Workloads: UCU Response to Management’s proposed Academic Responsibilities Framework

Management states: “The academic responsibilities framework will help ensure a fair and equitable allocation of work for academic colleagues at the University”. 

UCU believes that their approach is such a blunt instrument that it will be impossible to ensure equity.  To give but two examples, several roles – accounting for up to two weeks’ of someone’s time – will receive no ‘points’ at all but not everyone will be asked to do this unpaid overtime; and teaching a module of 100 students will attract exactly the same number of points as one of 199 students.  

We also pointed out to Management that the system they are proposing would, in the vast majority of cases, increase workload by as much as 20-40% over the current, imperfect, model that already underestimates teaching and administration quite significantly.   


Management states: “The new framework will empower staff” 

We cannot see how preventing academics from being able to demonstrate that they are overworked empowers them, nor how telling them that it is their personal responsibility to manage an impossible workload will provide them with agency.  We asked management to drop these phrases as staff found them insulting. Clearly, they have not listened. UCU has also told Management that our members overwhelmingly reject their points-based workload allocation model; we asked them to discuss the kinds of workload allocation our members actually want. Refusing to do so does nothing to empower academics.  


Management states: “high quality teaching and improved student outcomes [will be achieved] in a balanced way”. 

There are no elements in this proposal that will improve teaching or student outcomes.  Those remain, as they are now, the work of overstretched academic and professional services colleagues. 

UCU has pointed out that the current proposal appears to breach the contract of employment, to require substantial increases in workload when academics are already at breaking point and to ignore many of the ways in which student learning is actually facilitated at the university.  


Management states: “The framework is designed to ensure that we provide the teaching and support our students need to do well. It will enable us to continue to deliver our excellent teaching and research in line with the objectives we have committed to in our enabling strategies.” 

 In fact, all this workload model will achieve is an increase in workloads.  It contains no proposals to enhance teaching or deliver it in a more streamlined way.  There is a vague aspiration to reduce administration but not a single concrete suggestion.  If the University is able to deliver excellent teaching and research, this is due to the dedication and unpaid overtime of staff.  But they cannot be squeezed any further and a model that depends on weeks and weeks of unpaid overtime is flawed before it begins.   

The fact that management seems so unwilling to engage with this point raises questions about why it should be necessary to introduce a system lacking in transparency if not to introduce massive rises in teaching-related workload.  


Management states: “An increase in student education related activities time will be balanced against a reduction of time spent elsewhere”  

 Management has failed to provide even one tangible example of where reductions in “time spent elsewhere” will be made.   


Management states: “The University is committed to offering students more contact time to provide them with the best possible experience and help to improve their outcomes after their time at university. If your student education related activities increase as a result of the new work framework, this will be factored in when your full allocation is being finalised.” 

UCU does not oppose increasing contact time for students.  It can only be achieved, however, by employing more staff. Otherwise, academics will be even more overworked than is currently the case and teaching quality will suffer.  

We have pointed out that to management that the limits in academic terms and conditions are there to balance academic duties and that to ignore them is to breach contracts of employment.  Yet they continue to dismiss these terms as ‘a difference of interpretation’, raising legitimate concerns about management’s attitude.  


Management states: “It is intended that this is an equitable framework and an Equality Impact Assessment will be completed framework. In addition, we are committed to reviewing the framework throughout the first year of operation when we will have data and feedback from colleagues. The equality impact assessment will continue to be monitored and reviewed throughout the first year of operation All colleagues will have the opportunity to feedback on the framework and share their experiences.” 

 UCU has pointed out, as above, that there is no evidence that the new proposal will be equitable either in theory or in practice. Nor is there evidence that management has actively considered equalities at all in this process.  Questions about family life, disabilities, and other issues remain unanswered.  


Management states: “There will continue to be allocations of up to 40% for research. The allocation will be overseen by a central university process as happens currently.” 

 UCU have not, thus far, been able to determine how precisely this research time will be allocated, as Management have not answered clearly (or at all) how this will be decided and by whom. There are worrying hints that research time – and sabbaticals – will only be available if staff obtain grants that buy out their time. 


Management states: “The University is currently reviewing its position on sabbaticals.” 

UCU has seen no evidence that management is incorporating plans to bring back sabbaticals within this new proposed framework, with some reports suggesting that sabbaticals are very unlikely to return. 


Management states: “ the university [will] also act to reduce the administrative burdens on academic staff 

Management has been unable to state how this “re-balancing” will be achieved. Our colleagues in professional services, seriously understaffed too, cannot take on the administrative load that management claim they will take off academic staff. If it is taken off academic staff, it needs to go somewhere – but this “somewhere” remains hypothetical. 


Management states: “Colleagues will be supported to prioritise key activities, according to their career trajectory, in order to deliver outstanding work. Colleagues will be provided with CPD and enabling opportunities where possible.” 

We remain bemused by the suggestion that any of these are dependent on a particular workload allocation model.  Moreover, UCU has pointed out to management in JNCC that the promotions fiasco is the clearest possible evidence that career trajectory is a nominal idea at best and illustrates the disdain Management has for members’ professional development. 


Management states: “We are currently in the process of consulting with UCU on this framework. 

UCU wish to be clear. We have pointed out to management that the provision of information has been inadequate and that consultation requires a willingness to make changes as a result of feedback.  So far, management has refused to alter a single element in their proposal; this is not consultation.