Reading v-c Sir David Bell loses 'no confidence' vote

Almost nine in 10 in staff who took part in online poll do not think the former Ofsted chief is fit to lead institution due to cost-cutting plans

April 14, 2016

The University of Reading’s vice-chancellor Sir David Bell has lost a vote of no confidence organised by staff.

In an online poll arranged by staff opposed to a major overhaul of professional services, 88 per cent of those who voted – 1,071 in total – said they did not have confidence in Sir David or in planned efficiency measures.

The poll follows anger over a university-wide reorganisation of support staff, which has led to job losses and some employees being downgraded. Reading’s use of consultancy services – which cost £13.5 million in 2013-14 – has also attracted criticism.

The University and College Union said the “overwhelming vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor shows the strength of opposition across...Reading to the cost cutting plans”.

However, the university has said it will not apologise “for taking tough decisions and choices”, while its governors have given Sir David their unequivocal support.

“It’s time for the management of Reading to start listening to concerns raised by staff,” said Paul Hatcher, UCU branch president.

“UCU is willing to talk and negotiate to find alternatives to downgrading and redundancies wherever possible,” he added.

He added that staff were worried about the review and its impact on students, jobs and working conditions, and also concerned that key functions of the university are being centralised without adequate safeguards being put in place to ensure continuity of student support. 

In a letter to staff, Sir David, a former Ofsted chief, said “engagement could, and should, have been stronger” and “important lessons...must be learned for the future”.

However, he said “there have been no credible alternative plans put forward on how we put our long-term finances in order, without major cuts to academic activities”.

Reading has said the compulsory redundancies from the professional services shake-up are likely to number in their “tens”, with 123 taking voluntary redundancy and just 13 staff accepting downgrades. Some 670 staff have been confirmed in their grades, but in different roles.

The university says spending on the review and the redundancies will allow it to cut £7.8 million from its budget towards a target of £15 million, and mean it could generate a £10 million surplus from 2020 onwards.

It says it will not challenge the vote of no confidence, which has no formal standing in Reading’s governance, but questioned whether the online poll had been open to electoral abuse and rigging.

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Reader's comments (3)

It is notable that the one of the main responses of the university is to accuse its own staff of 'electoral abuse and rigging'. So much for management respecting their staff who actually do the day-to-day work of the university. But this is how it is nowadays not just in universities, of course, but almost everywhere: overpaid, senior managerial staff who have no accountability and who take no responsibility -- the next big job is around the corner for them no matter what the outcomes of their restructurings and reorganisations -- sneering at the people who actually do the work. Also, most academics have realised by now the con of being invited by management to sell their admin colleagues down the river as if this would prevent 'major cuts to academic activities' when, in fact, the loss of support staff precisely causes 'major cuts to academic activities' anyway as academics then have to do the admin themselves instead, and, moreover, performance reviews are then deployed to get rid of academics also, for ostensibly other reasons and through other routes. To top it all, none of the figures offered make any sense, except to explain how university staff will be working for years to pay back the management consultants. This is a prime example of how English Higher Education is being destroyed by pretending that it can and should be a business and a very badly run business at that. But I guess that it puts it in a prime position to be sold off to private providers a few years down the line, just like the NHS.
One of the things staff are enraged about is the amount of money given to consultants. This UCU report (p35) shows that the University of Reading has paid more to management consultants than any other UK Uni: In total PricewaterhouseCoopers have received more than £20 million. The changes they’ve recommended suggest they know little about how a higher education institution works.
"[the University] will not challenge the vote of no confidence" ... of course not; they know perfectly well that the integrity of the process is good. "... but questioned whether the online poll had been open to electoral abuse and rigging" If this actually came from some official source, this smear-and-sneer tactic shows their contempt towards their own administrators and professors. And it comes right after the Vice-Chancellor said, "I accept too that some of the language and tone of our communications has been perceived as patronising". Keeping it up, I see.

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