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VC shares progress on Post-COVID-19 Response Programme

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Van de Noort provided an update on the University's Post-COVID-19 Response Programme on 22 and 23 July 2020.

Thank you to all who took part and submitted questions during the sessions. If you were unable to attend or would like to view it again, you can watch the video below (University log-in required).

The briefing took place in the fourth week of formal consultation with the University & College Union (UCU) and the Staff Forum, as part of the Post-COVID-19 Response programme.

Internet Explorer/Edge browser users can access the video on Microsoft Stream.

 

What was discussed

Before discussing the Response Programme, the Vice-Chancellor shared a few general updates on the National Student survey (NSS) and the 2020 Staff Survey. You can read about this year's NSS results in this news story, and detailed information on the 2020 Staff Survey will follow shortly.  

The Vice-Chancellor thanked everyone for their efforts over the last four months and said that feedback from the survey would be taken on board, with plans for additional mental health training to accompany our range of existing wellbeing resources (such as the Wellbeing Peer Support Network, Employee Assistance Programme and Wellbeing pages).

Moving on to the Consultation, the Vice-Chancellor said that the focus is now on the detail of the negotiations between the University, UCU and the Staff Forum. Progress has been slower than expected, but should now pick up pace following the Extraordinary General Meeting of the UCU on 13 July. A paper was recently submitted with a range of options for detailed discussion, and we suggest proposals will have two main elements - a pay freeze of cost of living awards for three years - but retaining incremental pay awards, and other awards such as reward for promotion through the personal titles process during these three years. It is worth noting that a 0% pay increase is a likely outcome of the national pay negotiation for 2020/21.

In addition to this could be a tiered or progressive pay cut. This could be delivered in a range of options, including a cut in pay ranging from 0%, 5%, 10% and up to 15 % (for the highest earners) for 12 months, or the stretching out of a lower range of cuts over a longer period, such as two or three years. A cut in one year/making the savings in the first year would benefit the University's cashflow and makes us financially stronger, whereas a multi-year cut would allow us to review the need for measures over subsequent years once student enrolments have been confirmed. If implemented together, these two measures could save around 300 jobs.

We have not ruled out other options, such as a four-day working week or working nine days per fortnight, but with the constructive engagement of the UCU and the Staff Forum, we aim to have the outline of the Phase 1 proposals ready before the end of next week.

The Vice-Chancellor revisited the background to the Consultation and provided an update on our forecast shortfall. We now anticipate a shortfall of a £104 million over the next three years following an expected reduction in International and home/EU students. There are some positive signs about student recruitment, but unfortunately our investments are earning less money, our pension costs are likely to go up, and we have had to spend more in making campus ‘COVID-secure' for the new academic year. This prediction is slightly better than the £106 million we were previously looking at, but in terms of jobs, it's not a big change - it still means that we are still looking at potentially close to 500 redundancies if no other action is taken.

The magnitude of the challenge caused by COVID-19 is much bigger in the short to medium term than the structural challenge, but we need to address both - we need to come out of this as a university that will provide excellent research and excellent education to its students and which is financially sustainable.

The Vice-Chancellor addressed why we are taking action now instead of waiting to see how many students enrol in the next academic year. Professor Van de Noort said that this comes under "hoping for the best but preparing for the worst" - that taking the time to explore options in detail now will ensure that all prospects are understood fully before the new term begins. Most importantly, the faster we can start making savings, the fewer people will be at risk of losing their jobs.

On whether we are acting differently to other institutions, the Vice-Chancellor said that is becoming clear that a significant number of universities are preparing for the reduction in student enrolments along the same way as us, with some having already reached collective agreement on salary savings. We are not the only university looking to make savings. Some are seeking savings through voluntary redundancy options, but the feedback we are getting is that this is not very successful as take-up is usually low - most people, unsurprisingly, don't want to volunteer to be out of a job at the moment. 

The Vice-Chancellor also addressed concerns on whether colleagues have already been put at risk of redundancy during Phase 1 of the Response Programme. To this the answer is that no, we have not. Unless we notify you individually in writing that you are at risk of redundancy, you are not at risk of redundancy. You can find more details in our Post-COVID Response Programme FAQs, including an  explanation of the purpose and status of the Section 188 notice.

If, during the consultation, no agreement is reached about the necessary changes to staff contracts the process of dismissal and re-engagement of staff is a measure of last resort. However, we are consulting extensively with UCU and the Staff Forum on these changes, and it is our hope that any changes can be made via an agreement, at the appropriate time. Any redundancy selection arising from Phase 2 of the Response Programme would be subject to a further period of consultation, after we know our student enrolment for next academic year

Questions

There were many great questions put forward during the presentation. We can't list them all here, so if you would like to see what was put forward to the Vice-Chancellor, please watch the video above.

Two particular questions we would like to address are:

 Why is there a delay in Consultation minutes being added to the FAQ page?

As you know, Consultation meeting minutes and other documents are being added regularly to the Post-COVID Response Programme FAQs. There is a delay between the meetings taking place and the minutes being added to the page. The reason is that the minutes have to be checked and approved by all involved parties, which is why they are not published straight away. We are publishing them as soon as they are made available.

Will the National Pay Bargaining process be affected?

A few colleagues had queries about the National Pay Bargaining process - an annual round of negotiation between employers and unions, through the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff. Associated pay increases are normally effective from 1 August each year.

As detailed above, the Vice-Chancellor said that this year's National Pay Bargaining Scheme will likely result in a 0% pay increase, given the challenges faced by COVID-19. This has not been finalised yet, and confirmation will be shared as soon as possible.

Next briefing sessions

The Vice-Chancellor plans to hold further briefing sessions over the coming weeks, with the next ones planned to take place on 10 and 11 August - details of how to register will be shared shortly.  

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