Some initial comments re the latest S188 on staff cuts and academic contracts at London Met

Staff numbers

The first thing we need to make clear are the numbers involved. As you may have seen, articles in the press – based on the press release from university management, are quoting the almost 400 job cuts as being the equivalent of some 13.5% of the workforce. Unfortunately, it is far worse than that.

The 2,920 total staff number provided by management is notional ‘headcount’. However, a very large percentage of that (over 50%) is made up of highly casualised (zero-hour contracted) staff that have between a few and zero hours of work, and casual/temp admin staff with few if any hours.

The more accurate figure to gauge the scale of the staff reduction by is the proposed FTE (Full Time Equivalent) job cut. PSD/Admin staff are being reduced from the current 606 FTE to 399 FTE, a 34% reduction. Academic (denoted as ‘Professional Staff’ in the S188) are being reduced from (at the very most given recent cuts) 600 FTE by up to 178 FTE, a 30% actual reduction. Therefore, the actual substantive percentage staff cut across the university is around 1/3.

Staff terms and conditions

Post-92 contract and FST/Working Hours

As we pointed out in a recent members email. The stated aim (directive?) to get all remaining (permanent, full-time, non HPL) academic staff working to the post-92 contractual maxima of 550 FST hours is only possible if preparation/marking time is substantially reduced, or other contractual safeguards are ripped-up, or all non-FST or associated preparation/marking tasks are ‘lost’ from the AWAM and expected to be done magically somehow!

However, it seems management have a cunning plan to minimise this problem – reduce the percentage (of those left after the sacking of 30%+) of London Met academic staff actually on (and legally protected by) the current academic (post-92) contract, or, in the case of chosen subject areas: art, music, education, negatively re-interpret the clauses in the post-92 contract.

To that end we find reference to the following:

‘In appropriate subject disciplines, and where allowed within existing academic contract provisions, working towards an optimum FST of 750 hours per year’

The ‘existing academic contract’ is the national ‘Post-92’ academic contract. These ‘provisions’ are specified in this clause from the post-92 contract:

‘1.3.3. Formal scheduled teaching responsibilities should not exceed 18 hours in any week or a total of 550 hours in the teaching year. However, this provision will not apply in subject areas where the nature of the curriculum and teaching style make it inappropriate such as aspects of Teacher Education, Art, Design, Performing Arts, Music: in these subject areas scheduled teaching will be determined in accordance with paragraph 1.3.2 above’

And this is paragraph 1.3.2:

‘1.3.2. Due to the range of teaching and learning methods involved and the different needs in various subject areas, a precise specification of teaching hours is neither possible nor appropriate in a professional contract. As a general guide, however, an individual lecturer may normally expect to have formal scheduled teaching responsibilities for students within a band of 14 to 18 hours a week on average over the anticipated teaching year of that lecturer’.

So, simply at a basic interpretation level, and teaching the maximum average of 18 FST hours per week, to reach the supposed ‘optimum’ of 750 FST, would imply the staff member working a 42 week teaching year! Whereas, the post-92 maximum teaching year is stipulated as 36 weeks (which would equate – at absolute most and with no allowances, etc, as 648 total FST hours). However, even if that were the case that doesn’t change the contractual 35 hour week we have, nor the fact that 1,491 is the maximum number of total hours we are contracted to work, nor the fact we have contractual protection for both scholarly activity (180 hours) and CPD (90 hours). So, if staff were to teach 18 hours FST over 36 weeks, and that somehow, miraculously, their assessment and preparation only took a total of one hour per one hour FST, they would still be breaching their contractual working hours by 45 hours, and have zero time to be allocated anything else to do whatsoever!

Creating a plethora of casualised contracts

So, maxing out the post-92 contract isn’t really all that viable for the level of productivity (exploitation) that our erstwhile VC and his coterie have in mind. Enter an assortment of ‘flexible’ (read insecure and highly exploitative) contracts:

  1. More zero-houred HPLs

London Met already has an appalling zero-hour contract that a large number of our HPL (Hourly Paid Lecturers) are on. We know it’s appalling as an increasing number of our UCU members are subject to it, including a number of our branch officers. It is also an area around which we have done much individual case work, and taken Employment Tribunals.

Essentially, the ‘zero’ in ‘zero hour’ denotes the level of job-security such a contract affords its owner. There are no guaranteed hours of work from semester to semester (at best), week-to-week (at worst), notification of hours is often at the very last minute (so planning around work is next to impossible), this has huge implications for family life, and is in itself a significant equality issue for women members. The rates of pay per hour notionally (as an explicit breakdown is very hard to pin down and quantify) includes all the hours of preparation and associated assessment, so the total pay is a fraction of a properly contracted member of staff. Access to holidays, sick pay, office space, are minimal to non-existent, and organisational professional respect is often severely difficult to find – most of our HPL colleagues are not even listed in the staff phone book! This is why UCU, at both national and local level, have consistently argued that our HPL staff should be taken off zero-hour contracts and made fractional members of staff on the post-92 academic contract alongside the rest of us. Not used as a means to divide and exploit staff further.

Well, I’m sure you’ve now guessed right. The new ‘modern and exciting masterplan’ is to have:

‘Greater use of HPLs in some areas, particularly areas with currently low HPL usage to increase the flexibility of the workforce to respond to uncertain or changing demands’.

  1. London Met GTAs – The teach others whilst teaching yourself route to success

Many, mainly research-intensive pre-92 universities where staff don’t have the protection of an agreed national contract, employ GTAs to support teaching. However, the idea of a GTA is explicitly as a route to a full academic professional contract whilst pursuing PhD study, not as an end goal career without the PhD at the end. We might as well say (and possibly this is exactly what the VC has in mind), rather than employing experienced qualified academics on nationally agreed academic contracts to teach our students we will instead advertise the same required teaching to recent graduates, pay them minimally on a non-negotiated non-academic local contract, and then certify them as ‘on the job trained’ for doing so!

In the meantime the university will now create a new role of ‘teaching manager’ to coordinate this pool of casual labour whilst defining (at least in title) it as ‘mentoring’.

  1. Permanently trapped contracts

In order to avoid pressure to fractionalise zero-houred HPLs (see earlier section) and ‘successful’ GTAs to proper nationally agreed and protected (maximum defined FST hours) academic contracts, the VC is suggesting avoiding the problem by creating a route that fractionalises them to a new (no protect maximum 550 FST hours) non-post-92 academic contract, and calls it a ‘Teaching Fellow’ contract, that will have little to no provision or guarantees/protection for scholarly activity and/or research.

  1. When all else fails employ the students to teach themselves.

 The role of an Academic Mentor can and could be a useful additional resource to provide students with both peer support on the one hand and greater experience on the other. However, we now find the VC explicitly linking their usage to a S188 that’s main purpose is to cut permanent experienced academics.

  1. Create another new non-negotiated contract that will have less safeguards and (likely) less pay.

 This line ‘the introduction of a new role to teach level 3’ should sound alarm bells amongst members. Level 3 is foundation level, sometimes referred to as ‘year 0’. However, its main characteristic that focuses management’s attention is that it is ‘pre-degree’. They use this definition to define the distinction between FE and HE.

The post-92 contract is, essentially, an HE contract. If you create a role teaching only level 3, you can then say those doing it are not HE teachers and don’t require an HE contract and/or agreed terms and conditions. And, in the case of HPL staff, can now be paid at the significantly lower HPL ‘B’ hourly rate to teach non-degree rather than the usual HPL ‘A’ hourly rate.

———–

Whither Research?

This statement on research shows the contempt exhibited for any notion of maintaining London Met as a university in the truest sense of the term:

‘Full time or fractional research roles and research activities will be retained where the revenue from research covers the full cost of resources dedicated to it (e.g., salary, on-costs, accommodation and university central costs)’.

Well that would pretty much stop the vast majority of research conducted in most post-92 universities – that use revenue from teaching to help subsidise such research (after all, one of the things that helps attract students to a university in the first place is often the advertised results of the research that is carried out at that university).

Given the previous discussion on FST maximisation and contractual attacks it’s not as though there is any expectation that personal research allowances are going to be retained – never mind increased as they would need to be, to allow for research to continue in any other form once research contracts quickly disappear under the self-funding edict.

_______________________

Decisions

So, there you have it. At least a third of the jobs of staff on the current protected post-92 academic contract are targeted to be cut. The remainder will then be forced to either massively increase their FST load with little if any remission for any other academic work, or be forced (under the threat of selection for compulsory redundancy) to ‘volunteer’ for a worse contracted position. Current HPLs will either have their teaching completely removed and given to someone else if they continue to hold out in a forlorn hope for fractionalising to the main post-92 academic contract, or have their rates of pay re-calibrated to a lower-rate for certain teaching, whilst having hours removed and given to a new army of even cheaper casualised students and others. Meanwhile, the endemic bullying, stress, and micro-management will continue with gusto as the ‘service’ we provide our students will only improve in the adjectives used by management to describe it.

If that dystopian vision seems all too real – and let’s face it, you have all now read the VC’s ‘MasterPlan’, then its decision time.

Do you assume you are going to be in the ‘lucky’ 2/3rds that may survive – only to face the contractual attacks outlined here, and that silence now will protect you? If so, many have already gone that had once thought likewise. Do you jump before pushed because the sooner you get out the sooner you have some chance of rescuing your mind and body from the stress of living under the sword of Damocles year after year. However, please note there is every indication that the VC has decided to cut the VS scheme and only pay statutory minimum after July 31 2016.Or, do you stand united with your colleagues and in the interests of your students and resist? These are essentially the three choices before each of us.

We choose to fight.

 

Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan University UCU (Chair),
David Hardman, London Metropolitan University UCU (Secretary)
on behalf of London Met UCU Coordinating Committee

 

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