Effect on academic staff of the administrative restructuring
The administrative restructure has now entered Phase 3 where it will deal with some of the administrative functions that are closest to the day-to-day work of academic staff. The process so far has involved the centralisation and specialisation of administrative roles, and if Phase 3 follows the same pattern will result in the removal of the role of Academic Programme Administrators. This would mean that the administrative role providing all-round student-facing support and liaison with academic staff, which is a key element of the smooth running of many courses and programmes in the university, would no longer exist. The ending of this role would have a major impact on both the workloads and the ways of working of many academic staff.
A planning process for the changes has begun involving meetings between Administration Managers and Martyn Annis who is leading the restructure. UCU has secured agreement in principle from senior management that academic staff should be part of this 'data collection and design' phase. Union advice is for members to ensure that they are included in these discussions. Course or programme leaders should contact Martyn Annis, asking to be invited to meetings called to discuss changes to the administrative support for their subject area.
Elections to School Boards
After a period of uncertainty following the abolition of Faculty Academic Boards, new model terms of reference and constitutions for School Boards have been published, and elections are beginning to be announced.
The UCU has been arguing for the last year that School Boards should comprise a majority of elected representatives of staff. The new constitution provides for 50% of the board to be comprised of academic staff, including 'a representative group of teaching and research staff', but explicitly allows for only a maximum of three to be elected. We are arguing that, in the interests of democracy, all the representatives of academic staff, apart from those whose membership of the Board is ex-officio, should be elected, rather than appointed. There is, in fact, nothing in the model constitution that precludes that happening, and a precedent for it already exists in the School of Education.
Our advice is that members should make representation to their Head of School to press that the elections to their School Board aim to fill the entire quota of representatives of academic staff, not just three, and that appointment is resorted to only if there have been insufficient nominations to fill all seats.
After a series of about turns and possible stays-of-execution, the University is now told us that it has definitely decided not to continue paying the fees of academic staff for membership of professional organisations.
In response, the UCU made it clear to the Deputy Vice Chancellor that there could be no question under these circumstances of the University making membership of such organisations a requirement of any member of staff, even where the existence of such membership is a condition for the accreditation of University courses. The DVC accepted this position.
The current situation is that existing arrangements will continue to apply for twelve months from the date of the last Joint Negotiating Committee which took place on 10th June 2015. Beyond that, UCU advice to those whose fees the University has been paying is to consider carefully whether to continue in membership of your professional body, especially if your membership has been largely motivated by the requirements of this institution rather than any wider professional consideration. For further advice contact your branch UCU rep. Details can be found here: http://ucu.brighton.ac.uk/contact-us/
The UCU has learned more about the University's implementation of its statutory duties under the government's Prevent Agenda. The most significant aspect from the point of view of academic staff to have emerged so far is a plan for research proposals deemed 'vulnerable' from Prevent to be considered by the Research Ethics Committee. This means that projects without external participants which would not normally go through the committee would now be required to do so on the grounds that they might fall under the legislation's concept of 'non-violent extremism': ideas which are non-violent but might be deemed 'part of a terrorist ideology'. This could potentially affect many areas of research, most obviously those dealing with the conflicts and politics of the Middle East, but work on domestic campaigning, such as anti-fracking, have fallen foul of Prevent elsewhere.
The UCU nationally has a position of opposing Prevent as a threat to freedom of speech and academic freedom, as well as encouraging discrimination. It is difficult to see how the University's new policy to 'protect' research from Prevent in this way differs from simply implementing Prevent: certain kinds of research will be singled out for special scrutiny and potential censorship.
Members should contact their UCU rep if they hear of possible infringements of academic freedom as a result of this or any other measure implemented in relation to Prevent. The UCU's guidelines on Prevent are here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/r/t/Prevent_duty_guidance_Sept15.pdf
Teaching Excellence Framework
A proposal for a system of measuring the quality of teaching in Higher Education was published as part of the government's Green Paper on HE last week. Despite the claims that the TEF is about 'valuing teaching', any such scheme would represent an intensification of market forces in HE and entail a considerable threat to the working conditions of academic staff.
You should already have received a communication about the Green Paper from the UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt. For an additional response this week from a group of academics, including some from this university, see this letter to The Guardianat http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/nov/10/the-higher-education-green-paper-will-see-market-forces-permeate-universities
Concerns in three interrelated areas were raised: (1) the status of the threat of possible redundancy made to members of staff in that curriculum area; (2) the procedures by which decisions to close courses had been taken; and (3) the issue of clarity and quality of management in the School of Art, Design and Media.
In relation to each of the areas of concern:
(1) The answer to the question "Has the university identified a group of staff at risk of redundancy?" was an unequivocal ‘no’. Although there are issues to be addressed as a result of under-recruitment in some areas, there is no current risk of redundancy to any group of staff and there are no plans for that situation to change.
(2) The DVC confirmed that immediate closure of a course would not be the normal response to under-recruitment, and any closures must go through the proper procedures. Decisions about course provision ultimately rest with the management, but should be taken only after full consultation with the members of staff who are involved with the design, development and delivery of that provision.
(3) The Director of HR confirmed that in the absence of a Head of School, those responsibilities are currently divided between three Acting Heads of School. He undertook to clarify this for staff in the School. The DVC and the Head of HR stressed that the current arrangements were temporary and that the University was working for a longer term solution.
The UCU officers present were pleased to hear the reassurances of senior management on these questions. We do, however, need to be vigilant both as union members and as academics to ensure that agreements are adhered to and best practice is followed.
Two disturbing developments have come to our attention. They were raised yesterday with the Senior Management in the Lecturers' Common Interest Group (where formal negotiations take place locally). They are:
Guidance for UCU branches in relation to implementation of government immigration rules.
The points based immigration system launched by the UK government in 2008 introduced new restrictions on workers and students entering the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). This created a number of obligations for post-16 education institutions, restricting their ability to recruit and retain international staff and introducing new monitoring requirements in relation to international students. UCU remains strongly opposed to the points based system, which, we believe, discriminates against non-EEA nationals and damages the relationship of trust between staff and students.
The new immigration regime is having a damaging impact on the international reputation of UK education. International students face stringent financial requirements and are now subject to quotas which make it increasingly difficult to enter the UK educational system. International student numbers have dropped and potential applicants are now being put off by the message that they are unwelcome and by reports of the discriminatory treatment that will face them if they come to the UK.
International students bring widespread benefits to the UK. The government inclusion of them in their immigration number controls is at great cost to the UK. UCU strongly believes that international student numbers should be removed from the government calculations of its migration targets. This is a view shared by sector bodies, and also the chair of five cross-party parliamentary committees who wrote to the prime minister in January 2013 requesting that international students be removed from net migration targets. Education institutions across the UK should be focusing on the campaign to remove students from these arbitrary numerical controls
The Points Based System
Foreign nationals are now categorised as belonging to five levels or tiers:
Tier 1 Highly skilled individuals
Tier 2 Skilled workers with a job offer
Tier 3 Limited numbers of low skilled workers
Tier 4 Students
Tier 5 Youth mobility and temporary workers
For FE and HE institutions, the system pertains mainly to highly skilled staff (Tier 1), staff who are skilled workers with a job offer (Tier 2), students
(Tier 4), and sponsored researchers (Tier 5).
This also involves a licensing system for all educational institutions wishing to accept international students, leading to the vetting of educational institutions by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and Home Office. Monitoring duties are imposed on all sponsoring institutions, applying to all non-EEA students and staff and requiring reporting to the UKBA.
According to the UKBA:
“Under Tier 4 of the points-based system, all sponsors receive an ‘A’ or ‘B’ rating. The new Highly Trusted sponsor category is a further segmentation of this sponsor rating system. It is designed to identify those sponsors who have the highest levels of compliance with their sponsor obligations, and whose students are showing the greatest compliance with the terms of their visa or permission to stay.”
UCU issued guidance for branches and members affected by the implementation of this new system in 2009. This can be found here:
Furthermore, UCU commissioned a report on the impact of the new system in the post-16 education sector to inform its campaigning on the issue. The report contains excellent examples of the impact of PBI on international academics and students which branches can use in local campaigns. This can be found here http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/o/2/Impact_of_Points_Based_Immigration_-_UCU_Report.pdf
Developments since 2010
Since the election of the coalition government in 2010, there have been a number of changes to the system, introducing further restrictions, and increasing the burden on institutions. This includes the imposition of a cap on the number of non-EEA migrants permitted to enter the UK.
The immigration cap in place since March 2011 has the following consequences:
This tightening of restrictions was followed in August 2012 by the UKBA decision to revoke the ‘Highly trusted sponsor’ status of London Metropolitan University (a decision reversed in April 2013), which increased an atmosphere of paranoia among many institutions, fearful of similarly losing their ‘highly trusted’ status. Many thus responded by introducing more heavy-handed procedures for monitoring the performance, behaviour and activity of international staff and students.
These procedures impact not only on international staff who are subject to monitoring but to all staff requested to implement procedures to monitor international students. This includes monitoring of attendance and performance (often against arbitrary benchmarks that do not apply to UK/EEA students).
UCU is opposed to the immigration cap and the restrictions it places on international staff and student recruitment.
Impact on Duties of Staff employed in FE and HE sectors
The new points-based system meant that employers applying for sponsorship from the UKBA had to appoint a number of key staff responsible for maintaining records on sponsored staff and students.
However, in practice, much of the day-to-day responsibility for monitoring staff and students and ensuring that their records are kept up to date has fallen upon existing academic and related staff members, for whom these might well constitute new duties. These duties included: publishing or making available registers of attendance of students in classes or lectures; being asked to assist in immigration checks on members of staff and students by making copies of visas in passports and sending them to personnel departments; monitoring and enforcing separate reporting mechanisms for international staff and students; international staff being asked to complete an online diary or regular report of activities, or comply with other monitoring procedures.
Checking student or staff documentation may be an existing duty for some staff (e.g. academic related staff in HE), while the taking of student attendance registers and central reporting of attendance may be a normal part of the duties of teaching and academic staff. In some cases, these were introduced as new duties for staff following the introduction of the new system in 2008 or the further tightening of procedures after 2010. This has also included the introduction of separate procedures for the attendance monitoring of international students and staff and other separate checks. A number of institutions have sought to address concerns about discriminatory treatment by introducing more rigorous attendance monitoring and checks for all students.
UCU policy - key principles
Advice to branches
The Equality Act (2010)
The general equality duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). In summary, those subject to the equality duty must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to:
conduct prohibited by the Act.
characteristic and those who do not.
and those who do not.
Sponsor Compliance Unit
PO Box 3468
ATTENDANCE MONITORING AND RECORD-KEEPING OF INTERNATIONAL
We recently met to discuss attendance monitoring and student engagement with their studies. I agreed to clarify our expectations in writing so that you could then share this with your members.
The fundamental principle of the Points Based System is that those who benefit from immigration must play their part in controlling it. The intention of the Tier 4 attendance monitoring policy is to ensure that students who have been given permission to come to the UK to study continue to do so. We expect all sponsors to have a system in place to continually monitor student attendance that enables you to identify when a student has stopped studying.
We deliberately do not prescribe a particular attendance monitoring or record-keeping system due to the number and diverse range of education providers licensed under Tier 4. We understand that policies and systems are likely to vary between institutions and each sponsor's arrangements should be appropriate to its own circumstances.
Our attendance monitoring policy does not automatically require sponsors to create separate monitoring systems for international students. Although the implications of non-attendance may be different for international students due to their immigration status, the requirements for Tier 4 students can be incorporated into existing policies and systems for all students, as long as these are sufficient to meet the monitoring requirements. It follows therefore that if HEI processes are already sufficient to meet the Tier 4 requirements through established academic contact points, then HEis do not necessarily need to consider introducing physical checks in addition to and separate from these.
Our compliance officer network is starting to collect examples of systems that meet our requirements with the intention of producing detailed case studies and sharing these with the sector over the next few months.
The fundamental questions that we consider when looking at a sponsor's attendance monitoring arrangements are: whether students we have given permission to come to the UK to study at your institution are continuing to do so and whether you know that they are continuing to attend.
Our compliance visits will focus on three main lines of enquiry when considering attendance monitoring arrangements:
1. Is the individual continuing to study at an institution?
2. Is there a robust policy and process in place to monitor continued engagement with studies?
3. Is this process being followed in practice?
We are aware of concerns within the sector about what sponsors need to report to us and when they need to report it in order to remain compliant. I can confirm that we no longer require you to report to us when a student has missed 10 expected contacts. During 2012 we changed the Tier 4 reporting requirements so that we only require you to notify us at the point that you withdraw sponsorship.
Sponsors should notify us that a student is no longer attending within 1 0 days of deciding that the student has stopped engaging and that you wish to withdraw sponsorship or at the next contact point after you have made the decision to withdraw sponsorship if you are highly trusted and have chosen to make two checkpoints during the year. This could be a number of weeks or months after you first started to chase a student for not attending. As a result of this concern we are currently re-writing the relevant section of our Tier 4 policy guidance for sponsors on reporting students who do not maintain contact. This guidance will be available very shortly on the UK Border Agency website and we will let you know when it is published.
I am keen that we improve the support we provide to sponsors and want to work with the sector on a number of areas. As part of a wider agenda on co-regulation a senior steering group has been established, which brings together representatives from the relevant government departments and the sector to address key issues. More specific information on this will be communicated by the steering group shortly.
We are setting up a dedicated team of compliance officers for Higher Education Institutions.
This team will develop a detailed working knowledge of the sector which should help to improve the consistency of audits. This team will consider how we provide written feedback to sponsors following an audit where no concerns were identified.
Finally, we will continue to work closely with UUK to support future workshops on sponsor obligations and to work with sector agencies to agree a series of principles around attendance monitoring.
I hope this provides the clarification that you and your members need. Please get in touch if I can help with anything further.
I am copying this letter to the Equality Challenge Unit and the National Union of Students.
Head of PBS Sponsorship