UCU Survey about Return to On-site Working

In mid-September many of you responded to a survey circulated by Oxford UCU on the University’s new policy that “staff are expected to resume on-site working”. The survey had a great response, with 346 people completing it in just 4 days. Your feedback was invaluable: if you filled in the survey and encouraged others to do so, you have helped to inform our collective response. 

The results from the survey are clear:

Patchy risk assessment provision: Concerningly, many respondents reported they had not been provided with updated risk assessments (46.6% answered “no” when asked if they had been provided with one, 22.7% did not know if one had been provided).

Health and Safety issues not adequately discussed: Over two-thirds of respondents reported they had not had a meeting with a line manager to discuss H&S issues related to on-site working (67.4%).

Working practices at the time of the survey were working for most people: The majority of UCU members were happy with their current levels of on-site working (63%). There are approximately equal smaller groups who would like to work on-site more (17.6%) or less (19.4%). This suggests that a flexible approach is needed, not a blanket policy that “staff are expected to resume on-site working”. The new policy is not wanted by most staff and is a missed opportunity to recognise new ways of working.  

Most of you feel your views are not taken into account in the new policy: Many respondents felt the University’s new policy that “staff are expected to resume on-site working” had not properly taken their views into account (57.7%). Even those who support more on-site working personally raised questions over the policy. 

Unclear communication and consultation: The University’s communications about the new policy have not been clear for many respondents (45.6% said they were “unclear” or “very unclear”; 19.1% said they were “clear” or “very clear”), and some respondents raised concerns about possible changes to the policy over the next few months. There was a recognition of the disproportionate impact of changes across the University, for example between colleagues in administrative roles and those in academic roles.

Download the summary, including more detailed qualitative feedback. 

Your union colleagues will be representing these views to the University.

Many of you will be working hard on this in your own departments and areas – we hope this summary clarifies how your colleagues currently feel about the return to on-site working.

For more information please see the UCU coronavirus pages, which include updated advice about ventilation.

UCU Representative and Caseworker Taster Session

Monday 21 June at 13.00

Trade union representatives and caseworkers provide essential support to members, representing their interests and defending their rights. Departmental reps are key contacts within departments, supporting members by discussing workplace concerns, finding solutions, and improving health and safety procedures. Caseworkers advise members across the University who are facing workplace difficulties, for example with redundancy procedures, bullying and harassment, disciplinary issues, equality and discrimination, and other problems.

The more union reps and caseworkers we have, the more members we can support, so please consider joining us! Current Oxford UCU reps and caseworkers are running a no-obligation online information session on Monday 21 June at 13.00. The event will introduce you to the important union roles of department/unit representative and caseworker and will include testimonials from current reps and caseworkers about why getting involved in the union has been so fulfilling for them.

Come find out more about how you can help yourself and your colleagues improve working conditions across the University! You can register in advance here.

Open forum: UKRI cuts to Official Development Assistance projects

Tuesday 23rd March 13.00-14.00

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) is being forced to make cuts of £120 million. This comes as a result of the UK Government’s decision to reduce spending on Official Development Assistance (ODA). What the effects of this will be on ODA/GCRF-funded projects at Oxford is currently unclear. However, these projects at Oxford now potentially face an as-yet-unknown mixture of cuts, reprofiling or termination of existing grants.

UCU Oxford is holding an open meeting on Tuesday 23 March from 13.00-14.00 to discuss these issues. If you are affected by these issues, this is an opportunity to voice your concerns, hear from affected colleagues, and share ideas about our collective response. Non-UCU members are welcome to join this meeting.

Please email ucu@ox.ac.uk to request login details.

College stipendiary pay: Some suggestions for improvement

College stipendiary lecturers play a vital role in teaching, pastoral care, and admissions; they are equally vital to the research culture of their subject areas. The insecurity and poor pay associated with these roles is often justified by colleges and some senior academics on the basis that they are a way for early career academics to gain experience prior to their first permanent position. This has long been a dubious justification, to say the least, and it rings increasingly hollow in the context of the entrenched precarity faced by academic workers in Oxford and beyond.

Stipendiary lecturers constitute a group of workers on which the University’s day-to-day functioning depends and on whose research expertise it capitalises, but who do not necessarily receive the benefits and entitlements of their permanent colleagues (statutory sick leave, parental leave, protection against unfair dismissal) and who are especially vulnerable to exploitation within Oxford’s decentralised system. In particular, many stipendiary lecturers experience a significant disconnect between their notional hours of employment and the actual hours of work their role demands. 

This blog post highlights a particular issue regarding pay that many stipendiary lectures might not be aware of or might not feel able to raise with their line manager. If you think you are affected by this issue, then 1. speak to your colleagues in your college and in your subject area/faculty, 2. contact us on oxfordanticas@gmail.com. Oxford colleges do not recognise trade unions. While this means UCU cannot collectively bargain with colleges, we can and frequently do offer guidance and support to members who are employed on college-only contracts. If you are a college-only employee and would like to join UCU, then visit https://www.ucu.org.uk/join, or get in touch with the Oxford UCU branch.

Stint reform and stipendiary pay

The pay scale for stipendiary lecturers is set by the Conference of Colleges. This body comprises two representatives of each college and acts as a forum for discussion amongst the Oxford colleges and as a channel between the colleges and the central University. The Conference of College’s ‘Register of Approved Payments’ are available to download from the OxCORT homepage (http://www.oxcort.ox.ac.uk/). The recommended scale for 2020-1 is below:

Beneath the pay scale is an additional paragraph:

The division of the scale into 12 hours reflects the original 12-hour stint of a CUF [College and University Fellowship] Lecturer (before the advent of stint reform); thus the ‘6-hour’ line (the line for a ‘50%’ Stipendiary Lecturer) applies to the full 6-hour stint of a ULTF. The standard full-time CUF Lecturer stint is now 8 contact hours. It may therefore be more helpful to use the percentage of a full-time stint required of a Stipendiary Lecturer to determine which line of this scale to employ (e.g. the 6-hour line would represent 50% of a full-time stint for a CUF Lecturer), though this is a matter for individual college discretion.

This is not an easy paragraph to follow, even for those acquainted with Oxford’s employment practices and acronyms, but it highlights a significant point of concern: stipendiary pay is still based on a 12-hour scale, even though the University’s stint reform means that a full-time tutorial fellow role is now constituted by 8 hours of contact time per week.

According to this scale, a stipendiary lecturer working on a six-hour contract is still classed as doing 50% of a standard permanent post, rather than 75%. This means, for example, that a stipendiary lecturer working on an 8-hour contract on stage 1 earns £18,341 when they should be earning £27,711 for 12 weighted hours (as equivalent to 8 contact hours). In effect, they are only being paid for two-thirds of the work they undertake. There are some stipendiary lectureship advertisements which specify weighted hours, but many do not and the consequences for pay of this reform are not made clear to all stipendiary lecturers. After all, colleges are only advised to observe payment in weighted hours. Many stipendiary lectureships—already an insecure and exploitative form of work—are significantly underpaid even on their own terms. ‘It may therefore be more helpful [for stipendiary lecturers]’ for colleges to observe weighted hours, the final sentence of the above paragraph begins. Very ‘helpful’ indeed!

Two suggestions for improvement:

1.         Require colleges to observe weighted hours in the appointment of stipendiary lecturers. A document explaining how weighted hours are calculated should be circulated among all incoming stipendiary lecturers in order to ensure that they are fully apprised of the conditions of their employment.

Or, even better: 

2.         Require colleges to replace CUFs on temporary leave with a full-time employee (or the appropriate percentage thereof, in the case of CUFs on part-time contracts). Exemptions may be issued in specific circumstances, but a persuasive rationale must be offered as to why an exception should be made, given that stipendiary lecturers are expected to play an active part in college life (including the provision of pastoral care), to take the initiative in access and outreach work, and to continue with their research (on which their teaching expertise in part depends, but for which they are not remunerated).            

Oxford UCU Statement in Solidarity with NEU

Motion formally passed at Oxford UCU General Meeting on 26th January 2021

The Oxford University branch of UCU expresses full solidarity with the National Education Union and other groups fighting to provide school staff – including teachers, assistants, administrators, catering staff and cleaners – a safe environment during this COVID-19 lockdown. Schools in Oxfordshire and elsewhere have been overwhelmed with requests by parents to take students: with many functioning at over 50% capacity. The NEU recommends that schools should be at no more than 10% capacity if we are to meaningfully use this lockdown period to suppress transmission of this virus. School staff have also not been provided with medical grade PPE or given priority for vaccinations: both of which are demands the NEU has made. With COVID rates still as high as 1 in 50, and the National Health Service at breaking point, drastic measures are necessary. 

Oxford UCU especially acknowledges the role that universities have played in exacerbating conditions at schools. Oxford University – like many other institutions – has encouraged staff to identify as key workers, and send their children to school, if they are unable to care for them whilst working from home. This approach is damaging to university staff who are given an impossible choice between doing full-time childcare whilst also fulfilling research and teaching duties or sending their children into already-overwhelmed schools at the height of a global pandemic. It also transfers risk to school staff, undermining the goal of the present lockdown. In a university town like Oxford, this further adversely effects the local community, who bear the brunt of this extended COVID crisis and many lockdowns.  

Instead, we ask the university to offer the following: 

  • Workload reductions to all staff who require it 
  • The option of furlough to all staff who wish to take this up 
  • Emphasise that ‘key worker’ status should not be used by departments to compel anyone with childcare responsibilities to work at full capacity 
  • Provide extensions on funding and non-permanent contracts where possible to enable staff to do less during this lockdown period. 

Proposal of the Greek Government to create a special university police force for Greek Universities

Motion formally passed at Oxford UCU General Meeting on 26th January 2021

Oxford UCU notes that the University of Oxford does not have a university police force, and that security on University premises is provided by the University’s own personnel. 

Oxford UCU believes that the proposal of the Greek Government to create a special university police force for Greek Universities, ostensibly without wide consultation or sufficiently considering alternatives, is alarming and not in line with best practice. 

Oxford UCU notes its solidarity to Greek colleagues, students, parents, and citizens opposing the creation of such a special university police force, which is unlikely to respond to the most pertinent problems of Greek higher education institutions, such as chronic underfunding (including for security provision) and personnel cuts. 

Oxford UCU resolves to release and publicise this statement, including through relevant media outlets, using the Branch’s resources. 

Know Your Contract Workshop

Next anti-casualisation workshop taking place from 13.00-14.00 on Friday 22 January.

On Friday 4 December, the Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network (@OxfordAntiCas) and Fund the Future Working Group ran a second open meeting of the term, Fighting Casualisation at the University of Oxford: Identifying the Key Issues. Tom White, the joint Anti-Casualisation Officer, introduced a new Know Your Rights booklet that provides information on contracts, rights, and redundancy procedures for fixed-term, stipendiary, and other casualised staff. The booklet will be posted to the website soon. The issue of union recognition by Colleges was then discussed and Ruth Lawlor from Cambridge UCU offered a valuable account of their recent organising efforts. In 2021, we plan to hold a joint Cambridge-Oxford Anti-Casualisation Network meeting to discuss how we might address this issue collectively. The meeting also heard from postgraduate members angry about the terms of their employment as teaching assistants. If you are a postgraduate member and would like to join a new working group on this issue, please email thomas.white@ell.ox.ac.uk.

Join us at the next anti-cas event, Fighting Casualisation at the University of Oxford: Know Your Contract, on 22 December, 1-2pm. Register for the event here.

Fighting Casualisation at the University of Oxford: Identifying the Key Issues

Next anti-casualisation workshop taking place from 13.00-14.00 on Friday 4 December.

On Monday 16 November, the UCU Anti-Casualisation Network and Fund the Future Working Group ran a workshop, Opposing Fixed Term Contracts at the University of Oxford. Speakers from the UCU, Tom White the joint Anti-Casualisation Officer, and Mikal Mast, the Casework Co-Ordinator, offered insight into the problem and on what the UCU can offer. Roberto Mozzachiodi offered some useful insights from the much more established union movement in Goldsmiths University, which recently won in a dispute with the university over the freezing of all fixed term contract extensions due to Covid. There was also a report from the grass-roots post-doc network, who have been knowledge sharing across colleges and departments, to help post-docs of all kinds apply for contract extensions due to Covid-relation disruptions with some (albeit limited) success. Over forty people attended, which demonstrated the urgency and importance of this problem, and it was agreed with consultation from the participants that we would hold another event before the end of term.

Join us at the next anti-cas event, Fighting Casualisation at the University of Oxford: Identifying the Key Issues, on 4 December, 1-2pm. Register for the event here.

Download flyer

Precarity in a Pandemic Age: Opposing Fixed-Term Contracts at the University of Oxford

UCU workshop taking place from 13.00-14.00 on Monday 16th November

One third of academic workers in the UK are employed on Fixed-Term Contracts (FTCs). At the University of Oxford, a self-described ‘world leader’ in so many areas, this figure is 67%. The notion that fixed-term teaching-only or research-only contracts are a viable route into permanent employment looks increasingly untenable. Casualisation and precarity are bad for staff and for our students. 71% of respondents to a recent UCU survey 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]

Precarious staff have been hit especially hard by the fallout from Covid-19. Grassroots campaigns like #CoronaContract have highlighted the problems facing academic workers on FTCs and fought to secure their livelihoods. 

This event will provide information on the University of Oxford’s use of FTCs. We will also hear from recent grassroots organising efforts. The closing discussion will offer attendees the opportunity to share and discuss their experiences.

You can follow the Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network on Twitter: @OxordAntiCas or email OxfordAntiCas@gmail.com to be added to our mailing list. 

This event is open to UCU members and non-members. We also encourage College-only staff to attend.

Zoom meeting link | Meeting ID: 826 6224 2592 | Passcode: 431636

Download flyer

Oxford UCU position on face-to-face teaching

With over 14,000 staff and over 24,000 students, the University of Oxford is a place of work and study for a quarter of the population of Oxford. Hence, safe on-site working and studying is a public health concern.

Substantial teaching that could otherwise have been done remotely (e.g. the majority of tutorial teaching), is now being undertaken in person during Michaelmas term. We note the strong recommendation of SAGE on 21 September, that ‘all university and college teaching to be online unless absolutely essential’. We maintain that such in person teaching should revert to online as soon as possible, and that teaching plans in Hilary term are revisited so that the unnecessary situation we are currently experiencing is not repeated next term.

The government has suggested that students may be required to quarantine for two weeks before returning home at the end of term. Where students could revert to online teaching, we would support them isolating now, and returning home to continue their studies safely earlier, rather than being locked in on campus all term.

Online teaching

A report presenting our recommendations for remote teaching and measures to help both teaching staff in doing their job from home and those who have to be on-site for practical courses was presented to the Oxford UCU AGM on 16 October 2020. The AGM agreed to adopt the recommendations and resolved to submit the report and recommendations to the Collegiate University.

The report is informed by data from the Oxford UCU return to on-site work and COVID-19 impact survey which ran between 30 June and 18 August 2020, collecting results from 824 respondents. The recommendations are based on discussions with H&S experts and University of Oxford H&S representatives and staff members, and are informed by current scientific advice and understanding of the virus. We also reference UCU, SAGE and independent SAGE recommendations.

Our recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1
In order to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, teaching should, in the first instance, be done remotely. Furthermore, f2f teaching policies should be revisited before Hilary term, incorporating lessons learned from Michaelmas term.

Recommendation 2
For those students and staff who have to be on-site, regular testing should be ensured, independent of symptoms.

Recommendation 3
Enhanced cleaning should only be the responsibility of trained staff specifically employed for that role.

Recommendation 4
Ensure adequate ventilation of indoor spaces, including by regularly testing ventilation rates. Monitor ventilation filters and sewage water to identify groups with infected individuals and prevent an outbreak.

Recommendation 5
The University and colleges should ensure disposable face coverings are available at all building entrances.

Recommendation 6
Academic and support staff involved in student welfare should not bear the responsibility for the health and safety of students, financial or otherwise.

Recommendation 7
The University and colleges needs to ensure that staff has all the equipment needed for working from home.

Recommendation 8
Line managers and departments need to consult with staff and communicate return to on-site work policies.

Recommendation 9
Staff needs more support from their line managers and departments to manage remote working.

Recommendation 10
Equality should be taken into consideration when health and safety measures are implemented during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendation 11
Staff must be consulted on how they are involved in the responsibility of teaching and training PGRs.