An update from the Vice-Chancellor: Industrial Action
As you may know, there are a range of matters nationally where the UCU trade union has been in dispute with employers. Locally we continue to work collegiately with colleagues in our UCU branch, and I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on that work.
USS pension scheme
UCU nationally have made a number of requests, some of which we agree with and some with which we do not. There are some key points which we have committed to and agreed locally with our branch to support. We affirmed these in a joint statement with the local branch earlier this year and reaffirm them now.
Since then, Universities UK has launched a consultation on governance reforms for the USS pension scheme. You will remember from previous correspondence that the University has been supportive of such a review, and we agreed with our local branch that Richard Taylor, Chief Operating Officer, would put himself forward for the Review’s liaison group. We are in agreement with local branch members that any review of governance must address the lack of trust between all the parties, and Richard will make this point on our behalf if he is selected. This is one example of how we are attempting to influence this dispute at a national level.
Nationally negotiated, this is the hardest item for us to address at a local level. Our biggest single income line, the regulated undergraduate student fee, has barely changed in a decade and will remain frozen during this period of high inflation.
In the same period, the University’s pay bill has increased by circa 20% and employer pension contributions have risen significantly. This inflationary squeeze on the University financial model will be compounded by the current high levels of inflation; our utilities charge alone has risen from £7m in 2020/21 to an expected £14m in 2022/23. We are making cost savings wherever possible and working hard to avoid compulsory redundancies, and we have had significant success in diversifying our income streams. This financial model however remains a challenge, and to address this we are looking at how we can increase our income through various other means. One example is our work to establish a Private Pathway Provider to help increase our international student recruitment. We are also working closely with Imago to increase their profitability which, in turn, supports the University’s financial position.
It is within the constraints of this tight financial model and national bargaining, that I have asked our HR team to work on reviewing our pay, reward and benefits package and to identify how we can make changes that will enable us to continue to be competitive in the changing world we are living in. For example, we are looking at a range of options including our commitment to paying the Real Living Wage, while Project Expectations, one of our enabling plans for our new strategy, will be reviewing our reward arrangements.
As you will know, we have committed in our new University Strategy to become increasingly diverse, equitable and inclusive as an organisation. A significant amount of work is underway, led by the newly created Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Sub-Committee, which will be instrumental in coordinating activity and driving forward progress. This will be converted into a full formal Committee of the University during the coming academic year. Read more about our achievements and plans.
Professor Charlotte Croffie joined us earlier this month as our first Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and an implementation plan to support our aspirations will be developed in the latter part of 2022. The creation of this new Pro Vice-Chancellor role provides visible and senior leadership in this important area and is, in part, in response to feedback from colleagues at the University, many of whom are from many of the staff networks which indicated that they felt we lacked leadership at the highest level in equity, diversity and inclusion.
One of the areas that I know has attracted media attention recently is our gender pay gap. We have been working hard to understand this gap. Our analysis shows that one of the main reasons why our gap is relatively high in the sector is because we directly employ our operational services colleagues, whereas many other employers outsource colleagues to agencies or third parties. If, for example, we exclude these colleagues from the data set, our median pay gap reduces from 31.3% to 23.2%. We recognise that this remains too high, so there is still plenty of work to do, but it demonstrates how the population of an employer has a big impact on their gender pay gap results.
I want to make it clear that we have no intention of outsourcing these activities. I am very proud that we employ them directly, believe this is fairer and more equitable and makes our organisation more effective. We will, of course, continue to work on improving our pay gap results as part of our ambition to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Actions include a comprehensive review of our RTE academic promotion processes and criteria, two development programmes for women, the TORCH programme, participation in the 100 Black Professors Now external programme, and applying positive action, where appropriate, in our recruitment practices.
Although there is no statutory requirement to publish our race pay gap data, we have published our data from 2020. We will publish both our gender and race pay gaps for 2022 in the spring of next year.
One of the first projects to be established in support of the delivery of the new strategic plan is Project Enable. This has been set up to create capacity within Schools and Professional Services so that we can deliver on the ambitions contained in the new University Strategy. Stage 1 of the project is complete, with over 70 items being identified as within the scope of the project.
These include activities such as the streamlining of ethics approvals, faster decisions on research and innovation contracts and improved support around export controls. A number of priorities are being developed for stage two of the project (including student assessment) which aim to reduce workload, bring changes to our culture and ways of working and improvements to our systems and processes. We are liaising regularly with our trade union colleagues on this important work and their insights are providing valuable to the project. Updates on the project can be viewed on the Project Enable webpage.
A working group comprising senior leaders and representatives from the campus unions recently agreed and implemented a document setting out some principles on casual working. These aim to make sure that people who work for the University are given an appropriate contract for the work they’re undertaking and are treated fairly while working here. If you are a manager, please make time to familiarise yourself with these principles, if you haven’t already.
We are enjoying some success. In the years prior to the pandemic, we saw a gradual decrease in the use of fixed-term contracts to 13.9% of all contracts being issued. This increased slightly during 2021 up to 16% which is mainly due to the fact that there was a recruitment freeze; consequently, we mainly recruited to externally funded posts during that time, and these are typically fixed term in nature, eg Research Associate. We will continue to monitor this carefully and take action as appropriate.
Since I joined Loughborough just under a year ago, I have been very impressed with the constructive way that our leaders and campus unions work together. That’s not to say we agree on everything – we quite often have different perspectives and viewpoints, but ultimately, we’re all working towards the same outcome – a great employment experience for our staff that is underpinned by fairness, equity and inclusion and is competitive with other employers.
In addition to those mentioned above, there are other examples of our success in working together, such as the joint statement on PDR, where we agreed on some changes to how the PDR process would run during 2022, and our joint working in response to the pandemic where a number of actions that the University took were as a result of discussions with the campus unions.
We have recently been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education University of the Year award as a result of our response to the pandemic. However, I am not complacent, and I recognise that there is more work to do. I believe our strength is in working together and you have my commitment that this collaborative approach will continue.
If you are a UCU member you will know there is currently a ballot for further industrial action – whichever way you decide to vote, I hope that you can see the genuine efforts to address the issues that matter to you. Working together at a local level enables us to influence the national discussions more effectively, and I would prefer our energies to be focused on this rather than on more industrial action that will further impact our staff and students.
Professor Nick Jennings
Vice-Chancellor and President
Opinions and comment from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Jennings