Management practices at University of Birmingham

This branch is distraught about the top down approach to people management as a continuing issue impacting on the health, wellbeing, performance, and morale of staff at the University of Birmingham.

Over the last two years the elected branch negotiators have been trying to negotiate an agreed performance management system based on a branch approved position statement but the University has failed to engage with BUCU in a professional and constructive way. Concomitantly, the University implemented and continued performance management practices that were neither discussed with nor agreed by BUCU.

Image result for birmingham university clock tower photoThis branch notes with great concern that a “PIP” has been put in place based on a score that entails REF grading of publications, grant applications/capture, PGR supervision, WAM data, and MEQ data. BUCU rejects this unilaterally imposed  “PIP”. This branch objects against the use of WAM data, REF criteria, student MEQ data, and grant capture in any form of performance management.

This branch is very alarmed about performance records being created secretly and behind the back of staff and that these records are reduced to a few un-negotiated performance criteria while a majority of duties and competencies remain unconsidered. This branch does not accept the top down approach including the use of dubious evidence compiled by senior management handed down to Heads of Schools who are then instructed to put unfairly selected and targeted staff through very stressful performance management procedures irrespective of their competencies, overall duties and achievements and irrespective of how they contribute to their School.

This branch objects against the implementation of performance management procedures outside the negotiated and agreed PDR system.

This branch has come to the conclusion that the University has intentionally maintained regular meetings with BUCU in order to mislead BUCU.  As such, this branch does not believe any longer that the University has been negotiating with BUCU in good faith to resolve the issues around performance management at the University of Birmingham but  has breached the implied duty of trust and confidence.

University of Birmingham branch of UCU,
Annual General Meeting, 21 June 2017

BUCU review process of disciplinary proceedings at the University of Birmingham

This branch instructs the BUCU committee to carry out reviews of all disciplinary cases in which irregularities were found and reported by the BUCU case workers. Such reviews, anonymised and approved by the BUCU working group on performance management and disciplinary procedures, shall subsequently be presented to the branch, if /when the affected members of staff have given their permission, to decide on further action, which may include protest actions, formal objections, publicity and media campaigns, and, as a last resort, industrial action.

Agreed 15 February 2017

Resolution on Performance Management at the University of Birmingham

This branch remains highly concerned about the performance management practices at the University of Birmingham and the number of staff who report being treated unfairly, bullied, and harassed. This branch notices with great concern an atmosphere of fear and low morale amongst staff, created by the heavy handed approach of the senior leadership of the University. This branch regards performance management at the University of Birmingham as unprofessional and unacceptable. This branch calls on the University of Birmingham to acknowledge the BUCU position statement on performance management as a policy/code of practice document setting out practice of how to carry out performance management at the University, distribute the document to all performance managing line managers, and instruct all performance managing line managers to adhere to this document. Should this matter not be agreed between BUCU and the University by 1stMarch 2017, either through direct agreement by the University or agreement found in further negotiations between the elected BUCU negotiators and University appointed decision makers (Provost and/or Vice Chancellor), the branch instructs the BUCU committee to run an indicative ballot for industrial action during the first two weeks of March.

Adopted 15 February 2017

Resolution on Disciplinary proceedings at the University of Birmingham

This branch takes great exception to the way disciplinary proceedings against staff are handled at the University of Birmingham. The inconsistent, heavy handed and unfair approach represents a significant violation of every employer’s duty of care, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure staff health, safety and wellbeing. Demonstrating concern for the physical and mental health of staff should not just be seen as a legal duty but also as a key factor in building trust and reinforcing the employer’s commitment to staff. This branch calls on the University to abide by relevant health & safety and employment law, as well as the common law duty of care. This branch calls on the University to acknowledge the moral and ethical duty not to cause, or fail to prevent, physical or psychological injury of staff. The University of Birmingham carries out disciplinary proceedings to the detriment of the health of staff and in the most distressing way which this branch is not prepared to accept. This branch calls on the University to review and revise their disciplinary practices, i.e. their interpretation of the Ordinances, with immediate action by involving BUCU in the review and revision process. Should there be no agreement on how to carry out disciplinary proceedings by 1st March 2017, i.e. how to interpret the Ordinances, this branch instructs the BUCU committee to run an indicative ballot for industrial action during the first two weeks of March.

Adopted 15 February 2017

Statement of Solidarity to Teaching Staff

The following statement of solidarity was recently adopted by the University of Birmingham Disability & Mental Health Student Association (DAMSA), in support of teaching staff at the University of Birmingham:

We, the committee of DAMSA, as representatives of all disabled undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate teaching assistants at this university, would like to extend our full solidarity and support to all teaching staff at the university and UCU (University College Union) members currently being victimised under the university’s draconian disciplinary measures which, to our understanding, fly in the face of their right to feel safe, supported and not to be bullied and targeted in their workplace.

We have had reports from the UCU of staff being harassed, bullied and threatened with redundancy for the most minor of transgressions in their workplace. Situations which would, ordinarily, have been resolved by their line managers or colleagues are being taken up to the highest level and disciplinary procedures meant only for the most serious misconduct (stealing, cheating, harassment etc.) are being enacted for much lesser charges. This behaviour is not acceptable from any employer, not least a university – a place in which, one would hope, an environment of constructive critique and learning would be in place.

More worrying, however, is the way in which feedback from students is being dealt with by the university management. It is, of course, important that students and teaching staff are able to take part in a constructive dialogue around the course, marks and the methods of teaching. However, feedback is not being taken in good faith and there have been instances where student feedback is being used against staff at disciplinary hearings and used to justify redundancies and cuts to the department. Students are not aware that their feedback is being used in this way and DAMSA are appalled to hear that feedback that is meant to be used constructively is instead being used as a way to victimise their lecturers. We will not stand for it. No worker deserves to be victimised in their workplace; an injury to one worker is an injury to us all!

We urge students, then, not to participate in any of the university’s formal feedback processes as we know that this is being used in totally inappropriate ways for which it was not designed. If you must feedback to lecturers we urge you to do so directly and informally in order to subvert the system and to ensure job security for all staff. We must humanise our lecturers and understand that this is their livelihood and they are not merely here to facilitate our careers or advancement but to educate and challenge us whilst earning their own living as we are wont to do, too.

We urge all students and Guild officers to speak out against this injustice and to stand in solidarity with the very people who hold our institution together.

DAMSA Committee

Disciplinary procedures at University of Birmingham

Email to UCU members at University of Birmingham (10.02.2017)

Further to the breakdown of the negotiations on performance management we have to report that the University has implemented an extremely heavy handed approach to disciplinary proceedings recently.

More than half of our case work is now concerned with members of staff who feel bullied and harassed. This suggests that now that the University has not achieved ‘the desired effects’ with their reorganisational approach of suggesting compulsory redundancies our VC has returned to using performance management and disciplinary proceedings and it is now that we start to understand the real purpose of his new HR department “Performance transformation and Change”.

The University has shown no intention to change their performance management system nor have they taken any of our serious concerns about the way disciplinary proceedings are carried out into account. What these practices have in common is that they are accompanied by threats of dismissal, one of the biggest stress factors that anyone can experience in their work environment.

We are reviewing the recent disciplinary proceedings against staff at present and, so far, regard all of them as unjustified and flawed.

Informal resolution of issues is simply not happening at our University anymore. Line managers who would be willing to resolve matters informally are circumvented and line managers who have signed up for the heavy handed approach inform staff straight away, and concomitantly to raising issues for the first time, that informal resolutions are impossible and disciplinary procedures will be instigated even in cases where informal resolutions would be easy and the obvious choice.

Minor concerns about any aspect of our work, be it teaching, research, or conduct, raised by students, colleagues, or even unidentified and obscure sources from outside the University can lead to disciplinary action against you straight away.

We have also noted that the University has decided in several cases to activate part V of the disciplinary procedure straight away – a procedure that should be a last resort and should be reserved for very serious cases, including theft, fraud, physical violence, serious negligence, serious breach of trust and confidence, or serious bullying or harassment. This can lead straight to dismissal of the member of staff.

Concerns raised by students, even if just a small proportion of the whole class size, that a module is not well organised, something many of us have seen at some point in module evaluation questionnaires (hardly any module pleases 100% of the students), can now lead to becoming subject to disciplinary proceedings against you with the threat of immediate dismissal. This also raises the issue that we do not believe that the students are actually aware how their feedback can be detrimental to staff and we have contacted the guild to discuss the possible impact of the University’s actions.

We have collected evidence for the far reaching health implications for staff and have made the University aware repeatedly that the way they pursue disciplinary proceedings and the way they treat staff causes ill-health. It has become clear over the last few months that it can hit every member of staff at any time. Some of our colleagues are going through the most difficult time of their whole careers and some are already breaking down under the pressure the University puts on them.

Last year, when we were fighting against compulsory redundancies the branch stood firm and united. With this e-mail we are calling on each and every BUCU member to demonstrate collegial loyalty and stand in solidarity with our colleagues who are exposed to unfair managerial practices and stand against health and job threatening actions by the University.

We will discuss these issues in our next members meeting on Wednesday 15th February and we will have to decide whether to hold an indicative ballot for industrial action during this meeting. Please make every effort to attend. This will be a branch meeting of highest importance.


President, Birmingham UCU

Staff and Students at Birmingham University protest TWO extra months’ work for 2017

Staff and students joined together at Birmingham University today, to stage a protest against moves by the University to increase workload by two extra months.


Holding mock calendars featuring the two new months – which they labelled “Drainuary” and “Stresstember” – the protestors highlighted the far-fetched nature of the University’s new workload model in their demonstration.

The protest comes after the University management moved to introduce a new workload model which increases the existing workload by up to two months’ additional work. This, the lecturers’ union UCU claimed, represented an entirely unrealistic attempt to squeeze yet more work out of academic and academic-related staff.

University of Birmingham UCU branch president, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, said, “It appears that the University of Birmingham is reluctant to appoint a sufficient number of staff, despite multi-million surpluses every year, and intends to make up for a shortfall in staff by increasing the workload of the existing staff. Those who work at the University of Birmingham already frequently work above the 48 hour European recommended limit and suffer from the symptoms of stress. The already excessive workloads provide insufficient time to conduct proper teaching and research and this impacts on the wellbeing and work-life balance of staff in an unacceptable way. The quality of the education provided to students is suffering too when lecturers are overworked and stressed. Our student-staff ratios, i.e. the number of students per member of staff, are already among the worst in the Russell Group Universities.”

The University of Birmingham has recently been in the crossfire for being one of the Universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country and also one of the highest numbers of settlement payments. This suggests endeavours to reduce permanent staff numbers, and at the same time to increase the workload of remaining staff and staff on casualised and zero-hour contracts, all of which will negatively impact on the delivery of education to students who still pay £9000 per year and contribute to more than 50% of the overall income of the University.

University of Birmingham UCU branch secretary, Dr David Bailey, said, “If the University of Birmingham wishes to be a world-leading university, then it needs to improve its employment practices, recruit sufficient staff and allow them the proper amount of time to do their work. We are already one of the universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country, and now the University wants to conjure up two new months to create a fictional 14 month calendar.”

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