Management in the College of Arts and Law, led by Head of College Professor Michael Whitby, are seeking to rewrite the Workload Allocation Model that helps determine how work is distributed across the College. Their proposals and associated consultation documents are available on the university intranet here. This is the first in a series of blog posts by committee member Tom Cutterham, who is based in the Department of History and has been coordinating Birmingham UCU’s response. In this post, Tom analyses management’s proposals and discusses some of the serious issues that they raise.
26% LESS TIME FOR RESEARCH
The College’s preferred revision to the WAM involves reducing the research allocation for teaching-and-research staff from 300 points out of 900 to 250 points out of 1000. Using the College’s own methods (where 1 point in the new system is equivalent to 1 hour 40 minutes of work), that adds up to a cut of 138 hours, or just under three and a half working weeks, every single year. To put it another way, 80 points is what you’d get for 40 classroom teaching hours: that’s an entire 20-credit module, every single year. What about teaching-focused staff? We don’t know, because the College’s proposals don’t mention any research allocation at all for them.
INCREASING OUR WORKLOAD
In an email to me on 18th March, Professor Whitby wrote that “the changes to Education values in the CAL WAM are not intended to result in the majority of staff being required to devote more time to teaching.” But we have plenty of reason to be sceptical. The key thing to note here is that, while there are different proposals on the table for research, there is only one set of values being proposed for education. So, if we end up with 250 points for research instead of 333, those missing 83 points will be applied to other tasks at the same rate. That would mean 8% more teaching and administrative work for everyone on a three-legged contract.
CUTTING WITHOUT SAVING
Why has the College proposed a reduction in our research time? In its FAQs, it argues that we must “act to limit the cross-subsidy from Education to Research.” Professor Whitby has referred to basic research allocations as “unfunded research.” The implication is that cutting research allocations is a way of cutting costs. But if teaching loads remain the same, as we’ve been promised, and if salaries remain the same, as law dictates, then where exactly are these savings coming from? If College is not increasing teaching loads, then it’s not saving any money either.
NICE GRANTS IF YOU CAN GET THEM
Grant-funded buy-outs with Full Economic Costing bring in money to the College. If you get an 80% buy-out, your teaching load goes down by less than 80%: that’s because the buy-out is also applied to your basic research allocation, and that bit is pure profit for the College. Consequently, they would like us to apply for more grants, please. The 26% cut to research was supposed to make room for a system of incentives, in the form of points for every application. But how do those incentive points stack up? Imagine a five-year period in which you apply for one large grant (£100k+), two medium grants (£30k-£100k) and two small ones (less than £30k), as well as being co-investigator on one large grant application and one small one: an ambitious programme by any standard. The reward would be a total of 300 points. But the original cut of 83 points per year will have lost you 415 points over that period, so you’re still 115 points down.
The only people who will really benefit from grant applications under these proposals, then, are the ones who actually win funding—and that, of course, is already the case. What we’re left with isn’t a real incentive system. It’s a radical degradation of our working conditions.
If you want to help fight these proposals, and develop our own proposals for a fair, transparent workload model, we’d love to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our working group. You can also contribute to our collaborative, anonymous analysis via our CAL WAM Collaborative Notes Google Doc.