Ask the panel

February 2, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

My university has three dates on which academic staff may resign: January 1, May 1 and September 1. Resignation takes effect six months from that date. However, I have evidence that resignations have been accepted from academic staff on different dates. I have applied for a post in another institution and the interviews took place in January 2007. I have just realised that, if I am successful, my institution might prevent me from resigning until May, which, with six months' notice, would mean I could not be in post by the October 31 research assessment exercise cut-off date.

Clearly, any new institution will want to take into account whether I am RAE-returnable in its submission, so this might count against me. Does my current university have the right to enforce these resignation dates? As my teaching is all loaded into the first semester, it could not be claimed that my departure would affect the student experience of departmental processes. Therefore, the only reason not to accept my resignation would be to prevent the other institution having my RAEpoints. Could you advise me on how I could manage this, as I am otherwise in quite a strong position for this new post?

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "The first thing to do is to check your written contract of employment. This should specify the periods of notice that you are required to give your employer and any requirements regarding resignation dates. If the resignation dates are expressly set out in your contract of employment then you are likely to be bound, in the strict legal sense, to those requirements.

"But the UCU would recommend that you approach your employer to try to negotiate acceptance of your resignation at the earliest possible date. You have indicated that your employer has already permitted this in other cases, so they may well be willing to negotiate with you - especially if an earlier resignation would not adversely affect your teaching commitments."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "The first thing you need to confirm (rather than assume) is what the other institution requires of applicants, because there may actually be no problem with the normal contractual resignation date. Your current institution is entitled to insist that you resign on May 1 and give six months' notice if these are the terms and conditions of your employment.

"Although you state that all your teaching duties take place at the start of the semester, there may be other duties related to your post that you will be expected to do, such as student assessment, support and administration. In addition, it would be reasonable for your current institution to want to include you in their research assessment exercise submission, having invested in your work up to now.

"You may want to try to negotiate a different resignation date or notice period with your head of department, but you must understand that they are obliged to take the best interests of the institution into account."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to  

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