Response to the Vice-Chancellor’s Announcement of a One-off Payment

Given the scale of the cost of living crisis, we welcome the announcement on 7 June of a one-off payment that many – but not all – of our colleagues at Oxford will receive. The payment is an implicit admission that many of you employed at a world-leading university are facing financial difficulties. This is because, even before the current crisis, your pay has not kept up with inflation and your pension (if you have one) has been cut.

You and your colleagues regularly work well in excess of your contractual duties. Across the UK, keeping universities going during the pandemic was only possible because you and your colleagues made significant sacrifices. In return for this, in national pay negotiations, universities across the country – including Oxford – have repeatedly refused to make sure that your pay keeps up with inflation. This year is no different. Employers have made a final offer of a 3% uplift in the same month that the annualised rate of inflation reached 11.1%. We hope that today’s announcement is a sign of growing recognition that this is derisory and unacceptable.

You and your colleagues deserve a pay rise. This one-off payment is not sufficient: as the Vice-Chancellor acknowledges in her email, it will not fully mitigate past and current changes. Even when the one-off payment is taken into account, you will receive lower real-terms pay this year than last. The payment announced today is a symptom of the underlying problem: you are not being paid fairly.

We would like to see the University make better use of its unique position and leverage to ensure a fairer lasting outcome in the national pay negotiations for all staff in UK higher education.

We also have concerns that the two-tier system at Oxford will mean that many talented and dedicated staff will not receive the payment. Colleagues precariously employed on casual contracts who have averaged less than 0.2 FTE – including those who together do much of the teaching at the University – will receive no payment at all. If you are employed on a casual contract and are eligible for the payment, you will likely receive a lower payment than staff on other contract types. If you are employed on a term-time only contract you are likely to miss the payment if your contract finishes at the end of June. We hope that the University reconsiders these terms and takes the opportunity to recognise that all staff at the University make a valuable contribution and that precariously employed staff are the first to be priced out of the city by the cost of living crisis.

Meanwhile, college-only staff will not receive the payment announced today. We await further information from individual colleges and/or the Conference of Colleges about whether they plan to match the payment.

Fair Pay for College Teaching

The Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network is today launching a petition calling for improved pay and conditions for hourly-paid and stipendiary College teaching staff.

The petition is addressed to the current chair and co-chair of Conference of Colleges (the Oxford Colleges’ “forum”) and the 39 college senior tutors. It outlines three demands:

  1. A pay rise
  2. Clear contracts and transparent recruitment processes
  3. Paid training for all postgraduates who teach

The basic rate of pay for a 1-1 tutorial increased by 41p between 2020-21 and 2021-22, from £27.65 to £28.06. The payment for a 2-1 tutorial increased from £34.56 to £35.08. These rates include payment for preparation, marking, and administration. With these duties factored in, the rate of hourly pay for tutors often falls well below the Oxford Living Wage of £10.31. We should be clear about what this means: Oxford’s “world leading” teaching provision is based on systematic wage theft by institutions with a combined wealth of nearly £6bn

Stipendiary lecturers play a vital role in teaching, pastoral care, and admissions; they are equally vital to the research culture of their subject areas. But insecurity, exploitative nine-month contracts, and poor pay are all too familiar in these roles. Conference of Colleges’ Register of Approved Payments states that stipendiary lecturers are paid on a salary scale “based on Grade 5 of the University’s salary scale structure.” Academic roles in the central University start at grade 6 and departmental lecturers are usually employed at grades 7 and 8. It’s clear that both hourly-paid tutors and stipendiary lecturers are long overdue a pay rise.

In December 2021, the Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network and Oxford Brookes UCU collected testimonies from casualised and precarious staff across both universities. The testimonies from PGRs and College teaching staff show how detrimental these roles are to career progression and mental and physical health, and how they entrench inequalities:  

I am a recent PhD graduate with five different casual teaching contracts. Casualised contracts mean that I have had to move back in with my parents aged 30 because I cannot afford rent and have no means of securing a housing contract since my contracts are so short-term and much of my work is just word-of-mouth [and] hourly paid. Although I make less than £15,000 a year, I have 12-20 contact hours per week in term time, have spent ~30 hours on admissions (which is listed as a necessary and therefore unpaid duty in my 2-hour a week stipendiary contract) alongside a (casualised!) 7 hour a week admin contract, so I am frequently exhausted and suffering from both mental burnout and (clinical) physical fatigue. I suffer from muscle weakness, insomnia, palpitations and migraines from the stress.


I moved from a faculty post into a college, and then back into a faculty. Meanwhile I taught for another faculty, for a decade. I wasn’t issued a contract for the sessional classes. When I fell pregnant, mid-job move, the sessional classes would have shown continuity of employment by the university. But because they never issued me with a contract, they didn’t, and my maternity pay was withheld. The federalised structure [of Oxford University] meant my career didn’t count.


One myth is that [casualised teaching contracts] are for bright PhD students getting their foot on the career ladder… . In reality there are many colleagues on these contracts who have been doing their jobs for years – and are relied on to take the work as they will do a good job without needing any support. The framing of these jobs as career development opportunities for which young researchers ought to be grateful therefore ignores the contributions of experienced lecturers and their need for secure and dignified contracts…


I am a…PhD student…and I am paid to teach undergraduates by my college…via a “development scholarship”, which means that I am legally not employed by the college…. I do not have basic workers’ rights such as paid holiday or holiday pay, sick pay, ability to have a workplace pension… I also have no protection if the college decides to stop my “scholarship” for any reason…

The petition also draws inspiration from the Cambridge UCU’s #Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign, which has recently received coverage in the national press. As at Cambridge, our campaign highlights the lack of union representation for workers in the collegiate university. While the central University recognises trades unions, Oxford’s constituent colleges do not. Earlier this year, Oxford UCU narrowly missed the threshold to take part in the latest rounds of USS and Four Fights industrial action. College-only staff—some of our most precarious and exploited members—weren’t eligible to take part in the ballot and would not have been able to participate in industrial action had we reached the threshold.

The petition is here. A solidarity position for students, staff, and alumni is here.

Tutor Pay and Contracts at the Department for Continuing Education

Notes from an open meeting for tutors held on Monday 14 February 2022

Oxford UCU has organised a second open meeting at 1pm on Monday 14 March to report on outcomes from the meeting with ContEd management and to consider next steps. All ContEd tutors are encouraged to register and join the discussion.

Mikal Mast, Oxford UCU caseworker coordinator, welcomed participants and explained the purpose of the meeting, noting that Oxford UCU has become aware of various issues around pay and contracts through casework and the activities of the anti-casualisation network (organised by Tom White). These issues are common across colleges and the University, but seem especially widespread at the Department for Continuing Education, which is why a meeting with tutors was arranged to provide the opportunity to share experiences and plan further action. Department administrators reached out to UCU to discuss working together with UCU to make progress on these issues, and UCU representatives arranged a meeting with them to explore options.

University contract types

In a 2021 update of a UCU report on Precarious Work in Higher Education, UCU set out a position on zero-hours contracts, noting in particular that “Everyone should have the right to a contract that guarantees the hours they work”.

The University HR website on employment status does not use the term zero hour contracts, although a range of casual contracts might meet this definition (occasional lecturers, casual workers, casual teaching). Variable hours contracts certainly meet the definition, in that there is no obligation for the employer to offer work, nor for the worker to accept work. On the other hand, unlike the other casual contracts, variable hours CAN be permanent CMS contracts (CMS refers to ‘Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford’, which are University employee contracts).

ContEd participants emphasised that under their contracts they are not considered to be University employees. Tutors are on a range of casual contracts, depending on the type of work they are contracted to do, and they noted that their contracts are explicitly called ‘zero-hours’ contracts. 

Some are on consultancy contracts, others have contracts for services, others are on several types of contracts simultaneously (or even working for several universities), and some are still considered self-employed – which caused additional difficulty during Covid because they were not eligible for furlough while at the same time blocked from accessing government self employment support grants.

The problems facing ContEd tutors are not just restricted to precarious contracts – their contractual situation leads directly to another major workplace problem – low pay.

Issues regarding part-time tutor pay

Amount that tutors are paid

ContEd recently reduced the hourly teaching rate for face-to-face tutors from £35ph to £23.18ph, a drop of 34%. At the same time, they have for the first time acknowledged at least some of the hours that tutors spend preparing and reporting, and agreed to pay 4 hours for every 2 hours taught. This means that there is an overall increase in the amount of pay received for a 10-week course. However, tutors have been doing hours of unpaid preparation for years; this new arrangement looks like “giving with one hand whilst taking with the other”.

Weekly, WOW and summer school courses now pay 2 hours for submitting a proposal for a new course. Again, this is far below the amount of time actually required for preparing a proposal, let alone preparing for 20 hours of teaching, and leaves designing the course effectively unremunerated. Award-bearing courses do not pay at all for preparing course proposals.

The University of Oxford claims that it pays all its staff the Oxford Living Wage (OLW, going up to £10.50ph in April), and after quite a bit of pressure, ContEd began to pay tutors the OLW for marking three years ago, based on the notion that it takes half an hour to mark and administer a 500-word script. (Many tutors agree that in fact it often takes far longer than this, but ContEd has refused to canvas tutors to find out.) For MSc essays it appears that ContEd expects tutors to mark at double that rate: 1,000 words in half an hour.

ContEd have been asked why marking is paid at Grade 1, rather than Grade 7.8, which is what teaching payments have now been linked to, but have declined to answer.

Delays in paying tutors

In one example, for 10-week on-line and face-to-face classes, marking is not paid until after the end of term. So this term, for example, marking completed in early March will not be paid until the end of May.

Holiday pay is paid separately, and not until after the end of the 10-week term: so for teaching done in January, the holiday pay element of the hourly rate will not be paid until the end of April.

Mistakes in paying tutors

In December 2021, it came to light that all on-line tutors had been underpaid (by about £130 each, or 12%) in the Michaelmas term, and were about to be underpaid again in the Hilary term. When ContEd admin was alerted to this by a tutor, it was blamed on a “database error”. No apology was offered and no explanation of how this could be avoided in future given (despite this question being asked in an on-line tutor meeting on 9 February 2022).

This is not the first time that tutors have been underpaid.

The opacity of payslips

Payments appear on tutors’ payslips without proper explanation, which makes it very difficult for tutors to check that they have been paid correctly. As a result, many don’t check their payslips – or if they do, they give up trying to untangle them – and this allows the underpayments mentioned earlier to go unnoticed.

At a recent on-line tutors’ meeting this issue – the lack of transparency in payslips – was raised; an administrator said that this was a central University issue, and that she had been asking for it to be resolved for almost 20 years. However, no reasons for why payslips can’t be made more user-friendly were offered. Tutors with access to the VPN can check their payslips on-line, but these are simply electronic versions of the paper ones. Another administrator reported that she has details of every payment made and that tutors could always contact her for an explanation. If this information is apparently available within ContEd, why can’t it be made available to tutors routinely?

Campaign to improve contracts for Creative Writing tutors

Since 2018, tutors for the MSt in Creative Writing have been campaigning against the department’s use of casualised contracts and for improved pay. Rebecca Abrams described how their campaign began with an open letter signed by more than twenty creative writing tutors. In 2019, having received no response from the department, the tutors contacted the Society of Authors to assist with and support their campaign. Rebecca also noted the campaign by short course tutors at Goldsmiths, who mounted a successful legal challenge against their classification as ‘independent contractors’. Their reclassification as workers means they are now entitled to certain employment rights: being paid at least the National Minimum Wage, the right to union representation, paid holiday and protection against unlawful discrimination and against unlawful deductions from their wages.

The creative writing tutors met with ContEd’s finance and HR directors in December 2019. However, with the onset of the pandemic, these discussions were paused by the department until December 2021. In a meeting in January 2022, ContEd proposed a new arrangement for creative writing tutors: ‘Departmental Lecturer’ roles with either fixed or variable hours and an option for freelance contracts with payment rates negotiated between the department and the tutor. The details of the proposed new contracts are still under negotiation. We understand that this arrangement may be extended to other tutor groups.

Out now! Precarious academic work in Oxford: Testimonies from Oxford Brookes and Oxford University UCU members

There is nothing inevitable about the levels of casualisation in the higher education sector, nor has it come about by accident; it is the result of universities’ reliance on a particular business model. After adjusting for inflation, the sector has seen its total income rise by around 15% over the last six years, while casualisation continues to grow.

Oxford Brookes UCU and Oxford University UCU have produced a report on precarious academic work and its impacts. The report includes testimonies from fixed-term and hourly-paid lecturers, researchers, and PGRs from the two institutions, as well as comments from permanent colleagues on how casualisation affects workloads and research culture.

Collecting and sharing these stories means giving voice to those who too often feel unable to question their terms of employment, for fear of having their hours cut or not having their fixed-term contract renewed. The final section of the report, ‘What can I do?’, includes practical suggestions on how all UCU members can challenge casualisation.

The testimonies were gathered in November and December 2021, after discussions at a joint open meeting held by the two branches. The report was initially launched in December, with speakers Pete Wood, UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee Co-Chair and associate lecturer at the Open University, Sanaz Raji, an independent scholar and activist, and founder of Unis Resist Border Controls, and Callum Cant, postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and the author of Riding for Deliveroo: Resistance in the New Economy.

Download the full report here.

Supporting Striking Colleagues in the Four Fights and USS Disputes

Motion formally passed at an Oxford UCU General Meeting on 8 February 2022

UCU is currently in dispute with employers to prevent the further erosion of our pay and working conditions and to fight for equality (Four Fights), and to protect our USS pensions against severe cuts.

Colleagues at 68 institutions across the country, including Oxford Brookes, will begin the next round of strikes from Monday 14th February (for USS) and Monday 21st February (for Four Fights).

Employees of the University of Oxford are currently prevented from taking industrial action by the Trade Union Act 2016 because, despite over 75% of votes being in favour of industrial action, the branch narrowly missed the threshold to take action during the recent ballots. UCU has a national Fighting Fund which is used to compensate members for pay withheld during industrial action.

To support our colleagues across the country who will be taking industrial action in the coming weeks and to ensure a positive outcome from the disputes, Oxford UCU is:

  1. making a donation of £1000 to the UCU Fighting Fund, and
  2. encouraging those members who are able to make personal donations to the UCU
    Fighting Fund.

Expression of Concern about a Proposed Donation to Linacre from SOVICO Group

Motion formally passed at Oxford UCU General Meeting on 8 February 2022

On October 31 2021, Linacre College signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SOVICO Group for a total donation of £155 million. In return, Linacre College will change its name to Thao College after SOVICO Group’s CEO, subject to approval by the Privy Council and the amending of the University’s Statute V by Congregation.

SOVICO Group has worked alongside Russian oil company Zarubezhneft and other fossil fuel companies to embark on reckless offshore drilling. It is the largest shareholder of HDBank, a bank that recently entered a ten-year partnership with the Vietnam National Petroleum Group. At a time when institutions around the world are cutting their ties to the fossil fuel industry, it is disappointing to see Linacre seeking to accept money from those financing this damaging industry.

The signed MoU between Linacre College and SOVICO states that “The Benefactor (Sovico) and all of its subsidiary companies will develop a net zero carbon strategy [for 2050] by 31 December 2025”. Based on this MoU, it is disappointing that SOVICO is under no obligation to end extractive projects as recommended by a recent IEA report or to engage in any other action to move towards net zero in the next three years.

The donation is not finalised until the signing of a legally binding gift agreement. The
Principal of Linacre, Nick Leimu-Brown, has said that the draft gift agreement “specifies a number of break clauses that will enable the college to withdraw if Sovico do not live up to their commitment…I believe that we have in place robust and transparent checks to make sure that it is not greenwash.” It is imperative that Linacre publish details of this draft gift agreement for scrutiny by the wider community in Oxford, a city where the City Council has declared a climate emergency.

Recent coverage of high-profile donations at the University of Oxford demonstrates that donations are not only a college matter, but also a wider issue for the collegiate University. News sources including The Guardian, BBC, and Financial Times have signalled that Linacre’s decision will be taken as representative of the University. If the planned donation goes ahead, SOVICO Group will be using the reputation of Linacre and Oxford to legitimise profiting from fossil fuels.

This meeting resolves to:

  • Adopt a position that Oxford UCU is opposed to the acceptance of the SOVICO donation by Linacre College.
  • Mandate the Oxford UCU Environment Officer to write to Nick Leimu-Brown (Principal of Linacre) setting out the branch’s concerns about the donation and requesting on behalf of Oxford UCU that details of the draft gift agreement are published.
  • Mandate the Oxford UCU Environment Officer to write to the Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding to set out the branch’s concerns about the donation.

Proposer: Liam Shaw, Environment Officer
Seconder: David Chivall, President

Oxford UCU Committee Statement on Donations from Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust

We believe that the University of Oxford’s decision to accept £6 million from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, along with donations from the same trust to St. Peter’s College (£5 million) and Lady Margaret Hall (£260,000) fail to uphold the University’s stated aims of equality and diversity, and represent a failure by the University and colleges to support their Jewish staff and students.

We reiterate the calls we have previously made regarding the ethics of University funding: namely that details of the decisions to accept the Mosley family donation, including composition of the deciding body, be published; and that the University commit to the creation of an open, democratically elected body constituted from across the University community to transparently create and implement ethical fundraising policies.

Oxford UCU Committee stands in solidarity with the Oxford Jewish Society and amplifies their words: “Oxford JSoc and UJS are distressed by the news that Oxford University and some of its constituent colleges have accepted donations from The Alexander Mosley Trust. The Mosley Family name is synonymous with Fascism and Antisemitism in Britain. The University’s decision to dedicate a professorship to this name serves to commemorate and revere the Mosley legacy. Furthermore, the absence of any communication and consultation with Oxford’s Jewish students is inconsiderate and inappropriate. We encourage Oxford University, and the benefiting colleges, to reflect on the impact these donations will have on its Jewish students and the wider student body.”

While named after Alexander Mosley, the Trust was set up by Alexander’s father Max Mosley from the estate of Max’s father, Oswald Mosley. Oswald Mosley was the founder of the British Union of Fascists, an extreme racist and antisemitic political movement. The BUF was banned in 1940 and Mosley interned under wartime defence regulations. The endowment of a Chair of Biophysics in the Mosley name can only be an attempt to launder the family name, funded by a legacy of racism, fascism, and anti-semitism.

Message from our Anti-casualisation Officer

Hi everyone. I’m Tom White, your new Oxford UCU anti-casualisation officer, taking over from Richard Bell. Some of you will know me from the picket lines in 2018, 2019 and 2020. I was joint anti-casualisation officer from September 2020 to February 2021, and also a faculty rep.

Across the university and its colleges, the use of insecure contracts for teaching and research is rife. One third of academic workers in the UK are employed on fixed-term contracts. At the University of Oxford, a self-described ‘world leader’ in so many areas, this figure is 67%. Casualisation and precarity are bad for staff and for our students. 71% of respondents to a UCU survey in 2020 reported that they believed their mental health has been damaged by working on insecure contracts.Casualisation and precarity are equalities issues. Nationwide, 42% of BAME staff are on fixed-term contracts. For white academic staff this figure is 32%. [Download the full report here]

In his investigation of Oxford’s ‘Academic Gig Economy’, published in The Isis earlier this year, Ben O’Brien highlighted how dependant the University is on staff working on successive fixed-term contracts: “Of all staff at Oxford with at least four years’ service, around 40 per cent are on fixed-term contracts. On average these staff have worked at the university for eight years – despite the fact that fixed-term workers have a legal right to be considered for permanency after four.”

Last year, we held open meetings, “Know your contract” workshops, and drop-in sessions. We also released a Know Your Rights Booklet for fixed-term, stipendiary and other casualised staff. We supported casualised staff employed by the central university and in colleges.

With new ballots on the Four Fights and USS disputes starting this week, the network has an important role to play within Oxford and as part of sector-wide action to eliminate casualisation. Over the year ahead, we’re planning to work closely with the Oxford Student Union to address the issues faced by postgraduate teaching assistants.

Contact me via the Oxford Anti-Cas network email (oxfordanticas@gmail.com) or directly (tomjwhite9@gmail.com) if you’d like to join a coordinating group for the network. Any time you can commit would be useful and we’re keen to hear from casualised staff from across the university and colleges. We also look forward to hearing from members directly or through your local rep about individual experiences and needs.

Cheers,

Tom

Evidence summary to inform safe return to campus in the context of COVID-19

Colleagues in Oxford and Leeds have collated a short briefing consolidating the evidence base on safe return to on-site working.

This briefing emphasises that key to effective prevention of COVID-19 is acknowledgement of its predominantly airborne mode of transmission. This should lead to risk assessments incorporating the following measures:

1. The use of face coverings at all times while indoors, with encouragement to wear higher-grade respirators for best protection – especially for those who are clinically vulnerable.

2. A greater focus on engineering controls including ventilation and/or filtration of air.

3. Continuing attention to physical distancing but acknowledging that a particular spacing between people in the same room will not make a space “safe”. Additional measures, such as joining remotely, cohorting and frequent breaks, should be used to reduce crowding and time spent in the same room with other people.

In addition, university and college staff should encourage and facilitate vaccination, attend to testing and tracing, and be ready to instigate tighter controls (including a return to online teaching) if case numbers rise.

We hope you find this document useful in navigating and negotiating the safest possible return to on-site work over the coming weeks.

Please e-mail ucu@ox.ac.uk if you have ongoing concerns regarding health and safety.

Return to site — were we consulted?

By David Chivall

On 7th September 2020 there were 15 deaths from covid-19 in the UK, 3,857 new cases of the disease and no vaccine had yet made it out of clinical trials. On the same day the Vice-Chancellor announced in a message to all staff that the University was moving to “Business Continuity Plan Level 2” in advance of the new academic year. This meant that while staff should continue to work from home if possible, some in-person teaching would be allowed, albeit with social distancing restrictions and mandatory face coverings. At the time there were also national restrictions on the number of people allowed to meet. Once Michaelmas Term began, cases within the University and city rapidly rose and by the end of Week 3 Oxford city had been placed by the government under “High Alert” for coronavirus.

On 6th September 2021 there were 136 deaths from the coronavirus, 44,130 new cases, and 65% of the UK population had been vaccinated against the disease. On this day the University moved to “Business Continuity Plan Level 1” in preparation for the new academic year. There is now an expectation that everyone who can will return to their offices and labs for the start of term while mitigations such as social distancing and face coverings are no longer mandatory, and there are no limits on group sizes.

The Vice-Chancellor’s announcement of the return to on-site working caused some disquiet: for many staff this was the biggest change in their working conditions since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020. In response Oxford UCU carried out a rapid survey of our members. The survey was open for four days over the weekend of the 18th September and received 346 responses. The survey consisted of ten multiple choice questions and a free-text box for further comments.

At the time of the survey, over a third (36%) of respondents had not worked on-site during the previous six months. A further fifth (21%) had worked on-site “barely at all” and another 14% “on occasion”. Half of respondents (50%) were not working on-site at the time of the survey. Most (63%) respondents were happy with their current amount of on-site work, while there was a fairly even split of people who would like to be working on-site more (18%) or less (19%).

Staff continue to be concerned about their own health and safety in relation to working on-site during the pandemic: a quarter (25%) of respondents were very concerned about their own health, 40% were concerned and 33% unconcerned. By removing universal mitigations such as face coverings and social distancing, the University has, in effect, devolved health and safety decisions about how to conduct on-site activities during this latest phase of the pandemic to its departments. Concerningly, at the time of the survey 47% of respondents had not been provided with updated risk assessments for working on-site and a further 23% did not know if one had been provided. Similarly, over two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported that they had not had a meeting with a line manager to discuss health and safety issues related to on-site working.

Free-text responses highlighted concerns about the impact of the new policy on clinically vulnerable colleagues; one said: “All of the onus has been put on clinically vulnerable individuals to have to advocate for themselves …it’s producing a particular level of stress that means we are permanently trapped into thinking about our basic safety … all the time.” Other comments expressed surprise at the change in policy on face coverings: “I really do not understand why the university could not bring itself to institute a clear and comprehensive mask mandate.” “‘Encouraging’ mask wearing as opposed to mandating it is absolutely not working.”

The apparently unexpected announcement of the change in policy meant that 58% of respondents felt that their views had not been taken into account with the new announcement: only 12% felt their views had been taken into account. Likewise, 45% of respondents felt that communication around the policy had been “unclear” or “very unclear”; 35% felt that communications were “clear” or “very clear.” At a more local level, 48% felt that covid-19 health and safety rules were clear or very clear in the area of the University in which they work while 35% felt that the rules were “unclear” or “very unclear.”

Comments further highlighted the lack of clear communication and the unexpected announcement. For example: “From the reaction of departmental administrators … I don’t feel they had been given enough notice to make preparations” and “Departments seem to be unclear on interpreting what the University’s guidance is requesting.” The disparity between academic staff—given the freedom to choose their location of work—and administrative staff, who may be more likely to be instructed to come to the office, was remarked. Several respondents noted that the call to return on-site undid many of the developments in working practices made during the pandemic and which have previously been acknowledged in the University’s “New Ways of Working.”

Whether or not cases will increase during this term as they did last year, the University needs to work harder to ensure that all staff are adequately consulted about changes to their working practices and to provide staff with the information and support to carry out their work safely during the pandemic. The pandemic has not ceased to be a risk to University staff, some more so than others, and the current mixture of responses across the University will inevitably mean that not all staff are receiving the highest possible protection that they deserve.

This article first appeared in No. 435 Noughth Week Michaelmas Term 2021 edition of the Oxford Magazine