FEARS have been raised that academics’ working conditions could be eroded at Northumbria University just a week after hundreds of staff were told their jobs are at risk.
As previously reported in The Journal, 700 workers at the university have been offered severance packages as chiefs stage a huge shake-up of staff.
Now, the University and College Union (UCU) has warned that the institution’s Vision 2025 proposal “opens up a possible threat to the established academic contract”.
A union meeting is being held tomorrow to discuss the changes, which staff fear could eat away at hard-won rights and conditions, but formal discussions are yet to take place.
The current contract for academic staff was agreed in 1992, arising out of a bitter national pay dispute in the then polytechnic sector.
Among the agreements at Northumbria was a weekly norm of 37 hours of work, no more than two nights a week working after 5pm, a guarantee of time “primarily devoted to self-managed research and scholarly activity”, limits on formal scheduled teaching and an appraisal scheme.
At the same time, pay deals were negotiated between the union and university.
But according to a UCU newsletter, a circular sent out by HR director Jane Embley “calls all these agreements into question”.
Vision 2025 and Academic Staff, seen by The Journal, offers a 40:40:20 workload split between teaching, research and administration, with more time allocated for research activity and a more structured sabbatical policy.
It promises an “attractive, and in some ways unique, ‘employment deal’ to retain, develop and recruit high-quality academic staff”.
But union members raised concerns about references to “creating the right culture” and “an institutional Performance Management Framework”.
At a meeting tomorrow the UCU will put forward a motion pledging to “defend robustly” their national and local conditions and resist performance- related pay. They will also call for “parity of esteem for teaching and research”.
Martin Levy, chairman of the Northumbria University UCU branch, said negotiations are at a very early stage but the UCU wishes to make clear the principles which it holds dear.
“There is anxiety about the direction of Vision 2025,” he said. “But we don’t have a firm position until we have spoken to the university.”
The university said the proposals focus on the development of academic staff.
“Northumbria University is committed to maintaining a world class education for our students,” a spokesperson said.
“As part of this we have grown our academic workforce significantly and almost doubled the number of professors over the last three years.
“It is important that we encourage and enable the development of our academic workforce.
“A project to take this forward is under way and we will soon be consulting with our academic staff, with the aim of reaching agreement by the end of May.”