Leeds rewards publication in top journals with bonus research time

UCU attacks plan to allow some academics to pass on teaching duties. Melanie Newman reports

May 1, 2008

A scheme at the University of Leeds to give academics who publish in leading research journals extra time to carry out their work has provoked criticism from the University and College Union.

The UCU argues that the workload management scheme, which is used by several university schools, means that academics published in top journals are rewarded twice. These academics already have funds and fellowships through which they can "buy" themselves out of teaching and administrative duties, the union said, and they may get sabbatical leave, too.

Ann Blair, the union's branch president, said: "While some academics are being doubly rewarded, the burden of their benefits is falling on other members of staff, who have to take on bigger teaching loads."

She added: "We don't accept that research published in high-impact journals takes longer. Your paper might be turned down by Nature because a team working in a similar field has just beaten you to it - that has nothing to do with the time you've spent researching."

One of the scheme's models gives academics publishing in top-rank journals 40 extra research days per journal per year. Publishing in a less-elevated but still high-impact journal earns 30 days of extra research time, while publishing in a standard journal earns just five days.

Another model, which treats academics as if they work 1,660 notional hours a year, gives academics with an international profile 750 hours of protected research time. Lower-performing academics receive 650 hours, and those still establishing a research profile get 400 hours.

The UCU believes that the models breach university guidance, which has been agreed with the union, that time should be allocated according to a researcher's activity rather than on the basis of expected results. The UCU also said that the models run counter to the vice-chancellor's promise that academics not entered for the research assessment exercise would not suffer detriment.

A spokeswoman for Leeds said: "We have made great progress in introducing workload models that are fair, transparent and reflect both the diversity of academic activity and the spread of individuals' interests and skills. This is a non-trivial exercise, and we are determined to get it right. We have been tackling it in a collegiate spirit, working with the UCU ... we are meeting the UCU to address (its) concerns, and are confident that a satisfactory resolution can be achieved."

She added: "We have always assured our staff that no one will suffer detriment as a result of not being entered in the RAE, and that remains the case."

The Leeds models were unusual, said one expert. Peter Barrett, pro vice-chancellor for research at the University of Salford, led a study of the management of academic workloads that was published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education last year.

He said: "Workload models that allocate time according to inputs or outputs such as grant earnings or publications are quite rare. I haven't come across anything this specific before. This model would be more typical of the Australian system."

Lucinda Barrett, who worked with Professor Barrett on the Leadership Foundation project, said workload allocation systems could help ensure that female academics were not given too much pastoral care work.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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