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Heads of Department Update 16 January


Sorry – this is going to be a long-ish email – and I hoped to get it out earlier in the day, but it never quite happened. The first week after the Christmas break often feels quite gentle, but the second is usually a lot busier and so the first update of the year has quite a lot in it!

Workload Framework

As promised before Christmas, you can find the “Workload Allocation Framework Principles” document hereLink opens in a new window. This is the version that you’ve seen a number of times with some minor additional tweaks following feedback. And as I’ve mentioned, the request is that you try to ensure that your workload allocations this year align with these principles. There is a guidance document being finalised, following a series of Faculty level meetings, and a planned session to look at practical support in relation to implementation, including sharing of models currently being used. And as a reminder, we need to use this framework, see how it works and be prepared to adjust and adapt. So please, view this year as a pilot and the framework and principles as something that we keep under review. We do need a common framework across the institution, but we need to ensure that it does gives flexibility where that really is needed.


You’ll recall that we have been discussing the issue of optional “overcatting” which happens in some parts of the University. There are costs to this practice because we provide resources to deliver more teaching than we actually need to. There are also some concerns about wellbeing implications for students, but perhaps the biggest concern is the complexity that this practice introduces to module registration/de-registration, timetabling and exam timetabling and the impact this has across the institution. The ARC Autumn Review considered a detailed analysis of the implications of the withdrawal of optional “overcatting” and as a result we’re moving forward to explore implementation issues. A paper will come for further discussion at Faculty Board in February.

Salary issues

I’m conscious that many colleagues are waiting for news on the work being done around pay and performance review. We have seen some proposals and there is further work taking place; there has been some detailed analysis of policy and practice within the sector and beyond. There is nothing in the public domain yet and so nothing that I can tell you, other than that there is clear recognition of the importance of getting something in place because, although we have had various one-off bonus payments, in the last couple of years, we haven’t run a formal performance-based review and we need to do so. I know the issue is particularly acute at FA9, despite the adjustments that were made last Summer, but its also the case that there is salary compression in a number of areas. I hope we can get something more specific to share with you shortly – sorry there’s not more I can say at the moment.

Industrial Action

There has been a lot of news and noise around this and you will have seen that we were notified of a marking and assessment boycott last week as part of ASOS. Well, that’s now been delayed until April– but replaced with plans for strike action for 18 days between February and March, with precise dates to be confirmed next week. And there will be a re-ballot of UCU members to extend the mandate for industrial action when the current mandate expires. That mandate extension will be required for the marketing and assessment boycott to proceed in April. EdExec will be in touch with further information about support in the not to distant future.

Pay negotiations for next year have started and UCEA have made an initial offer that is equivalent to 5.1%. As context, we have assumed 5% for planning purposes and while its only slightly below the UCEA offer it is below (and I would assume that the final offer may be higher). So that’s just going to add another challenge to the coming planning round!

Key Travel

I probably don’t need to mention some of the issues from last year with our travel management company (TMC) – Key Travel. We did go back to the market to re-run a procurement process to look at whether we should change provider. We had a number of individuals from academic departments involved in this exercise and, having reviewed what was available and those who were interested in working with us, the panel reached the conclusion that the best offer came from Key Travel. That probably sounds a bit surprising, but its worth noting that the problems we experienced were common to all TMCs; the procurement process provided a lot of reassurance about the changes that Key Travel have made including systems improvements and there is widespread evidence of general improvements in supply chains in the travel sector.

I joined a meeting with Key last week where they updated on significantly improved service response times, improvements to their booking systems and some impressive support in the context of our work on sustainable travel (including the range of net zero offers they have around both flights and hotel accommodation). There will be some more detailed communications coming round in the not-too-distant future and my sense from the meeting was that they recognised their past service failings and are genuinely committed to delivering a high quality service. Obviously the proof of the pudding will be in the eating…. And so, for now, the £500 threshold will remain in place. We are an important customer for Key and I think they have a real incentive and commitment to deliver but we do need to monitor to ensure we get what has been promised.

Admissions Update

Its still early in the recruitment cycle, but we are getting close to the UCAS deadline, so I thought a quick update might be helpful.

  • PGR numbers are down year on year, which is a bit of a concern, especially as scholarship deadlines are approaching (but this is a snapshot and numbers by the deadline will be key and hopefully they will pick-up).
  • PGT – home applications are down while international are up – and you’ll be aware that we have been trying to rebalance targets for exactly this region.
  • UG – application numbers continue to be buoyant. Applications in Arts are up by 17%, applications in SEM by 16% and in SS by 6%. Many of our highly selective Departments are seeing some quite significant increases in demand and this will present challenges in terms of decision making and diversity. But overall the picture looks good pretty much across all departments (and where there are falls in the number of applications this is largely expected and associated with increased entry requirements).

I think that’s probably all for now! As ever, this is shareable and any questions, let me know!




Professor Christine Ennew OBE