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Frequently asked questions – University of Reading

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Frequently asked questions

This section contains questions in a number of categories, use these links to go straight to the questions:

THE RATIONALE FOR THE CHANGES

Why is the University reforming the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances?

The Charter, Statutes and Ordinances were originally written in 1926. Although provisions have been added, revoked or revised, there has been no fundamental review since that time. This means that a lot of the content is out of date, inaccessible, overly legalistic and complex.

Information setting out how the University operates and how we behave towards staff and students should be clear, transparent and easy to understand. Many of the provisions were written before advances in employment law and other areas of law, meaning that they do not strictly comply with the legal obligations on the University. We need to ensure that our governing documents are fully compliant with all relevant areas of the law.

In addition, even minor changes to the Charter and Statutes require us to obtain the permission of the Privy Council, which is a lengthy and time-consuming process. In 2006 Bill Rammell MP, then Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, issued a letter to universities encouraging a review of their instruments of governance and keeping in Charter and Statute only the key matters of public interest over which Privy Council should retain control. Over recent years the Privy Council has indicated that we should review our Charter and Statutes, and the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) has recently released a draft paper recommending that universities should review their governing documents in light of the changing landscape of higher education.

What are the benefits of reforming the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances?

  • Academic freedom will be enshrined in the Charter for the first time.
  • The University's commitment to fair and equal treatment of every employee and student, not just academic staff, will be made explicit.
  • There will be greater clarity for everyone within and beyond the University about how we operate and are governed.
  • Our governance and decision-making arrangements will become more effective, transparent and accountable.
  • Unnecessary complexity will be reduced through reforming these documents and, in the process, reviewing the structures, processes and procedures they set out.
  • We will have governance arrangements that are fit for purpose as we forge ahead with the University Strategy and its ambitious programme to realise our vision for 2026.
  • The rights, expectations and responsibilities of our staff and students will be clearly set out.
  • Our procedures will be more streamlined and user-friendly for staff and students.
  • We will be able to ensure that our procedures reflect and accommodate the changing landscape of higher education and enable us to adapt quickly and positively to changing circumstances, legal or otherwise.

 

the PROCESS for this review

How is the University carrying out this review?

The review of the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances is led by the Vice-Chancellor.

The University Executive Board established a project board:

  • Dr Richard Messer, Chief Strategy Officer & University Secretary (Chair)
  • Professor Robert Van de Noort, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Planning and Resource)
  • John Brady, Director of Human Resources
  • Dr David Carter, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning), Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science
  • Dr Mark Fellowes, Head of the School of Biological Sciences
  • Keith Swanson, Head of Quality Support and Development
  • Julie Rowe, Director of Legal Services
  • Keith Hodgson, previously University Secretary and Chair of this Board, currently acting in a consultant capacity
  • Erin Murphy, Paralegal
  • Louise Sharman (Secretary)

The project board has been meeting regularly since November 2013 to review the new instruments of governance as they are written and to ensure progress is being made.

The University's Council has endorsed the review and is monitoring its progress. In addition to considering the review at its meetings, a sub-group of Council has been identified to test proposals and refined drafts. This group comprises:

  • Bob Dwyer, Vice-President of Council
  • Dr Paul Preston, lay member of Council
  • Dr Ben Cosh, previously Senate representative to Council, currently Dean of the Faculty of Science and member of Council

During 2014 the project board has been working hard to prepare the draft Charter and Ordinances.
The process of consultation to this point has included discussions with UCU, RUSU and Deans, as well as discussions at Council, University Executive Board and at Heads of School meetings. We are now formally consulting with UCU and our own Staff Forum on HR-related aspects of the update, and asking all staff for their input on the full drafts. We continue to engage with the RUSU on matters relating to students. The drafts will also be considered by Senate and Convocation.

What is the purpose of this staff consultation?

This is an opportunity for all staff to understand the changes we are proposing and to feed into the University's new instruments of governance. During this period of consultation we are making the draft Charter and Ordinances available to all staff and are inviting comments. The University is very keen for staff to contribute and be involved in this process and we are therefore hoping that people will take this opportunity to give feedback on the proposed new documents.

In November we will collate the questions and suggestions that we have received and provide details of the responses on this web page.

What happens after the consultation on the instruments of governance has ended?

Following the consultations with UCU, the Staff Forum and all staff, we in the project board will consider all the proposals we have received, review the draft instruments of governance and amend them as appropriate.

The drafts will then be considered by the University Executive Board and presented to Council on 21 November 2014, at which it will be asked to make a formal resolution to proceed with the changes. Senate will have the opportunity to provide formal comment at its meeting on 3 December and the views of Convocation will also be sought during this period. Council will be asked to make a second formal resolution to proceed at its meeting on 23 January 2015, if appropriate, after taking into account the matters raised by Senate and Convocation.

If approved by Council in January, the proposed new instruments of governance will be sent to the Privy Council in late January 2015. As we are proposing changes to the Charter, the Privy Council must consider and, we hope, approve the amendments with HM The Queen in attendance.

How and when will these changes be implemented?

If the Privy Council approves the changes to our instruments of governance, they will come into force on 1 August 2015.

We will provide more information on implementation early next year, when the Council has had the opportunity to consider the outcome of the consultation exercises and make its resolutions.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT?

What will the new instruments of governance look like?

The draft Charter clearly sets out the objects of the University, its powers and its constitutional bodies, which are Council and Senate. It contains the key provisions that set out what the University is and which we do not think will be susceptible to amendment as a result of changing laws or practices. As a Chartered institution, the University must retain its Charter of Incorporation.

We have removed the Statutes, as it is our view that they add an unnecessary additional level of complexity to our instruments of governance. Key provisions currently set out in the Statutes, such as academic freedom, will be moved to the Charter. Remaining matters will be set out in revised Ordinances, regulations, policies and procedures as appropriate.

The Ordinances have been re-written to take into account provisions previously set out in Statute and clearly set out the relevant supporting policies in clear and straightforward language. To make it easier to find relevant information, they are arranged into three sections, containing provisions relating to:

  • Constitution and governance of the University
  • Staff
  • Students

Key changes are summarised below.

Academic freedom

The new drafts place an increased emphasis on academic freedom. Our purposes as a university are research and teaching, and academic freedom is fundamental. We are therefore proposing that we include a specific provision on the principle of academic freedom within the Charter. In addition, we are proposing that key HR policies contain the University's commitment to act in accordance with the principle of academic freedom.

Removal of Statutes

Statutes have been removed entirely, leaving us with a Charter and Ordinances. We have taken the view that they add an unnecessary and unhelpful level of complexity. Key provisions from the Statutes - including academic freedom - have been elevated to the Charter itself. Other matters have been moved to the Ordinances or, for detailed matters, will be set out in revised regulations, policies and procedures.

HR-related matters

As it is proposed that Statues be removed, Statue XXXIII, which contains disciplinary, ill health, performance management, grievance and redundancy procedures for academic staff, will go. The requirement to have suitable, fair and reasonable policies governing these matters has been moved to Ordinance B5, with the substance set out in policies. Key differences are:

  1. One set of policies apply to all staff
    Statue XXXIII applies to academic staff only. We need to have suitable, fair and reasonable policies for all staff and are therefore consulting with UCU and the Staff Forum on one set of policies that will be applicable to everyone.
  2. Simplified, faster and less adversarial disciplinary and grievance hearings
    Statute XXXIII disciplinary and grievance hearings are arranged like a court hearing. The new procedures are much more straightforward and less adversarial. They also have shorter timescales, meaning that employees are no longer left waiting for decisions or for matters to be progressed as a result of the lengthy timescales required by Statute XXXIII.
  3. Changes to panels hearing disciplinary and grievance procedures
    Under Statute XXXIII, disciplinary and grievance panels included two lay members of Council. We are proposing that disciplinary and grievance decisions are made by senior academic employees, who will be much closer to the circumstances and will therefore have a clearer understanding of the matters to be determined (though employees will not determine matters in which they have had previous involvement). This approach will also ensure matters are dealt with in a more timely way.
  4. Changes to who hears appeals
    Statute XXXIII requires that appeals are heard by an independent solicitor or barrister with ten years' experience. Again, this slows down the process and means that decisions are made by people external to the University who do not always have the best understanding of it. We are proposing that the appeals are heard instead by senior colleagues (who will always be senior to the person who took the decision that is being appealed). 
  5. Individual procedures for misconduct, ill health and poor performance
    At the moment, Statute XXXIII covers all these matters in largely the same way. The drafts propose that each of these matters is covered by a separate process, taking into account the very different circumstances that can trigger these procedures. This will help to ensure that employees are dealt with by the University as fairly as possible and that appropriate support can be put in place to help employees in each situation.
  6. Simplification of the redundancy process to make it more transparent and streamlined
    The redundancy process has been amended to make it clearer and simpler. During restructuring exercises, the University is frequently told by employees that the process takes too long, leading to uncertainty. By streamlining the process and making it clear how decisions are reached and what the University's obligations will be in particular circumstances, we hope that a cause of unnecessary anxiety is removed. 

Is anything else changing outside of the instruments of governance?

Yes. All University staff will have new employment contracts. There will be no substantive changes to contractual rights and your contractual benefits, such as notice pay, pension, sick pay and holiday entitlement, will be unchanged.

Many employees' contracts refer to the University's Statutes and Ordinances. The contracts will therefore need to be amended to remove these references. This represents an opportunity to review and update all contracts in line with modern best practice and employment law.

IMPACT OF THE CHANGES

What does the removal of Statute XXXIII mean?

Statute XXXIII contains the disciplinary, ill health, performance management, grievance and redundancy procedures for Lecturers, Associate Professors and Professors (the Academic Staff).  The requirement to have suitable, fair and reasonable policies governing these matters been moved to Ordinance B5, with the substance set out in policies.

This allows employment procedures to be simplified to make them clearer and more transparent for all parties. It allows policies to be set out in line with current best practice and employment law. We are also now able to recognise the differences between these different categories, for example acknowledging that an ill-health situation should be handled in a different way to a disciplinary for misconduct.

Academic freedom is currently set out in Statute. Will this process undermine the principle of academic freedom?

No. We aim to elevate academic freedom through these changes, moving it 'up' to the Charter itself. The University considers the principle of academic freedom to be fundamental and it is also a right of academics in the UK established under the Education Reform Act 1988. 

We are moving the principle from Statute XXXIII into the Charter where, together with equality, it will be enshrined as one of the guiding principles of the University. We have also extended its scope to apply to all employees in undertaking or supporting academic activity, rather than limiting it to the Academic Staff.
In addition, we are proposing that key HR policies contain the University's commitment to act in accordance with the principle of academic freedom.

The draft Charter will state that employees, in undertaking academic activity or directly supporting it, shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.

Will the University continue to have separate procedures for academic and non-academic staff?

No. The same procedures will apply to both academic and non-academic staff. However, some procedures will contain slightly different provisions for different types of staff, on matters such as the constitution of decision-making panels (for example, to ensure matters concerning academic performance are considered by other academic colleagues).

I am not a member of academic staff. Why are you changing the employment policies that relate to me, although I am not affected by changes to Statute XXXIII?

The proposal to abolish Statute XXXIII and prepare new employment procedures for academic staff presented a good opportunity to look at these processes for all staff, to make sure that they are clear and compliant with the law and best practice. We have taken the best parts of the existing policies and updated them, for example by making it clearer how we will support you if you are unwell. We have also put clearer statements in the policies about confidentiality, the information you can expect to receive as part of a process, and how we will conduct investigations.

What consultation is the University undertaking on the proposed new employment procedures?

We are required to consult on all changes relating to employee contracts and policies with UCU and our own Staff Forum. We are therefore discussing the detail of the changes with them. However, we do welcome comments from all staff on the headline changes we are proposing to make.

What about other employment policies?

Over the course of the 2014/15 session, we will be reviewing and, as appropriate, amending other employment policies, including those relating to reward, promotions, recruitment and probation, and will consult with UCU and the Staff Forum on any material changes to these.

We hope that early in the 2015/16 session there will be an online handbook on the HR webpages that can accessed by all staff and where all key policies and rules for staff will be held. Arrangements will be put in place to make this available to staff who do not have access to online facilities.

How will these changes alter the structure of the University?

The proposed changes to the instruments of governance will not themselves alter the structure of the University. However, they will mean that the structure of the University is more transparent and will provide flexibility to enable us to make changes if we need to.

Another parallel piece of work covers the overall structure of the University and whether that is the right structure for us in the future. These discussions are still at a very early stage and you will hear much more over the coming months, as the UEB formulates proposals and consults with employees. Our intention is to reach a decision by the end of the current session, and to use 2015/16 for implementation of any changes ahead of the new structure being in place at the start of the 2016/17 session.

The Ordinances refer throughout to Deans, but I have heard that the University may decide to no longer have Deans. Is this true?

The University has not decided that it will no longer have Deans. There is likely to be discussion about the role of Deans as part of the wider discussion around University structure referred to above, but no decision has been taken. The University will carry out further consultation on any proposals to change our structure, including concerning the roles of Deans.

As part of this process, we are proposing moving from the election of Deans to their appointment in the same way as for other senior roles. This has already happened for the recent appointment of the Dean of Science, with the agreement of the relevant Faculty Management Board.

CHANGES TO EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS

What changes are you making to contracts of employment?

The majority of changes to contracts are stylistic, although some are being made to ensure compliance with the law.

Key amendments are:

  • ensuring that employees comply with legal obligations such as compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Bribery Act 2010
  • applying a probationary period for all employees
  • ensuring requirements around holiday pay comply with the relevant laws
  • setting out the University's obligation to repay properly incurred expenses
  • no longer contractually requiring employees who have been off work owing to an accident to bring legal proceedings against whoever has caused that accident
  • aligning contracts with the University's Code of Practice on Intellectual Property.

Are my terms and conditions going to change?

It is common practice for organisations to review and refresh contracts on a regular basis. Whilst it is proposed that there will be some changes to your terms and conditions, as set out above, the majority of changes are stylistic, to make the contract easier to read and understand.

Are you changing my contractual benefits?

No. Your rights to benefits such as your pension, holiday entitlement, sick pay and notice pay are unchanged by these proposals.

Do I have to agree to a new employment contract? What happens if I don't sign it?

We are going through a formal process of consultation on the draft contract with both UCU and the Staff Forum and hope that we will reach agreement with them on the terms of that contract. We will then provide further information to all staff on the proposed contract, including differences with existing contracts, and you will have an opportunity to raise and discuss any concerns you may have. It is our hope and expectation that there will not be any significant concerns for employees as a result of this process and that all staff will agree to the new contract.

Consultation on the contract is undertaken with UCU and the Staff Forum and the University cannot enter into detailed individual consultation with all employees on terms that have been agreed during that formal consultation. However, if you do not agree the new contract or do not sign it, we will work with you to understand your concerns and will endeavour to reach agreement with you.

What is the consultation process for employment contracts, as opposed to the new instruments of governance?

We are consulting formally on the proposed new policies and contracts with UCU and our own Staff Forum.
Depending upon the outcome of that consultation and the final decisions of the Council and the Privy Council on the new instruments of governance, the University proposes to issue amended contracts during summer 2015. We will provide further information on the proposed implementation in due course, but all employees will have an opportunity to raise and discuss any concerns they may have about the new contract prior to it being issued.

Why are any changes needed beyond amending references to the Statutes?

This is an opportunity for us to review and update all contracts in line with best practice, as well as to standardise them: there are currently too many different versions of the employment contract in existence.

My contract does not refer to the Statutes and Ordinances. Do you still propose making changes to it?

Yes. The University wants to make sure that all employees are on terms that, so far as possible, are the same and that contracts are in largely the same format. We are therefore proposing to align all contracts of employment, whilst being mindful that different grades and types of employees may have some differing terms.

I think I have security of tenure. What happens to my contract?

If you have been continuously employed by the University since before 20 November 1987 and have not been promoted since that date you may have security of tenure. Members of staff with security of tenure will continue to be employed on their current terms and their tenure will be protected. If you believe you have security of tenure, please notify Erin Murphy at erin.murphy@reading.ac.uk or discuss it with your HR Business Partner.

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