £15,529,790 when applied to all staff, see the table on page 2 of . Therefore, one would expect that £5 million could have a significant impact on the cuts to the lowest paid staff.
Furthermore, the preamble to the RUCU ballot states “If members accept the proposal, and the university’s losses which can be attributed to the pandemic turn out to be significantly less than the £104M modelled by the university, then the pay cuts and/or pay freeze will be reduced in scale, and other cuts to budgets will also be relaxed.” This £104M includes the USS figure with the RUCU President’s blog claims has been taken out of the Phase 1 figures by agreement since it has nothing to do with the pandemic. The question is what does “can be attributed to the pandemic” mean? Attributed by whom and on what basis? And how much is significantly less? Is the USS figure, which is 11% of £104M, considered significant? If so, why were the pay cuts and/or pay freeze not reduced in scale accordingly before they were put to members? If not, what is the boundary where a reduction becomes “significant”? One would expect that a figure of £11,667,000 is highly significant when the total savings from the tiered pay cut are £15,529,790.
We cannot accept a deal where so much rests on the interpretation of the word “significant” and where the CFO has shown in the “light touch review” that if costs are decreased in one area, she is willing to simply include new costs in the model to end up close to the previously claimed deficit.
 Post-Covid-19 response – proposed restructuring process
 Modelling the impact of COVID-19 -light touch review
We have been threatened with redundancy at the same time as being expected to return to work under dangerous and stressful conditions.
Save the University!
Across the summer, we worked beyond our contracted hours to get students through remote exams and re-sits; we also responded to the chaotic admissions situation to ensure successful recruitment for 2020-21; we are now preparing and delivering both online and face-to-face teaching within a high-risk working environment.
We won’t thank you!
Rather than any sincere expression of gratitude, University of Reading management has threatened us with mass redundancy and sneaked through a series of one-sided Summer negotiations based on flawed predictions of losses. The final proposal offers us pay cuts and a review of our contractual terms and conditions – and doesn’t protect us from redundancy in Phase 2. It is an insult. We deserve better!
We won’t keep you safe!
Despite pushing staff to provide a ‘mixed economy of both remote and face-to-face teaching’ there has been little support or clear advice from either the University or RUCU. Instead there are a series of ambiguous FAQ’s hidden away on Blackboard: for instance, ‘COVID 19 FAQ. Instructions for managers’; and ‘pass the buck’ risk assessments to be signed by individual staff members.
In its recent ‘Consultation Statement’ (21/08/20) Independent Sage advised that Universities must use online teaching as ‘default option’ and warned that ‘steps must be taken to avoid the ‘disastrous’ consequences of needing to close campuses if infection goes up.
The University of Reading Management has patently failed to set up any track and trace system that would enable effective isolation of staff and students who become infected. They haven’t even got a plan in place ‘should there be an outbreak of coronavirus on our campuses’
If the University has to shut down due to this lack of care and planning, staff will again be the ones expected to cope with the situation. This will continue to have real and detrimental effect on staff’s physical and mental health.
We’ll sack you once you’ve saved us!
Since the start of the Covid pandemic, University Management has demonstrated a staggering level of disloyalty to its staff.
Vote NO to express your right to fair and respectful negotiations based on accurately calculated figures. Staff in other universities have achieved this.
 VC’s ‘Thank you and welcome back’ email 28/09/20
All academic staff at the University of Reading should be made aware that an earlier draft Policy on learning capture, which sought to protect their interests, was explicitly rejected by senior management.
The Policy as it stands raises major concerns for the hard-working academic staff of the University, many of whom spent all summer recording lectures and seminars. Put simply: when academic staff are made redundant during Phase 2 of the University’s Post-COVID-19 Response Programme, the Policy permits the University to use such recordings to replace their teaching.
Is the Policy legal?
The University does not have a clear legal entitlement to require staff to make learning capture recordings. Academic job descriptions at the University refer to ‘teaching’, but make no reference to the creation of asynchronous recordings. While the creation of such materials may be a ‘related duty’ to teaching, the University and UCU Joint Commentary on the employment contract provides that the University is unable to ‘unilaterally make fundamental changes to your role without first consulting with you’. The move from an ‘opt-in’ learning capture policy to a mandatory obligation is a fundamental change to the academic job description, and no consultation with the broader academic community at the University has yet taken place.
Reading the University and UCU Joint Commentary alongside the employment contract makes it untenable to suggest that the duties of staff members extend to the mandatory creation of lecture capture material. Indeed, the Joint Commentary explicitly provides that the University has ‘no intention of requiring employees to participate in lecture capture, and you will be able to decide whether or not to agree to have your image recorded in this way’.
In the absence of a clear legal entitlement to require learning capture, it would have been sensible for the University to proceed in a spirit of cooperation with its staff. Did it do so?
The Deleted Undertaking
The initial authors of the Policy were sensitive to the need to gain academic ‘buy-in’ with compulsory learning capture. To that end, the draft Policy contained an undertaking that the University would not use any recordings in future years without the consent of recorded staff, and would never use the recordings of staff made redundant after the 2020/21 academic year.
Prior to the review of the Policy by the University Board for Teaching, Learning and Student Experience (UBTLSE), the authors of the Policy were instructed to delete this undertaking. In a leaked memorandum made available to Reading Between the Lines, one of the authors then urged the UBTLSE to reject the Policy unless the deleted undertaking was reinstated. The author described the Policy which was subsequently approved by the UBTLSE and the UEB as ‘reckless’, because it failed to offer ‘meaningful reassurance to colleagues facing redundancies about restrictions on the active reuse of their recordings after 2021’.
Why Fire and Rehire when you can Fire and ‘Press Play’ instead?
Senior management of the University of Reading have already exhausted the goodwill of its devoted staff over summer, both by threatening pay cuts when admissions numbers are up and workloads have increased, and by offering students the choice to not return to campus on health and safety grounds, without extending the same courtesy to staff.
Because it enables the University to re-use recordings in future years without the consent of academic staff who have been fired or made redundant, the Policy is ethically abhorrent and pedagogically unsound.
The deletion of an undertaking, which sought to balance the interests of the University and its staff, paves the way for the deletion of committed academic staff during Phase 2 restructuring.
Stop the predatory management of the UEB in its tracks by voting NO in the current ballot. Voting NO sends a strong signal to our scheming senior management that we – the staff of the University of Reading – will not take Phase 2 lying down.
Between 18th September and 9th October Reading UCU members will be balloted on whether they accept the Consultation Group’s Final Proposal. If accepted, the university will implement a three-year pay freeze and pay cuts for all employees earning over c.£18,000 per year, including part-time workers earning that on a pro rata rate.
The supposed “Final Proposal” provided by UoR management is the product of a consultation that has not been conducted in good faith. In the midst of a global pandemic, senior management took the unprecedented step of threatening 500FTE redundancies or rehiring all staff on worse terms and conditions. They have also used flawed financial data as the basis for consultation. As the majority on the committee, whose concerns have been consistently ignored, we continue to be concerned that internal Reading UCU processes have been marked by serious infringements of both local branch rules and democratic process. Reading UCU members have not been represented by a negotiating team elected by branch committee, as per branch rules, and as members of branch committee we have not been meaningfully consulted about the proposal. As such we find the supposed “Final Proposal” to be a weak solution, that exacerbates and papers over problems rather than address them in a meaningful way that ensures that cuts and redundancies aren’t always just around the corner.
Under S188 of the trade union legislation, the University is required to engage in meaningful collective consultation with the recognised trade union. Sheffield UCU for example have insisted that a meaningful negotiation cannot be conducted while members face the threat of fire-and-rehire as the nuclear option if they fail to agree. Through active resistance to poor agreements under coercive terms, their branch has now been successful in ensuring their management rescinds both the threat of redundancies and any cuts to pay and terms and conditions.
If the University of Reading management wishes to demonstrate that it operates in good faith it will continue negotiations based on actual financial data.
As members of Reading UCU branch committee we therefore propose the following course of action:
1. All RUCU members to VOTE AGAINST accepting the Final Proposal.
2. Call on UoR management to immediately rescind the s188 letter and remove the threat of redundancies and ‘fire and rehire’.
3. Elect a RUCU negotiating team in accordance with branch rules.
4. Call on the University management to reopen meaningful consultation.
Signed by the following members of RUCU branch committee:
I write this open letter, as a concerned member of staff at the University of Reading (UoR) and as a trade unionist (member of the Reading UCU branch).
Many of my colleagues across the University, and I, are deeply concerned about the process of consultation (under s188 of TULRCA) in respect of the proposed cuts to staff terms and conditions & jobs. We contest the grounds for the potential agreement suggested by the University and being circulated by RUCU for a vote that will commence imminently.
The University’s position in relation to this consultation, and in relation to two other key areas has been characterised by the illegitimate use of power, by deception and by confusion.
On the surface, UoR management seemed to be thanking staff for the huge amount of work they have put in since the start of the pandemic and continuing through the summer. During this period, staff have worked around the clock to keep the University going, to support students & stakeholders and to move teaching online at a time when many were struggling with the effects of the pandemic on their own lives. Yet, at this very time, the University issued an unprecedented threat within a s188 letter that detailed a doomsday scenario including high numbers of redundancies and pay-cuts. What was also disturbing was that all this was presented to us by management as a collective act of solidarity amongst colleagues, at a time of difficulty for the University.
It is clear that the pay cuts were what UoR management were always after and the possibility of circa 500 redundancies was used by UoR management as a misleading threat. That the s188 letter also mentioned the possibility of being fired and rehired on inferior terms if we did not come to agreement, was also extremely disconcerting. This misuse of the University’s powers to coerce staff into accepting pay cuts, in addition to the high levels of casualisation and inequality at this University, have truly revealed management’s double-speak and whether they genuinely value education, staff and students.
During the urgently convened consultation process that followed the issuance of this s188 letter, I wrote to you and to the Chair of Council, with the intention of making Council and UEB aware of serious flaws in the modelling underpinning management’s arguments for job cuts and/or salary cuts. My letter pointed out serious problems with both the assumptions and the mathematics of the modelling, with huge underestimates of future student intakes. This toxic combination resulted in a £50mn overstatement in the scale of the potential shortfall to the University. Given the supposed deficit of £106mn, let me reiterate here the absurdity of a model that overstated the deficit by an incredible 100%.
Although the ‘errors’ in the modelling were not publicly acknowledged by the University management, as such, a “light-touch” review was subsequently undertaken. This light touch review made corrections of £18m in relation to the errors on projected student income, but then arbitrarily introduced new costs, including an estimated £10m in pension costs, that brought the University’s deficit back to the magic figure of £104mn. However, these pension costs were later removed in the final proposal, with the acknowledgement that they were not Covid-related costs but instead costs which should be dealt with in what the University terms ‘phase 2’. This level of duplicity in manipulating data to suit the management narrative of the day is worrying and points to serious structural weaknesses in the governance of our University.
Of crucial importance is the fact that these misleading models have been used as the basis to justify redundancies and/or pay cuts. How can models with such huge flaws have been approved by UEB and Council despite the life-changing implications for staff and students? How can students and staff have any confidence that such grievous ‘mistakes’ will not be slipped into models in the future? Why are we using these ever-changing models, when very soon we will have the actual numbers of students enrolled? The latest enrolment data shows that any deficit due to Covid is likely to be relatively trivial and well within the bounds of annual fluctuations. Therefore, there is absolutely no justification for pay cuts or job losses.
What is also astonishing is that the University’s phone lines were largely non-operational during the first two hours of clearing (and for some operators this continued for a further week). These hours are typically the most busy. In addition, the decision by UoR management (at the start of the lockdown), to require all departments to use only the Me@Reading applicant platform for communications to applicants no doubt negatively impacted recruitment when that portal also went down. This was despite requests by departments that they be permitted to communicate in other ways with applicants to ensure continuity. Colleagues involved in the admissions process have also reported long delays in departmental communications to applicants even being uploaded to this shared platform. If there is any shortfall in student numbers, it will not be primarily because of covid. It will be because of management failings.
While you reiterate that the forthcoming consultation has been based on ‘planning for the worst, while hoping for the best’, it is not clear whose best interests are being served. The agreement under consideration does not give basic details on what can be expected with the promised trigger/review points. The consultation has been presented as being part of honest and open discussion, with the meetings being minuted, and these minutes all being published on the staff website. Yet, discussions have continued privately with UCU, and these side discussions have not been minuted or disclosed by the University.
In public, the University has, over the past year and particularly over the past few months, run a concerted propaganda campaign. While providing a veneer of transparency and openness, the University has used much of its reach to all staff to present one-sided arguments legitimising management’s preferred policies, while making the case that ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA). A typical PR-strategy aptly named the “dead-cat strategy” which involves flinging into open view wildly distracting information so as to avoid scrutiny of the substance of key decisions, has been employed. Difficult questions were screened out of the ‘town-hall’ type presentations, and on more than one occasion, answers were incomplete or used sleight-of-hand to distract from the real issues.
UoR management has failed spectacularly to address any need for serious governance reforms such as the return of statutes, while offering cosmetic changes that do not do anything to address rampant and persistent mismanagement. This includes the questionable use of trust funds, the misadventures at UoR Malaysia, the University’s high-occupancy promises to private housing providers with excessive costs, the abysmally poor efforts to renegotiate financial agreements given a force-majeure situation, and the haemorrhaging of money through a host of other non-core activities, including consulting contracts, and onerous leases in TVSP costing the university over £11m last year. There is also a lack of accountability about the situation with trusts and the use of other special purpose vehicles in relation to the housing. These failures have been accompanied by complex and contradictory executive decisions including staff suddenly coming across the news that UoR management are to fund a Hollywood film studio at a time when they say that the University needs to make stark pay cuts to sustain normal staff costs. Complex decisions that should be taken at University level are then devolved to departments under the guise of empowerment, while these departments are inadequately resourced and under severe pressure.
The current proposal is an insult to staff and students. We deserve better than this! I am therefore writing to request you to rescind this proposal, and withdraw the s188 letter forthwith.
Asking staff to vote on pay cuts on the basis of these flawed figures is like asking the British public to vote on leaving the EU on the premise that we would save £350 million a week. And we all know what happened there.
In an unprecedented move, the University of Reading sent out a s188 letter to all staff in June, putting all members of staff at risk of redundancy, or of being dismissed and re-employed on inferior terms.
Other institutions followed. At the University of Sheffield, the UCU branch saw through this ploy, and successfully forced their management to withdraw the s188 that had been sent to staff there before the consultation process could even begin.
But how likely is it that Reading would ever make 500 FTE job cuts, as they threatened? The university would be unable to function, as senior management have recognised (at  – university login required). And would management really fire and rehire all staff? The administrative burden of tearing up and redrawing 4500 individual contracts would be huge – not to mention the risk of individual staff members taking legal action against the university, and the adverse publicity such a move would attract.
The truth is that senior management’s preferred optionwas always pay cuts. 500 FTE redundancies were never going to happen. It was a threat to get us to accept the pay cut. Don’t let it work.
And how fair is it really for any one person to vote to cut another person’s wages?
Maybe you’ve got a partner who earns good money and you’ll cope with a pay cut. But perhaps your administrative colleague on £18,000 a year is a lone parent, struggling to pay the rent and bills every month as it is. Perhaps a pay cut will force them out of their home. In what world is voting for colleagues on breadline wages to take unnecessary pay cuts solidarity?
We ask you all to vote AGAINST the proposal in order to resume negotiations.
For meaningful and good faith negotiations to take place, we demand that:
The Chief Financial Officer’s model must be submitted to a full and independent – rather than ‘light touch’ – review. Good faith negotiations cannot happen with flawed figures.
The university’s model must distinguish between losses incurred due to COVID-19, and those incurred due to other reasons.
The s188 letter must be withdrawn to remove the threat of redundancies and ‘fire and rehire’.
The senior management team must provide a full and formal response to the 52 questions provided by UCU at the start of the consultation period, and any further questions that arise.
The consultation must be conducted by a legitimate negotiating team elected by the UCU branch committee, as branch rules require. (The majority of the UCU branch committee were not consulted in respect of this proposal, and are deeply concerned about its content.)
Staff and students make the university. Not senior management.
The university cannot exist without us. We are not powerless. We CAN resist these cuts.
And don’t forget: only UCU members can vote in this ballot, even though its outcome will affect all staff members. So if you’re not in the union, join today so you can have a say in your own future.
In June 2020, the University of Reading commenced consultation via a section 188 notice in response to a claimed financial shortfall arising from Covid-19. In a move that was unprecedented in higher education, the University put ALL staff at risk, with the threat that it would fire and rehire employees on inferior contracts, if agreement was not reached through consultation. In August 2020, the University put forward a Final Proposal (FP) in respect of this consultation. This proposal will now be put to a Reading UCU member ballot. It is very important that people are fully informed about this final proposal before voting.
In the FP, the claim is made that it is ‘as fair, reasonable and proportionate as it is possible to be in the circumstances’ (FP, para 8). As staff at the University of Reading, we emphatically disagree. Contrary to what is claimed, the agreement reached in consultation with UCU negotiators does not buy us out of redundancies, which remain very much on the table. It exposes all employees that earn over £18,000 per year to a pay cut, and everyone to a three-year pay freeze, in a manner that is anything but progressive and fair. The implementation of the pay cuts can supposedly be stopped after two reviews of the University’s actual financial position, but no information is given in the FP or the University-UCU-Staff Forum Memorandum of Understanding on the targets against which that financial position is to be judged nor on the process for those reviews. And all that is offered in return is a promise for more discussion, at some point in the future, around governance reforms.
No redundancies … today
The Vice-Chancellor in his briefing of 14 August expressed his pleasure that an agreement had been reached that removed the need for compulsory redundancies. As the final proposal states, ‘[f]or the avoidance of doubt, this means that there are no projected compulsory redundancies arising from the predicted shortfall in student fees arising directly from the Covid-19 emergency’ (FP, para 11). And in her email of the same date, the Reading UCU branch president stated ‘[i]mportantly, it [the final proposal] eliminates the University’s previous threat to cover the costs of Covid-19 by making staff compulsorily redundant’.
Yet, the truth is that, because of the University’s decision to divide its cuts and restructurings into ‘Phase 1’ (dealing with the consequences of Covid-19) and ‘Phase 2’ (its longer-term plans to restructure the University), redundancies remain very much on the table in the context of Phase 2, which has been running simultaneously alongside the Phase 1 consultation group. Formal consultation on the Phase 2 restructuring plan, according to the timeline set out in the University’s May 2020 post-Covid-19 restructuring process, is expected to begin as soon as September, with any redundancy notices being served in January 2021. By separating out its plans in this way, the University has ensured that redundancies remain a tool at its disposal.
A ‘progressive’ pay cut?
The FP states that the agreed tiered pay cut ‘is designed to provide protection to lower-paid staff … and is progressive’ (FP, para 9). It is true that the pay cut does not apply to staff on Grades 1 and 2, and for those on higher grades the proportion of the pay cut increases (to 15% max). However, there remain serious flaws with the tiered pay cut. First, exempting only Grades 1 and 2 from the pay cut means that those of us earning as little as £18,000 will have our salary cut. When considering whether something is fair, reasonable and proportionate, one should consider the likely impact on the people affected. Many of us on £18,000 a year are simply not in a position to shoulder any cuts to our pay, in stark contrast to those at the top end of the salary scale, for whom a 15% pay cut still leaves a salary vastly greater than the average UK income.
As part of this, a serious equality impact assessment should have been conducted and shared with staff. Instead, the FP (at para 9b), and the VC in his 14 August briefing, state that the pay cuts will reduce the gender pay gap and that their impact on BAME staff is reduced by the exclusion of Grades 1 and 2. This is not an equality impact assessment. And this is not the way to address the gender and ethnicity pay gaps at the University.
Secondly, only three tiers of pay cut are proposed in the FP: 5% for Grades 3 to 5, 10% for Grades 6 to 8, and 15% for Grade 9 and above. This was the very proposal put forward by the Director of Human Resources at the beginning of July. It is not a genuinely progressive pay cut. As you move up the three tiers, each spans a greater range of salaries than the previous: the 5% cut applies to those on £18,000 to £30,000 (a £12,000 range); the 10% cut applies to those on £30,000 to £60,000 (a £30,000 range); and the 15% cut applies to those on £60,000 to £269,999 (the highest salary listed in the 2018/19 University accounts) (a £209,999 range). At the very least, one would have expected to see a far more graduated scale according to salary in a proposal claiming to be ‘progressive’.
And finally, these cuts ignore the reality that staff pay has already plummeted in real terms over the last decade, exacerbated in Reading where the costs of living have significantly increased, while high levels of precarity and equality barriers continue to bite. A significant number of university staff struggle to pay their mortgage/rent and bills. This stands in stark contrast to the 55 employees at the University of Reading that earned over £100,000 a year in 2019 (see 2018/19 University accounts). Our VC earns a wage of £195,000 per annum plus pension, as well as £17,503 per annum for 5 days a month chairing the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee. This pay for 5 days of work a month is higher than many full-time staff earn as their entire annual income. No agreement should be made without a cap on such high salaries.
Reserves before salaries
The final proposal states that ‘any improvement in its projected financial position will be reflected first and foremost in amendments to the proposed temporary changes to terms and conditions, prioritised over any consideration of the £46m call upon identified reserves agreed by Council’ (FP, para 14). To clarify, we are reading this as saying that the proposed cuts to salaries will only be relied upon if losses exceed £46m. However, two questions remain open that should have been clarified in the final proposal. First, how is ‘projected financial position’ in paragraph 14 of the FP defined? Second, what proportion of the £46m in reserves remains?
The Devil is in … or rather not in … the detail
The FP emphasises that the implementation and continuation of the cost saving measures will be contingent on the outcome of two reviews – an ‘interim review’ in October 2020 and a ‘formal review’ in February 2021. It is stated that the latter will take ‘into account the savings accrued from any of the voluntary measures … and key metrics in relation to student recruitment (i.e. total fees income from Home and Overseas students) and any revised University income projections (to be presented in an open and defensible manner, with an ongoing commitment to respond positively to reasonable requests for relevant management information)’ (FP, para 18). No objectively identifiable criteria for assessing the University’s actual financial position are set out. This is a fundamental omission, particularly in light of the errors in the University’s financial forecasting that prompted this consultation (see our explanatory letter to staff) and the University’s addition of new and exaggerated projected income losses in its July updated Covid-19 financial impact model. If such criteria have been agreed, they must be made public, as must any agreed process for these two reviews.
More specifically, there are a number of problems in this part of the FP. First, the reference to ‘revised University income projections’ is extremely opaque, inviting yet more hypothesising by the University over future income. Second, what degree, if any, of a shortfall against target in student recruitment can be tolerated before the University is projected to incur a loss that would need recuperating through investments and (subsequently) cuts to its costs base? The July updated Covid-19 financial impact model refers to ‘lost income’ arising from Covid-19 that must be recuperated, implying that we are being asked not to underwrite a deficit in the University’s accounts but to make up lost/projected income, without regard to the University’s overall financial position.
Third, what would constitute a ‘successful’ recruitment round is undefined. Setting out the benchmarks for assessing recruitment levels is essential. This is all the more important given the significant increase in our targets for recruiting home/EU and international students for 2020/1 compared with 2019/20. Indeed, those targets are even higher than the very successful above-target actual enrolment numbers for last year. What is more, in the May 2020 report of the University’s Chief Financial Officer, as well as in the July updated Covid-19 financial impact model, the ‘planned’ level of home/EU and overseas undergraduate recruitment for 2020/1, on which the projected losses and need for cuts are based, was stated to be even higher still. Without clear, reasonable and non-arbitrary criteria for judging our actual 2020 recruitment performance, these two reviews will fail to serve the purpose for which they are claimed.
An afterthought – lip-service to governance reforms
This long history of poor oversight makes the reform of University governance urgent. In the Reading UCU branch president’s email of 14 August 2020, it is stated that concessions were won from the University during the consultation relating to changes to governance structures and greater scrutiny of decision-making processes. In truth, however, the final proposal contains very little by way of substantive governance reform. Indeed, these supposed reforms are treated as an afterthought in both the FP and the VC’s email of 14 August, where they are alluded to extremely briefly at the end (‘[t]he University has also committed to a joint review of workloads and to provide opportunities for colleagues to have early scrutiny of major proposals and to conduct a review of workload issues.’) Moreover, only the ‘preliminary details’ of these have been agreed (FP, para 19) – we are thus being asked to shoulder the cost of the University’s financial mismanagement on the basis of future discussions around governance.
More specifically, the final proposal states that ‘[t]he University of Reading will seek to engage with staff and stakeholders about ways to improve University governance. This will be facilitated in a number of ways including’: ensuring Senate and Council papers are available for colleagues to read; requiring consultation within Schools and Functions regarding annual plans; providing UCU and the Staff Forum with an opportunity to comment on key University proposals; providing a regularly updated list of significant matters to the Senate Agenda Setting group; discussion of all new proposals in excess of £10m by Senate, the Joint University and UCU Committee and Staff Forum.
Given the degree of sacrifice that staff are being asked to make, these governance ‘reforms’ are woefully inadequate. They reflect formal, procedural ‘reforms’ at best, with no necessary substantive changes. In truth, these should already be a part of our governance. They reflect necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for good governance in the first place, not extra goodwill gestures from the University. This University is desperately in need of genuine governance reforms and stronger oversight of the University Executive Board.
 We have avoided referring to actual figures in this section due to confidentiality. However, Reading staff can compare these figures for themselves: to find previous years’ target and enrolment data, please see the admissions page on the PSO website; to see the higher targets for this year’s recruitment round, please see the most recent application statistics for the current recruitment round here; to compare the even higher ‘planned’ 2020/1 home/EU and total international (including TNE) student intake relied upon in the University’s financial modelling, see page 8 of the July 2020 updated Covid-19 financial impact model and page 29 of the May 2020 post-Covid-19 restructuring process, both available here.
On Monday 20th July Reading UCU held an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) where a motion entitled ‘A Jobs First approach for Reading UCU’ was debated and passed by members.
Both the EGM and the motion sought to determine Reading UCU’s response to the University of Reading’s decision to issue a ‘section 188 letter’ on 16th June 2020. This letter outlined a number of proposals for consultation, including the threat to fire and rehire all staff at the university on worse terms and conditions. It also threatened to make 500 FTE redundancies if a collective agreement was not reached with UCU to agree a series of cuts to pay, terms and conditions.
On the surface the ‘Jobs First’ motion appeared to be protecting members’ interests by adopting an approach ‘that stops or dramatically reduces the scale of redundancies of UCU members’. However, the organisation and conduct of the EGM, as well as the content of the ‘Jobs First’ motion, were marked by serious infringements of both local branch rules and democratic process.
The result of this has been to shut down democratic debate in the branch and silence dissenting viewpoints. Most concerningly, the ‘Jobs First Approach’ has been communicated to members as if the only two options available for negotiation were to concede cuts to pay, terms and conditions or face redundancies. This is a false choice, which has silenced democratic discussion about the questionable financial modelling on which the proposed cuts to pay, terms and conditions are based.
Staff must be protected by a union which upholds democratic standards and shares information with members transparently. As members of Reading UCU we therefore raise the following concerns with the aim of addressing the current democratic deficit in the branch:
The agenda for the EGM had not been reviewed by the branch committee. This contravenes the local branch rule that states “the committee will determine the agenda and prepare recommendations as to the order in which the business is to be conducted” (Appendix 1, point 1). This was also raised as a point of order in the EGM, which was ignored.
The agenda and motion were sent at 16:51 on Friday 17/07/20 by the Branch Secretary. No deadline was set for submitting motions, yet two motions submitted on the morning of Monday 20/07/20 (‘Alternative Negotiating Strategy’ and ‘Branch Democracy’) were classified as “late”. These two motions were neither circulated to membership for debate nor posted in the chat on Microsoft Teams during the meeting.
Minutes of the AGM on 30/06/20 were only circulated one hour before the EGM and the point of order regarding corrections to the minutes was not acknowledged when the minutes were agreed by the meeting.
A meeting protocol for the EGM was sent by email only one hour and a half prior to the start of the EGM, causing confusion for some participants when voting.
The meeting invitation on Microsoft Teams breached union membership privacy requirements. The meeting was openly visible in Outlook calendars of members whose permission settings allow colleagues to read or manage their calendars. These colleagues could include a member’s line manager and/or non-union member colleagues.
The ‘Jobs First’ motion “mandates the local Branch President to select a Branch negotiating team to represent UCU members in any consultation and negotiation meetings with senior management”. This contravenes local branch rule 7.4: “Where there is one Branch/LA in the institution, the committee shall elect (from among its own members) a Negotiating Committee to conduct negotiations”.
This issue was raised as a point of order during the EGM, in accordance with local rules (Appendix 1, point 9). This was ignored and no points of order were taken throughout the meeting, in contravention of branch rules.
On 21/07/20, the Branch President unilaterally removed two members of the branch negotiating team without consulting the branch committee. This not only broke local branch rules but resulted in the removal of the only BAME member of staff from the negotiating team.
The ‘Jobs First’ motion mandated the Branch President to design and implement a programme of consultation with members to identify members’ priorities in respect to the threats to their livelihoods. Point 2e specifically states that the design and implementation of this programme “will not be subject to further review”, meaning that neither branch committee nor union members would have any say in the programme design. On Tuesday 28/07/20 a survey was circulated to all RUCU members, which closed at 5pm on Friday 31/07/20. The majority of committee members had not seen nor were consulted in the creation of this survey. (See Statement of Issues with UCU Survey).
The ‘Jobs First’ motion mandated the Branch President to seek to move to “direct negotiations” with senior management, which will take a ‘Jobs First’ approach to reduce redundancies and minimise the cuts to pay, terms and conditions. Serious questions have been raised about the university’s financial modelling, which over-estimates the deficit by circa £50million. (See Explanatory Letter to All Staff). Despite repeated requests by members of branch committee to share this analysis with all RUCU members, the Branch President instead moved to “consult” with members without providing them with the information required to make an informed decision on whether cuts to pay, terms and conditions are really necessary.
In response to these serious infringements of UCU democratic process, we call for:
The immediate circulation of the two motions (‘Alternative Negotiating Strategy’ and ‘Branch Democracy’) to all RUCU members, alongside the ‘Explanatory Letter to All Staff’, which details the flaws in the university’s financial modelling.
The reinstatement of the two recently removed members of the negotiating team to ensure that the UCU negotiating team better represents all staff and the diversity of the workforce.
The review of any consultation of RUCU members by Branch Committee and membership.
Regular meetings between negotiators and RUCU members in which negotiators report on the progress of negotiations and members can inform this. Information and key documents should be provided to members ahead of these meetings.
Extension of the consultation until student numbers are known.
All staff at the University of Reading have been asked to accept cuts to their terms and conditions – through a combination of pay freezes, removal from national pay bargaining, pay cuts, and cuts to the working week – to avoid 500 FTE redundancies. Given the levels of casualisation, this could mean 800-900 staff losing their jobs.
Firing and Rehiring: Business as Usual or Blackmail?
On 16 June 2020, the University of Reading sent the University and College Union (UCU) a ‘section 188 letter’, which set in motion the current consultation between university management, the UCU and the Staff Forum.
Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 requires an employer to engage in meaningful collective consultation with the recognised trade union when 20 or more redundancies are expected in any 90-day period.
The University of Reading’s section 188 letter included a threat to ‘fire and rehire’ all staff on inferior terms and conditions.
Reading’s reference to ‘firing and rehiring’ is unprecedented in the UK higher education sector, because it puts all staff across the university at risk. Senior management at the University of Reading is using the threat of ‘firing and rehiring’ in an attempt to obtain consent from staff to voluntary cuts to pay, terms and conditions.
In other sectors, the invocation of ‘firing and rehiring’ has been described as a ‘smokescreen’ to ‘erode the pay and conditions of workers’, which ‘smacks of blackmail – ‘If you don’t do what we want, we will issue notice of dismissals’’. MPs on the House of Commons transport select committee described British Airways – which adopted the same tactic – as a ‘national disgrace’ for making a ‘calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic’ to slash its staff conditions. Since June, management of the University of Sheffield have adopted a similar approach, but Sheffield UCU has demanded that the threat be removed before engaging in meaningful consultation.
Much Ado About COVID-19
The University’s ‘Post COVID-19 response – proposed restructuring process’ document provided by the University alongside the consultation states a projected £106m deficit, comprising a projected deficit of £94m in student fees over 3 years plus other associated losses. Its recommendations state that savings can be made through £xx investment assets (figure redacted but visible behind UoR login) and pay-related savings of at least £60m.
It would be intuitive to assume that the University is having to make these cuts as a response to a reduction in student recruitment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his briefing sessions, the Vice Chancellor has repeatedly stated that he is ‘hoping for the best’ but ‘preparing for the worst’ as far as recruitment is concerned. He has noted that there would be triggers that would prevent cuts from taking place were the fears not to materialise. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable management proposition, but there are some concerns.
In the same restructuring document, the Chief Financial Officer has stated that if ‘the University finds itself in a more positive position in the Autumn Term eg International Recruitment is stronger than expected and therefore the shortfall is lower, it is recommended that we call less upon the investments’.
In other words, if student recruitment is better than expected, the University of Reading will still push ahead with cuts to staff costs while protecting its investments. This suggests quite clearly that the University’s focus on cuts are not a response to COVID-19, but rather an intentional restructure of the University for which COVID-19 is the convenient thin end of the wedge.
Deficit, What Deficit?
The original financial modelling on which the University of Reading relies stated that savings of £106m were needed. The University’s calculations are inconsistent with their own assumptions about future student numbers, making their expected losses appear much greater than they are likely to be (approx £25m). Their own assumptions seem extreme, because they assume a 50% decline both in 2021-22 and in 2022-23 for example. This overstates their losses by as much as an additional £25m.
Models must be reliable and replicable. Data must be accurate. The mathematical techniques used must be sound and the modelling assumptions reasonable. In the case of the original model used to justify the cuts, none of these conditions were met. Yet this model was approved by UEB and Council, without these huge differences being spotted or remarked upon. Given the vast impact the model has on livelihoods and on staff terms and conditions, this suggests a serious failure in governance and oversight.
Subsequent to these ‘errors’ being pointed out, a new Light Touch Review model was produced over half-way through the consultation period. The student fee loss was reduced from £94m to £76m, but the model added in further new costs bringing the total deficit back up to £104m. This suggests that the magic figure of approximately £100m will be used no matter what the real deficitis.
There is another key reason why we must treat the university’s modelling with caution. This is because the estimated deficits are not based on actual known figures, but on estimated projections arising from vastly inflated growth targets. For instance, the number of international undergraduate students has been projected to increase by 200%. Comparing actual performance to such inflated numbers naturally results in a deficit even when recruitment is stronger than last year. As far as current admissions data is concerned, the number of acceptances for both home/EU and international students are all higher than this time last year.
The ‘business case’ for redundancies or cuts to terms and conditions is therefore based on a false necessity.
Pay Cuts: How Not to Show Solidarity
It is short-sighted for staff to think that they are showing solidarity with so-called ‘precarious’ colleagues by accepting cuts to terms and conditions, to avoid compulsory redundancies.
This use of language is dangerous. It divides up the university into two groups, the ‘vulnerable’ and the ‘not vulnerable’. This plays directly into the management rhetoric of ‘necessity’ and ‘restructured efficiency’, moving the debate away from negotiations which are supposed to be dealing with the effects of a global pandemic to a pre-existing agenda of structural reorganisation.
Solidarity is not charity. Pay cuts are not bespoke: just because your personal and financial circumstances can tolerate one does not mean that other colleagues can. Accepting pay cuts pushes pay and conditions down across the grade scales, especially for the most precarious staff – a complete subversion of solidarity.
Agreeing to pay cuts also does not demonstrate solidarity with colleagues across the national higher education sector, with the University of Reading already having been described as the ‘canary in the coal mine’.
Pay Cuts Now, Redundancies Later
Agreeing to pay cuts and pay freezes does not stop management of the University of Reading from introducing redundancies further down the line.
Pay cuts and pay freezes that remove Reading from national collective bargaining, guarantees and protections are dangerous. Such reductions in pay and conditions will exacerbate existing inequalities, including gender and ‘BAME’ pay and pension gaps (the latter an increasingly disputed term).
Staff Health and Safety
Shifting the risk onto employees has not only been seen financially but also in the University’s planning for next year’s teaching, where health risks for staff are being ignored to encourage recruitment. It has been proposed that the University apply the 1m+ rule on social distancing in classrooms as the norm, rather than the exception for which that rule was created by the government.
What senior management and the UCU representatives should be talking about is the health and safety of staff during a pandemic, and the implications of cuts on staff workloads.
Reading Between the Lines
Reading Between the Lines is a grassroots solidarity group of University of Reading staff and supporters, seeking to create clarity on – and organise against – the spin and misrepresentation that has characterised the debate on proposed cuts at Reading.
Reading Between the Lines calls upon management of the University of Reading to:
Remove the threat of ‘firing and rehiring’, as a good faith consultation partner.
Submit the Chief Financial Officer’s modelling to full and independent – rather than ‘light touch’ – review.
Extend the period of consultation until accurate rather than projected recruitment figures are known.
Engage in meaningful consultation and provide a full and formal response to the 52 questions provided by UCU at the start of the consultation period.
Issues and concerns regarding RUCU all-member survey 28-31 July 2020
On Tuesday 28 July, ReadingUCU issued an all-member survey closing on 31 July 2020. The survey which was NOT approved by the branch committee, and which the majority of branch committee members neither reviewed nor contributed to before circulation, purported to inform the RUCU negotiators’ position. As ReadingUCU members, we have FIVE serious areas of concern about the design and deployment of this survey. We offer this analysis in good faith, in the hope that the RUCU branch committee will recognise and address the serious flaws we highlight:
1. Misleading framing
The preamble to the RUCU all-member survey of 28th-31st July 2020 stated:
“The University has estimated the losses it expects to incur compared to its expected income over the next three academic years (20-21, 21-22 and 22-23). It estimates these losses are over £100 million and plans to attempt to recover around £60 million of those losses from its staffing. RUCU remains highly sceptical about these estimates, which seem unnecessarily pessimistic and increasingly implausible in light of more recent data. However, it is possible that the University will have significantly fewer students in the autumn than it had expected before the COVID-19 outbreak and it remains determined to recover some of the associated expected losses from its staff.”
Thus, the framing of the survey suggests that the proposed cuts are in response to losses associated with a reduction in student numbers. However, the University’s ‘Post-Covid-19 response – proposed restructuring process’ (dated 23/05/20 – UOR staff login required) says in Section 9:
“If the University finds itself in a more positive position in the Autumn Term e.g. International recruitment is stronger than expected and therefore the shortfall is lower, it is recommended that we call less upon the investments.”
In other words, the University’s plan will be to go ahead with the cuts to staff and protect their investments. The preamble to the RUCU all-member survey gave the opposite impression and, unless the University’s position had changed, was dangerously misleading. Neither the position of the University quoted above, nor any updated position, had been clearly communicated to all members at the time of the survey.
2. Short timeframe for completion
Members were given less than 4 days to complete the survey. Some will have been on leave and missed the email or simply not had enough time to carefully consider the very important decisions being asked of them. There was not enough time for the committee to fully answer all the questions and concerns being emailed to them from members before the survey closed. The Vice Chancellor has expressed his willingness to extend the consultation if there is hope of an agreement being reached. One would expect him to have been open to an extension to enable proper consultation of UCU members, if this had been requested by the UCU negotiating team.
3. Relevant information not made easily accessible
Q1 should have included a link to the proposal it referred to. It seemed that we were being asked here whether we would accept a specific proposal in order to avoid redundancies, but the content of the proposal was not readily available to members.
4. Unclear, confusing and imprecise questions
(a) It should have been clarified that the pay cuts referred to are (presumably) cuts to gross pay, meaning that staff on lower pay will suffer a larger percentage cut to their take home pay. An illustration of the cut to take home pay for members on different grades should have been provided.
(b) It should have been made clear to members that any pay cut without a corresponding reduction in hours will take us out of JNCHES national pay negotiations, and what the dangers of that course of action are. In particular, we were being asked about temporary pay cuts but if those cuts are likely to have a long-term impact on pay, that should have been made clear to members. This was mentioned by the Regional Official at the EGM but not all members were able to take part and may have missed this important piece of information.
(c) The constant changing between positively-framed and negatively-framed questions was confusing and likely to lead to erroneous responses. For example, Q2 asked members to choose what they preferred and Q3 asked them to choose what they wanted to rule out. Moreover, both Q2 and Q3 were framed as if pay cuts are inevitable, with the scope of consultation restricted to what type of cut is preferable.
5. No clear commitment to transparency and accountability
The Branch President has stated she wants to be a funnel for members’ views. Transparency and accountability are an important part of that. The data from this survey, including collated anonymised free text comments should be made available to all members so that they can see that they are being fairly represented.
The Branch President has said that she will take views in a variety of different ways: emails from individual members, emails from departmental representatives and the survey. Wide consultation through different means is all well and good but one must be careful to establish a robust and transparent methodology for balancing the views obtained. How does one balance the results of the survey against the emails from departmental representatives, for example? What about departments that don’t have a representative? Without a pre-determined methodology there is a danger that one will balance the different inputs so as to support the conclusion that best fits one’s own personal views, either consciously or unconsciously. We have many experts on qualitative research in this university who could have given expert advice on the methodology for this consultation, and perhaps they have. Members should be informed of the methodology being used here so that they can have confidence in the process.
The Branch President may point to point (1e) of the motion passed at the EGM on 20th July 2020, which states “In order to ensure this happens, the design and implementation of this programme, including any plan of communications associated with it, will not be subject to further review.” The question is why is there such a need to avoid scrutiny, transparency and accountability that this was included in the motion in the first place? Again, it seems that the justification is her haste to meet the 31st July deadline but this is not convincing: see (2) above.
Early on in the survey period, we asked for these issues to be recognised and for the survey to be paused and corrected, before further deployment. Our concerns were noted by the branch secretary and President but nothing was done to address the serious flaws. Our concerns remain that the negotiations are being informed by this biased and misleading framing. As members of ReadingUCU, and as staff seriously affected by the outcome of negotiations, we ask that this survey be set aside, that those involved in organising such a survey outside the purview of the branch committee recognise its weaknesses and that any future survey:
a) be approved by the committee; b) and not be restricted to options as determined by management already.
RUCU (representing grades 6 and above in collective consultation) is the recognised trade union that can come to agreement with the University in relation to the proposed cuts. We are concerned there have been serious breaches of process within RUCU, that undermine democracy because they present members with misleading, incorrect and incomplete information on which to base democratic decisions. We present some such recent breaches, in good faith in the expectation that their exposure will allow the serious democratic deficit to be rectified.
This branch thanks and supports branch negotiators and recognises their appointment under local rule 7.4 “Where there is one Branch/LA in the institution, the committee shall elect (from among its own members) a Negotiating Committee to conduct negotiations.”
This branch notes that management have previously presented misleading modelling as the basis for the consultation and recognises the need for extended consultation to avoid premature changes to pay, terms and conditions. In a couple of months, student numbers for 2020/21 will be known. Members wish to be kept informed of different viewpoints, discuss these viewpoints and help inform the progress on negotiations. In the past, when meetings were in person, informal discussions often began before, and continued after, the official meeting had taken place and this was a good thing for democracy and building consensus.
The University management is at an advantage while staff are working from home and have no forum for communication and discussion. Online meetings should be used to increase the ability for members to discuss amongst themselves.
This branch requests that
1) Branch meetings are held on a fortnightly basis and negotiators should report on progress of negotiations. There should be sufficient time and information provided to members ahead of these meetings.
2) The timing, duration and agenda of such meetings should be determined by the committee as a whole.
3) During the summer period, any decisions that may be taken by committee should be reviewed by the branch meeting.
4) Members have an opportunity to speak during all meetings to question as part of an open discussion. They are also entitled to make suggestions to amend motions.
5) The chat function should be available to all members at all branch meetings, including the current one.
6) The Zoom meetings should be open to members for informal discussion for half an hour before and half an hour after the official meeting slot.
RUCU (representing grades 6 and above in collective consultation) is the recognised trade union that can come to agreement with the University in relation to the proposed cuts. We are concerned there have been serious breaches of process within RUCU, that undermine democracy because they present members with misleading, incorrect and incomplete information on which to base democratic decisions. We present some such recent breaches, in good faith in the expectation that their exposure will allow the serious democratic deficit to be rectified.
Proposed by Deepa Govindarajan Driver
Seconded by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein
The motion is submitted as an alternative to the motion ‘A Jobs first approach for Reading UCU’, included as item 3 on the RUCU EGM agenda circulated on 17 July 2020.
That motion, together with the paper provided to members (from the Regional Officer) dated 16 July 2020, proposes a “Jobs First” approach to negotiations in the University’s Reading Post COVID-19 Restructuring Process. Given the serious concerns about the University’s modelling and the fact that actual student numbers will be available soon, this decision is premature and creates risks that changes to pay, terms and conditions will be negotiated and accepted on false premises.
Instead we propose a “Defend All Jobs, No Detriment!” position in line with UCU’s own “Fund the Future” guidance which allows us to push back on the University position more effectively while still continuing negotiations to explore viable options, for example:
a. the possibility of bridge loans and other facilities such as restructuring the University’s loans and short-term credit facilities;
b. structuring any help given by staff as a loan, repayable after the current liquidity crisis, under terms of improved staff control over governance to avoid further crises.
Note: these changes are not the result of Covid-19 alone, as the University has admitted that it is trying to address ongoing structural issues with University finances;
c. funds made available from BEIS and UKRI.
This branch notes the following:
● Members have expressed serious concerns about the misleading financial data provided by the University as its justification for the Post-COVID-19 Restructuring Process. Now, one month into consultation, the University has reviewed their modelling and brought in a wide range of new data assumptions which need to be scrutinised.
● All staff need sufficient time to consider this review and raise questions and concerns. The negotiating team cannot properly represent members without informing them of the updated information and allowing time for members to consider this.
● UCU’s “Fund the Future” guidance states:
“Branches should not allow employers to bully or rush them into making staff the shock absorbers for this crisis … there is a real risk that branches will be bounced by their management and the sheer pressure of the situation into agreeing substandard deals, including detrimental changes to pay and other terms and conditions, in exchange for some prospect of protecting their members from losing their jobs …
We encourage branches to hold as firm and consistent a line as possible in their dealings with management …
If one branch is pushed into accepting a substandard agreement, other branches could have their own position undermined. Conversely, if one branch wins particularly valuable concessions from an employer, other branches will be encouraged and emboldened to push for more in their institution … it would be advisable to avoid firm commitments to temporary measures until firmer data regarding 2020/21 student numbers is available”.
● We are all currently hampered by a lack of reliable data on actual numbers of both new and returning student. Current figures of student enrolment show that the student uptake is very healthy. By September 2020, we will have a clearer picture of this, although the uncertainty associated with the pandemic remains.
● The University owes a duty of care to staff during a time of pandemic causing intensification of workload and disruptive personal circumstances. Not so long ago, staff at the University were put through the PAS process and continue to suffer its effects.
● The S188 letter states that the consultation is expected to last until at least 31 July 2020. However, no compulsory redundancies can take place until the separate s188 consultation on that matter has been completed. That consultation only commences in October 2020, and will likely last a further 45 days before actions can be taken.
● At this stage the consultation is primarily dealing with the justification of cuts concerning pay, terms and conditions ostensibly to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that cuts are not yet fully and satisfactorily justified. Any trade-off between pay, terms and conditions with compulsory redundancies is therefore premature.
1. Mandates the branch committee and negotiating team to adopt a ‘Defend All Jobs, No Detriment’ position.
2. Mandates the branch committee and negotiating team to ask
a. that the University extends the consultation period till 10th September 2020, in the expectation of reaching an agreement.
b. that Senate and Council facilitate such an extension.
c. that the University clarify data and financial modelling in more depth as a prerequisite for entering formal negotiations.
4. Asks all members to lobby the VC, members of UEB, Council, Senate and their own line management to extend the consultation period.
5. Mandates the branch committee to call fortnightly meetings to identify members’ priorities in respect to these threats, and to work with other affected branches to build solidarity against cuts.
6. Mandates the branch committee to act on the basis of the members’ priorities identified in all-member branch meetings during the consultation period and in any subsequent period of negotiations.
RUCU (representing grades 6 and above in collective consultation) is the recognised trade union that can come to agreement with the University in relation to the proposed cuts. We are concerned there have been serious breaches of process within RUCU, that undermine democracy because they present members with misleading, incorrect and incomplete information on which to base democratic decisions. We present some such recent breaches, in good faith in the expectation that their exposure will allow the serious democratic deficit to be rectified
Dear RUCU members,
We are in the midst of a complex consultation that will have a momentous impact on our University, and on us as staff and students.
At the same time as posing as ‘reasonable’ and ‘responsible’, University of Reading management have adopted an unprecedentedly aggressive, and so far unrivalled, approach, including public threats of potential redundancies at a time when staff are working hard on developing new programmes and teaching strategies to deal with the current situation. The s188 consultation letter included proposals for consultation on dismissal by reason of redundancy of all 4583 staff and re-employment on new contracts, on reduced terms and conditions. For more details on the circumstances surrounding the current negotiations see Background to current negotiations (below).
The University management’s case for cuts is based on a model in which, for the next three years, not only do 50% of new international students fail to turn up, but also 50% of continuing international students do not continue. There is no modelling of deferring students. The pre-Covid predictions for recruitment of new international students are vastly inflated compared to previous years’ actual numbers with no explanation. These and similar issues for home students mean predicted losses are being overestimated by around £50 million. For more details on alternative calculations of losses see Calculation of losses (below) and full details in the Appendix (below).
An alternative negotiation Strategy
The paper provided to members (from the Regional Officer) dated 16/07/20 proposes a “Jobs First” approach to the negotiations. Given the serious concerns about the University’s modelling and the fact that actual student numbers will be available soon, this is premature and creates risks that changes to pay, terms and conditions will be negotiated and accepted on false premises.
Instead we propose a “Defend All Jobs, No Detriment!” position in line with UCU’s ‘Fund the Future’ guidance (see Appendix 2) which allows us to push back on the University position more effectively while still continuing negotiation to explore viable options, for example:
a. the possibility of bridge loans and other facilities such as restructuring the University’s loans and short-term credit facilities;
b. structuring any help given by staff as a loan, repayable after the current liquidity crisis, under terms of improved staff control over governance that caused the liquidity crisis. Note: these changes are not the result of Covid-19 alone; indeed the University has admitted that it is trying to address ongoing structural issues with University finances;
c. funds made available from BEIS and UKRI.
Background to current negotiations
1. The consultation (s188) letter starkly states that:
a. “…it is proposed to make temporary changes to contracts of employment in respect of all employees of the University located in the United Kingdom (and predominantly based at our campuses in Reading and Henley-on-Thames).
2. These changes may include a pay freeze (for up to 3 years), a temporary reduction in the hours of employment for all staff, for example by adopting a four-day work week, or some combination of these and other alternative options to be discussed with you.
3. If appropriate changes cannot be agreed via consultation, the University may make these changes to contracts by giving contractual notice to bring employment on the current terms and conditions to an end, but offering continued employment on new contracts which contain the temporary changes to terms and conditions.”
4. The threat is to pay, progression, equality, and importantly pensions and retirement security.
5. It is important to note here that this kind of vicious threat is unprecedented in our sector. UoR is consequently a standard-bearer in the poorest and most aggressive of employment practices, and any attempts we make to resist these changes are of national importance for our union.
6. It is also worth noting that no compulsory redundancies can take place until the separate s188 consultation on that matter has been completed. That consultation (the concept is itself undermined by management as relayed in point 3 above) only commences in Oct 2020 and will likely last a further 45 days before actions can be taken.
7. Finally, it is worth noting that we are all currently hampered by a lack of reliable data on actual numbers of both new and returning student. Current figures of student enrolment show that the student uptake is very healthy. By October 2020, we will have a clearer picture of this, although the uncertainty associated with the pandemic remains.
8. The immediate threat is to pay, terms and conditions. The Vice-Chancellor has communicated his version of the need for changes widely in several public meetings with staff, and has been at pains to emphasise that these cuts and any redundancies are not his preferred option, but that Council, UEB and he have no other alternative to address the £106m deficit. While the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the ostensible reason for the cuts cited in the s188 letter, the Vice-Chancellor in public talks and in consultation meetings with the union has noted the more structural financial issues the University has accumulated over the years. These are presented as historical issues, that would have been dealt with differently by the current VC.
9. Agreeing to proposals for pay freezes and pay cuts will lead to UoR leaving National Pay Bargaining (JNCHES), which also would include leaving the UCU’s ‘Four Fights’ negotiations (which includes USS pensions, workload, Equality and Pay) which also are held through JNCHES. UoR would not necessarily leave JNCHES if a pay freeze is agreed in National Pay Bargaining also or if the UoR implements cuts to working hours (i.e. a four day week or a nine day fortnight) instead of pay cuts and pay freeze as such. If JNCHES were to be exited, it is not clear how or when it could be rejoined.
Calculation of losses
The University has cloaked the consultation process in a veneer of transparency and reason. It has encouraged staff to accept the proposed cuts to pay, terms and conditions in order to protect the University and stave off compulsory redundancies on the grounds that there is no other viable alternative given the University’s financial position.
However, during the consultation process, it has come to light that the original documentation provided by the University, is both flawed and intentionally misleading. Analysis prepared by Deepa (see the Appendix) and made available on 7th July 2020 sets out how the University has overestimated losses from student income by approximately £50m. What is worrying is that the difference of £50m does not arise from a difference in the breadth of assumptions.
The Appendix outlines how :
“Firstly, the University’s calculations are inconsistent with their own assumptions about future student numbers, making their expected losses appear much greater than they are likely to be, by approximately £25 million.
Secondly, their own assumptions seem extreme, because they assume a 50% decline in 2021-22, and 2022-23 for international UG students for example. This overstates their losses by as much as an additional £25 million.
Taken together, the University estimate of losses is as much as £50 million greater than corrected and more realistic estimates suggest. Making these corrections to ensure the University’s stated assumptions match the modelling and that these assumptions are also realistic, means that the losses would not be £106 million, as predicted by the University. They would be closer to £56 million.”
This undermines the consultation process at its very foundation. These matters are non-trivial and the University’s case for cuts has been premised on misleading numbers that were wrongly approved by UEB and Council.
Reliable and meaningful modelling is only helpful in planning for the future when it is based on sound data and design, reasonable assumptions, use of the right mathematical and statistical techniques, correct interpretation of results and so on. Instead we see the use of incorrect input data, coupled with wildly speculative assumptions, that provides results that are pre-destined to justify the University’s pathway of cuts.
Such non-trivial and indeed highly serious factual misstatements must not be brushed under the carpet, as they provide a concrete indication of managerial bias towards a magical deficit number of £106 million. Such conduct calls into question the meaningfulness of the entire consultation process.
Further to the challenge provided by Deepa’s letter, and responding to a prior request by Council to do a “light-touch review” of the modelling in the light of new data, the Vice-Chancellor has issued a second document. This second document is more internally consistent, but the modelling still does not correct the range of issues identified. Having corrected what is deemed a minor update to numbers of £18m, it then introduces other large amounts (for example a further 10 million on speculative estimates pensions contributions increases from Apr 2021), that allow the University to take the figure back to a total of £104m.
The issues detailed above, are only the tip of the iceberg. We believe that there are serious concerns in relation to the vast inflation in planned student numbers in 2020-21, that magnify losses, because they show a scale of losses that is not based in fact. The planned intake in UG international students for example has been increased by 200% over last year’s numbers. Increasing planned student numbers aggressively – say hypothetically by a million new students, would naturally show a loss when only half a million turn up.
The University’s case for cuts is both un-evidenced and hugely premature, given there is much uncertainty about actual student numbers. The strategy being pushed by the University, which encourages us to take cuts to our pay, terms and conditions, in order to save the University and our colleagues’ jobs, must be recognised for what it is, and must be strongly resisted.
(Document dated 07/07/20)
Paper (part 1) prepared in an individual capacity by Deepa Govindarajan Driver, ReadingUCU
Having examined how the modelling assumptions are being carried through the financial modelling of losses in the University’s paper to Senate, UCU, and Council, I would like to bring to the attention of the consultation group (including representatives from UEB, Senate, Council, Staff Forum and UCU) serious and material concerns.
My analysis – which has been shared with the RUCU branch committee, who share these concerns – suggests that there are issues in relation to the modelling that has been presented by UEB to Senate and approved by Council. These issues mean that the University’s current presentation of expected losses provides a misleading picture such that it grossly overestimates (nearly doubles) the losses.
I offer this contribution to the University and to the Consultation group in good faith, as a concerned UCU member of the Consultation group and look forward to an urgent, written response from the University to clarify their modelling. A further document will also be made available to the Consultation group and will take account of further concerns and queries UCU may have.
● There are two main issues that I find with regard to the modelling that underpins UEB’s proposal and Council’s decision to kick off a s188 consultation process regarding wide-ranging cuts to staff numbers and freezes to pay, terms and conditions
Firstly, the University’s calculations are inconsistent with their own assumptions about future student numbers, making their expected losses appear much greater than they are likely to be, by approximately £25 million.
Secondly, their own assumptions seem extreme, because they assume a 50% decline in 2021-22, and 2022-23 for international UG students for example. This overstates their losses by as much as an additional £25 million.
● Taken together, the University estimate of losses is as much as £50 million greater than corrected and more realistic estimates suggest. Making these corrections to ensure the University’s stated assumptions match the modelling and that these assumptions are also realistic, means that the losses would not be £106 million, as predicted by the University. They would be closer to £56 million.
● The discovery of these serious and material overestimations of losses, in my view, reinforces the UCU argument that the solution to the current financial problems faced by the University should be based around cash-flow ideas and the rearrangement of working capital, rather than job cuts or pay / terms and conditions decreases.
● That such an error had not already been corrected and that such a model was reviewed by UEB, presented to Senate and approved by Council, using erroneous modelling on a matter of such seriousness, to me, raises questions regarding the governance and oversight around the modelling.
● It also rings alarm bells about the reliability of any models provided by the University in good faith negotiations. An error of this magnitude, if not corrected, would significantly alter the focus of discussions and would, if relied upon, have resulted in the loss of several hundred jobs, reductions in terms and conditions, and corresponding lifelong impacts on staff, students, University and the community, without due cause.
● An error of this magnitude also suggests to me that the governance of the University requires critical scrutiny and repair to prevent recurrence.
A worked example explaining issues with assumptions in calculating fee losses from reductions in international UG Students (area of largest overstatement)
● The University has declared the following assumptions for the decrease in international UG and PGR students:
First year students
Second year students
Third year students
● However, the University’s calculations appear to ignore the University’s own assumptions.
● The calculations produced for Senate in the paper cited above, are based on assuming that the reductions in international UG student numbers of 50% are the same for each cohort in 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23. This means that the University’s assumptions in practice (as opposed to their description of the assumptions) is:
First year students
Second year students
Third year students
● This can be seen through a fee loss figure for UG international of circa £17.069 million in 2021-22 and £17.496 million in 2022-23 in the papers provided to Senate and Council.
● These figures should be much lower as such an adverse scenario (that actually modelled rather than that described), seems highly unlikely. It seems almost certain that reductions in future years will be much less, perhaps even zero. The London Economics analysis for UCU for example pointed out that expected decreases in numbers of overseas students are mostly temporary as students would like to defer their study in the UK, not cancel it entirely.
● It may well be that a more realistic prediction for the next 3 years could actually be closer to the following table, with second and third year students carrying on as normal.
First year students
Second year students
Third year students
● Similar errors also apply to the calculations for domestic students and post graduate research students.
Assumptions re: fees and numbers:
● Assuming £9250/- per year fees for home/EU UG students, assuming £18000/- per year for all overseas students (UG, PGT and PGR), assuming £8250/- PGT home/EU and assuming £4500/- for PGR. These assumptions were verified using the table headed Total Headcount (same paper) for 2020-21 and multiplying them took me to £93mn and thereafter with other costs to £106mn
Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver, Reading UCU
 University of Liverpool in a previous year, tried to pose a similar threat for all professional and administrative staff (not the entirety of the University), and were rightly forced by union action to withdraw their plans.
 The University’s own estimate of student fee losses is £93 million. They also estimate an additional £13 million loss in non-fee revenues. Together these losses total £106 million
 The University’s own estimate of student fee losses is £93 million. They also estimate an additional £13 million loss in non-fee revenues. Together these losses total £106 million
Don’t miss your chance to vote to fight for our pensions. Last ‘safe’ posting day is today Wednesday 6th April. Get your vote in the post now!
If you’ve already voted, please remind colleagues who might not have. Here’s some answers to questions they may have.
In this short interview pensions negotiator (alternate) Mike Otsuka debunks some UUK talking points.
Why not use the pension modellers to see what’s at stake for you. Check and see how many years’ strike pay cuts you could take to cover the cut in your guaranteed future pension benefits? For some of us it is somewhere between 3-5 years!
Enter your own details with this pensions calculator. Now do a very rough back of the envelope comparison – how many years of net annual pay are you losing to your future guaranteed pensions in one fell swoop as a result of these cuts. You can also look at the UCU modeller. These modellers are not a prediction of your precise future benefits but a broad indication of how you will be impacted by the changes. What’s clear for sure is, that whichever modeller you use, the cuts to your pensions are extortionate!
Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver, NEC member and pensions negotiator, has replied in an open letter to the VC’s outrageous suggestion that members consider not voting in the current ballot!
Sussex UCU have outlined how much the HE sector will lose as a result of VCs needlessly pursuing UUK’s cuts.
Does this seem reasonable to you, given the growth in Scheme assets from £66.5 billion to £92 billion during a pandemic!
Do you think it’s fair on your students that their future pensions are 40% less than ours for no good reason – including recently graduated PhD students, that their pension should be taken from them under false pretences?
Post that ballot for your students, for yourself and for the future of higher education. No one should face energy and food poverty in old age. Defend your rights!
Motion 1: Support for Liverpool UCU – Cuts to Health and Life Sciences : Proposed by DG Driver seconded by Titus Hilberdink
This branch notes:
The appalling decision by the University of Liverpool to make Health and Life Science teachers and researchers redundant
The detrimental effect this will have on student learning
The devastating impact on staff of losing their jobs during the pandemic
The determination of UCU Liverpool members to fight for their members
This branch further notes:
Managers at other universities want to exploit the pandemic to make cuts
This makes the battle for jobs at Liverpool a dispute of significance to us too
It is in the interests of all workers, including us, that UCU Liverpool wins its dispute
This branch resolves:
To send a message of solidarity to UCU University of Liverpool
To donate £200/- to the Liverpool UCU strike fund
To invite a Liverpool striker to a future branch meeting
To actively support and publicise their ongoing strike action
Motion 2: Congratulations and solidarity with UoR staff who are having their terms and conditions of employement improved under the Collective Agreement Proposed by DG Driver seconded by Rita Balestrini
This branch notes
the successful change of a number of our grade 6 members to grade 7 as a result of a collective agreement
the importance of the work of colleagues working on anti-casualisation initiatives within the branch
early evidence that some colleagues affected by these changes are not being put on the correct spinal point within grade 7 that is commensurate with their experience.
thanks UCU colleagues & staff, and those in UoR management for working persistently on this important effort.
expresses solidarity with all grade 6 staff who have been affected by this process and those who may have moved on and therefore would not benefit from these changes, given the time that has elapsed since the start of this process
mandates RUCU committee to continue to push forward on the anti-casualisation agenda by reducing the race pay gap and gender pay gap, as well as moving more precariously-employed staff to permanency.
mandates the RUCU committee and negotiators to work with People Services and UoR management to ensure that all staff who have just been moved to grade 7, as part of this exercise, are put on spinal points that reflect their experience, rather than simply being consigned to the bottom of the spine; and that where they have worked for three or more years, they are not subject to any probationary period in the form of a special monitoring regime using the PDR process.
Sessional staff moved to a permanent post will not be subject to a three-year probationary period
The Agreement should take effect retrospectively from the start of the academic year 2020-2021 and a review for sessional contracts signed between September/October 2020 and January 2021 and running throughout the academic year should be carried out
Motion 3 : Learning technology, Covid pandemic and members’ rights Proposed by DG Driver and seconded by Titus Hilberdink
This branch notes:
the rapid deployment of many elements of learning technology at the University of Reading, particularly during the covid-19 epidemic .
the HE sector-wide proliferation of casualised gig economy jobs and highly surveilled employment relationships which can be mediated by such technology
Incursion of international learning technology organisations bringing exploitative employment models from Big Tech.
Increased reuse of recorded or pre-written materials rather than interactive teaching and learning including with the aim of making up for the lack of colleagues who have left / lost their positions or as a result of new efforts to control hiring costs
This branch mandates RUCU committee to work with UCU departmental representatives and members :
to explore the challenges to staff posed by learning technology and ‘tech platforms’
to ascertain its impact (if any) on increased casualisation at the University of Reading
to ascertain and to document its impact (if any) on surveillance and close supervision elements affecting employees’ autonomy, academic freedom, wellbeing, intellectual property rights and privacy rights
to recognise contextual particularities of different areas of the universities
to consider and report back to members at every general meeting the findings of such discussions and whether and how RUCU may fight casualisation and deterioration of working conditions arising from such new learning technology
Motion 4: USS valuation Proposed by DG Driver seconded by Titus Hilberdink
The decision by the USS Trustee to proceed with an out-of-cycle USS valuation at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic especially given the valuation was dated 31st March 2020
The Trustee’s valuation proposals that drastically increase members’ and employers’ contributions including in some instances taking total costs to over 50%, which is absurd.
Universities UK proposals to slash benefits and propose a two-tier scheme offering a lower value scheme for casualised and lower paid members.
Reckless behaviour by the USS Trustee to propose so-called de-risking of the Scheme by moving the Scheme out of growth assets.
This branch asserts that:
a. The Scheme is healthy and has grown from £66.5 bn to £80 bn since the last valuation and this includes performance and stress during a global pandemic. Our contributions currently exceed our benefits and do not utilise either the £80 bn assets or the returns on the assets. The Scheme is expected to be cash-flow positive for at least the next 25 years. It is clear that current benefits could be maintained at 26% total contributions, were it not for unjustified and intentionally pessimistic modelling of projected deficits.
b. the effects of incorrect valuation models are profound and would undermine the Scheme by pressuring members and employers to opt out due to unjustified soaring costs or slashed benefits and this could lead to USS closure.
RUCU asks UoR management to publish their full response to the UUK consultation and to all past consultations since 2014
RUCU urges UoR management, and mandates RUCU committee to:
i. implement a multi-pronged strategy to defend USS at current costs and current benefits. As a starting point, such a strategy could include a joint working group with RUCU and management to come together , as is the case at many other universities with a view to deepening management understanding of the points made by our members and by UCU’s actuaries First Actuarial .
ii. call on UUK to (A) withdraw proposals for benefit reductions and / or worse benefits for lower paid members and (B) put pressure on USS to modify valuation approach such that the benefits remain the same and total costs remain at or near 26%
Ensuring full implementation of the collective agreement to move teaching members from grade 6 to grade 7 and acknowledgement of previous work within new contracts
Protecting our pensions in coordination with national UCU strategy and solidarity with other branches
Committee accountability and transparency; regular minuted branch and committee meetings with a focus on inclusion and democratic debate
Respecting democracy and members’ preferences; prioritising accurate, full and timely information that allows for reasonable and sensible decision-making, particularly in relation to phase 2 of cuts and changes and in relation to the university’s strategic programme on portfolio review, expectations and workload, strategic alignment and ways of working.
Ensuring reasonable workloads for all staff
Addressing casualisation and grade drift where those on lower grades are taking on heavy burdens without appropriate resourcing, time or remuneration
Challenging the misuse of Campus Jobs, and similar, to hire researchers or other staff on substandard contracts with fewer protections
Protecting members’ interests through fair approaches to individual casework and proactive negotiations with management on a collective basis
Resisting the introduction of hot-desking and opposing the reduction of office-space
Care of our students and opposing the positioning of students as “customers” from whom we can extract revenues in innovative and unethical ways.
Secretary Simone Knox I have been employed at the university of Reading for over 15 years. During this time I have been an active trade unionist and have been the RUCU treasurer for a decade. My experience of union work is varied, including leading on important campaigns in our local branch and being a casework rep. I believe in democracy and transparency within the union, and see unions as a great force for social justice. As Secretary I will make sure that we hold regular meetings, committee and all-members, with a focus on inclusion and democratic debate. Minutes of all meetings will be made available for all members to see. I will provide accurate, full and timely information that allows for reasonable and sensible decision-making, particularly in relation to phase 2 of cuts and changes.
Membership secretary Pil and Galia Kollectiv (job share) We have been working at the University of Reading as lecturers in art for 11 years. With the university embarking on a programme of more cuts and changes, we would like to ensure we have a strong union that can hold management accountable and oppose the processes of casualisation, marketisation and outsourcing that threaten our future security. Using our experience of audience development in the arts, we want to build our membership and find new ways of facilitating members’ contributions at this crucial juncture so we can have a say in the university’s future. We both have extensive experience of working as lecturers in other institutions. As parents juggling childcare with part time working and job-sharing, we have been especially conscious of the challenges faced by employees with caring responsibilities. We have been members of UCU for a long time, but recent struggles have driven us to get more involved in the union by becoming departmental representatives. In our time working in higher education, we have witnessed a drastic erosion of the status and rights of both academic and non-academic staff. We have seen workloads increase, pensions shrink and job security threatened. We have also seen local power taken from departments through ‘efficiency exercises’, which have made it harder for us to deliver excellent research and teaching. As joint membership secretaries, we would hope to represent the needs of a diverse workforce and encourage more staff members to join RUCU and make our university more equitable and resilient.
Vice‑president John Russell I have been an active member of UCU at Reading for the past decade, as both departmental rep and as committee member. I work full-time in the Department of Art teaching studio practice and art history and working as Director of teaching and learning My aim as RUCU Vice President will be to ensure that forthcoming negotiations with University Management focus on the increasingly pressurised and stressful conditions under which all staff in the University are working. This includes additional workloads and deadlines, erosion of pensions as well as constant anxiety about job security. In response to the Covid Pandemic, all staff (academic, professional and administrative) have worked beyond their contracted hours to get students through remote teaching, exams and re-sits; to respond to the chaotic admissions situation; to ensure successful recruitment; and to plan and organise content that is timetabled and delivered both online and face-to-face. As a parent of two children under sixteen, I am also aware of the added pressure of providing childcare around working from home. Added to all of this, staff efforts were met in the summer with threats of redundancy and pay cuts. We need a working environment where there is an equal commitment to the well-being of both staff and students, where there is a recognition of the pressures of workload, an understanding of safety and a provision of resources. With our return to campus RUCU must work to create a situation where ALL STAFF feel supported, safe and valued in their efforts to provide students with the excellent educational opportunities they deserve – and which Reading has historically delivered.
President Deepa G Driver As an experienced union rep, negotiator and branch organiser, I seek your vote so I can serve you as Branch President of Reading UCU. Our students tell us that their relationship with us, as staff, is what most enriches their education at the University of Reading. Yet, many colleagues across the University feel undervalued, disenfranchised and exhausted by doing tasks that don’t contribute to education or research. I believe RUCU can and must work to rebalance workloads and make our University an inclusive, progressive environment to work in. I have a strong track record in leading people and being a stakeholder advocate. My skills have been honed through my career in regulation, in industry and as a finance academic. I have also learned from local RUCU organising; activism within the community as chair of a grassroots group; as legal observer in 2 complex whistleblowing-related trials this year; and through a range of national UCU roles including as an elected member of the national executive, as a national pensions negotiator and as member of UCU’s legal panel. As a Black, disabled woman, I have lived experience of the structural barriers that our students and colleagues face daily. As RUCU President, I want to apply this knowledge to building our union branch and to improving University governance such that it enables adequate staffing and resourcing, job security, reasonable workloads, good pay, safe pensions and an inclusive workplace. In the year ahead, with your vote, I will work alongside colleagues to build an RUCU that prioritises your needs and serves you in a transparent, supportive and accountable way.
HOW TO FIND YOUR BALLOT LINK The email with the ballot link came from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org‘ (Reading UCU) with the subject title ‘Reading UCU officer elections’ on Tuesday 25th May at about 17:46. If you can’t find it, please remember to check your junk/spam inbox too.
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