Open letter to the Chair of Council 05.07.24

Dear Mr Geffen,

Thank you for your response (14.06.24) to the campus trade union open letter (10.06.24).

Substantive concerns raised in our letter were not actually addressed in your response, and we were disappointed that you delegated these issues to the Vice Chancellor and the Executive Board, with an accompanying reference to your agreement with the contents of the Vice Chancellor’s letter to the campus unions dated 17th April 2024. The level of information within this April letter was insufficient to restore confidence in the leadership trajectory and the letter also contained the incorrect assumption that the unions had been provided with the in-depth financial detail which UCU had formally requested (see point 5 of our March open letter here – and the assurance of provision originally contained in the Vice Chancellor’s March response here). Subsequent cursory information has not answered questions sufficiently or restored confidence lost, for example, the information contained in the ‘wider updates to staff’ [29.04.24 and 10.06.24] referenced in this letter by the Vice Chancellor [17.04.24].

In short, it is clear that the ‘usual channels’ and ‘established mechanisms’ which you request us to rely on / resort to, clearly do not provide staff with adequate protections or means of consultation, negotiation and information on damaging institutional actions – actions which ultimately culminated in a second overwhelming Vote of No Confidence. This is especially the case as the unions are increasingly told by the Executive Board during consultation meetings that these institutional actions are based on the decisions made by Council. Staff and students are looking for leadership and reassurance after losing confidence in the Vice Chancellor, Provost and the Executive Board; staff are an integral part of the community, they will want to hear how they will be protected by Council in future, not least due to the fact that scores of staff were coerced into leaving during the recent rounds of ‘Voluntary Severance’.

We know that Council are aware of long-standing staff survey results/low confidence in the executive leadership team as can be evidenced by the Council Nov 23 minutes [23/129.4(pg 3)] . We believe that this is another reason why it is important that you attend an open meeting to address University of Surrey governance structures after this second Vote of No Confidence.

The request of such a meeting with the Chair of Council (as opposed to delegating such discussions back to the Vice Chancellor and Executive Board) is all the more pertinent given that the Remuneration Committee is currently reporting back to Council on the incentive (bonus) scheme for the Executive Board with associated concerns on its ‘affordability and optics’ Council minutes March 2024 [24/046.3 pg 6]. As you can appreciate, at the same time, staff remaining are being asked to accept financial stringency – not to mention those 140 staff members who have just lost their livelihood under highly pressurised circumstances.

To return, then, to the content of your own letter response, you have referenced the ambitions which you claim underpin the Financial Resilience Plan, you stress that you are in full agreement with the actions that the Vice Chancellor, Provost and the Executive Board have taken in relation to these ambitions. Please could you therefore field a series of dates when you could meet the trade unions in an open meeting, in order to respond to our questions and present your rationale to staff and students, who are looking for accountable leadership at University of Surrey.

Yours Sincerely
UCU, Unite, and Unison Committees


14 June 2024
Sent by email to: Campus Trade Unions

Dear Trade Union colleagues

Thank you for your letter dated 10th June 2024.
The Vice-Chancellor and Executive Board are responsible for the operations of the University but are, as you note, accountable to Council.
The financial resilience plan aims to eliminate the deficit between the University’s income and expenditure and return the University to surplus in the next financial year.
Council has spent much time discussing the plan with the Vice Chancellor and the Executive Board.
We have been guided by the core principles of minimising the impact on our students and harm to our core mission and community.
The plan has the full support of Council.
I certainly appreciate that this has been a tough time. And although we have managed to avoid compulsory redundancies it is particularly sad to see some colleagues departing.
In his letters to you dated 14th March 2024 and 17th April 2024 the Vice Chancellor has responded to a number of the points you make in your letter to me. I agree with the answers he has provided, and he and the team will respond to the other issues you raise through the usual channels.
Comprehensive briefing materials and FAQs have also been made available to senior leaders and impacted colleagues throughout the process.
And a series of meetings have taken place with Trade Union colleagues to consult openly both generally on the financial resilience plan and on the issues you have raised with me.
As you acknowledge, the financial pressures we are experiencing are being felt across the HE sector because of the declining funding in real terms for home students and the fall in international recruitment. These are the reasons for the action we are having to take.
Nevertheless, the University will be publishing its vision to 2041 later this year which sets out our plans for an exciting future.
You will know we were recently ranked 12th in the UK by the Complete University Guide and the new vision sets out our plans to be ranked in the global 100 by 2041.
Council is confident in that ambition as long as the University can ensure its income exceeds its expenses. If achieved it will bring significant benefits to students, staff and our wider community and stakeholders.
Thank you also for the invitation to meet.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter the Vice Chancellor and Executive Board are responsible for the day to day operations of the University. They will continue to engage with you through the established mechanisms and answer any further questions. They will also continue to report to Council which will monitor developments.
I look forward to hearing more about the positive and constructive contributions from the trade unions so that together we can all shape the future of our great University to the benefit of all our students, staff and society.
Kind regards.
Charles Geffen
Chair, University Council