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MAW - Management of Academic Workloads

Partnership Outputs: Information Sheets/Reports

Information Sheet 3 Case Studies

Academic Workload Balancing at Salford University

Click here for this as a word document

Academic workload balancing has been a live issue at Salford University since a major reorganisation in 1998, which resulted in a significant consolidation of schools and faculties. Within the new Faculty of Business and Informatics a decision was taken to work to achieve consistency across the new schools, all of which had up to then used very different approaches, and to do this by identifying a common stance on basic principles and then using existing good practices to design a shared system. At that time the dean was Professor Peter Barrett and Professor Grahame Cooper was Head of school in the Information Technology Institute (ITI) in the faculty.

A working party was established with representation from all parts of the Faculty: Academic Staff, Heads of Schools, Dean, and inputs from Finance, Personnel and the AUT. The initial question was “How best can we manage workloads?” with an emphasis on: Aims/policy, model and methods, norms, tools and support. By May 1999 the aims of the joint effort had been establish as: 


Almost as importantly it was decided that the workload balancing model and process (WLBM/P) introduced would be seen in the context of other systems. See Fig 1.

Figure 1: WLB in the context of other University systems (fig credit: G Cooper)

Thus, the WLBM/P would explicitly not try to take on the purposes of these other processes, whilst being open to their influences in an open systems sense. So, at least in terms of ultimate goals (but admittedly not initial actions) it was borne in mind that the WLBM/P should relate to activities such as academic planning, staff appraisals, activity costing and TRAC. As a consequence it was assumed that workload allocations would be the outcome of both objective assessments, but also social / managerial pressures. Some aspects of this are shown in Fig 2.

Figure 2: Social / managerial pressures on workload allocations
(fig credit: adapted from G Cooper)

Within the context described above the resulting approach was the outcome of collaborative working to find a solution that provided a consistent framework visible across the faculty (pushed for by the faculty), whilst allowing a high degree of local autonomy (pushed for by the schools). The practical solution was to use spreadsheets owned by the schools, but which reconciled with a faculty database. The spreadsheets had a common architecture, and provided automatic calculations of common activities such as teaching, but allowed Heads complete freedom to change allocations based on their local knowledge. After much experimentation it was also decided to focus on output measures (eg x credits of education delivered to y students) and to deal in workload units, all balanced around the median load for a given school. The implementation process was dynamic including using surveys to establish coefficients for the default calculations and experiments with selected staff to reality check the outcomes.

The process of discussion, consensus building and decision-making within the faculty is described in the PowerPoint file associated with this paper, entitled “Development of Salford WLB”.

The technical model used was a development of the ITI approach, which had been built by Professor Cooper. This was adapted and extended to reflect the consensus needs of the faculty. Details of this system as it now stands are given in the PowerPoint file associated with this note, entitled “Salford technical WLB model”.

In 2000 the Dean was made responsible for the University’s response to the Government’s Transparency Review (TR) for research. This demanded an assessment of the allocation of staff time to research and so it was agreed at University level to extend the approach in the Faculty of Business and Informatics to all four faculties of the university. The argument was strengthened by the notion of dealing with the demands of the TR, whilst at the same time gaining extremely useful activity costing data and not having to institute sample surveys just for TR. This argument was successfully made with academic managers via Fig 3.

Figure 3: Linking WLB and TRAC (fig credit: P Barrett)

This radical extension of the faculty work was implemented using the five-year framework of the TR to progressively engage each of the faculties. This was achieved by initially identifying a school in each of the remaining three faculties that was keen to get involved and then supporting them with buddying, practical advice and of course the availability of the established systems from the initial faculty. From this position other schools were progressively added. The basic system of department spreadsheets reconciling with a central database proved scalable though this transition, although some refinement was necessary to support more levels of access and reporting.

By the end of 2005 all schools in the University were engaged, albeit some more effectively than others, reflecting a maturity progression over around three years for each school. Typically a department would: engage in principle, then populate the model, then act to deal with the consequences of explicit data on comparabilities across staff workloads, then start to address these and, finally, begin to use the process proactively, and, progressively, in concert with planning and appraisal processes. This quite slow process reflected the practical challenge of implementing the “model”, but also the creation of consensual management processes within which it could be used.

Since this time the university-wide WLBM/P at Salford has continued. To move it from a faculty solution driven across the University by a TRAC imperative to a stable, basic activity of the University, it was arranged that the Personnel Division would “own” it and that the Information Systems Division would provide technical support. In addition a Steering Group was created at University level to meet once a year, sign off the TRAC report and receive issues etc from a User Group that meets more often and to put in place improvements as appropriate. The User Group involves the people in the departments who actually do the WLB work, sometimes Heads, but quite often a trusted senior colleague. The Steering Group has some overlap with the User Group, is chaired by the PVC for Research, includes Professor Cooper and senior representatives from Finance, Personnel and the academic union UCU. These groups have also produced a policy framework in response to  the absence of one clear university document. 

In practice maintenance of the use and progressive improvement of the WLBM/P across the University has proved quite challenging. There has probably been insufficient dedicated resource to implement all the desired finessing. Further, changes in Heads at department level have caused some problems of knowledge and commitment eroding without a very active effort to re-enthuse those involved.

Having said that the unions have been a driving force behind the proper and consistent use of the WLBM/S as have Finance, in the latter case so that the TRAC return is sound. Full access to the data within each department has been agreed, but the information proactively pushed to individual staff has been simplified to reduce a growing mentality of counting workload units if anything new is proposed, that can lead to inflexibility. Improvements have been made in the available reports and the standard coefficients used have been adjusted (slightly) in the light of experience.

It must be said that maintaining the system is in many ways more challenging than creating it in the first place! It can be expected that any big and important system / process like this will need to go through phases of institutional renewal periodically and, within these, cycles of engagement to ensure ownership and energy at a local level.

Professor Peter Barrett, PVC for Research. May 2008

All2Visible University.     Management of Academic Workloading2

Case Study 1: Initiation

1. Aim

This is the first of five case studies the aim of which is to provide a learning resource for senior managers to enable them to identify and debate issues about the management of academic work-loading (MAW) in their own institutions. To support this aim the case studies provide detailed examples of MAW in one HEI and is structured around four of stages:

a. Initiation.

b. Development

c. Implementation.

d. Maintenance.

In addition, there is a fifth case study on the approach adopted with respect to the development of a MAW database for central storage of all staff MAW plans and MAW-related information systems.

This structured approach has been adopted because experience in more than one HEI indicates that:

· Each stage poses rather different challenges for managers including the movement from one stage to another as they tend to overlap.

· The development and implementation of a university approach to MAW is highly contextual.

Other HEIs are also developing MAW related case studies. It is hoped the 'staged approach' and the experience of several HEIs may enable HEIs to:

· Anticipate and plan to resolve potential problems.

· Develop a 'composite approach', drawing on the tactics adopted for each stage by different HEIs, which may be the 'best fit' for a particular HEI.

1 With recognition of (and apologies to) Terry Pratchett.
2 The process is referred to by a variety of terms in UK higher education institutions including academic work planning (AWP), workload planning (WLP), workload balancing (WLB),and management of academic work loads (MAW).

The five case studies cover a period of approximately 6 years from 2002 to 2008. At the time of writing (summer 2008) the third stage was nearing a reasonable degree of completion, aspects of the third stage being initiated and a MAW database highly developed and approaching full adoption in all faculties.

The issues addressed in the case studies include both the content and practice of MAW as well as social, behavioural and employee relations aspects.

Readers of the case study should not be led by the case study to believe that there was a fully planned and orchestrated approach. On the contrary, what with hindsight perhaps looks orderly and coherent was the result of a learning by doing approach and the case study does not reflect some of the alternative paths that were not considered or were rejected.

2. Sector Context

An increasing number of higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK have recently been developing policies and systems for the management of academic work-loading (MAW). This is reflected in the research project funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (report published 2007 and the HEFCE funded 2007-2009 project 'The Management of Academic Workloads: Creating a Community of Good Practice' involves 12 UK HEIs.

The HEFCE requirement that HEIs develop costing systems for both research (TRAC - R) and more recently teaching (TRAC -T) leads to need for some form of MAW to provide reliable data to costing systems.

Further, a number of legal requirements e.g. Health & Safety especially with respect to stress management encourage senior managers to explore the ways in which they can acquit their responsibilities and these may include how they could use MAW for this purpose. Short-comings in MAW and related processes can prove to be expensive (,,1695341,00.html).

3. Institutional Context

3.1 Corporate Plan and Change Management

The All2visible University (A2VU) is a very large statutory (ex polytechnic) institution and in keeping with the majority of such institutions is based near the centre of a large city. In 2002-03 as part of the processes prior to developing a revised 5 year corporate plan to submit to HEFCE a survey of all staff was undertaken to identify what they saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the A2VU and the issues that needed to be addressed in future. This was fed into a review of the organisation structure of the university. A decision was made to move from a schools based structure to a faculty based structure.

The A2VU also decided to explore the use of a project management approach to managing change. To this end a change projects unit was formed. The A2VU had significant experience of major systems projects having developed university wide student information and timetabling systems - the latter under the auspices of an organisational development unit. The establishment of the change projects unit coincided with the appointment of the senior management teams of the faculties.

Prior to the formal establishment of the unit, which was to include a mix of academic and AP&C (administrative, professional and technical) staff on both permanent and seconded bases, a senior academic manager analysed the results of the staff survey and the corporate plan change priorities. The produced a significant number of potential major change projects (including one existing major project). The senior manager met with senior managers in faculties and departments to prioritise the range of university wide potential projects and identify a limited number for consideration for approval by the university executive group.

The senior academic manager also consulted the officers of the recognised Trade Unions.

3.2 Employee Relations Climate

A new HR Director, appointed in the early 2000's, led the development of a partnership statement and partnership working between management and trade unions (see Appendix 5) and in parallel with this a revised trade union facilities agreement. The aims were to improve employee relations in the A2VU and enable constructive dialogue and, where appropriate, joint working on key development projects. By 2003-04 there were noticeable changes in the employee relations climate in A2VU.

Some work planning guidelines and parameters were contained in the academic contract of the university, the 1992 National Text and the 1992 Locally Agreed Terms - the latter commonly being referred to as the 'Local Agreement' (see Appendix 6 for a summary). In 1993 the coordinating committee of the academic trade union developed a MAW guidance (including some errors - guidance that was not contained in the terms of the local agreement) and issued it to all its members. However, senior management did not develop and issue management guidance on MAW. A joint Management-Union Implementation Group was formed but met only twice. As a consequence academic managers developed 'local MAW practices' at a variety of levels from subject group level up to larger academic groupings. The local MAW practices did not necessarily map onto the Local Agreement.

By 2003 the range of MAW practices in the university was very wide and ranged from totally informal (when MAW practices in A2VU were surveyed one subject group claimed not to know anything about MAW but said that it sounded like a good idea and would like to do it) to highly formulaic and detailed with a variety of approaches of varying degrees for formality and detail in between. The local agreement of the university was centred on a maximum of 462 hours per year of student class contact and supervision. Despite that, one subject group adopted a total hours per year basis for their MAW with no recognition of the 462 whilst others relied solely on 462 hours per year. The rise in local MAW practices was also associated with the development of a 'mythical local agreement' amongst many staff, managers and union representatives who worked on the basis of 'received oral wisdom' (or wishful thinking in some cases) of what they believed the local agreement contained as opposed to the actual text of the local agreement.

Hence, whilst the employee relations climate in the university had generally been positive and improving for some years a large number of local minor disputes over MAW as well as a small number of major disputes at university level threatened to impair employee relations.

4. Initiation

Only two of the potential university change projects attracted unanimous support from senior managers of which one was the MAW project. The university executive group assigned a project manager to the MAW project who was an experienced senior academic. However, there were differing opinions amongst senior managers about the objectives of the MAW project and expectations about the character of the final MAW framework.

A project team was formed for the MAW Project and other projects approved by the university executive group. Whilst the MAW project was based in a unit called the Change Projects Team which was headed by a member of university executive group (not an academic), the university executive group decided that the MAW Project Manager would also report to the Pro Vice Chancellor Planning & Resources (an academic). This gave access to the university executive group when needed.

The head of the Change Projects Team introduced a formal project management methodology (CTI). Each project team, including that for MAW, was required to work as a project team rather than as a committee and use the CTI methodology. Of the members of MAW Project Team only the MAW Project Manager was a permanent member of the Change Projects Team unit. The project team was composed as follows:

Consultation on membership of all the approved projects was led by the MAW Project Manager. Membership was to include nominations from faculties, departments and unions and encompass a range of types of staff required to develop and manage the projects. None of the team members were full time project team members except for some of the project managers.

The unions were requested to nominate representatives to be members of the University MAW Project Team. There was no management influence on which particular representatives were nominated by the unions. Only the number of nominations (2 NATFHE, 1 Unison) was controlled and the requirement that the representatives would be full working members of the team and not merely 'observers'.

Heads of departments, Deans of Faculties and Heads of Faculty Support Services were contacted in order to identify and agree suitable members of the MAW Project Team. The result was the following team composition:

Project Manager 1 Academic
Senior Faculty Academic Managers 2 Academic
Senior Faculty Administrative Manager 1 Administrative
NATFHE Nominees 2 Academic
Unison Nominee 1 * Administrative
Central Planning Support Office 1 Administrative
Finance Department 1 * Professional
HR Department (Employee Relations) 1* Professional
Project Support 2 Professional

Both of the UCU nominees were experienced work planners and the senior faculty academic nominees were highly involved in faculty planning and resourcing processes. The project manager had been for several years the head of a large academic department (over 35 staff) and then two academic schools (the largest have significantly over 100 permanent academic staff) as well as having a management control systems academic background with a particular interest in devolution in universities.

Some members attended on 'as needed' basis so that on balance, excluding project support staff, the academic members represented the highest proportion of the working membership.

The 'location' of the MAW project in the Change Projects Team unit along with the other change projects was a positive choice by the university executive group. It was intended to ensure that the MAW project was developed in such a way that it informed, and was informed by, other change projects (such as the Timetabling Project, Student Information Systems Project, and MIS Project) and also that the MAW Project was seen to be 'independent' of departments or faculties.

The time limit set by the university executive group in summer 2003 for the MAW and other change projects was two years, subsequently extended to three.

Although the A2VU developed and agreed its HEFCE Transparency returns system several senior managers had concerns about the quality of information in the returns because of a lack of quality assurance of the returns by members of staff and also because its sector wide standard classification of academic activities meant that it did not map onto A2VU systems and management approaches. Consequently, HEFCE transparency returns met the needs of HEFCE for consistent sector wide reporting but it could not function as a MAW system for the A2VU nor provide the MI on allocation of academic staff time required by management.

4.1 Senior managers

The MAW Project objectives (expressed as Choice Criteria - Appendix 1) were developed by the MAW Project Team and submitted to the university executive group for approval alongside those of the other approved change projects. Despite the long list of criteria in practice both managers and unions stressed the need for ownership and hence transparency and equity (subsequently transparency, equity and fairness). It was believed that if those criteria could be met the other criteria would be met as a consequence - transparency in MAW for staff meant that there would be sufficient detail for good MI whilst fairness and equity would mean that the university could meet health and safety and other legal and regulatory requirements. At a consultation meeting with staff of a faculty on the proposed MAW project the need for a distinction between equity and fairness was raised. The response given was that when comparing the work loads of two members of staff the distinction may be unnecessary. However, at a group level fairness is concerned with the overall reasonableness of total work-load (and hence related to work related stress) whilst equity relates to the way in which the total work load is allocated (Appendix 2 provides a comparison table).

The lead manager of a large academic unit forcefully expressed the view that 'bean counting must be avoided'. The manager had recently been closely involved in one of the university level MAW grievances brought by the academic union. Other managers of large academic units wanted sufficient detail to enable them to develop management information about the allocation of staff time. Some of these managers had recent positive experience of developing MAW in their units.

The university executive group requested that a small group should meet and agree a management 'position' on the character of MAW Framework. The meeting was chaired by a pro vice chancellor and was attended by a small sample of senior academic managers, the MAW Project Manager and a senior member of the finance department. The guidance developed, and subsequently approved by the university executive group, was brief:

· The Academic Contract, National Text & 'Local Agreement' not to be changed.
· The Academic Contract, National Text & 'Local Agreement' to be consistently implemented.
· There would be a degree of flexibility for faculties to enable them to respond to business needs.
· Within the context of the latter faculties were to retain freedom of control of course and programme design and resourcing.

The first aspect meant that management would be 'consulting' rather than 'negotiating' with unions. This was a majority management view as some managers believed that the local agreement inhibited their ability to develop new income streams. The second aspect would both reduce management time in MAW disputes and also provide assurance to unions (as well as reducing their involvement in disputes as they later recognised). The third aspect was accepted subject to approval of an acceptable degree of flexibility once more detail of the MAW framework was developed. The third and fourth aspects reflected that the university did not have a standard approach to hours per student per module. Each course or programme and its associate modules are the subject of validation events that provide for faculties to develop academic objectives and teaching, learning and assessment approaches tailored to particular student groups and clients. In effect faculties wanted to retain control of 'product design'.

4.2 Unions

NATFHE was broadly positive about developing a university level MAW framework because, as they explained, considerably more of their time than necessary was spent handling staff 'cases' trying to determine what the local MAW practices at the source of the dispute were and whether they complied with the National Text and Locally Agreed Items of the academic contract of the university. Further, staff stress was increasingly an issue in HE which NATFHE highlighted and could see the potential contribution of MAW to moderating work loads and alleviating stress.
A university level MAW Framework was supported because it would provide improved transparency, equity and fairness for union members.

As with senior managers, there was a wide range of views amongst NATFHE representatives and branches about the main characteristics of a university wide MAW framework. This extended in the case of some NATFHE representatives that were members of a particular branch (located in the faculty that inherited the recent experience of two institutional grievances over work planning) to questioning whether management had a role in developing a MAW framework and proposing that NATFHE should develop one unilaterally. However, the majority view was that NATFHE should contribute positively to the development of a university wide MAW framework because there was potentially much to be gained for union members.

5. MAW Project Team

5.1 Working Methods

Agreement to proceed was given by the university executive group in November 2003 and the first MAW Project Team meeting was held in December 2003. Before being submitted to the university executive group for final approval the aims and objectives of each project were developed and subject to consultation with senior management groups and officers of trades unions. The 'criteria' developed for the MAW project are contained in Appendix 1.

The MAWPT agreed that it would adopt an evidential approach to the development of a MAW framework. The first survey was carried out in January 2004. The team MAW Team developed a questionnaire and surveyed all staff who managed local MAW processes (over 60 senior academic staff - principle lecturer grade or above - 13 divisional heads and 56 subject group leaders). The questionnaire requested detail of the parameters used in MAW, the associated individual and peer group MAW processes, how MAW plans were made accessible to staff, and how MAW linked to related processes such as staff appraisal. They were also asked to provide information whether their MAW was a whether the MAW was a school wide MAW or more 'local' to a division or subject group.

There was a very high response rate that covered all faculties, all divisions and a wide range of subject groups. The analysis of the survey was done by the MAWPT. Subsequently, the MAW Project Manager (MAWPM) organised meetings with work planners at which the MAWPM and a UCU representatives presented the results. The meetings were very well attended and stimulated a lot of discussion.

The divisional heads and subject group leaders said it was the first time that they had been brought together at university level. They also said that although some of them had been involved in debates about MAW at school level it was the first time that they had been involved in a discussion about MAW with staff from other parts of the university.

The survey revealed that at one extreme a faculty had 'inherited' from the schools and parts of schools from which it had been created sixteen different MAW approaches (using fairly high level descriptors) whilst at the other extreme another faculty had inherited three (of which two covered over 90% of the work of the faculty and were rather similar in adopting a moderate stance on level of detail).

The result was a broad consensus that a university MAW framework was desirable in order to prevent breaches of the 'Local Agreement', achieve greater transparency, equity and fairness (see Appendix 2) in work load allocations and build on good practices that were identified in the survey (provided they would not breach the local agreement).

The MAWPT also sought to obtain information on MAW in other HEIs via divisional heads and subject group leaders who had worked in other HEIs, a search of internet pages of other HEIs, and UCU contacts in other HEIs. The results were disappointing, probably due to the lack of development of MAW at institutional level in 2003-04.

It was also agreed that as far as possible consultation would be jointly organised and carried out by the MAW Project Manager and the UCU Nominees.

5.2 Project Plan

One of the first tasks of the MAW Project Team was to develop a project requirements document to be approved by the university executive group (Appendix 3). The project requirements document was formally approved in March 2004 by the university executive group although work on the project had already been initiated in December 2003. Although the project requirements document did not contain estimates of the financial benefits of a MAW framework the estimates were subsequently requested by the university executive group and provided by the MAW Project Manager (Appendix 4 provides examples of the approach adopted to produce the estimates). The circulation of the financial estimates of benefits was restricted to senior management.

6. A Little Local Problem

The recognition of sixteen different MAW approaches in one faculty led to the realisation by the senior management of the faculty that transparency and equity in work planning could not be achieved, or serious disputes over MAW avoided, without the raid development of a MAW framework for the faculty. The faculty also inherited two schools that in the very recent past had experienced NATFHE initiating formal grievance procedures over work planning in the schools. As a consequence there was a lingering of lack of trust of senior management amongst some staff and some NAFHE representatives.

However, the urgency of the need implied a much shorter timescale than the planned timescale for the development of the university MAW Framework. It was agreed by university executive group that a Transitional MAW (TMAW) would be developed for the faculty in parallel to the University MAW (UMAW) framework on the understanding that TMAW would be transitional and would be superseded by the UMAW.

Subsequently, it was predicted that the faculty would experience a large deficit in the following financial year. This was potentially damaging to the main MAW Project as it could result in an association of MAW with an efficiency objective.

A small TMAW team was formed for the faculty which worked closely with the MAW Project Manager.

7. Relationships and Communications

The history of MAW grievances being brought against managers mean that there was a risk that some managers may not espouse the objectives of the MAW Project. This proved to be the case during the TMAW Sub-Project when a senior faculty manager said in a meeting with unions that the faculty had to have TMAW or the faculty could not achieve the savings required to eliminate its deficit. Some considerable time and effort was needed to recover from the reaction of faculty staff and NATFHE representatives to this statement.

Although all senior managers had been briefed on the approach to adopt with MAW, especially when dealing with NATFHE, much more effort was subsequently expended by the project manager in trying to ensure that managers were briefed on reasons for developing MAW and the employee relations aspects of the project.



(The following is not intended to be a comprehensive list).

1. Would the All2Visible University have initiated the development of a university wide MAW framework if it had not changed its academic structures?

2. Identify a range of potential motives for a developing a university wide MAW framework and reflect on how the adoption of one or more of them may potentially impact on the success or failure at the initiation stage of MAW framework development.

3. Examine the current position in your HEI with respect to the experience and attitudes of different groups (managers at university, faculty, department, subject group levels, and UCU at university and local levels) to the development of a MAW Framework and assess the potential success of initiation.

4. What actions would you (or did you take) in your institution in preparation for initiation of a MAW project and during initiation?

To see case study 2 on  the diverse practices used to allocate work in one university prior to the development of a university wide appraoch  click here

To see case study 6 on information systems used for MAW click here