Against the backdrop of the REF the University of Birmingham continues to embark on its mission to develop a performance management regime apparently intended to either scare people away from the place or induce a prolonged period of stress-related absence. Perhaps two of the most recent examples we’ve encountered are the College of Social Science’s so-called Advice and Guidance policy, and the setting of bizarrely specific performance targets in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
So-called Advice and Guidance – some advice and guidance!
The University appears to be moving towards a so-called policy of Advice and Guidance. Whilst this has become most apparent in the College of Social Sciences we believe that it may also exist in other parts of the University. BUCU are increasingly concerned that this is an attempt to circumvent (or misinterpret) the existing Ordinances of the University, and to put in place a rigid performance management regime that will be to the detriment of both staff and the University as a whole. Our major concerns are that (a) this policy has not in any way been negotiated with BUCU, (b) that it appears to provide the opportunity for University senior managers to arbitrarily impose targets on members of staff that might be inappropriate, (c) that no due process has been established, (d) that in many cases no ’advice and guidance’ appears to happen, and instead we simply witness the labelling of staff as ‘on advice and guidance’, and (e) that in doing so it represents a major challenge to academic freedom.
We have relayed many of these concerns to the University’s HR department, which has responded with a detailed outline of their interpretation of Advice and Guidance. We have some concerns about this – not least that it does not reflect our experience of Advice and Guidance in practice, but also because we believe that (contrary to University claims) a more formalised policy of advice and guidance does exist. Nevertheless, we repeat below the University’s description of advice and guidance, in part so that members might report to us any deviations from this declared process (see over).
If the so-called policy of so-called Advice and Guidance wasn’t enough, we now also hear about extraordinarily bizarre targets being applied in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This includes targets to publish in precisely named journals, to win specific amounts of grant income, and to attract an exact number of PhD students (including a stipulation regarding their geographic origin!). All of this comes with the possibility of a dismissal should they not be achieved! BUCU does not believe that this can be considered reasonable – not least because many of these outcomes are outside of the control of staff members concerned.
BUCU will continue to challenge ridiculous performance management processes , whether they are linked to REF performance or not- and believe this will be a key part of our campaigning during the forthcoming descent into Prof Eastwood’s post-Browne academic-commercial dystopia.