Warwick UCU questions the legal basis of academic redundancies

UCU representatives have questioned the whole case for redundancies in WMS and SLS and the selection criteria that have been used. We notified the management that we are taking advice from our lawyers with a view to a legal challenge.

In our view the university is sacrificing academic standards for the sake of mindless HR process, and consequently doing immense damage to science.

As has previously been reported, academics (with certain exceptions) are being selected according to a single criterion: the amount of research grant income they have brought in in the four-year period up to last term. This criterion is being applied absolutely rigidly in order that management can argue selection has been objective – which is a clear legal requirement.

However it is in fact arbitrary because it ignores the overriding consideration that the pool of employees selected must relate to the reason for the proposed redundancy. It fails to comply with ACAS guidelines which state: “Organisations need to choose criteria which will help maintain a workforce that can best support their future needs …” Although employers enjoy considerable flexibility in their choice of selection pool, they nevertheless have to be able to provide evidence of sound business judgement having been exercised. We are arguing that Warwick HR department and the PVC overseeing it (Professor Tim Jones) have signally failed to do that. They are proposing to dismiss many academics who would –  by normal standards – be seen as an asset to the university – even when viewed in purely financial terms. Some of those selected would be regarded as outstanding researchers and world class scientists.

HR and Professor Jones have considered only one source of research funding: external grants. In UK universities research is supported by a dual-funding system : core research is paid for through the funding council (via the QR formula) and programme/project research is paid for by grants awarded competitively by the research councils and charitable foundations. If the university management seeks to make a business case for redundancy on a purely financial basis, that must take account of QR funding – which is considerable for many of the staff concerned – in addition to grants.

Many of the academics whose work was rated at 3-star or better in the 2008 RAE can justifiably claim to have contributed to the financial success of the university sufficiently to have raised enough in QR funding to pay for their research over the four-year period. Likewise research that was rated 3-stars in the REF would be expected to bring in QR funding in the future.

To see this, consider the figures for 2014/15.

The QR element of the HEFCE funding formula reflects the RAE quality ratings directly, the exact amount depending on the Unit of Assessment (i.e. subject). A 3-star publication in Life Sciences (UoA Biological Sciences) attracts funding of £10,530 per year, and a 4-star publication three times that, £31,592. So an academic with four outputs rated 3-star can justifiably claim to have brought in research funding of £42,123. One with three papers rated 3-star and one 4-star will thus have been responsible for QR income of £63,184. One with four 4-star papers will have brought in £126,369.

In the Medical School four 3-star publications in the UoA Other Hospital Based Clinical Subjects are worth £32,343 per year in 2014/15. Non-laboratory-based research attracts lower QR funding. For example in UoA Education an academic with four 3-star publications could reasonably claim to have brought in £18,301. This funding covers a substantial part if not all of the research component of a salary of an academic whose duties include teaching and administration as well as research.

If selection for redundancy is to be made on the grounds of whether or not their research time was financed then it should take account of all sources of finance that can be directly attributed to them and not just external research grants. It has to be said also that for many academics external research grant funding is not essential and QR core finance is sufficient for them to be able to produce research that is internationally excellent or better.

Many if not most of the 20 academics in WMS ‘at risk’, and those who have been selected in Life Sciences, contributed to either or both the 2008 RAE and also the 2014 REF.

At the meeting the UCU also made the case that focussing on research grants alone both is unfair and does not relate to the business case in another sense. Selection is being made on the basis that academics must have succeeded in being awarded the specified minimum amount in grants over an arbitrary four-year window. Yet our evidence strongly suggests that NO academic would be able to satisfy the criterion for EVERY four-year period in their career, even those who have had the most success. We therefore question whether this criterion is truly objective or simply blind, or of benefit to the university in the long term.

Finally we reiterated that we do not accept there is a financial case for academic redundancies. The departmental deficits are due to excessive spending on central university activities that are often of questionable benefit to the academic work of the departments.

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