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What’s happening at UEL???

Special joint union meeting on stress and bullying: Tuesday 8 November, 12.00-1.00pm, Room EB 1.07, Docklands*

 Jacqui Mitchell writes – When Vice Chancellor Patrick McGhee addressed staff earlier this semester he reported that UEL was in robust good health. Notwithstanding problems over cuts to Higher Education across the country the institution was fighting fit, he said.

 At meetings on both campuses the VC gave a positive account of UEL’s progress. Why then has management returned for a second round of voluntary redundancies? Why are jobs being removed from programmes already run with a skeleton staff and increased student numbers? What is the impact on teaching, admin – and on the student experience?

 Every School and Service is feeling the effect of job losses. Many colleagues left UEL in the summer – but student recruitment continued at the usual pace. UEL now has more students than ever before, taught in larger classes and supported by overburdened services staff.

 In one School the Dean has told lecturers that staff-student ratios must double. If implemented, this would mean UEL breaking the National Contract under which contact hours are strictly regulated, holidays guaranteed, and time set aside for specific activities which support quality teaching and research.

 What are the consequences?

for staff – increased workloads and greatly increased pressure from Deans and Directors to meet new targets. One inevitable outcome is more stress, bullying and harassment. UCU has noted a sharp increase in complaints against Deans, Associate Deans and Field Leaders, especially over demands for extra teaching and office hours, and over increased surveillance – including by monitoring the presence of staff on campus and attempting to curtail attendance at academic and professional events.

  for students – a devalued learning experience. Following an intensive campaign to improve student feedback in the National Student Survey, the University is pursuing policies likely to reduce student satisfaction – larger classes and seminars, less meaningful contact with academic staff, and greater difficulty obtaining support from academic administrators.

 This is a formula for declining student achievement and falling progression rates – certain to affect UEL’s standing at a crucial moment of change in Higher Education.

 Why is this happening? If UEL is financially strong and able to tackle foreseeable problems, as the VC says, why are staff being cut and students deprived of resources? Why are there to be more redundancies, increased pressures and a certain decline in the quality of the student experience?

 The current strategy is perverse and self-defeating. Why has it been adopted? Are there problems about which we should be informed? Does the VC have strategic aims he will not address in public? Where is the money going?

UEL management has become increasingly secretive. It has not revealed financial plans or budget allocations and refuses outright to provide information on key issues such as staffing. When UCU recently requested data under the Freedom of Information Act our management declined, citing clauses under the Act related to commercial concerns – as if the University was a supermarket chain or a budget airline. In the past this information was easy to obtain. Why conceal it now? What does management have to hide?

 At UEL, we’re told, careful planning means the institution will cope with problems which confront all universities. But are our senior managers creating a local crisis by cutting more staff, reducing services, increasing workloads to breaking point, and – at the very same time – devaluing the student experience?

 We need to know what’s afoot. We want facts, financial projections, budget allocations, plans for staffing… we need transparency and open exchange with our management. Right now we’re getting nothing.

  *Special joint union meeting on stress and bullying: Tuesday 8 November, 12.00-1.00pm, Room EB 1.07, Docklands*


University and College Union (UCU) at UEL


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