Ask the panel

March 2, 2007

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

'Despite an avowed commitment to staff review and development at my university, I have never been through this process in the 14 years I have been in post. Is this a legal requirement and, if so, who is responsible for making it work? In the event of redundancy, would I have a case for unfair dismissal on the grounds that my professional development had been impaired?'

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says:

"There is no legal right for an employee to receive staff review and development, although it is widely acknowledged that any responsible employer should invest in training and development for their staff.

"In fact, all universities are committed to doing so under the terms of the Framework Agreement.

"You state that your university has made a commitment to staff review and development. If this is the case, it is likely that there is a policy that relates to what employees can expect in terms of learning and skills development. We would suggest that you look up the policy and see how your experience has differed from it.

"It is also worth finding out if you are alone in this or if other colleagues have been treated the same way. If it is the former, then this could be grounds for a grievance against your employer - Jcontact your local UCU branch for advice.

"You should also consider any potential reasons why you have been excluded from any staff review or development for the past 14 years. If your exclusion is linked to direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of your gender, ethnicity, disability, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation, then your university may have acted unlawfully towards you.

Again, get in touch with your local UCU branch, which will be able to advise you on these issues.

"However, if many members of staff are affected in the same way it is worth looking at taking up the issue collectively, ideally through your trade union. The union should certainly be involved if there is widespread evidence that the university is not adhering to its own policies.

"In response to the second part of your question: the lack of staff review and development could be a factor in determining your position in a potential redundancy situation. This would depend on the rationale for the redundancies and the selection criteria used. If one of the selection criteria is based around employee skills, and the inaction of your university has stifled the development of your transferable skills, then this could be grounds for an appeal against being selected for redundancy."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "There is no legal requirement for your university to carry out staff development reviews. However, it is recognised as good practice to do so, and the Framework Agreement states that institutions should operate regular development reviews for all staff.

"I find it surprising that in 14 years you have not had any discussions with your manager/s regarding your development. If this is the case, it is even more alarming that you haven't raised it as an issue during this time, particularly if, as you imply, you feel your professional development has been suffering as a result.

"As your univer-sity has stated that it is committed to staff review and development, it will almost certainly have a policy that will include staff development reviews or appraisals. I would suggest you familiarise yourself with this in the first instance. You should then discuss the matter with your line manager in the light of the policy and agree a way forward, which should include drawing up a plan to address your development needs.

"It is difficult to give you a definitive answer regarding your second, hypothetical question, as much would depend on the particular circumstances of the redundancy and how individuals are selected."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, 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 advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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