Contract shift puts research role at risk

June 30, 2006

Staff fear retrospective changes to work remit. Phil Baty reports

Academics at Reading University fear that managers will be free to take away their research duties under a proposed change to their contracts.

The university is planning to retrospectively change academic contracts, to remove a clause that makes carrying out research a "requirement" of the job.

The change means that academics will be required to "perform any combination of teaching, research, administrative and outreach duties", which may or may not include research.

The university insisted that it fully intended to remain a research-intensive university and had no plans to reduce staff research. A spokesman said that it was simply trying to ensure contractual equality between research staff and the minority of teaching-only staff.

But the University and College Union fears that the change could make staff vulnerable to the whims of managers, who would be free to reduce or remove their research duties without any accountability.

A paper circulated by the UCU Reading branch warns: "The change would remove the duty to perform research... research is no longer a duty, but may be assigned and taken away by the head of school. There is no appeal, though it might be possible to raise a grievance, but with little prospect of success as research would not be a duty."

The Reading spokesman said that the proposal would impose a requirement to make a "full contribution to the school by performing any combination of teaching, research, administrative and outreach duties as may from time to time be reasonably assigned to you by your head of school".

He said: "The proposal has been put forward to ensure that all members of staff are treated equally in contractual terms.

"Under the current wording, which makes research a requirement, staff who do not engage in research are formally in breach of contract.

"Therefore, the purpose of the change in wording is to create an appropriate career structure for staff who are not research-active, but who carry a greater burden of teaching and administration. We are a research-intensive university and have no desire whatsoever to change that."

Some 88 per cent of staff at Reading were included in the last research assessment exercise.

The spokesman said that the current poor state of industrial relations after the pay dispute was hindering agreement over the changes.

"Traditionally, the university and the union would have come up with a solution collaboratively, but the current climate does not appear to be conducive to a co-operative approach," he said.

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