University of Birmingham's Aston Webb Great Hall

Resolution on Emergency Covid Education Plans and Health and Safety concerns

At our Emergency COVID-related Members’ Meeting on 3 June 2020, , members voted to approve a motion expressing concerns over the Emergency Covid Education plans and calling for no further expansion of campus re-opening without meaningful engagement with recognised H&S reps. The motion was adopted as a resolution. The final text is presented below.

This branch endorses and shares all of the concerns relating to the Emergency Covid preparations of the Uniersity of Birmingham, as set out in the email sent by BUCU committee to all members on 1 June 2020. It also calls for no further expansion of re-opening without meaningful engagement with recognised H&S reps.

Email to members regarding Emergency Covid Education Plans and Health and Safety concerns

Dear BUCU members,

As you are aware, the University of Birmingham branch of UCU (BUCU) has become increasingly alarmed that the Framework for Educational Resilience 2020-21 which is currently being imposed by the University management appears to be an attempt to implement significant, and potentially long-term, restructuring of all teaching provision at the University of Birmingham, under the guise of responding to the Covid crisis.

We are concerned that this has the potential to significantly change the working practices of teaching and associated staff, and is being done without the necessary consultation and agreement of affected staff. As such, it represents a potential breach of contract. No long-term changes should be foisted upon us in a time of crisis and uncertainty. Any emergency measures should be implemented in a way that is reasonable.

Our core concerns at present are:

  • That any emergency changes to teaching provision should be made for a maximum of one year, and not rushed through as long-term changes under the guise of responding to the Covid-19 emergency;
  • There are no grounds to simply cancel all or most of existing GTA and fixed-term teaching staff. These staff make an important and vital contribution to the University and to simply jettison them at the first sign of financial difficulties is not fair, nor in the long-term interest of the University, and fails to adhere to the Fixed-Term Employees Regulations 2002. More detail on implications for fixed-term contract staff here.
  • All changes should be agreed to by the representative of the University of Birmingham teaching and associated staff (BUCU), following a period of meaningful consultation. Yet BUCU has currently expressed its opposition to the proposed changes without receiving an adequate response.
  • There is a clear rationale for placing any cancelled optional modules on hold for one year (rather than cancelling them altogether)
  • That we should not simply be given a university-wide instruction, or ‘strong recommendation’, that Schools reduce the number of optional modules on offer, creating a situation where, in many departments most or all optional modules are being cancelled, creating a massive reduction in options. We are concerned that these changes appear to be being implemented inconsistently across the University, creating an unevenness and lack of transparency for those teaching and associated staff who are adversely affected. In many programmes, especially during the final year, ALL modules are optional – as such, any attempt to cancel all or most optional modules across UoB has the potential to have a devastating effect on existing programme and teaching provision. In such cases there is clearly a case for keeping existing optional modules in place.
  • There is no clear rationale why every module to be taught should need a minimum of 3 lecturers to teach it. This seems highly likely to reflect the current preference of the University management for team-teaching. It is inappropriate to use the crisis in such an opportunistic manner and seems destined to remove specialist research-led modules from the curriculum.
  • New emergency modules should not be rushed through or ill thought-out. In many cases it would make far more intellectual sense to keep existing modules and adapt them to the new context arising from Covid-19. To create a large number of entirely new modules, without sufficient time to do so, makes no sense, is not in keeping with established quality-related practices, and is not a reasonable demand to place upon teaching and associated staff.
  • It is not clear that sufficient consideration has been given to the equalities, health and safety (especially stress), and workload implications of the changes proposed.
  • The workload implications are made worse by the fact that the University management is systematically failing to consult properly with BUCU in implementing changes to its workload models in many parts of the University.
  • There has been no guarantee that the necessary training for any changes will be provided, nor that the workload implications of this have been properly taken into account.
  • The cancellation of study leave, and the insistence that research be de-prioritised for the foreseeable future, both represent a potential breach of contract as they make it unclear how staff will be able to meet their contractual duties to conduct quality research, and has the potential to have a disproportionately damaging effect upon their career in comparison with colleagues in other higher education institutions. This is also likely to have a disproportionate effect on early career academic staff, exacerbating the already uneven transition for women and BAME staff from early career to senior positions (the ‘leaky pipeline’ problem), and having a greater effect upon those with caring responsibilities (who are more likely to be women) as well as migrant workers.
  • The University Senate is not scheduled to consider (and potentially approve) the Framework until 10 June, yet we are receiving reports from across the University that many changes are already being implemented without any meaningful consultation and without the agreement of teaching and associated staff.

Health and Safety concerns over campus reopening

On Friday evening (29 May), we took the unusual step of issuing a joint public statement with Birmingham University UNISON about our Health and Safety concerns over the University’s plans to press ahead with a phased re-opening of campus, starting today (1 June).

These concerns stem from the University’s failure to properly engage with Trade Union Health and Safety Representatives before the decision to reopen was made. Please read and share our statement, which highlights our specific concerns and what actions the University should take in order to address them.

We will keep you posted on our ongoing efforts to ensure the University meets its legal obligations and puts the safety of staff and students first. If you have any Health and Safety concerns, please email admin@birminghamucu.org in the first instance.

Joint union statement on Health and Safety concerns over campus reopening: https://birminghamucu.org/2020/05/29/joint-union-statement-on-health-and-safety-concerns-over-campus-reopening/

Emergency situation

This is rapidly becoming an emergency for all staff at the University of Birmingham, faced with a University senior management that appears intent on taking a reckless and opportunistic approach to our careers, contracts of employment, and health and safety, as well as the credibility of the education standards of the University of Birmingham. On Thursday (28 May) we requested a formal emergency negotiating meeting with the University of Birmingham, yet we have thus far received no reply or acknowledgement of this request.

Keep in touch

You can contact your Birmingham UCU safety representatives by sending an email to admin@birminghamucu.org in the first instance.

Featured image: Aston Webb Great Hall by Francisclarke / CC0

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