What’s in a name? Plenty, fears UCU

UCU alarm at Kingston plan to call time on reader and principal lecturer posts. Jack Grove reports

March 7, 2013

Plans to scrap principal lecturer and reader positions at Kingston University have met with union opposition.

The university has announced a 90-day consultation on a new promotion and progression scheme that would replace the two academic ranks above senior lecturer with an “associate professor” role.

About 265 people in these senior roles would be required to reapply for the new posts, with unsuccessful applicants facing the prospect of demotion to senior lecturer and a pay cut of up to £8,000 a year, according to union leaders.

Transferring the administrative duties of principal lecturers - a pay grade found only in post-1992 universities that includes directors of studies and associate heads of department - to senior lecturers would also cause confusion within departments, they added.

However, management at Kingston insist that the shake-up - believed to be the first such move by a post-1992 university - is not about saving money but adopting an academic structure that is better understood across the sector, which will aid recruitment.

Others have claimed also that the principal lecturer role is often a career dead end because its admin-heavy nature prevents senior staff from doing research and gaining a professorship.

However, Andrew Higginbotham, branch chairman of the University and College Union at Kingston, said he believed abolishing the two senior academic roles would be a mistake and would increase the workload of other staff.

“Principal lecturers are often directors of studies, curriculum development leaders or course managers - these people are team leaders in departments and the ones who guarantee the courses,” said Dr Higginbotham, who is himself a principal lecturer in politics and human rights at Kingston.

“It’s a bit of sweeper role dealing with lots of problems - similar to the unacknowledged defensive midfielder [in football]. If you take them away, it will impact on others.”

Dr Higginbotham said he was also concerned that the shake-up could lead to an exodus of middle-ranked academics who failed to gain an associate professor role.

“They are going to be offered voluntary redundancy and severance packages and a proportion will take it,” he said. “I think we will lose about 65 staff immediately and more will follow.”

Dr Higginbotham said that while UCU was not against changing the principal lecturer or reader roles, “we need a more planned transition than these plans”.

The UCU held a series of meetings last month about the proposals, which could come into effect by September if approved by governors.

The proposals come in the wake of news that the University of Oxford is also seeking to revamp its academic structure.

It wants to scrap the lecturer grade and replace it with an associate professor title, which it believes will help it recruit internationally.

A spokesman for Kingston said that the institution wanted academics to be appropriately rewarded for their various duties but that the current roles and titles in its academic structure were not always understood across the sector.

“Inconsistency in this area can have an impact on the recruitment of new staff as well as the ability of current staff to progress or move easily across the sector,” he said.

Kingston is consulting on the plans until mid-April and is open to alternative suggestions from academic colleagues, he added.


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