21st May 2020
I am aware that UCU have been discussing the issue of sessional teaching in the weekly meetings with the University. And you will be aware of some of my communications with Heads of Academic Departments on this issue. You may also be aware of an anonymous message to me which appears to come from Warwick Anti-Casualization. As the provenance of this message is unclear, I am not planning to respond to it directly. However, as I suspect some of these views may reflect those of UCU, I thought it would be sensible to share my reactions with you and you may then share with others as you feel necessary.
When we confirmed our decision to postpone University-funded study leave for the coming academic year, I explained to Heads of Department that we would also need to manage our spending on sessional teaching for the coming year. This decision was based on the challenge facing the University to deliver significant savings. You will now be aware that the savings target we face is around £50m for 2020-21 and we will be aiming to reach this target while trying to protect as much of our core activity as possible.
Currently, across ARC, the planned spend for next year on sessional teaching/teaching support is just under £11m (which probably represents about 15% of our spending on the direct cost of academic staff delivery to teaching). I draw your attention to this because the figure quoted by WAC of 70% is a misunderstanding and is (I think) based on headcount rather than fte-based indicators. I appreciate that fte-based indicators are more difficult to identify but they are the appropriate measure if we are to understand how teaching provision is resourced.
We need to work to a target of reducing our STP spend by at least 50% (across ARC, so this is not an individual departmental target). I think this is a credible target for ARC as a whole. Postponing study leave brings in teaching capacity to the value of approx. £2m; a slight rebalancing of workloads (even as little as asking for two extra hours of teaching related work over the next year) could potentially save £6m. And then of course there may be savings associated with reduced optionality and reduced student numbers.
I know there will also be additional teaching-related work (and that this will challenge any savings targets); already we’ve asked a lot from colleagues in terms of getting assessments moved online and now there is the task of preparing to move our established delivery model to a blended one. This will require extra effort from colleagues across all departments and a different prioritisation in terms of workloads.
I appreciate that targeting a reduction in sessional teaching spend and asking colleagues to rebalance their workloads towards teaching will not be popular but it is necessary, not in the pursuit of profit (as a charity, we do not make “profit”), but in order to ensure financial sustainability. Given the savings target that we face in order to get us through the coming year, I have asked HoDs to be prepared to:
- ask colleagues to adjust their workloads towards teaching. It is difficult to make any sort of general statement about exactly what this rebalancing might mean but using our normal assumptions of 40% of time for R&T staff being allocated to teaching activity (that’s not just contact hours but all teaching-related activity), then even small movements in the amount of time devoted to teaching activity overall (not simply contact time) can have a meaningful impact. Increasing the time devoted to teaching over the course of a year by 2 hours a week on average will make a significant difference;
- ask colleagues to be more flexible than normal in terms of the type of teaching they deliver – and that might mean a willingness to take on the some of the small group seminar/tutorial that is often delivered by sessional teachers.
The message about reduced opportunities will be particularly hard for our sessional teachers. We’re very aware of that and this decision has not been taken lightly. Sessional teachers play an important role in the delivery of teaching here at Warwick; and we appreciate that for PhD students in particular, participation in teaching is an aspect of broader professional development. So, although the amount of teaching will be reduced, we will continue to provide some opportunities for individuals to take on sessional teaching and for PhD students this will be through the new GTA contract.
I hope departments will give appropriate consideration to individual circumstances when appointing sessional teachers and its worth remembering that for self-funded students, there is the option of accessing hardship funds if they are struggling as a consequence of lost teaching opportunities.
While I have no objection to meeting with UCU representatives, I am aware that the challenges of achieving financial sustainability are being discussed on a weekly basis with campus Trades Unions. If we are to look for an additional meeting then I think it would be sensible to understand clearly what such a meeting could achieve above and beyond what happens in these scheduled discussions.
With best wishes
Professor Christine Ennew OBE
Provost | University Executive Office
University House | University of Warwick | Kirby Corner Road | Coventry | CV4 8UW | Find us on the interactive map
e C.Ennew@warwick.ac.uk | t 024 7652 2380 | m 07824 540872 | @ChrisEnnew
PA: Shan McGladrigan | e Sharon.McGladrigan@warwick.ac.uk | T 024 7615 0645 | m 07392 125600
Although you may get an email from me outside of normal working hours, I do not expect you to respond outside of your normal working hours.
Dear Christine Ennew,
It is with great concern that we, Warwick Anti-Casualisation (WAC), have heard of the University Executive Board Gold (UEBG)’s plan regarding the cancellation of study and research leave for academic staff in the coming academic year, and the associated consequences for casualised workers.
Your email states that university management expects an increased workload both over the summer and in the coming academic year, given that a return to campus may not be possible from the regular start of the academic year in October 2020. This email has not been distributed widely, rather you left it to HoDs’ discretion to disseminate the information which has meant that many casualised staff and workers have not received this information and are, as of yet, unaware of the plans that inevitably and unequally affect them in the coming year. Further, the expected workload increase, as you state, will be a result of significant changes in the delivery of teaching, both face-to-face and online. As a result, the UEBG has decided to cancel study and research leave, and to reduce sessional teaching hires. We have identified a series of problems with this plan. In this letter we would like to bring these concerns to your attention and request that you address the following 4 points in your next communication to staff, including and especially casualised staff and workers.
- Reducing sessional teaching hires means leaving the most precarious academic staff out to dry
Unsurprisingly, this plan leaves the most exploited and the most vulnerable academic staff out to dry: casual workers such as teaching staff on fixed-term or STP contracts. Indeed, your email openly projects the “need to avoid any new spend on sessional teaching and reduce, where possible, our existing spend”. In short, you say that casualised tutors will not be rehired for the coming academic year, meaning that not only will casualised academics not be hired on secure contracts, but they will lose even their current precarious income. This will also severely affect self-funded Postgraduate Research PGR students who rely on sessional teaching as an alternative funding source.
As you know, according to the latest available HESA data, around 70% of teaching at Warwick is undertaken by staff and workers on casual contracts, such as fixed-term and STP (data from 2016-17). This casualisation of our labour, mostly PGR students, early career and junior academics, has served Warwick exceptionally well. We have warned on many occasions that casual hiring practices make these members of staff extremely vulnerable, and the plan you laid out confirms our worst fears were warranted.
Reducing sessional teaching hires will leave these members of staff – who have contributed so much to Warwick’s teaching reputation over the past few years for little pay and recognition – with no income at all, at a time of dire employment prospects across the academic sector and beyond. In effect, this will negatively impact a whole generation of academics who have been exploited by the University to create wealth and excellence, and who are now the first to be sacrificed.
- Failing to properly train PGR students and setting them up to fail on the job market
Not hiring Associate Tutors in the next academic year means actively depriving existing PGR students of the opportunity to develop teaching skills necessary to be competitive on the job market, at a time when employment prospects are particularly bleak. In the past, Warwick has prided itself on producing particularly ‘employable’ graduates. We wonder how you will ensure the professional development of PGR students if they are not given an opportunity to teach in the coming year.
We require urgent clarification especially as to the plans to implement more secure contracts for PGR students in the coming academic year, moving from STP to Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) employment contracts. The introduction of these GTA contracts, after years of discussion, was one small step to deal with the casualisation issue, and we are dismayed at the possibility that the university could abandon these plans even before they were implemented.
- How to make up for 70% of casualisation? Piling onto the mountain of work.
The suggestion that the cancellation of study leave for a handful of academics will make up for the labour provided by a small army of casualised workers and staff is simply unrealistic. As mentioned above, we deliver approximately 70% of all teaching at Warwick and it is preposterous to suggest that established staff should or even can stem the work undertaken by casuals. As you are well aware, UCU remains in dispute with UCEA, including the University of Warwick, over the issues both of precarity and workload. Demanding that existing staff should stem even more work directly after UCU has taken a total of 22 strike days over the fact that the existing workload model is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of staff, is singularly tone-deaf. Such a plan will further drive down staff mental health and well-being, while making it impossible to meet teaching quality standards students expect from the university.It is questionable how Warwick plans to match existing teaching quality for online teaching, a condition by the government for universities aiming to collect full tuition fees, without sessional tutors.
- Disproportionate disadvantages for junior staff, women, and staff of colour
The cancellation of study leaves will affect junior and lower grade staff to a higher degree than senior academics. Inevitably, this will also result in a disproportionate disadvantage for female staff and staff of colour, as these groups are more likely to be on lower grade contracts. Yet, your letter fails to acknowledge the unequal consequences that your plan will have on the career progression of these groups. Your plan also fails to suggest meaningful strategies to mitigate these consequences. Indeed, in your letter, the only mitigation you suggest is that the Probation Review Group will take into account that less research will have been conducted by those academics affected by the cancellation of research leave - failing to make substantive commitments to amend probation expectations and guidelines.
As you rightly state in your email, we find ourselves in unprecedented times, but there are various ways of responding to this crisis, and the UEBG appears committed to find the way that causes maximum detriment to the Warwick workforce, academic and otherwise. Neither your response to the recent wave of Industrial Action, nor the lack of transparency and consideration during this current crisis will create enough goodwill in the academic community to stem the workload you propose be redistributed amongst existing staff.
Where the university’s management asks ‘all colleagues to be willing to be flexible and adaptable over the coming academic year’, the UEBG has failed to demonstrate these qualities themselves, and have instead single-mindedly focused on the increase of profit margins. The decision to cancel study and research leave and reduce sessional teaching hires translates directly into an increased burden on the academic community, with the lower grades and casualised members of said community most brutally affected.
Consequently, we demand that you address the 4 points that we have listed above in your next communication to staff, ensuring that casualised staff and workers are included in the distribution channels. This would be a starting point to reassure precariously employed staff that, despite the difficult times that we are all facing, Warwick is supportive of the most vulnerable colleagues.
Warwick holds a powerful position amongst higher education institutions in the country and must use this position to lobby the government to exit the road towards complete marketisation of higher education. The University should take this opportunity and become a strong voice promoting an understanding of higher education and research as public goods that should be funded not by study fees and market speculations, but by public money. Colleagues from across the sector have started on this path and have written this inspiring Manifesto which we recommend to your attention.
We look forward to receiving your response and, together with UCU Warwick, are keen to meet to discuss further measures to stabilise the university’s financial situation without betraying the most vulnerable members of our community.