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.