For several years, evidence has been mounting of excessive pressures on academic staff at London Met. Stress surveys in 2010 and 2014 found, among other things, that London Met compared unfavourably with other national organisations on the measure of work demands, with bullying also an issue. A UCU survey in October 2013 showed that most academic staff were struggling with workloads and had little, if any, opportunity to engage in development opportunities. A national UCU survey in 2016 found that academics were working, on average, two days per week unpaid overtime. Finally, a UCU survey in November 2015 found that the incidence of bullying at London Met was twice the national average reported by the TUC, with managers being the dominant cause reported by staff.
Given the continual rounds of redundancies experienced by staff even since the 2013 workload survey, and given the apparent abandonment of the previously in place Academic Workload Allocation Model (AWAM) – without consultation – during the current round of redundancies and restructuring, UCU decided another workload survey was needed. Despite management’s legal obligation to provide “reasonable” assistance to UCU with matters related to health and safety, they once again refused to assist with the advertisement of our survey.
The broad picture painted by the results is as follows:
- Hours allocated to most existing Hourly-Paid Lecturers (HPLs) are being cut whilst most full-time lecturers have had their workloads increased, often substantially;
- Virtually all permanent staff now have a Formal Scheduled Teaching (FST) allocation that is at or near the maximum permitted by the academic contract, even though the contract states that lecturers should not receive a full teaching load when they have significant other responsibilities;
- In the current academic year, the allocation of – in most or all cases – significant non-teaching responsibilities have not been listed in writing, contrary to the requirements of the academic contract;
- Most staff were not consulted in a meaningful fashion over changes to their workload (where consultation happened, many respondents said that their views were not listened to);
- Whilst staff with disabilities were only a small proportion of the current sample, not all of these colleagues were consulted over workload changes;
- The proportion of staff reporting difficulties managing their workload has increased since the 2013 survey;
- The vast majority of respondents stated that, for a range of non-FST activities, the time previously allocated (in their AWAM) for these was insufficient, and that now such continuing non-FST activities were simply not being counted by management;
- Most full-time staff are working hours in excess of the European Working Time Directive and a significant proportion are working hours that are known to increase the risk of a stroke. All substantive staff are working significantly in excess of their contractual maximum of 1,491 hours/year (or fraction thereof);
- Half of the part-time respondents indicated that they were working the hours of a full-timer and often in excess of a 35 hour week (London Met’s contractual hours);
- As in the 2013 survey, most respondents said that there were few or no development opportunities, or that they did not have the time to engage in such opportunities.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The results from this survey strongly back up the anecdotal comments that we had previously heard from our members and paint a shocking picture of the working environment at London Metropolitan University.
It is worth considering at this point how hollow some of the values expressed in the university’s Strategic Plan now appear:
- “We will act ethically, openly and with mutual respect”
- “We will create an environment which attracts and retains the best people who share our commitment and values”
- “Take the time to know our students”
- “Actively contribute to the performance of colleagues, our team and connected teams”
We suggest that ignoring the contractual provisions on which staff are employed is not acting ethically, openly and with mutual respect. Creating an environment that leads many staff to work the kind of hours that are a risk to health is not creating an environment that will attract and retain the best people. Likewise, how can you take the time to get to know your students if your Head of Department no longer even attempts to document and allocate hours for the activities you are expected to carry out? How can you make a positive contribution to the performance of colleagues and teams when you are exhausted from overwork?
We call upon university management to fully abide by all the contractual provisions regarding consultation over workloads, achieving balance between FST and non-FST activities, and the publication of workload allocations. Furthermore, if the management are serious about acting with mutual respect, then we suggest that the JCNC needs to meet to discuss the duties that staff are expected to carry out and the time necessary to do this, as specified in the Interpretation Agreement. Additionally, we call for a new Stress steering group to be set up, whose Chair (as well as membership) should be a matter of full consultation with the trade unions.
Finally, we call for the current S188 redundancies and forced staff ‘fractionalisations’ to be halted. Those redundancies are premised on a fatally flawed calculation for ‘optimum’ FTE staff numbers per School. Those numbers have resulted from the ludicrously crude decision to consider 1.0 FTE simply in terms of 550 FST hours/year, and then to divide the number of required total student FST contact hours by 550 to calculate an ‘optimum’ staff compliment, and then to divide that ‘optimum’ number of staff as a percentage between substantive and HPL staff. What this survey clearly shows, complimenting the many complaints already made by school staff, is that the ONLY way all teaching staff can be timetabled to between 495-550 FST hours is to break the overall maximum contractual workload of 1,491 hours/year, and in so doing significantly increase workplace stress and risk to staff health and wellbeing. All of which will ultimately have a devastating effect on teaching staff and on the quality of the student experience.
London Metropolitan University UCU
You can find the full survey at this link ucuworkloadsurvey2016-final