UCU Response to Consultation on Workload Allocation Model

Cardiff UCU welcomes the introduction of a workload framework that aspires to enable all academic staff to develop their full potential; to provide parity, consistency and fairness of treatment in the allocation of work; to manage the health and safety of staff (particularly with regard to stress, well-being and work-life balance); to meet the University’s equality and diversity obligations. Our comments as set out in this document have the intention of enabling these aspirations better to be realized. As the Vice-Chancellor wrote in his email to all staff at the end of July, he is acutely aware of how hard we all work, and of the stresses and strains we are all under: an effective Workload Allocation Model that both recognizes this hard work and seeks to alleviate some of the stresses and strains is essential to realizing the University’s ambitions as set out in The Way Forward.

Tariffs that accurately reflect the time it takes to carry out the work are central to the success of the model: inaccuracies across the tariffs as a whole will make it difficult to manage stress and work-life balance, while inconsistencies between the tariffs for different tasks or categories of work will undermine the University’s aspirations to consistency and fairness of treatment. While we accept that it is unrealistic to expect all tariffs to be accurate from the point of introduction, there is nonetheless considerable scope for improvement even before the Model is introduced; it is disappointing that there has not been an opportunity to negotiate and agree upon more accurate tariffs earlier in the process. In addition to our specific comments on the tariffs, we would also urge that the Model specifically incorporate a data-collection element such that members of staff can report on the time tasks take, in order to identify both discrepancies in the tariffs and tasks and categories of work that are not currently included (e.g. as new tasks emerge).

Many members of staff have raised concerns as to how the proposed tariffs were arrived at, since there are many areas in which the times suggested by the tariffs diverge widely from our experience of how long it takes to carry out a task. These concerns could be addressed by means of a formal work study programme or workplace ethnography to develop tariffs in which staff have a higher degree of trust. We would also request that the results of the pilots (including feedback from staff in the pilot schools) be published within the university and/or shared with unions. Similarly, the Workload Policy states that the Framework will be subject to an EIA after it has been piloted: it would also be very helpful if the results of that EIA could be published and/or shared with unions.

Concerns have been raised as to the time ranges spent on different activities for the typical full-time teaching and research pathway: there are fears that the maximum of 600 hours spent on research and the statement that internally funded research should not exceed 33% of the total hours available for allocation over a three-year cycle might negatively affect the University’s ability to fulfil its aspiration to be a world-leading research university. In particular, we’d like to draw attention to the fact that it seems as if applying the policy as worded would mean that anyone who had a year of internally funded research time (e.g. on a college-funded research fellowship) would not receive any more internally funded research time for a further two years, while anyone who had a single semester of internally funded research time would only be able to expect a further 750 hours spread over the remaining five semesters of a three-year cycle. We should be grateful for clarification of this matter, and should like to request that these figures be benchmarked against the rest of the Russell Group.

Relatedly, we are very happy to see (e.g. in the footnote on CEDAP in the workload policy) the acknowledgement that the immediate demands of teaching and administration frequently squeeze out the time required for research. We would be delighted if the Workload Framework could introduce a means of enabling staff to safeguard time for high-level tasks such as research: not merely time unallocated for other activities, but time during which e.g. the pressure to respond to email or to be available to students is removed. (Many colleagues have reported that they take annual leave in order to carry out their research, because it is the only way of escaping the pressures from other aspects of their roles.)

Allocating 1500 hours across the year (including time for good citizenship) ignores the time that is spent on ‘unproductive’ but necessary activities that are not included in the workload model: travel to and from meetings, lectures, etc., self-administration and time planning, short gaps between meetings or lectures, dealing with computer problems, or indeed the time that is lost due to interruption or switching tasks. Colleagues have estimated that 15% of time is spent on these kinds of activities (there may well be a more scientific time and motion study that has a more accurate figure, but we are not aware of one). Working on the basis of 1500 allocable hours is likely to result in a huge expectation of unpaid overtime, and/or eat into the time for high-level, high-priority tasks such as research.

Similarly, the time allocated for good citizenship and general academic duties seems rather low, especially when the tariffs document recognizes that tasks requiring even as much as 1–2 hours a week on average (so potentially 50–100 hours) will frequently be included in expectations of good citizenship. A higher allocation of time here might be appropriate, although that would not address the problem of the unequal distribution (and taking responsibility for) this kind of work. We’d suggest that this category be looked at in more detail.

Citizenship is one area (by no means the only one) where it is unclear which activities will be allocated in advance, and which retrospectively. This needs to be made clearer, as does the mechanism by which this retrospective allocation is to take place, and the equalities impact of this mechanism properly assessed. A great many opportunities come up within the cycle of the academic year (such as new research projects or grant applications, invitations to give talks, peer-reviewing of MSS or grant proposals): the mechanism by which time is kept free for and allocated to tasks such as these needs to be specified, and care must be taken that it is both transparent and fair, across a diverse staff body.

Having read through the contributions by several dozen UCU members that have informed this submission, it is alarming to note the discrepancies between the time that staff think it takes to carry out duties, and the time allocated by the tariffs: from the perspective of our evidence base (including the logging of hours spent on different tasks), the proposed tariffs both significantly overestimate the time available for productive work, and underestimate the time it actually takes to carry out the tasks that are central to our jobs, and to realizing the University’s aspirations. Given the recognition across the University of how hard staff work, it is essential that this be reflected within the Model and the tariffs according to which it is implemented.

In particular, we would urge the adoption of a more holistic approach to workload allocation that seeks to allocate work as strategically as possible to facilitate the alignment of (for example) research- and teaching-related scholarship, maximizing the benefits (both personal and institutional) from the time put in to the relevant tasks. This means not only allowing sufficient time to carry out the different aspects of our roles, but also recognizing that there are situations in which a small but significant increase in the time available can allow the kind of strategic alignment that maximizes output based on the time spent working—combinations such as a new module and a monograph, a pedagogical publication and the revision of a module, or a journal article and a grant application.

At the same time, recognizing the perceptions of a great many staff of being overloaded with the kinds of trivial tasks that cut into the time spent on the high-level, strategically important tasks that contribute to the University’s success (and indeed to our own), we should like to urge that steps be taken toward developing an organizational culture in which all members of staff feel encouraged to prioritize the strategically important over the unimportant-but-urgent, and in which time is freed up to spend on the aspects of our roles which are most central to the University’s core mission—and to our own job satisfaction. This means developing empowerment and autonomy, alongside a culture of encouraging and supporting the very best performance—aligning individual and institutional aims, and identifying the best way for each individual to contribute to the University’s vision and aspirations.

Specific comments on tariffs (numbers in brackets refer to those in the Trial Workload Tariffs document):

Modular Teaching – existing and new modules (1.1, 1.3):


Existing lectures:

One hour preparation per contact hour for an experienced member of staff who has taught the material before is inadequate. An hour is not even sufficient to review an existing lecture (and its handouts and slides), check links to resources, check library availability and upload material to a VLE, and travel to and from the lecture theatre, let alone to ask the question of whether the content or structure of the lecture or the module more widely could be improved. This is not to mention the fact that recently published books and articles need to be read and incorporated into lectures.

Colleagues report that an hour of contact time frequently involves c. 6 hours of time outside the classroom (for activities such as updating lecture content, making slides available on LearningCentral, responding to student queries, etc.) If the lecture requires more substantial revision, reconceptualization, or pedagogical innovation, this will be significantly longer. Given the University’s ambition to provide research-led, innovative teaching of outstanding quality, and to introduce technology-enhanced learning and other kinds of pedagogical innovation, considerably more time is required than one hour.

New lectures:

Colleagues unanimously report that 3.5 hours is grossly inadequate for writing a new lecture: 14 hours/2 days (with an increase for early-career members of staff) is a figure that is repeatedly mentioned (including by very experienced senior academics and heads of school) as the time it actually takes to prepare a new lecture, including not only familiarization with the relevant scholarship, but also making an educational decision as to which learning activities to include within contact time and the associated non-contact time.

Inherited lectures:

The tariffs in their current form do not adequately distinguish between lectures that one has given before and those that one inherits. The time required here will vary on a case-by-case basis (factors include how familiar one is with the material), but adapting inherited lecture materials can in some cases take at least as long as writing new ones, both to familiarize oneself with their content and to understand and adapt their pedagogical approach. Again, the University’s aspiration to provide pedagogically outstanding research-led teaching means that inherited lectures also require substantial preparation. If insufficient preparation time is provided, it implies that the expectation is that staff inheriting lectures will read out a colleague’s lecture notes or from their slides, with the danger both of deskilling staff and of poor-quality teaching.

In some cases this time spent preparing, reflecting on and revising teaching will appropriately be allocated as scholarship and/or CPD. However, if this is the case, there needs to be a mechanism for its allocating alongside the teaching for which it is required: either an automatic allocation of teaching-related scholarship time for each contact hour, or a means by which the member of staff asked to carry out the work can specify how much scholarship time will be required in order adequately (ideally rather better than merely adequately!) to prepare and deliver it.

Seminars, Tutorials, Labs:

Time allocated for preparation of seminars and (in particular) laboratory practicals is insufficient: colleagues report that practicals can take significantly more than two hours to prepare, while one hour is insufficient to design high-quality learning activities for a single contact hour in a seminar.

Design (rather than preparation) of new seminars/tutorials, labs, classes, etc. does not seem to feature in the model (unless it is included under ‘strategic teaching project’. Again, this may be classified under scholarship, but this time needs to be made transparent in order to ensure that it does not start encroaching into time for research. Colleagues report that labs in particular take dozens of hours to design (including design, discussion with colleagues, and trial runs).

Repeat Teaching:

Allocating only contact hours for repeat lectures, tutorials and seminars does not include time taken to travel to and from the venue, collecting the relevant equipment, reflection on how the first instance went, time lost in switching between activities, or any revision of the seminar for the pedagogical needs of subsequent groups (based on, e.g., changes in venue, group size, cohort, even time of day).

Module coordination:

The time for module co-ordination seems also to be underestimated, approximately by a factor of 2, relative to the time members of staff estimate it takes them to do the work.

Formative and Summative Assessment and Feedback (1.2):

Submissions from colleagues suggests that the tariffs suggested for marking (including not only the evaluation of the assessed work, but also the communication of that evaluation and the provision of good-quality feedback to students in line with the University’s policies on assessment and feedback) underestimate the time taken by a factor of at least 2.

Formative Assessment and Support for Non-Contact-Time Learning:

Provision of detailed, useful, high-quality formative feedback on students’ work is not the same as preparation of in-class activities, and requires time in itself. The assertion that if formative assessment ‘is assessed as part of a class which already has preparation time attached, then it does not require additional workload time’ is thus dangerous, and will leave staff having to choose between supporting in-class and non-contact-time learning. The setting and marking of formative assessment, and the support for non-contact-time learning, require time for themselves, at least equivalent to the summative assessment of work of the same length.

Second-Marking and Moderating:

There needs to be time allocated for second-marking and moderating, including for the meetings

Support for Teaching (1.5):

PCUTL modules involve 100 notional learning hours for each ten credits: the suggestion to allocate only the hours involved in attending the workshops is therefore a huge underestimation of the amount of time taken by PCUTL. The allocation should be for the full number of notional learning hours as dictated by the number of credits, although at times some of this can double as time spent on teaching, assessment, and teaching-related scholarship.

PGR Supervision, Monitoring, Examination (2):

The allocations of 50 hours for the primary and 25 hours for the second supervisor seem broadly fair. However, there are cases (such as those involving interdisciplinary work, which we are increasingly encouraged to pursue and embrace) in which both supervisors make a significant contribution to the student’s project (frequently reading and giving feedback on the same work from different perspectives, in which an allocation of 50 hours per supervisor would therefore be more reasonable. Would it be possible for schools to able to allocate both supervisors appropriate time up to 50 hours for each supervisor on a case-by-case basis that takes account of the project?

A common comment from members of staff is that a fourth or writing-up year can be at least as demanding on supervisors’ time as any other year of study, and an allocation of time for this year is essential, since reading regular submissions of draft work takes significant amounts of time.

Concerns have been raised with respect to the supervision of students whose first language is not English: colleagues report that the time taken to read and provide feedback on draft work can be significantly longer (frequently up to eight hours for a single hour’s contact time). Given the University’s ambition to establish and sustain a position as a well-known global university, it is worth exploring ways in which this effective disincentive to supervise international research students could be alleviated.

Teaching-Related Scholarship and Scholarship as CPD (3):

We welcome the formal recognition of the importance to staff on all pathways of the space and to do ‘blue skies’ reading and thinking. However, it is worth acknowledging the diversity of activities included under the category of scholarship: that it includes not only this reading and thinking (both within a discipline and within scholarship of teaching and learning), but also activities such as reflection, evaluation and development of teaching, and the dissemination of pedagogical practice both through attendance at conferences and publications.

In the light of this, the time allocated to scholarship (for staff on both T&R and T&S pathways) is not adequate to account for the quantity and range of activities that are expected of staff. This is all the more the case if this allocation scholarship time is to include preparation for teaching that has already been allocated. As with research, the danger is that the ‘blue skies’ time gets squeezed out (or shifted into evenings, weekends, and periods of annual leave, with knock-on negative consequences for equality). It is important to carry out an audit of the time actually required for scholarship of different kinds, for CPD, and for training.

Research (4):

Again, the proposed tariffs seem grossly to underestimate the time taken for research activities. The tariffs for the writing of grant applications does not reflect the time put in to writing them. Ten hours, for example, is significantly less (by a factor of more than two) than the time it takes to prepare a competitive grant application even for a small grant competition. If the aim is to discourage staff from spending time applying for small grants then this should be made explicit. Getting funding bits to the very high standard needed to have a high chance of success takes substantial amounts of time, which often includes finding and consulting with external partners and many hours of meetings. The tariffs would need to be doubled or tripled to be realistic.

Similarly, the evidence base of members of staff who record hours spent on research projects (including during periods of research leave) indicates that the tariffs suggested for the production of research publications grossly underestimate the time it actually takes to produce world-leading research. These discrepancies are exacerbated in the case of collaborative publications (which do not involve a zero-sum game in which a single quantum of work is divided between multiple contributors). It has frequently been reported that revisions in the light of reviewers’ comments alone take up the entire time allocation intended for the output as a whole.

If it is the case that the tariffs refer solely to the ‘writing up’ of research done at other times (whether in the lab, the field, the archive, the library, or indeed the armchair), then this needs to be made explicit—and time to carry out this research (which is significantly more than that of the writing—needs to be allowed for separately.

Academic Management and Administration (6):

Colleagues report that the tariffs for these kinds of tasks routinely under-estimate the time they require. In particular, there was astonishment that so little time is allocated to administration for Heads of School and Directors and Co-Directors of University Institutes. One suggestion is that there could be an allocation specifically for managing staff: estimations are that this takes around 2–4 hours a month per person (not just 3 hours annually for probation/appraisal), although once again a proper workplace ethnography or time and motion study could come up with a more reliable figure.

Colleagues routinely report being overloaded by organizational rain (particularly from email)—which once again means that time for research and other ‘blue skies’ projects gets squeezed out. One solution would be a default allowance for administration of this kind, but UCU would also welcome measures to reduce this kind of burden, thus freeing up more time to contribute to initiatives central to the University’s core mission and aspirations.

Travel and International Work:

It is important that the demands of international travel be taken into account in order not to disincentivize work of this kind that is of increasing importance to fulfilling the University’s aspirations. A meeting with a funder in (say) Tokyo will take up significantly more time than one at the Welsh Assembly, even before the tiredness and jet lag associated with international travel are taken into consideration. Similarly, fieldwork (for both research and teaching purposes) can involve long periods of time of intensive work away from home. It is important that the Model and its tariffs have sufficient flexibility to account for this.