Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor regarding the 2023 ‘Not the Staff Survey’

Dear Vice Chancellor (Cc Karen Raymer, acting Chief People Officer),

As you may have been aware, we had once again this year carried out a “Not the staff survey” at a similar time to the University’s own staff survey, or People Survey as it is known, since we continue to identify the need to seek feedback from members and their colleagues on matters that we find are otherwise not picked up. There are a number of observations we can draw attention to on the way the University’s survey was carried out in relation to this one, which we will outline here.

The first observation from members and others participating in our survey is that they had more assured anonymity to submit their written comments than they did on the University’s survey. While the University’s survey was ensured to be anonymous, it is clear that a trace indicator was present to ensure each person completed the survey only once. Despite this and that an outside agency was handling the survey, there was still discomfort among staff to be honest in their viewpoints. Our survey on the other hand was completely open for anyone to complete. The nature of the comments from each individual do give us the assurance that the people responding were genuinely staff of the University while the unique responses give us some confidence in there being sufficient accuracy in the numerical results to reflect the opinions of our members and their colleagues.

With regard to the numerical results, we have repeatedly said that the change made in the 2022 People Survey regarding one of the questions set should be reversed. The original question was written as “My views are considered when the University makes significant decisions”, which existed up to 2021 and was replaced with “I have the opportunity to feed into my department/faculty when significant decisions are being made”. These two questions are distinctively different and indeed the positive scores dramatically increased in 2022 due to the change, when previously there was a substantially low score. Despite our insistence that both questions should be in the 2023 survey, this did not happen and therefore we brought out the ‘Not the staff survey’ partly to determine a difference of opinion between these two questions. The results below clearly show a difference of opinion between the two where confidence at University level is somewhat lower, though any degree of confidence in both cases this year is very low.

My views are considered when the University makes significant decisions
Agree (19%) Disagree (81%)

*The Neutral score was 0% in this result.

I have the opportunity to feed into my department/faculty when significant decisions are being made
Agree (19%) Neutral (36%) Disagree (45%)

A final point we will make on the conduct of the survey is that we have for many years argued for allowing unlimited length free text written comments. From our observation this appears to have been honoured in the latest survey which we welcome, though members and others do express concern about the lack of anonymity if they go into too much detail with their comments. We therefore hope that due to the difference in approach in this survey, that all points of concern will be taken on board and enable actions which could not be grasped from the University’s own survey. Attached to this letter is the free form comments from our respondents, which as we had declared at the start would only be visible to the UCU Surrey committee and recipients in Senior Management. Therefore, those reading this open letter externally will not see the attachment.

We will though highlight the following points that were found to occur significantly in the written feedback that we wish to draw to your attention:

– Consultations are meaningless because the so called consultation is with regard to decisions already made and then the questions are about how staff are going to adapt to them. Consultations should be about whether the leadership decisions are sensible.
– Staff turnover is intense in some parts of the University while also there are reported some abrupt fast handled restructurings over the past year that clearly had an effect on morale and momentum of the work those people are doing. It is more concerning for us as a union
that these restructurings were not brought to out attention.
– Substantial workloads imposing on staff due to the knock on effects of the recruitment freeze but also some great concern about the micro management and inappropriate, inconsistent or even hidden workload models.
– There are mixed views of the professional development review, which is often down to the reviewer and how well they are conducting it. Nonetheless there is a clear certainty, as we expected, that many reviewers and reviewees just did not know about or understand the process as it was weakly communicated. There are clearly also concerns about the operational side with the form used and improvements are necessary.

We hope that the feedback we have gathered from this survey will be taken on board and considered with due care along with the feedback from the other staff survey and are happy as ever to discuss any other details coming about from our findings.

Kind regards

The UCU Surrey Committee