Work-to-rule is way forward

June 2, 2011

We must hope that the unfair and useless response of hitting the students through strikes and assessment boycotts, trotted out by the sample of University and College Union presidents and chairs in your Letters page ("No peace without justice", 26 May), is not the current strategic thinking of the UCU's senior leadership. Certainly, in terms of the pre-1992 institutions - the membership most affected by changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme - the student should be the last target of our action. Indeed, the approach recommended by an obviously tired rearguard would serve only to see our members handing yet more money back to their universities.

The decision by university managers to unilaterally reduce the value of the academic contract requires, instead, a focused and effective review of employer contributions to the contract, and a boycott on the areas not explicitly included in that contract: the research excellence framework, employability, income generation and third-mission activity.

These are the areas developed and sustained, to date, by unbridled exploitation, misnamed "professionalism". I've yet to meet the academic who has not felt the pressure to work well beyond a normal working week just to maintain anything like a respectable research output. Teaching, assessment and administration absorb and often go well beyond in-work hours, leaving research activity to the evenings, weekends and holidays. In fact, the kudos activity of UK universities depends on unacknowledged and unrewarded effort. Research, therefore, must be the primary target of any sensible response to a reduction in the value of the contract.

We require a simple demand that the employer-side terms of the contract are demonstrably met by a workload model clearly showing the time - within the working week - assigned to each academic to pursue research, as indicated in the relevant role profile. This action, far from hitting students, would aim at protecting the value and integrity of their studies.

Finally, of course, the UCU must engage with employers to determine what demands will be the contractual norm for new staff: clearly, it would be unfair to ask these academics to work on the same basis as their established peers, given the reduced value - in terms of the deferred pay represented by everyone's pensions - of their contracts.

Andrew Morgan, UCU vice-president, Swansea University

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