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Phase 2: How Many Redundancies is Seven?

Published: 20th August, 2021

On 3 August Nishan Canagajarah announced phase 2 of ‘shaping for excellence’. In an email to all University staff, he stated: ‘The exact net reduction will depend on the outcome of the selection and consultation processes that will take place over the next few months. However, we know that this will not be more than a net reduction of seven posts’. Reassured? Nope, us neither. Here’s why…

How Many is Seven?

Seven is the net reduction in the number of professional services jobs that Nishan Canagarajah envisages as part of phase 2 of ‘shaping for excellence’. But what does this mean? In January 2021, the VC claimed that what is now known as phase 1 of ‘shaping for excellence’ would lead to a net reduction of 60 posts. But 145 people received letters telling them their livelihoods were at risk and six months later approximately 140 had exited the institution via voluntary redundancy or resignation, with a further 21 made redundant on 11 August.

Therefore, in creating a net reduction of 7 posts, phase 2 might conceivably mean that 15 to 20 people in the Doctoral College and Research and Enterprise Division get placed at risk of redundancy – with them, their family and their friends suffering all of the associated uncertainty and anxiety. And we might expect a similar number to leave University of Leicester one way or another.

All told, by the end of ‘phase 2’, the number of direct casualties of ‘shaping for excellence’ might total close to 200.

This does not take into account the three areas defined as having ‘no case for change’: Information Technology Services, Academic Skills Centre (LLIS) and AccessAbility (SAS). These divisions will still be subject to restructuring and ‘some adjustments’. What these may look like, we are as yet still in the dark. Based on previous restructuring projects, they are likely to include enforced changes to job roles and responsibilities, re-grading of jobs, and breaking up then reconfiguring established teams.  

The Impacts of Restructuring

These ‘cases for change’ are destructive in more ways than just getting rid of people. Staff are exhausted. We have been working, and been overburdened, throughout the pandemic. Now staff are faced with further upheaval to their working lives. Lots of the ‘survivors’ of phase 1 have had to accept new roles and inferior contracts. Colleagues are already having to adjust to this whilst combatting morale that is at an all-time low. For example, one result of the Library User Services phase 1 ‘case for change’ –  merging the Library and Student Services – is an enormous backlog of students waiting to receive degree certificates, because the Student Services team is scarred and depleted due to this restructure. How has this improved the student experience? Could somebody ask the Vice-Chancellor or the Registrar responsible for these changes: Are these restructures really working? And are more restructures going to help matters?

Canagarajah’s ‘vision’ for the ‘phase 2’ changes to professional services is to provide a ‘forward-thinking, agile and responsive approach’. How responsive are these restructures going to be? The Doctoral College, Research and Enterprise Division, IT Services, AccessAbility and the Academic Skills Centre are part of the backbone of our university. Disrupt them, and the whole system falters – for example, how many people rely on the Research and Enterprise Division to sign-off the finances for grant applications or to set up research contracts with funding bodies?  The depletion of Leicester Learning Institute staff in ‘phase 1’, was, in part, to help create a more ‘research-intensive’ university. A research-intensive university that is, members report, presently unable to train new PhD supervisors because the Doctoral College is being “shaped for excellence”. A ‘research-intensive’ university that has severely depleted its dedicated team of pedagogical experts, who trained and supported teaching staff to implement new learning technologies, improve teaching practice, and develop curricula. Now that these responsibilities mainly fall to academic schools, are we to believe there will be more time for academics to research? How will students access the support they need whilst the AccessAbility and Academic Skills Centres are busy being “shaped for excellence”?

Take a look on the University’s vacancy pages and count the number of posts waiting to be filled in departments that have been depleted due to the mass exodus caused by phase 1 of ‘shaping for excellence’ (18 posts at the time of writing). There are 8 vacancies currently listed in ULSB, a department that last week made 9 staff redundant and lost many more staff since January 2021. (The extent of the overlap between the jobs of the 9 ‘redundant’ staff and the new roles is astonishing. In the most blatant instant, whilst bosses last week dismissed an associate professor of entrepreneurship and accounting, this week they are advertising for an associate professor of entrepreneurship.) Members in this department report that, despite university policy to revert to a typical 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administration workload for staff on teaching and research contracts (after the Emergency Workload model reduced the time available for research to deal with changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic), they have been told staff shortages may mean they could be allocated ZERO time for research in the coming academic year.

On this basis, and the fact that many staff impacted by phase 1 have accepted teaching-only contracts, how will this university be sustained, and how will we ensure we are a ‘world-leading research-intensive university’? If the chaos and devastation felt by phase 1 is anything to go by, your guess is as good as ours. And if we were to guess…Nishan Cangarajah has little, if no, clue either.

‘No Current plans’ until January 2023

In the same all-staff email, Canagarajah made a ‘commitment’ to : ‘no further collective consultation…until January 2023’. Given that any redundancies  prompted by phase 2 will likely not take effect until February or March 2022, we’re sure that all staff will be looking forward to those glorious 10 or 11 redundancy-free months. 

We recently revisited the Executive Board Q&A from 24 February 2021, and Canagarajah stated that: ‘We shouldn’t be doing this [redundancies in phase 1] very often. And I don’t want to do this again. I really want to make sure that we put everything in place that [sic] this is not something we need to do again.’ On 16 August 2021, in another all-staff email, he said that once phase 2 of ‘shaping for excellence’ is complete, ‘there will be no further changes up to January 2023’. Hmmmm. Funny how things change in the space of seven months.

Action Continues

As agreed, and communicated on 11 August, the marking boycott is over. However, we remain in dispute with Nishan Canagarajah and his senior leadership team, over the phase 1 compulsory redundancies, the blatant attack on academic freedom and union officers and reps, and for the proposed phase 2 redundancies. Other forms of ASOS continue, and we ask members to stay strong in their commitment to industrial action, which we have a mandate for until 14 October.

The global academic boycott of Leicester continues. There is a very good reason National UCU have called on members in other institutions to subject our University to that rarest and most serious of sanctions, the global academic boycott. There are several good reasons in fact. In a nutshell, Nishan Canagarajah has made the University of Leicester a pariah institution. To date there has been absolutely no evidence for National UCU to lift this boycott. 

Next Steps

Remember to vote on our consultative ballot on undertaking strike action from 27 September. This was a motion passed at the EGM on 9 August, a full account of which was emailed to you on 11 August. The proposed strike action is to secure a commitment to reinstate those colleagues who were subject to compulsory redundancy in the first phase of “Shaping for Excellence” and a commitment to no compulsory redundancies in phase two. You should by now have received an email “UCU Consultative Ballot: Vote YES to Strike Against Redundancies” with your unique voting link. The consultative ballot closes at 5pm on Friday 3 September.

In addition to voting yourself, you can help ensure a strong turnout by speaking to at least one other UCU member and encouraging them to vote, and vote yes.