Important update on negotiations

A report from branch Vice-President Christopher Burden-Strevens:

I am writing to give an update on the current state of negotiations between UCU and senior management. Some of these updates are in direct response to feedback and questions that the UCU negotiating team, Committee and caseworkers have received in the past week. These updates relate to:

  1. Ballot
  2. Important information on the Voluntary Redundancy scheme
  3. Update on the ‘five year rule’
  4. Update on Counterproposals
  5. Ongoing discussions about the WAF (esp. research and scholarship time)
  6. Problems with the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion impact assessment for Kent2030
  7. Date and time of the next branch meeting

I would be very appreciative if you would give me 10 minutes to read this update. Its implications will be felt more widely than only among subject-areas currently at risk, especially the WAF matters. I also consider it likely that those of us currently in ‘core’ areas will be in a similar position to this next year so we need to build our collective memory about the current process. Thank you for bearing with me and reading this in full if you can.



Just very briefly (and with apologies for repeating anything you have already heard), the ongoing ballot is the number one priority for the Branch in negotiations; without it, we have no leverage to fight for you. A good result in the ballot is absolutely essential to strengthen our hand in negotiations on research and scholarship time, and as we work on a case-by-case basis to defend as many jobs as possible in Kent2030.

Everyone—‘flagship’ areas, ‘core’ areas, and ‘potentially close’ areas—will benefit from a strong ballot result from a strong Union. Management will be watching closely to see how this ballot turns out. If we meet the 50% turnout threshold, they will know that we mean business. Our demands about Research and Scholarship time (e.g. ‘levelling up’ NATS and CEMS), and our demands about job security, will be much harder to ignore. Please, please, post your ballot paper. Every single vote counts. If you haven’t received a ballot paper, click here to order a new one.


Voluntary Redundancy scheme

At 23.59 yesterday (Thursday night), statutory Consultation closed and applications to the Voluntary Redundancy scheme (on ‘enhanced’ VS terms negotiated by UCU) also closed. At sub-JSNCC today UCU learned that the majority of staff currently ‘at risk’ have applied for Voluntary Redundancy, but a small number have not done so.

At sub-JSNCC today we impressed upon management that compulsory redundancies are a ‘red line’ for UCU. We will not countenance any arrangement that leads to staff leaving on statutory redundancy terms and want as many members as possible to be offered the maximal security on the best terms possible for as long as possible, in order to make genuine redeployment or retraining feasible.

We also stated that we are concerned for those individuals who may have felt unable to apply for Voluntary Redundancy because the information given to them was not adequate to make an informed decision: for example, some people may be waiting for further information on the outcomes of their counterproposals, or the allocation of ‘teaching out’, before they can make anything close to an informed decision about their future within Kent or outside it.

Further to this discussion I can now report the following:

  • At our request, management have agreed to re-open the Voluntary Redundancy scheme (on the same ‘enhanced’ VS terms) for those individuals who did not apply for VR by the deadline of 23.59 last night. If your role is ‘at risk’ and you have not yet applied for VR, there will still be an opportunity for you to apply for VR after you have heard the outcome of counterproposals and after you have heard the outcome of ‘teaching out’ considerations.
    • I must advise you now that the window of the scheme re-opening will be short. The University intends to communicate ‘outcomes’ (on counterproposals and teach out) in individual meetings in the days prior to and concluding on March 25. It then intends to issue notice letters at the very end of March. So you will have a very short window of opportunity between a) hearing the outcomes of counterproposals and teaching out, and then b) applying for VR in time for the University to issue notice at the very end of March.
  • UCU today asked the University once again to clarify at what point a VR application can be withdrawn. If you have applied for VR, you will have the opportunity to withdraw your VR after you have heard the outcome of counterproposals and after you have heard the outcome of ‘teaching out’ considerations in your individual ‘notification of outcomes’ meeting in the days prior to March 25.
    • If you wish to withdraw your VR application you must do so before 9am on Monday March 25, at which point the University plans to begin issuing notice letters.

We are negotiating with management all the time. It has not been possible to stop this process in its tracks, but UCU have been working hard to mitigate its worst effects, and the management agreement to reopen the VR scheme ‘at the eleventh hour’ is a minor win that may still help some members. Every concession that we extract for members comes from your engagement and the threat of our action, so thank you for your continued support of UCU and of each other. If you did not apply for VR by 7 March and were waiting to hear more information first before evaluating your circumstances, please now be assured that you have not missed your chance and there will be a final opportunity to apply for VR at the ‘enhanced’ Voluntary Severance terms in the last week of March.


The ‘five year rule’

Progress has been less positive on the University’s ‘five year rule’. At present, a colleague who leaves their post on Voluntary terms (VS or VR) is not allowed to reapply for a role at Kent for another five years after their exit date. Based upon feedback from members our view is that this is disproportionate and unnecessary. At members’ requests we have pushed on this in the last two sub-JSNCC meetings in the hope that this can be reduced.

Today, management informed us that the Executive Group have discussed this and they see at present no compelling reason to change the ‘five year rule’. UCU are disappointed about this because it means that the present policy remains ‘as is’ not only now but also for future years. We continued to give examples of scenarios in which the ‘five year rule’ would be counterproductive, for example if the University found itself in need of re-hiring expertise that it has prematurely lost through Kent2030. To be quite honest, I am sorry that we were not able to get movement on this point; it is so obviously silly and management are aware that the ‘five year rule’ is too long. I think that the winds of change are against it and we will keep pushing, but for the moment we have not reached an agreement with the University.

Please note that in the event that we do negotiate the ‘five year rule’ down to something more reasonable in future (for example, to 2-3 years), then that reduction would apply retrospectively. This means that if you leave under VR in one year’s time, and then in two year’s time UCU negotiates a reduction in the ‘five year rule’, that reduction would apply also to you and you would be able to apply to a UKC role sooner than the original five years. So we will continue pushing.



I have just a few updates about this. On Monday next week (4 March) the University will begin reviewing Counterproposals received. UCU is an ‘attendee’ at the Counterproposal Review meetings (we are not permitted to comment on the content of counterproposals, but we can intervene in cases where we feel that the fairness or consistency of the process is inadequate or wherever we notice the panel unwittingly breaching guidelines or criteria in error.

This work is going to be intense: I will be in meetings all morning Monday and back-to-back Tuesday, as will Claire later in the week. If you have concerns about the process please send these to Claire and I so that we are aware of issues that you are concerned about that you wish to flag for us to look out for. I have already received good feedback to this effect from some members, so thank you.

In today’s sub-JSNCC meeting UCU requested clarity on a couple of outstanding points. Further to today’s meeting I can confirm that:

  • The Counterproposal Review panel do not have access to lists of staff who have applied for VR. VR applications do not vitiate a counterproposal. The Counterproposal Review panel are not permitted to consider VR applications in their assessment of the viability of a counterproposal. UCU have received repeated assurances to that effect, verbally and in writing in Michelle Scott’s Kent2030 Microsoft Teams update at 12.13pm.
  • You will still have the opportunity to either withdraw your current VR application, or to submit a new VR application (if you have not already done so), after you have heard the outcome of the Counterproposal Review meetings.


Ongoing discussions about the WAF

Led by Claire Hurley, today UCU requested clarity on the date on which the ongoing ‘Engagement period’ for the WAF revisions should close. To be absolutely clear, the ‘Engagement Period’ does not end today and will still be ongoing for another couple of weeks. If you are currently collecting feedback (or planning to submit feedback) on the cuts to Research and Scholarship time proposed in the new WAF, please note that you have approximately another two weeks to do this work.

Our position at sub-JSNCC has been, and remains, that cutting time allocated to Research and Scholarship across the institution does not represent ‘fairness’ and this will lose the University valuable QR income, as well as reducing the scope that we have to bring large external grants into the institution. The present WAF strategy will only exacerbate Kent’s problems rather than improving them.

Concerned lay members within UCU are currently preparing a proposal to address Research and Scholarship time across the institution in a genuinely fair and affordable way. This proposal aims to ‘level up’ Research and Scholarship time in Divisions that have previously enjoyed only a 20% allocation (e.g. NATS and CEMS, among others), while also proposing that high-performing REF areas should be able to actually use their own QR money to bid for greater investment and support. This is a much fairer solution than levelling everyone down across the board with the University’s present anti-growth, anti-research WAF strategy.


Problems with the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion impact assessment for Kent2030

At today’s sub-JSNCC this matter was again raised by Trude Sundberg as EDI Lead for the Branch. It is clear that the EDI Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by the University on the likely impact of individuals to this point has been woefully inadequate. At present, the EIA submitted for Kent 2030 is nothing more than a bald description of the number of protected characteristics, for example “within the redundancy pool, X% of people fulfil characteristic A and Y% of people identify as characteristic B”.

Trude has argued (brilliantly) in the last two meetings that this is not an assessment or an analysis, it is merely a description. This is particularly unfortunate since (as Trude argued), the University has already had an impact upon individuals by selecting them for redundancy and proposing to close their subject-areas. That impact, however, has not been assessed (and, therefore, no EIA has been conducted).

Management heard these arguments in sub-JSNCC today and acknowledged that the analysis/assessment undertaken to this point has been inadequate. In particular, UCU have requested that an evaluation of EDI characteristics be included in the University’s selection criteria for teaching out, in order to ensure that individuals with protected characteristics are not singled out our treated disproportionately. Management have agreed to include these considerations in the University’s criteria for teaching out selection and in the guidance for managers.

My sense upon leaving this meeting is that EDI issues have not really been a serious consideration on the University’s part in their thinking about Kent2030 to this point and that the management are growing aware of this at our urging. The University has asked UCU to feed in to the analysis and assessment phase of potential EDI impact throughout the processes of the coming weeks (e.g. during discussions on staffing, teach out, and redundancy) and we have agreed in principle to do that, at the very least in an ‘attendee/supervisory’ role as we are doing for the Counterproposal Review meetings.


Date and time of the next branch meeting

The next meeting of the Kent UCU Branch will occur at 1pm on Thursday 14 March. If you could please pop the date and time in your diaries now I would be very grateful. I will circulate a Zoom link and agenda on Monday. There will be motions for you to vote on and so it would be so much appreciated if you can give us 50 minutes of your time. Owen Lyne has generously agreed to take minutes. I think it will be overkill to circulate the minutes of the last Branch meeting (Thursday 29 February) to the whole Branch but I am happy to send them to members who ask me.

Work continues apace on a whole range of other issues. Matt Howard is brilliantly leading our campaign to seek external advice about legal issues, with the approval of the Committee and the Branch. Thanks to Donatella Alessandrini and her colleagues, UCU will be meeting Andrew McGettingan this afternoon (in about ten minutes!) to seek his expert view on the long-term viability of Kent2030. Casework and representation of individual members has also been frenetic, with special thanks to Sian and Owen and Elane who have taken on an enormous amount of work. We fight on.

As is my usual practice, I will do a ‘sweep’ of comments/feedback received to raise at the next sub-JSNCC meeting next Friday, so please alert me to any relevant items you wish to raise or questions of yours that need answering.