Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

1st March 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

Thank you for your formal response (dated 11th December 2020) to the UCU open letter (dated 26th November 2020). We appreciated the direct communication from the Vice-Chancellor regarding the important issue of staff security.

In terms of the content of the formal response, the three campus trade unions, UCU, UNISON and Unite, continue to have concerns and we are writing to you as a collective to seek reassurances for our respective members. Our concerns relate specifically to the following statement:

 ‘You would appreciate that no organisation can guarantee what the changes will be needed or that there will be no redundancies in the future. However, the strategy refresh process has highlighted the need for University of Surrey to increase the total number of academic staff, in order to stay competitive.’

In addition to the lack of reassurances as to future redundancies, our concerns are as follows:

1) This response focuses on academic staff with no mention of the importance of, or planning for, staff providing essential services within the institution (e.g. Professional Services, Technicians, Estates).

2) It is unclear from the statement whether the University is planning to increase the number of academic staff in order to provide more courses. If this is the case, and no simultaneous increase in other functions is being considered, staff members within Professional Services/Technical roles will experience a consequent increase in workload and work-related stress.  

3) Furthermore, while we welcome the recognition that there is a need to “increase the total number of academic staff”, this needs to go hand-in-hand with protecting current academics’ jobs. Expanding some areas at the expense of others – even if there were to be a net total gain of academic posts  – would not be an acceptable strategy, and we need further assurances that this is not what is being considered.

4) On a related note, we have become aware that the institution has begun a ‘Professional Services Review’ but to date the campus trade unions have yet to be in/formally notified. We look forward to receiving information on the current thinking behind any such review, plus planned timescales for decisions and subsequent actions involving staff.

As we hope the above points will demonstrate, we believe all staff functions are connected, and deserve parity, within University of Surrey.

In order to understand more fully the remit of the Strategy Review/Refresh, we would like a second formal response which clarifies more precisely the current institutional position. We have identified the following options:

1) The Strategy Review/Refresh does not encompass plans for compulsory redundancies 

2) If there are to be redundancies, the university will offer a generous institution-wide voluntary severance scheme in the first instance

3) No redundancies will be made based on cost savings unless and until they are subject to full transparent audit of any financial justification, including alternative savings and measures scrutinised by UCU finance experts

4) No compulsory redundancies are to be considered until student numbers for 2021-2022 are known

5) Compulsory redundancies are only being considered in specific areas, not part of a University wide programme (please detail/list specific areas)

6) We cannot confirm or commit to any of the above as there is no formulated institutional plan.

Please could you clarify which option/s are closest to representing the Executive Board’s current thinking?

To summarise our joint campus trade union position, we are aware that student numbers have not been as badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as originally predicted, and that we are yet to see any granular financial evidence that would justify the need for redundancy planning. In addition to this, any cost saving exercises that were proven to be necessary, should be made by focussing on non-staff costs (e.g. reviewing the cost of consultants and institutional software). 

We look forward to your further response and clarifications.

Kind regards

Surrey UCU, Unite, UNISON