One-click survey results of Exeter UCU members:

91% Yes, I frequently have to work above the hours I am supposed to according to the workload planning model.
6% No, the workload planning model is about right.
3% Maybe (in case you would like to respond to the poll but do not feel able to answer yes or no).

Background:

In advance of the December Academic Workload Planning Meeting which reviewed workload policy and implementation, UCU members were asked for their views on:

  • Current workload and its sustainability.
  • Whether they were aware of how the workload policy has been implemented in their department and any impact (positive, negative, neutral, other).
  • Whether they frequently have to work above the hours given in the workload planning model.
  • Any suggestions and solutions with respect to workload, and workload planning and policy.

Following a discussion of several of these points at the meeting, the UCU Workload Representative (currently Abi Dymond, SPA) was asked to produce a paper for further discussion.

The following is a summary of responses.  It should not be considered an official UCU position, an exhaustive account of all the comments raised, or a comprehensive account of all the issues around workload, workload policy, planning and / or other associated issues.

Workload impacts and concerns:

91% of those who responded said that they frequently had to work above the hours listed in SWARM, and noted the far-reaching impact their workload was having:

  • Workload was ‘challenging and draining before but an absolute nightmare this year’, 
  • ‘I am seeing my mental health crumbling and I don’t know what to do to be more efficient’.
  • ‘I am at breaking point. I often find myself in tears sitting at my desk and colleagues are the same. This does not have to do with the lock down but the never ending and ever increasingly workload and the increasingly dictatorial and bureaucratic approach to our functions’.
  • ‘I am either working or cooking/cleaning/doing laundry, there is little or no time for anything else’.
  • ‘What am I risking my life and mental health for? To be so unappreciated? This is not what I signed up for’.

The impact of workload on mental health was a recurring issue, with many raising concerns about mental health and the need for improved mental health support and services for staff, including on site, face to face, adequately staffed provision. 

The increase in teaching work was seen as a big factor, with increased amounts of preparation, emails from students, meetings about teaching and blended teaching,  and extra student intake mentioned.  Colleagues noted that, despite the DLDs, there was a heavy administrative burden, including uploading and captioning lectures, writing ELE tests and providing other materials.  As a result of such factors, one person noted that their workload had increased 3 – 5 fold.

This is concerning for all but is particularly concerning for those on temporary teaching contracts and those at the earlier stages of their careers.  It was noted that excessive workloads, particularly for PGRs, risk harming the quality of their research outputs, and for ECRs risk damaging their careers.

Some staff also noted that there was a need for’more transparency on our pay slip as figures change each month and we don’t really know how much we are being paid for our work’ and for ‘increased pay to reflect increased prep and marking hours this year’.

Impact of the policy:

No-one said the workload policy had helped.  One person said that they were aware of the policy but that it had made no difference. Most were unaware of its existence or how it had been implemented in their Department, with one person saying ‘to be honest I have no clue what the policy is’.  

Many were concerned that the extra work they had been doing, and their extraordinary efforts  would not be taken into account in future years.  It was noted that, as SWARM is a multi year system, SWARM hours need accurately reflecting this year to be taken into account next year.  Furthermore, some respondents noted that they had previously been well over the 1650 figure in previous years and that nothing seemed to change in subsequent years.

There was also disappointment that, despite the policy mentioning different models as a good option – including applying a 1.5 multiplier to the amount of time given for teaching prep per hour – this did not seem to have been considered by some Departments, with no explanations given as to why, or what other models were used instead.

It was felt that this fed into a lack of communication and meaningful consultation on teaching more generally, for example, with last minute changes to mode of delivery and assessment which had workload implications for many.


Suggested solutions:

Colleagues’ suggestions covered multiple areas.

On teaching, that:

  • The time that it takes to plan and deliver teaching is recognised in the SWARM model and, in cases where staff have temporary / part-time / flexible contracts, in these contracts and in the hours for which they are paid.
  • That there are no major changes to teaching models next year and there is accountability for management, monitoring and changes of teaching formats.  Colleagues noted that changes to how modules are delivered are causing exceptional difficulties, with  ‘staff at breaking point’.  Other noted that changes to pre-agreed blended models to bring in more synchronous teaching will ‘be too much for us to bear and I think more staff will go off sick’.
  • That teaching coverage is provided where colleagues go on maternity leave, have buyouts or are not teaching for other reasons.

On SWARM and the workload model, that:

  • There is consultation and communication regarding the 2021-22 model SWARM and that there is a need for review of SWARM hours as a whole.
  • Academic staff self-assess the number of hours various tasks take.
  • Colleagues are told how the workload policy is being implemented in their Departments, with meaningful opportunities to be consulted on this.
  • That SWARM hours are accurately reflected this year to be taken into account next year.
  • Annual workloads and hours in SWARM are profiled into termly implications, with a colleague noting that ‘last year 45% of my workload had to be undertaken January – March’.
  • Action is taken to ensure that those academic staff whose roles are not covered by the SWARM model are not disadvantaged or less favourably treated.  For example, respondents noted that ‘as a postdoc I don’t have a workload model. However… since the beginning of the pandemic my department heads have started communicating that postdocs have ‘capacity in their workload for taking on teaching and admin duties as written in their contracts’ and that there’s an expectation that we ‘volunteer’ for such duties’.

On other areas, that:

  • Research leave is reinstated for next year, with respondents noting that Exeter would be out of the norm with other Russell Group members if research leave was not reinstated and concern that this is not in keeping with the University’s long term goals.  
  • That there is meaningful consultation with affected staff where changes are proposed to teaching arrangements (and in all other areas where changes have workload implications), including voting on proposed options. 
  • That any recruitment freeze should not apply to filling posts where people have left.