The past several months have seen an intensification of industrial action taken by the University and College Union (UCU), most recently through participation in a marking boycott by academic staff and, at a local level, an increasing demand for the University of Nottingham (UoN) to pay a Living Wage to all staff. In 2013 the University delivered a surplus of £22 million for that year, a level consistent with the £24 million achieved in 2012.* In the context of this escalation in industrial action, the maintenance of a yearly surplus and the claim made by the UoN Registrar, Dr Paul Greatrix, to campaigners in November 2014 that UoN is “not in a position” to increase wages “at the moment”, Impact News investigates how some of the decision making committees at the University function.**
University Senior Leadership: Their Influence, Activities and Decision-Making Explained
The University of Nottingham’s University Council (UC) acts as its governing body and holds primary powers over finance.* UoN’s Annual Financial Statement describes how the council has responsibility to ‘act as the principal financial and business authority of the University; including approving budgets and financial plans’ and ‘having overall responsibilities for the University’s assets, properties and estates’ as well having ‘to oversee the Students’ Union’. University Council is made up of 25 members, 2 of which, the University of Nottingham Students’ Union (UoNSU) President and the SU Education Officer, provide the student representation on the panel.
“Previously, the University has provided housing to the Vice-Chancellor, either on campus or off campus”
The latest figures available show the council of the University to be comprised of 14 ‘external’ members, the Vice-Chancellor and 8 academic representatives alongside the SU officers. Figures from the previously mentioned financial statement also detailed the amount claimed as ‘expenses’ by University Council members in each academic years; in 2013, UC ‘expenses’ totalled £3,750 and in 2012 the figure was £10,787. Data from the 2013 statement also showed the preservation of the Vice-Chancellor’s salary at a total of £274,000, while also noting the existence of an ‘accommodation allowance’ set at £42,000 for the academic year and a ‘private health policy’ set at £2,000 for the same period.
Following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Impact, asking for details regarding items claimed as ‘expenses’ by University Council members, the University revealed that ‘this information is held’, but that ‘it would exceed the 18 hour limit [set by the FoI Act] to locate it’. A further FoI request, asking for details of the use of the ‘accommodation allowance’ by the Vice-Chancellor, prompted the University’s Head of Governance Administration to comment that they ‘can confirm that the figure stated in the accounts [£42,000] is an allowance and there is no breakdown’. The response went on to state that ‘previously, the University has provided housing to the Vice-Chancellor, either on campus or off campus’ and that ‘this is standard practice and continues to be in place for many universities across the country. During the recruitment process in 2008 for a new Vice-Chancellor, it was decided that this practice would not continue and, in its place, an annual accommodation allowance would be provided to the Vice-Chancellor as part of the remuneration package’, it continued.
“Over the past academic year, the UEB has made a number of high profile decisions regarding future investments by the UoN as well tuition fee rises for international and postgraduate students”
The annual salary or ‘remuneration’ of the Vice-Chancellor and other members of the University’s senior management is decided by a separate decision making body, entitled the Remuneration Committee. UoN’s 2014-15 Remuneration Committee is made up of 7 members, including the Vice-Chancellor, University Treasurer, Registrar and one further external panellist. In March 2014, a Freedom of Information request was sent to UoN by UCU, asking for the non-redacted publication of minutes from the last meeting of the Remuneration Committee, at which an increase base salary for the Vice-Chancellor was agreed by all members present.
In an email sent to a UCU press officer, a UoN spokesperson disclosed that the accessibility of this information was ‘exempt’ because the publication of such material would ‘hinder the free and frank exchange of views’, ‘hinder the frankness of discussions at future meetings’ and ‘greatly prohibit’ the successful operation of the Remuneration Committee as it ‘must operate in a safe space’. The email went to state that there was ‘considerable’ risk involved with the ‘very sensitive issues’ discussed by the committee and of the ‘importance of open debate to reach the best decisions’.
In addition to these two committees, UoN also involves a separate panel, the University Executive Board (UEB), in its decision making processes and affirms that the UEB is ‘the University’s senior leadership team’. It is made up of 13 members, including the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Estates Officer. According to the University of Nottingham’s website, the UEB exists to ‘direct the affairs of the University’ and ‘to engage with the external environment affecting the institution and higher education – both nationally and internationally – to inform decision making’.
“I believe that the University has chosen to employ a large number of its teaching staff through Unitemps chiefly in order to fragment the workforce”
Over the past academic year, the UEB has made a number of high profile decisions regarding future investments by UoN, as well as tuition fee rises for the 2015-16 cohort of international and postgraduate students. The increase in fees is around 5% on the previous academic year, 2014/15 and Students’ Union Education Officer, Adam BK, told Impact that “unfortunately, myself (and I believe the International Students’ Officer) were not consulted as the decision was taken before we took office”. Members of the 2013-14 SU officer team also told Impact that they had no information of or consulted about the intention to raise tuition fees further.
In response to questioning by Impact about the rises in tuition fees for the 2015-16 academic year, a University of Nottingham spokesperson said: “University fees are reviewed on an annual basis by University Executive Board and may be adjusted in the light of inflation, university costs and market conditions. For 2015-16 both home fees (where the fees are not statutorily controlled) and international fees were increased”.
Precarious Teaching Contracts: Employment Through The Eyes of Teaching Staff at Nottingham
Impact also spoke to a member of the University’s teaching staff, currently employed on a casualised contract to teach and demonstrate by the temporary staffing service, Unitemps, rather than UoN. Casualisation is a term used in the industrial relations and human resources industries to describe the changing of employment contracts so that regular workers are re-employed on a casual or short-term basis. They spoke frankly about the Remuneration Committee’s transparency and how not being technically employed by the University on a secure employment contract has affected their ability to research and prepare for the workload of teaching.
“Most people I know on casualised contracts are unsure what, if any, teaching they will be doing from semester to semester”
“My opinion of Unitemps as an employment agency is generally very positive, having worked in a number of jobs through them, including my most recent teaching position. However, I believe that the University has chosen to employ a large number of its teaching staff through Unitemps chiefly in order to fragment the workforce. It is no coincidence that during the recent marking boycott the UCU was forced to advise teaching staff employed by Unitemps that they would not be covered by the Union’s legal protection as the dispute was with the University, not with Unitemps. This is part of a long tradition of employers seeking to divide and isolate employees in order to undermine the effectiveness of industrial action on the behalf of teaching staff.
“Unitemps also allows for teaching staff to be paid at an hourly rate for specific aspects of their job; i.e. 1 hour per seminar per week, 1 hour seminar preparation per week etc. I would be surprised if this has resulted in an increase in the pay of casualised teaching staff”.
They went on to disclose their exasperation at their contract status and concern about the University’s lack of transparency. “I’m sure most teaching staff, and non-teaching staff for that matter, would agree that casualised contracts go hand-in-hand with job insecurity. Most people I know on casualised contracts are unsure what, if any, teaching they will be doing from semester to semester. This kind of uncertainty is unfortunately seen as par for the course these days, especially for those at an early stage in their academic career. I wouldn’t say that it necessarily affects my day to day work, although the fact I’m having to work 2-3 other jobs in addition to my teaching role to help pay the bills probably does. As does the idea that only 1 hour of preparation is needed for a week’s seminars.
“They often have to work other jobs to make ends meet, which inevitably eats into the time they have for research and teaching preparation”
“For me, the reasons given for not releasing the minutes of the latest Remuneration Committee meeting are disingenuous; the lack of transparency regarding decisions that affect all university employees is extremely worrying. The ‘very sensitive nature of the issues discussed by the Committee’ are precisely the reason the minutes should be released. It is well-known that the pay rises given to Vice-Chancellors and other senior management staff across UK higher education has far outstripped those of all other university employees, including teaching and non-teaching staff, if they receive any at all of course. These issues reflect the disturbing trend in the UK to treat higher education as a ‘business’ like any other”.
“The University considered disclosure of those particular minutes to be prejudicial to effective public affairs”
They continued, “I would add that [the casualisation of labour] is neither a new problem, nor is it exclusive to Nottingham. My School employs a fairly large number of ‘Teaching Affiliates’ on casualised contracts, often PhD students or recent doctoral graduates, who are keen to pursue an academic career and provide an excellent quality of teaching for students. Both of these aspirations are much easier to achieve when you have job security and are given the time to prepare for teaching and conduct further research. Casualised contracts rarely afford teaching staff either of these luxuries as they often have to work other jobs to make ends meet, which inevitably eats into the time they have for research and teaching preparation”.
“Whilst the Students’ Union is consulted on a wide range of matters, it is not standard practice for the University to consult with the Union on possible changes to tuition fees”
In response to Impact’s investigation, the University commented:
“Details regarding members of University Council can be found on our website. As you can see, the majority are not employed by the University and they give their time for free to contribute significantly to University governance, many having to travel significant distances to attend. As well as attendance at Council meetings and sub-committee meetings, many members volunteer substantial time to support the University by sitting on project management groups, leading events and providing professional advice. Examples include significant roles played by numerous Council members in the Impact Campaign, Jeff Randall presenting on media engagement and Dame Liz Fradd’s patronage of the National Junior Leadership Academy.
“Council members are advised that they may make claims for travel and subsistence expenses which relate to attendance at University business events. Expenses are submitted online, however, hard copy forms are sent to the Finance Team so that original receipts, rather than scans, can be held on file to minimise the risk of fraud. As advised in the response, the electronic system does not allow the Finance Team to run reports with individual breakdowns per person; the only means of locating this information is from the hardcopy expense forms.
“In the response to your FOI request regarding the Vice-Chancellor’s accommodation allowance, you were advised that it is common practice across universities for vice-chancellors to be provided with accommodation within their remuneration package. During the most recent round of recruitment for a Vice-Chancellor, the University decided to provide an accommodation allowance rather than accommodation. This practice was and continues to be considered appropriate.
“As advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the University considers each FOI request individually. At the time of the request for Remuneration Committee minutes which you reference, the University considered disclosure of those particular minutes to be prejudicial to effective public affairs. That does not mean that the University would always consider disclosure to be prejudicial and whenever a request is received, the possible impact is considered anew to decide whether or not disclosure is appropriate. This is the approach that the University would take for any request for minutes from any committee.
“With regard to increases to international and postgraduate student fees, we can advise that this was considered to be a management decision. A range of data was used to inform this decision as well as taking account of the impact on students. Whilst the Students’ Union is consulted on a wide range of matters, it is not standard practice for the University to consult with the Union on possible changes to tuition fees. Other matters, such as accommodation fees, are discussed with the Union prior to confirmation.
“The University considers the balance of members on all of its committees to be appropriate. This is reviewed on a regular basis and views of the Students’ Union alongside other members are sought to inform such decisions.
“With regard to all of the matters raised, we consider our practices to be consistent with those across the sector”.
Image: Harry Dinsdale
*Information and statistics obtained from the University of Nottingham’s Annual Financial Statements 2013 and 2012.
** Comments made at a meeting with representatives from the UoN Living Wage Campaign in November 2014. The meeting was reported on by Impact.