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November 2015
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MAW - Management of Academic Workloads

MAW Related News Items

Workloads and Administrative loads

THE 30th September reports on a paper by Professor Malcolm Tight that has analysed academic workload surveys going back to the 1960s. He concludes that workloads have reached their limit, but that what has changed is the relative proportions of time spent on the various activities, for example work on administration has increased and this has put pressure on personal research time. 

Women and Work- Life Balance

THE 5th August 2009 A new study by Glasgow Caledonian University found that in their survey, contrary to popular views, concerns over work life balance is not a contributory factor in inhibiting women academics from applying for promotion. However factors that seemed to be influential were lack of knowledge about promotional opportunites. Women  also seemed to have a more negative view than men over the fairness and transparency of promotional practices.

New REF Weightings

THE July 29th 2009 reports that the new REF exercise may use impacts brought through research to count for at least 20% of the weighting in the assessment process.However offficial proposals will not be published by HEFCE until the Autumn.

HSE Orders to Liverpool Hope

THE July 22nd. The HSE have  ordered Liverpool Hope University with an 'improvement notice'  for failing to properly assess the risks to its staff from stress.The university has a stress sterring group and a UCU representative from it said that the policy requiring staff to spend 35 hours a week on campus (unless they had obtained formal permission to work away from the site, had caused particular stress. New student evaluation of teaching was also  criticised by the union.

University and College Union

The UCU has produced national guidelines on workloads, models and a calculator for estimating working hours to ensure that they meet any contractual limits. It can be found on the UCU website.

On Campus Working

THE July 8th. A policy at Liverpool Hope  University requires Lecturers to be on campus for a full 35 hours a week to support student needs. Unions and staff are shocked by this and feel it to be a challenge to the autonomy of academic life. 

Part Time Lecturer Claim for Parity

THE June 10th 2009. A part - time lecturer has  lost her claim of discrimination against her employer claiming that she was not paid for lecture preparation, whereas those in full time posts were, she used another lecturer as a comparator. However the court case centred around the differences between the cases (skills and qualifications etc ) rather than the similarities. The claimant argued also that many part time workers did not have time allocated for training and did not have appraisals.

The RAE's Replacement by the REF

THE 20th May reviews the emergent ideas behind the new Research Excellence Framework (REF).  Key points appear to be that three elements will be central: the quality of the outputs, the research environment of the research and the social and economic impacts of the research. Assessment is likely to involve the proportion of a departments work within specific the categories, as judged by an expert panel and informed, where applicable, by bibliometrics. However one of the undecided areas seems to be, issues such as the number of outputs required for submission and whether all staff should be included or a selection, as has happened in the past RAEs.

 The Pedagogical Relationship between Students and Academics
THE 13th May includes a series of articles and Leader examining issue of deterioration in student to staff ratios brought through rising student numbers and not seemingly eased by rises in student fees. Personal interaction from, for example personal tutors, and face-to-face contact, regarded by students as the top of the communication hierarchy, is seen as under threat through resource constraints that drive larger classes and approaches such as on line learning. Deterioration in student satisfaction over this serves to threaten the distinctive reputation that UK teaching holds.

University Governance
THE 29nd April 2009. Leader article on the dangers of reducing the size of university governing bodies allowed through a proposed amendment to the Education Reform Act 1988. The shrinkage of staff and student representation, might, it is argued, undermine original freedoms of enquiry by those with intimate knowledge of the institution. This informed enquiry helps to provide checks on the activity of vice chancellors. The argument in this article can be linked to another in THE 22th April by Sally Hunt (General Secretary of the University and College Union) who argues that ‘too often now the independent voices of academics are drowned out’ allowing decisions and strategic changes by vice-chancellors to be rushed through without proper consultation ‘under the cloak of democratic governance’.

Administrators and Academics
THE 15th April 2009. Series of articles on the felt divide and tensions between university administrators and academic staff including research by Maree Conway about the feelings of administrators in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, that reveals how many feel undervalued by academic staff. However the leader article comments that whilst new initiatives and accountability demands have increased complexity the core mission of Universities remains the same and that both parties need to recognise their many shared aims. Some of the tensions it reports are felt not between local staff but from central university level and this is exacerbated when administrators recruited from the private sector use ‘management speak’ and bring with them top down approaches that sit uneasily in the collegial world.

Perceptions on Teaching and Research
THE 25th February 2009. The Higher Education Academy (HEA)publishes its findings from an online survey to staff on the status of teaching in HE. Although from the 2,768 responses there was a feeling that teaching should be as valued as research for promotion only 43% of respondents felt that it was actually an important factor. This figure varies depending on the institutional grouping and also on the position of the respondent, with for example only 31% of lectures seeing teaching as valued in promotion compared to 82% of senior managers. Responses were similarly varied in relation to research, with for example the Russell group more likely to see research as important for promotion.

Despite the 2003 Government White Paper to redress the balance between teaching and research it was felt by survey respondents that little impact had been made through the various initiatives in this area. The report cites the work of Jonathan Parker (see Higher Education Quarterly 2008, 62 (3) 237-251) comparing research and teaching in UK universities promotion criteria. His work indicates that despite some changes in the criteria for higher levels of promotion, such as professor, research continues to be pivotal. Despite changes brought through the Framework Agreement, to expand the role of teaching in promotions procedures, many felt that stronger leadership was needed to help bring changes. Another problem cited was the difficulty in assessing teaching excellence, for example agreeing on the criteria for assessment. However the HEA hopes to provide a study later this year on how this might be addressed.

Stress in Post –16 Education
UCU January 2009. Results from a UCU staff survey on stress within colleges and universities show staff to be consistently below the national average for the working population for well - being measures. The survey used the HSE’s measures on: demands, control, managerial and peer support, relationships, role clarity, and change at work to assess stress levels. To tackle the problem the UCU would like to see a variety of improvements including: greater staff resources to cope with increased student numbers, more inclusion in decision making, more training for managers, more flexible working patterns, and workload control and guidelines.

Email Culture and Campus Communications
THE 31st December 2008 report on HEFCE funded project by Leicester University on the quality of internal communications. The findings are based on a survey of different university groups, leaders, directors of communication and human resources and show different views between these groups divided on the issue. Whilst 71% of vice chancellors felt that managers were good at communicating, only12% of directors of communication felt that this was the case. One of the problems described was the excessive use of emails and the lack of staffrooms and meeting places that would encourage interaction between staff.

Dumbing Down On UK Campuses?
THE October 29th 2008 report on the debate centring on a perceived ‘dumbing down’ in universities, using a poll with 500 readers responses. Results from this showed 52% of readers disagreeing that there was a ‘dumbing down’, and 42% believing that there was. However more specifically 80% felt that resource constraints were adversely affecting academic standards, and 70% felt that the rise in the number of first and upper seconds was not evidence of improving standards. Further 70% felt that the pressure to retain students had led to lower failure rates on courses. The latter statistics are from a self-selecting group, but do seem to support anecdotal evidence for a decline in standards. However commentators suggest that changes in emphasis may be responsible for some of this, such as the emphasis on employability and also the part that very clear and explicit learning objectives may have in focusing and so restricting wider learning.
Resource restraints were also felt to be adversely affecting academic standards, with 78% of respondents feeling that teaching programmes had suffered because of fewer contact hours and larger group sizes. The debate continues over whether the sector ought to try to formulate some broad definition of minimum standards.

Call for a Faster Response to Concerns over Standards 
THE September 24th 2008 p8. In a speech to the Universities UK conference the universities secretary John Denham called for the Quality Assurance Agency to respond more quickly to reports that could be damaging to the reputation of higher education. He also called for universities to remodel their curriculum to respond to needs of students ‘studying in non traditional ways’.

Dedicated Centres for Dispute Handling
THE September 3rd 2008. Expanding options and opportunities in universities have made the potential for disputes likely to grow. A new report to be published next week by the Improving Dispute Resolution taskforce recommends that universities set up a single dedicated centre to deal with this issue. They argue that a unified provision could help resolve disputes that are a risk factor for universities that take time, money and can damage the institution’s reputation. They suggest that the focus should be on mediation and a review of process rather than more adversarial resolutions.

Academic Identities
THE 13th August2008. A study by Louise Archer reader in education policy studies at King’s College London found that young academics felt that they were ‘regularly compelled to engage in behaviours and practices that were unrelated to-or which could even counter- their own notions of authenticity or success’. The pressures to bring in research income and publish papers had produced high levels of anxiety and were identified with attempts to make universities more business like corporations. Archer argues that the pressures to conform are not just affecting younger academics, but that performance pressures have made ‘all academic identities more unstable’

Employment Contracts

THE 6th August2008. A HEFCE report shows that the proportion of staff on permanent contracts has increased rose from 63% to 70% in the years between 2003 and 2007, with further increases in the proportion over the next year expected.
However whilst welcoming this the UCU have concerns about ‘variable hours’ contracts and state that these contracts should only be used when they actually improve the position of their members, for example limited to those who would otherwise be on hourly fixed term contracts. The union policy also states that these ‘variable hours’ contracts should also guarantee a minimum number of hours a year and any attempt to reduce them should be seen as ‘the negotiation of a new contract and may constitute a redundancy’.

 Tutors 'swamped'

THE 23 rd July 2008. A new study to be published in August’s Teaching in Higher Education Journal by the University of Brighton looks at how mass education may have damaged relationship between students and their tutors. It found a lack of contact from tutors to be a key issue for many students. Tutors on the other hand in interviews reported problems of work pressures from many sources and the problem of responding to student demands since numbers had increased.

Middle Management in Universities

THE July 16th 2008.pp32-37. Debate continues on the place of middle management in universites and the role of middle managers in decision making processes and how this might undermine collegial ethos. Another view expressed is that academics, often in the 'older' universities can fall into middle mangment roles reluctantly and through a sense of obligation, whereas in the post 1992 group these roles are seen as more attractive. The key it is argued relies on combining 'leadership skills with traditional academic skills' (p35).  However there are dangers and Justin Fisher from Brunel argues that 'academia is a profession where incompetence is often rewarded' (p34) allowing the competent staff to become overburdened through taking on many roles.

 Disciplinary Procedures Over Extracurricular Revision Session

THE July 9th 2008. An academic at Birbeck College is facing disciplinary procedures after running a revision session, as he has done for the last eighteen years. Award coordinators stressed that he must stick to the module allocated time and despite running the session in his own time the college suggested that this session might have a detrimental effect on the students.

Ucea study on Conditions for Academics

THE June 19th 2008. A study by Ucea, the University and Colleges Employers Association, of 109 universities found that in 55% of cases the working week was not specified, although where it was the median was 36 hours a week. The study also found that staff benefited, in comparison with the whole economy in entitlements such as annual leave, maternity pay, and pension contribution rates.
The University and College Union challenge these findings distinguishing between contracted hours and the actual hours worked, citing surveys that show academic staff to be consistently working on average fifty hours a week.

Coventry University Trials Desk- Free Working

THE 5th June 2008 p.6 reports Coventry University’s pilot study on ‘location-independent working’. The study involves a combination of ‘hot desks’, provision of rooms for one to one sessions with students and technologies to facilitate more flexible working. The idea is credited with improvements in staff satisfaction and productivity through innovation in teaching. The study has so far proved a success and work is being carried out also to assess on any ‘knock- on effects’ from the changes.

Transparent Approach to Costing

THE 15th May 2008 reports on TRAC Strategy Group concerns that there is a ‘lack of rigour’ in costing for teaching and research. The group said that there was evidence that some institutions are underestimating the cost of teaching and overestimating the cost of research. It is argued that a lack of rigour will have serious implications for areas such as policy review and student tuition fees.

Leeds Rewards Publication in Top Journals

THE 1st of May2008 (p11) reports how certain schools at the University of Leeds are giving extra time for research to those who publish in top journals. The schemes developed vary in how they reward, one gives varying numbers of days to research dependent on the ranking of the journals published in, another uses an academic’s profile to determine the amount of protected time for research. The UCU is unhappy with the scheme which they believe creates heavier teaching loads for those not so rewarded and feel that some schemes breach university guidance on work allocation, that are based on actual activity rather than on expected results. 

Contact Hours

THE 1st May 2008 pp30-35 covers the argument over teaching contact time ranging from views over what actually constitutes ‘contact’ to the felt belief that certain subjects, such as in clinical subjects, require more contact that others. A study by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that although across all subjects the teaching contact time had increased there was large variation in time for the same subject across institutions. Differences were also noted between the university groupings in the time given to small group tuition, with older Russell Group universities surprising less small group work, although offering significantly higher contact hours than the average in certain subjects. Students preferences reported were for higher quality teaching and for ‘smaller teaching groups over an increase in the number of contact hours a week’.

Pressures were also noted about the tensions surrounding the need to produce high quality research work and also meeting the needs of students. Arguments also range over how these needs are met and how traditional views of contact hours are crude and can be challenged by issues such as interactive and professionally focused learning, such as on work placements. Despite the problems around measuring contact time and the way different disciplines have evolved their teaching styles to suit their discipline the article concludes that students expectations are rising and universities need to find ways to reassure them on the quality of what they offer. 

Contact Hours:The Debate Continues

The debate continues on contact hours in letters to the Times Higher Education 8th May2008 pp8-9). Views expressed range from: the need for students to engage in self-directed learning, avoiding expectations on ‘spoon feeding’, the potential for litigation if guarantees are given and then breached, to feelings that guarantees might work well in certain universities/subjects and that improvements might mean ‘higher involvement teaching methods’ rather than just higher contact hours. An argument is given that some students do need more guidance on their way to developing learning skills. Others also suggest that clarity in the provision might help students and parents understand the implications of their choices when selecting a university

Responses to student pressures have occurred. Two departments in the University of Manchester will set guidelines on email response times, encouraging staff to respond within hours. Another response they have made is to open doors to undergraduates in the new Arthur Lewis building for two hours a day lifting the previous system of restricted assess. 

Student Panels Feedback

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills Event Reports
Feedback from student panels (London, Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield) to the DIUS reveal their concerns about academic standards and staff student ratios, resulting from government targets to expand numbers entering higher education. Related to this were concerns about assessment and how well it evaluated work and progress. Further some jurors had the impression that universities were not failing enough people. Large class sizes were seen as alienating and pastoral care was felt by some to be inadequate. The emphasis on research was also suggested to be detracting from learning support (THE 17th April 2008. pp 10-11).

Contact Hours Set
Lancaster University is guaranteeing a minimum weekly ten hours contact time with tutors for all second and third year students. The change is in response to calls from students for improvements and it is hoped that it will help in the competition to recruit. Other recommendations have been made including a limit of 15:1 student to staff ratio for seminar work, and feedback on work to made within four weeks maximum (THE 10th April2008. pp 6-7).

Student Mental Health.
The issue of academics coping with the rising number of students with mental health problems is raised in THE 10th April 2008. Quoting the report, Understanding and Promoting Student Mental Health, by the University of Strathclyde they describe how the number of students with these problems has increased six fold in the last ten years, and that 60% of these turn to their personal tutors for help. The article covers the problem of tutors dealing with problems that they are not trained to cope with and the increasing demands that these pastoral care duties make. The advice it offers is for lectures to be aware of the services that their university offers for counselling and whilst maintaining confidentiality to try to persuade students to access their services (THE pp-30-35).

Women and Leadership Roles
Debate continues on the numbers of women gaining the top jobs in HE. Predictions, based on Higher Education Statistical Agency figures, suggest that women are set to out number men at lecturer level by 2009, however at professorial level it is predicted to take until 2070 to occur. Many reasons for this are suggested ranging from the culture in academia where the work culture and new business ethos is not matched by family friendly policies. Others counter this remarking on the flexibility that the works offers for any and suggesting that the proportions of women preferring to compete and give priority in their lives to gaining the top jobs is lower amongst women than for men. (THE 27th March 2008. pp-30-35)