Neon sign showing the words 'work harder'

Working out CAL workloads

This is the second in a series of posts (the first is here) by committee member Tom Cutterham, who is coordinating Birmingham UCU’s response to major proposed changes in the Workload Allocation Model in the College of Arts and Law. The College’s proposals and associated consultation documents are available on the university intranet here.

Why WAM matters

The WAM is supposed to make sure that work is evenly distributed among colleagues within each teaching unit. But it’s also used to assess whether departments themselves have the capacity to undertake all their responsibilities. Rather than automatically hiring replacements when colleagues go on leave (due to grant buy-outs, illness, or maternity, for example), managers at School level and above look at WAM allocations across the department to determine if the work can simply be parcelled out to existing staff instead. That saves the College lots of money, of course—and it can happen even when grants explicitly include money for teaching replacement! But it also means leave can end up hitting everyone, no matter how hard a Head of Department works to make things fair.

Cutting the slack

Within individual allocations, everyone knows that a model can never cover everything we actually do, especially since work practices in higher education are always changing. A fair model would need to include buffer points that can absorb the extra work that arises during the year, whether it be serving as internal examiner on a viva, attending an Athena Swan workshop, taking part in open days, or covering a seminar for a sick colleague. It also needs to include points that cover departmental meetings, School boards, and compulsory CPD days. But the current proposals contain only a 30 point (50 hours) “citizenship” allocation to cover all this and more.

We know much of this work tends to fall disproportionately on junior colleagues, and that’s before we add the extra tasks often required from non-white and non-male colleagues to help meet our laudable diversity aims. We’re all used to the reality that our research time ends up being sacrificed for all this undercounted work—but now management wants to cut our research allocations too. Put it all together and the picture is pretty grim.

How much more?

It’s not always easy to work out how the proposals would affect us. What we know is that we shouldn’t be complacent. One colleague who wrote to us calculated that—with a major departmental admin role, convening and teaching a handful of modules (delivering 8 classroom hours a week in Spring Term), taking four undergraduate dissertations, and thirty personal tutees—they would have only used just over 700 points. As a teaching-focused lecturer, that leaves this colleague severely underloaded, according to the new proposals—putting their Head of Department under pressure to give them even more work before they could hire any teaching cover.

We were told as long ago as December that College was undertaking “detailed modelling” to calculate the proposed new WAM’s effects on staff. They have not yet released the results of that exercise. Until they do, we are left wondering exactly how much more work we will all be asked to do if the proposals come into effect.

Get involved

All members in CAL should have received, by email, our indicative strike ballot and associated information sheet. Please vote to help us bring the College to the table. To join our WAM working group, please email You can also contribute to our collaborative, anonymous analysis via our CAL WAM Collaborative Notes Google Doc.

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