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Vice-Chancellor’s response to the University and College Union’s (UCU’s) open letter on workload

Thank you for your letter submitted on 01.08.2018, which has been shared with the University Executive Board and Cardiff University Council. The letter raises a number of important points relating to workload which I wish to address.

I should say at the outset that the University takes the welfare of its staff and students very seriously. We are committed to working closely with all the members of the University community, including the UCU and our other recognised trade unions, to ensure the welfare of our staff.

Reference is made to the tragic death of Dr Malcolm Anderson in the opening paragraph of your letter. You will appreciate the sensitivity of addressing the circumstances of an individual case in any form of open letter and, out of respect for Dr Anderson's family and his colleagues during a very difficult time, I do not think that it is appropriate to comment on an individual case in this letter.  We do, however, take these matters very seriously, recognising that there are often a number of complex issues in such cases. This same point was made in a recent response from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor to the UCU on workload issues and I wish to reiterate it.

I would also like to reassure colleagues that I am determined to ensure that we look carefully at workplace issues when they arise, including in relation to workloads and the working environment.  Your letter argues that “robust and meaningful action in respect of workload issues is required now” as opposed to “ineffectual and facile tackling of the symptoms of overwork”.

This is a serious allegation with which I cannot agree. The University is committed to ensuring that workloads are fairly and properly managed and that those workloads are appropriate.  We aim to achieve this in partnership with our staff and unions and, recognising that any system can be improved, we continue to review and revise our approach and to implement changes where appropriate. Therefore, I would like to briefly to set out the measures we have taken so far to address workload. These measures were also outlined to the UCU by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and I hope you will forgive me for recapping here but I believe the matter to be important and not all of you will have seen the response to the UCU.

Over the last four years at Cardiff University we have been seeking to establish a fair and transparent framework for allocating workloads across the University. We want to ensure that, as far as possible, the framework operates consistently and appropriately in all the different areas of the University's academic activities. In common with many other leading universities, we have adopted a Workload Allocation Model in order to do this. This is accompanied by our Workload Policy which was first introduced in 2014 after an extensive period of consultation with the UCU and others at the time. This Policy, agreed with the UCU, was endorsed by the University Executive Board before being presented at Senate in March 2014. Following consultation on the 2014 workload trial tariffs, the policy document was updated in 2016 to reflect the development of the framework.

In particular, the Workload Policy is specifically designed to provide a systematic approach to academic workload allocation and to assist the University (through its Colleges and Schools) to address its obligations in managing the health and safety of its staff, particularly with regard to stress, well-being and work-life balance. We wish to establish a clear evidence base that will support parity, consistency and fairness of treatment in the allocation of work to all academic staff in each College, taking account of discipline-specific characteristics. The Policy also provides that the workload framework will be developed in partnership with the UCU and staff in the Colleges and Schools and that it will be regularly reviewed and revised.

The principles of the Policy expressly record that individual workload allocation should remain open to review during the course of each academic year to allow for unforeseen circumstances, either personal or institutional, which may require changes or adjustments.

It is of course important that any Policy is properly and effectively implemented in practice. Likewise, it is important that the Workload Allocation Model should operate appropriately and fairly. We keep this under regular review, primarily in two ways.
Firstly, individual workloads are addressed as part of the line management relationship, including through the Heads of Schools and College Pro Vice-Chancellors where necessary. It is in this context that we can take proper account of individual factors and circumstances and that any issues or concerns can be addressed. Where issues remain, these can be addressed through the University's grievance procedure. We are also mindful of the need to identify any trends or wider implications which individual workload issues might suggest and the School, College and University management teams have an important role here, along with the UCU and other staff groups.

Secondly, the University has established the Workload Governance Group, whose role is to assess the impact and operation of the Workload Allocation Model and to ensure (for example) that as far as possible the Workload Allocation Model is implemented consistently and fairly across the Colleges. The composition of the Workload Governance Group includes a UCU representative whose input has been most helpful to the Group's work.  In particular, I think it is very important for the Workload Governance Group carefully to consider and address the issues which the UCU has raised in its letter. I will ask the Group to do so as a priority and to look specifically at the examples which are included in the two Appendices to the UCU's letter.  These issues merit careful consideration and I do not think that it would be helpful to pre-judge this as part of my response at this stage to the UCU's letter. However, I wish to be clear that if as a result of the Group's work, there are issues which need to be addressed, I will ensure that these are addressed as a priority, with input from the University community (including the UCU).

Finally, I would like to reiterate the University's commitment to addressing the issues which the UCU has raised and to thank all members of our staff for their dedication and hard work for the University.