No strike over Liverpool REF targets – but ‘anger’ remains

Liverpool UCU members supported strike action, but vote failed to meet turnout threshold

April 17, 2019
Ballot box

A ballot to strike over research excellence framework targets at a Russell Group university failed to meet the turnout threshold needed for the action to go ahead.

Earlier this month, the University of Liverpool’s University and College Union branch closed a ballot on industrial action over academic performance management linked to the 2021 REF.

Of those who took part, 71 per cent voted to take strike action, while 82 per cent voted in favour of action short of a strike.

But the turnout of 45 per cent fell short of the legal threshold of 50 per cent required to enable strike action to take place – a threshold introduced by the Conservative government in 2015.

A spokesman from the UCU's national office said: “While it is disappointing we were unable to get over the punitive 50 per cent threshold, there is no denying that members are angry about the issues at the heart of this dispute.

"The employer has agreed to continue talks with us aimed at resolving those grievances and we hope that we can find a way forward through those discussions."

The union claimed that Liverpool recently raised the bar for expected research performance to “unreasonable” levels that will in effect force some early career staff out of the university.

The UCU previously told Times Higher Education that several junior academics have been informed that they will not pass their probation unless they publish, every 18 months on average, a paper that is judged in internal assessments to be likely to be scored as “internationally excellent”, equivalent to a 3* rating in the REF.

That level is far in excess of what is demanded by the REF, which requires at least one output dating between 2014 and August 2020 to be submitted per research-active staff member, the union said.

The UCU branch has also cited concerns over possible moves to include student feedback in staff evaluation procedures and a new timetable policy, which it claims cuts research time, in its decision to ballot for strike action.

When the ballot was announced, Liverpool said it was “disappointing that UCU has decided to step away from the agreed disputes process”.

The university insisted that its approach to performance management was agreed formally with UCU in June 2013 and subsequently endorsed by its senate in 2016.

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Reader's comments (2)

How is it punitive when more than half the electorate couldn't be bothered to register their opinion either way..?
I wonder if this will REF policy have any real impact on the University of Liverpool other than to make paranoid staff even more paranoid. I guess the Snr mgt need to justify their fat salaries.