TIMELINE OF OUR RESTRUCTURE
Like other universities across the UK, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our sources of income, while significantly increasing our costs of delivering online learning and ensuring our sites are Covid-secure.
We are not alone in this: the whole Higher Education sector is tackling similar issues. The University of East London has proactively adapted its offering to these new challenges and opportunities while also continuing to chart a strong course towards the future. While we have grown our student numbers in some areas, we have declined in other parts of the University. Sadly, that means that we no longer have a justifiable need for certain roles. We have reduced and avoided this wherever reasonably possible, having gone through a rigorous, consistent and fair process involving consultation, impact and equalities assessments and deep scrutiny of where we can and must remain at our most effective.
Ethnicity of professors at UEL
50% BAME, 47% White, 3% Other
Ethnicity of staff
56% White, 39% BAME, 5% Other
These have not been easy decisions to make, but University leadership has made them to ensure we realise our vision to prepare our students for the jobs of the future and drive forward this future inclusively and sustainably commensurate with the talent in our communities. We have made these decisions because we know it is imperative that our university enjoys a sustainable future where it can continue to do what it does so very well.
We all recognise that this is an incredibly challenging time, professionally and personally, but we are steadfast in our commitment to a careers-1st vision, raising aspirations and inclusively supporting our students to realise potential. We have taken decisive steps to ensure we can continue to operate effectively, delivering the best-in-class in these new circumstances to achieve the objectives of our Vision 2028.
I am convinced that this change programme remains in the best interests of the University and its beneficiaries, and that it was completed in a robust, transparent and equitable manner."
Athena Swan Bronze Award
Athena Swan Bronze Award
Race Equality Charter Bronze Award
Race Equality Charter Bronze Award
UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION
The University of East London has nearly 1,500 staff overall and over 700 are academic staff. On 16 December 2020, the University and College Union (UCU) informed the University that, following a ballot, 136 of 306 members of the UCU have indicated that they are prepared to take strike action; with 177 voting for action short of a strike. Votes cast (195) in the ballot as a percentage of individuals who were entitled to vote (306) was 63.7%.
WHAT IS THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION ABOUT?
UCU held a ballot of its members, between 17 November and 16 December 2020, about two issues:
- In dispute about five remaining academics impacted by the summer restructure programme who are currently serving their notice period following their roles being made redundant in November.
- In dispute about academic workloads.
See below for full details about the University's restructure.
WHEN WILL THE STRIKES TAKE PLACE?
- UCU began action short of a strike (ie work to contract) on 4 January 2021.
- UCU held strike action on 22 and 23 February 2021. 16% of UCU members (6% of all academic staff) participated in the strike action over both days. Over 99% of classes scheduled over these two days went ahead.
- UCU called strike action on 3, 10 and 12 March 2021. However, UCU later informed the University that this planned strike action would not go ahead 'in order to allow time for discussions to take place in respect of the employer's offers to resolve the dispute'.
The University continues to be committed to working together collegially and faithfully to reach a positive outcome for our staff, for our students and for the University as a whole.
The University has pursued all reasonable alternatives to redundancy with the final five colleagues who were serving their notice period due to their roles having been made redundant in November 2020 and for whom the UCU dispute is focusing on. This has been partly successful: redeployment opportunities have been accepted by two colleagues and one has left through voluntary severance. The remaining two staff - neither of whom were UCU representatives - have completed their notice period and are now no longer employees of the University. Over 40 opportunities for academic and management redeployment roles were provided to these colleagues which they did not choose to apply for and an offer of voluntary severance was rejected. They have subsequently left the University under compulsory redundancy terms.
WHAT IS THE UNIVERSITY’S POSITION?
Industrial action is an important workplace democratic right and the University fully respects colleagues' entitlement to choose to make their opinions heard in this way. Industrial action is always, however, damaging to both those who take part in it and those who are affected by it. As such, we remain fully committed to working together collegially and faithfully to reach a more positive outcome for our staff, for our students and for the University as a whole.
The decisions made during the restructure were made following intense and detailed options analysis, external validation and critical, robust evaluation. It was undertaken in exceptional times to secure the future of our University as a whole. It addressed both short- and longer-term issues of sustainability, realigning our resource base to reflect actual student and employer demand.
The process throughout was transparent, fair and applied in an equal manner to all staff impacted irrespective of role or seniority: the University published all the business cases and the Equality Impact Assessments at each stage and consulted with all impacted staff both collectively and individually over a five-month period.
Consultation with staff and trade unions has taken place with regards a new academic Workload Allocation Model and Schools are running several events and activities to explain and gather thoughts and feedback from the academic University community for further consideration before implementation in September 2021. The new model sets out to:
- Ensure fair, consistent and transparent allocation of academic activity across Schools.
- Ensure fair, consistent and transparent allocation of academic activity across Schools.
- Ensure course management roles are consistent and consider both credit value and student numbers as appropriate.
- Review current research allocation practices, distinguishing between Substantive Responsibility for Research (SRR) expectations and other scholarship and engagement activity.
- Align academic activity with institutional priorities, resource needs and individual career aspirations.
The University is fully committed to working with colleagues and unions to address any issues around workload. We recognise the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic on every single member of staff and we continue to put into place additional support to address these challenges and impacts - some of which are summarised here in response to the recent Winter health and well-being survey (which 666 members of staff generously and helpfully provided a response to).
Please note, every academic member of staff has an agreed workload allocation, in writing, for this academic year which is fully compliant with the national academic framework. Our audit of workload allocation across the six schools for this academic year 2020/21 confirms that no staff member exceeds the agreed workload hours allocation.
Deans of Schools are currently responding to any queries related to individual workloads that academic staff may have in their areas. All queries to date have confirmed that colleagues are working within national guidelines and workload allocations are a reasonable management instruction. The consultation process on the new workload allocation model is ongoing.
"WHY WAS THE RESTRUCTURE NECESSARY?"
The University of East London's restructure programme, which began in July 2020, was precipitated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This resulted in a severe impact on our sources of income in 2019/20, including student fees, summer residential schools and conferences, and also had the risk of continuing into 2020/21.
"WHAT WAS THE GOAL OF THE RESTRUCTURE?"
The restructure was aimed at ensuring the University's overall sustainability, reducing risks to liquidity and reflecting the changing demand for courses, while continuing to provide the best possible educational outcomes for students.
While some courses have recruited well others have experienced declining enrolment and employability prospects and so it was necessary to remove the roles no longer needed within the university, ensuring a sustainable future where the University can continue to do what it does so very well and invest in the areas of greatest benefit to our students to unlock its potential in achieving an even greater contribution.
"WAS THE FOCUS ON REDUCING STAFF NUMBERS AND NOT ON SAVING MONEY FROM NON-STAFF COSTS?"
The University undertook a complete benchmarking activity of its cost base and targeted its reductions in areas where it was shown to be comparatively costly. In generating the number of redundancies all reasonable alternatives were explored, in particular non-pay alternatives, but the magnitude of change necessary made such non-pay alternatives an implausible solution.
"WHO WAS AFFECTED DURING THE RESTRUCTURE?"
The restructure took a holistic look at our staffing levels to ensure that they were aligned to student demand and future growth opportunities in line with Vision 2028, our strategy to become the UK's leading careers-1st university.
We were able to reduce the required removal of specific roles from 141FTE (which put 441 individuals at risk) to fewer than 95 among staff in both professional services and academic schools. The vast majority of the reduction of roles were achieved through Voluntary Severance and re-deployment.
"WHAT EFFORTS WERE TAKEN TO MINIMISE JOB CUTS?"
Starting in July, we held an extended, 52-day consultation on the restructure proposals involving all staff and regular meetings with the trade unions. This concluded on 8 September 2020.
Throughout the consultation period, we:
- encouraged alternative proposals which were accepted where they fulfilled the published business-needs criteria
took account of changing recruitment figures
- sought re-deployment to reasonable alternative employment
- strived to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies
"WAS THE CONSULTATION PROCESS FAIR?"
All staff and the trade unions were fully and genuinely involved in the consultation process, which commenced in early July.
All reasonable alternatives to redundancy were pursued. This has resulted in 96% of redundancies being mitigated. The University applied the same criteria to every colleague impacted - irrespective of role or seniority - to ensure the equity and fairness of the process for all those impacted. The University continues to do everything reasonably possible to reduce the need for any redundancy and to support every colleague who wishes to remain in employment at the University.
"WHY WAS REDUNDANCY USED?"
At the end of the collective consultation period, 21FTE roles remained at risk. The legal due process would move to compulsory redundancy for the remaining roles at risk. However, in the University’s continuing commitment to do everything reasonably possible to avoid this scenario, a further nine weeks of consultation was held with at-risk individuals to find alternatives routes to redundancy.
At the end of this period, on 17 November, eight colleagues were issued letters of their employment ending 14 days after notification: four in the School of Education & Communities (Department of Social Sciences), three in Professional Services, and one in the School of Arts & Creative Industries.
As of 12 February, there remained five academic staff impacted by the summer restructure programme who were serving their notice period until the end of February.
As of 12 March, redeployment opportunities have been accepted by two of these academic colleagues and one left through voluntary severance. While the contract of the remaining two members of staff came to an end on 23 February for reason of redundancy, conversations are still under way regarding a possible departure on voluntary severance terms.
"WHY DID THE UNIVERSITY CONTINUE WITH REDUNDANCIES WHEN THE IMMEDIATE FINANCIAL THREAT FROM THE PANDEMIC TO THE UNIVERSITY HAD PASSED?"
The proposed restructure always had several complementary goals, which have been clearly communicated and documented since the beginning of the consultation process. It was aimed at ensuring the University's overall sustainability, reducing risks to liquidity and reflecting the changing demand for courses - by students and employers - while continuing to provide the best possible educational outcomes for students. The global pandemic is still with us and continues to have an impact on the University's operations.
"WAS THERE TARGETING OF REDUNDANCIES ON TRADE UNION ACTIVISTS?"
The University has not at any point sought to target trade union members and representatives through this restructuring process. The board of governors and university executive board would like to put on record that they would find any such conduct abhorrent as both bodies fully respect the rights of trade union members and representatives.
Social Sciences, which are largely based in the School of Education & Communities, are the disciplines that seem to attract a majority of trade union representatives and two of the four most prominent UCU representatives work in this area along with some other members. This area has experienced a 22% reduction in student numbers over the last three years and has low teaching contact time with small student cohorts. It is an area in decline that required a definitive strategic response.
This alone should demonstrate that trade union activity has played no part in the way that the reorganisation has been implemented. UCU's own research shows that of the 306 UCU members 71 are based in the School of Education & Communities (23%), making it the highest UCU membership of all the University's Schools. What is evident is the academic area that is most in decline happens to be populated by the highest density of UCU members. The University is only addressing the shortcomings of the academic area and nothing else.
"DID THE UNIVERSITY MAKE REDUNDANT ITS ONLY PROFESSOR WHO IS A WOMAN OF COLOUR?"
No - please refer to the pie chart above showing the ethnicity of our professors.
In summary, 50% of the University's professoriate identify from a BAME background - one of the most diverse senior academies in the UK. Of those professors from BAME backgrounds, 47% are female. Four out of five academics who are currently serving their notice period due to their roles being made redundant identify as White and one of Asian background. Collectively, these redundant academic roles are some of the highest paid pro rata in the University. The representation of University staff identifying from BAME backgrounds is now slightly higher than before the restructure.
This allegation is one of a number of unsubstantiated and incorrect allegations raised about the EDI position of the University and the restructure. It is only right for the University to be openly accountable for its actions but, when such allegations are demonstrably untrue, it brings into question the veracity of the other allegations raised against the University.
"HAS THE RESTRUCTURE PROGRAMME NOW FINISHED?"
The vice-chancellor & president has confirmed to all staff that the University will not be proceeding with the second stage of cost savings that had to be considered at the outset of the consultation for a 'worst-case scenario'.
"IS THE UNIVERSITY NOW FINANCIALLY SECURE?"
The University has built a strong record of re-building financial resilience over the last two years. The change programme, the increasing attractiveness of the University to students and employers together with the positive progress made with student retention and continuation, has increased the University's financial security.
"By responding to student and employer demand, we are able to invest in areas of growth and secure our future sustainability."
- Hassan Abdalla, Provost
"HAS THE RESTRUCTURE IMPACTED ACADEMIC QUALITY?"
No. All the business cases by our six Schools presented proposals to address both financial sustainability and to increase educational outcomes.
"This proactive approach will enable us to secure the best education and outcomes for our students."
- Richard Harty, Dean, School of Education and Communities
"HAS THE CHANGE PROGRAMME AFFECTED THE DIVERSITY AND DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE UNIVERSITY’S STAFF?"
The University has conducted two Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) so far - with a third under way - as part of the change programme. These were undertaken by our Office for Institutional Equity, which concluded that there has been no disproportionate impact on women, Black or Asian staff during the change programme, and the combined outcome of the three EIAs concludes, from the data, that the change programme did not show discrimination, as the make-up of those affected is diverse and consistent with the overall demographics.
The University is proud of its evidence-based reputation and progress in equality, diversity and inclusion. The University has offered to have a mutually agreed independent assessment of our process to demonstrate its integrity, transparency and fairness.
"I am confident that there has been no disproportionate impact on women, Black or Asian staff during the change programme."
- Fitzroy Andrew, Senior Institutional Equity Officer
"DOES THE RESTRUCTURE MEAN AN INCREASE IN STAFF WORKLOADS?"
All academic staff across the University are working within the agreed national framework with sufficient time allocated for scholarly activities. In summer 2020 we commissioned an external company to carry out a benchmark analysis of the workload tariffs allocation, based on a comprehensive selection of post-92 institutions and including observations in relation to the National Framework Agreement. From these findings we have produced a more detailed Workload Allocation Model (WAM), which has been shared with staff and the trade union for consultation - for implementation in 2021/22. The proposed model will provide more detailed guidelines that will ensure consistency and transparency across the board.
Among professional services, workloads have been agreed between line manager and members of staff in response to business needs. We continue to monitor workload allocation as well as ensuring that we invest in our staff to meet their needs and those of the University, both now and in the future.
"DO THE REDUCTIONS IN ACADEMIC STAFF NUMBERS IN SOCIOLOGY CREATE A SIGNIFICANT RISK TO THE UNIVERSITY’S REPUTATION FOR RESEARCH AND IMPACT?"
The University has acknowledged the concerns raised by some scholars and academic associations over its restructuring proposals in sociology, but it must be stated that many of these individuals and bodies were not fully acquainted with the facts of the matter. The reputation of the University is not dependent on a few individuals and the plans that we have in place are aimed at enhancing the University's reputation in terms of scholarship, research and impact across a wide number of disciplines.
At no point would the University ever diminish the reputation of those whose positions have been put at risk, but there are many others remaining here who have also made a significant contribution to the academic work and standing of the University. All programmes remain available to students and there have not been any research group closures.
"HOW CAN THE RESTRUCTURE ENHANCE OUR RESEARCH IMPACT?"
The restructure will allow us to focus more on areas of research that provide the greatest social and economic impact to the communities we serve. These areas of research underpin our teaching and learning, enhance the student experience and ensure our graduates are equipped with state-of-the-art knowledge and practice to support future success
"The restructuring will enable UEL to expand its research activities as it grows from student and employer demand. This will ultimately result in a beneficial impact on our local communities."
- Professor Verity Brown, Pro-Vice Chancellor Impact & Innovation
The Impact Rankings
1st in UK, 2nd globally in Reducing Inequalities
155 Student Nationalities
155 student nationalities are represented among our students
74 Staff Nationalities
74 staff nationalities are represented among our staff