Introduction

14.1 Realisation of the vision for higher education that we have developed throughout our report is wholly dependent on the people in higher education. We therefore turn in this chapter to the policies and practices needed in institutions to enable staff to respond to what lies ahead and to provide a framework for their future employment. Our terms of reference included the following principle:

'that higher education should be able to recruit, retain and motivate staff of the appropriate calibre'.

14.2 An effective, fairly remunerated, professional and well-motivated workforce lies at the heart of the high quality system of higher education which this country will continue to need. We deal elsewhere with other matters of concern to staff: participation in governance; grievance procedures; academic freedom; and the development of teaching as a profession.

14.3 In making recommendations on these matters we have drawn on the evidence put to us by, and on behalf of, academic and other staff.

14.4 We discussed in Chapter 3 the wide range of staff employed by universities, and their numbers across the United Kingdom (UK). They form a significant percentage (1.8 per cent) of the total UK workforce in employment. The groupings and terminology used by institutions to describe different staff vary, depending on institutional policy. Broadly, the categories reflect the groupings for the collective bargaining arrangements that still prevail, but there is a growing recognition of the inadequacy of these types of categorisation. In pre-1992 universities the categories are: academic staff; academic and related staff; technical staff; clerical staff; manual staff; and computer operators. The categories in the 1992 universities are: lecturers; researchers; administrative, professional, technical and clerical (APT&C) staff; and manual staff.

Career patterns and changing roles

14.5 The skills associated with academic work: teaching, scholarship, research, and administration, have traditionally been acquired within higher education itself. Possession of a good first degree and a postgraduate research qualification have been the traditional entry qualifications for academic staff.

14.6 Promotion is based on criteria devised by individual institutions, but they are generally perceived as rewarding research rather than teaching. Some institutions are changing this emphasis, and seek to reward other aspects of academic work, particularly excellence in teaching, but also managerial skills and leadership abilities. Nevertheless, our survey of academic staff indicates that only three per cent believe that the present system rewards excellence in teaching. We agree that there is currently inadequate recognition of teaching excellence, and make proposals to help change this in paragraph 14.29.

14.7 In the pre-1992 universities, since the abolition of the University Grants Committee’s restriction of a maximum ratio of 40 per cent senior (ie those staff holding posts at senior lecturer level and above) to junior academic teaching staff, universities have been able to recruit staff to suit their own institutional plans. Nationally, the ratio is approximately 46 per cent, but we have been told that in some institutions senior academic teaching staff ratios of 50 to 60 per cent are now not uncommon. This has helped to offset the relatively modest general pay increases for academic staff, and it has also tended to lift the general career grade expectation of academic staff in pre-1992 universities to the level of senior lecturer. This is significant when attempting to judge whether changes in pay in higher education have matched changes elsewhere. In the 1992 universities the comparable national ratio is only 25 per cent.

14.8 It is important that promotion is seen not simply as a reward for past achievement but also as an ongoing expectation of the need to assume greater responsibility or perform in a different way. It is not clear whether the responsibilities and/or performance of academic teaching staff on higher grades currently always match the higher levels of reward they receive. Long incremental salary scales, with semi-automatic increments, together with the culture of ‘gradism’, can lead to less attention being paid to individual performance than is desirable or fair. Some institutions are responding by moving away from the staff appraisal and development schemes introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which do not link individual performance to appropriate rewards or to remedial action to improve performance. They are gradually developing schemes which match their own human resource requirements and institutional mission.

14.9 Pre-1992 universities also face limitations on staff deployment through contractual arrangements for academic and academic-related staff recruited before 1987, which guarantee grading and employment. Some institutions cite this as a serious obstacle to greater efficiency, and may have as many as a third of their staff employed on such terms. The costs associated with moving away from them have dissuaded most institutions from tackling this issue, but for some it is a significant problem.

14.10 The recent changes in higher education suggest that career opportunities for non-academic staff working in areas such as libraries, computer support, technical support, and administration are widening, as universities restructure and identify new types of services and activities to offer students and other customers. The growing emphasis on learning rather than teaching in higher education means that students can be expected to place increasing demands upon support staff to provide them with advice and guidance. As we discussed in Chapter 8, comments made by support staff in the survey we commissioned confirm this trend. Library staff, for instance, refer to students starting to behave more like ‘customers’, and being more demanding in the services they seek, particularly if they are self-funding or mature students. Administrative and support staff report a growing involvement in learning and teaching functions, for example, in preparing materials for self-directed learning, and training students to use new equipment or data sources. The task of ‘teaching students how to learn’ was one they had previously seen as being the responsibility of academics.

14.11 With an increasing growth of partnerships and collaborative arrangements between higher education and other organisations in the public and private sectors, career structures in higher education are likely to become more diverse and less predictable. In its evidence to us, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) referred to outdated ways of organising staff into hierarchies (eg unskilled, semi-skilled, technician etc). The UCEA has recommended moving away from this and adopting approaches based on organisational review and job design. The UCEA leads a consortium developing computerised job evaluation analysis to assist with tasks such as job design, performance appraisal and rewards systems, and equal opportunities practices.

14.12 In the long term, we believe future career patterns might be expected to show some of the following characteristics:

  • more staff transfers and secondments between higher education institutions and other organisations, with individual staff developing and managing their own career portfolios, combining teaching, research, scholarship, and public service as appropriate, at different periods in their lives;
  • a smaller proportion of an institution’s staff remaining as core employees, but a need to ensure continuity in management, administration and learning;
  • the erosion of historic staff categories and pay structures and also of the distinction between academic and support staff;
  • more flexible criteria for promotion which reflect the wider range of relevant skills that staff can offer, and which take into account our proposed accreditation arrangements;
  • increased institutional collaboration, offering staff more opportunities to develop their skills and widen their experience.

14.13 Such changes will offer academic staff the opportunity to re-interpret their traditional role if they wish to do so. The likelihood is that there will be a greater range of opportunities, with staff undertaking different combinations of functions at different stages of their careers, depending on the development of institutional missions and their personal career aspirations. The changes will also offer new opportunities to support staff to be involved in providing advice and guidance to students. To support and prepare staff for these new working patterns, more focused and appropriate training and staff development activities will be necessary; these are discussed below.

Managing new employment patterns
14.14 In submissions to us the case was made for radical changes in the way higher education institutions manage their staff in the light of the new demands being made upon them. The Association for Learning Technology noted:

‘In circumstances where communications and information technology has changed the nature of learning and teaching, there is a need to review and redefine the roles of academic staff and support staff within HEIs.’

14.15 Similarly, in evidence to us higher education personnel professionals looked ahead to:

  • the distinctions between staff groups becoming increasingly irrelevant as staff move across functions (see paragraph 14.10);
  • an emphasis on building up effective teams to utilise fully staff skills from across an institution;
  • the need to develop better tools to enable institutions to organise, develop, assess and reward staff.

14.16 We agree that such developments are likely and necessary. Similarly, we are in no doubt about the increased pressures currently facing staff in higher education, or about their achievements over the last few years. Increasing workloads and outputs at a time of declining unit resources have been a feature across the system as we discussed in Chapter 3. Our surveys indicate that higher education staff are concerned that the quality of support they can provide to students is not as high as they would like, and in many cases has declined over the past five years. Academic staff experience greater teaching commitments with larger groups, pressure to research and publish, and fewer opportunities to offer individual support to students (Report 3). The changing approaches to learning and teaching discussed in Chapter 8 (eg modularisation, resource-based learning), have added to the workloads of non-academic staff.

14.17 A survey carried out among academic staff in one English institution found 25 per cent of respondents reported the reason for stress to be ‘too much work – no time to complete it’.1 Our survey of academic staff indicated that stress levels were a significant consideration and it was the second most frequently cited reason for those staff seeking to leave higher education before the normal retirement age. There was a marked difference between pre-1992 and 1992 universities, however, with stress factors being of more concern to staff in the former.

Staff development
14.18 Although for the future we see Communications and Information Technology (C&IT) providing a valuable addition to institutional resources for learning and teaching, and as a means of maintaining quality at a time of attenuated staff to student ratios, we are conscious that time is needed to develop and exploit its potential.

14.19 Training and support in the use of C&IT is an issue in its own right. In such training we imagine that institutions will wish to draw on materials already developed in the sector such as the Netskills project at the University of Newcastle and the TalisMAN activities being carried out by Heriot-Watt University on behalf of the Scottish institutions. Job descriptions, reward structures and career patterns will need to be reviewed to take into account the developments in C&IT, and stimulate their use. As we recommended in Chapter 8 there is a particular need for institutions to recruit or develop staff with experience in C&IT and management skills, many of whom are in short supply at present.

14.20 The challenge to staff goes much wider than the use of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT). The growth in lifelong learning, new partnerships with employers, and closer links with the economic life of localities and regions will all require staff to widen their roles. It will also require institutions to reassess the link between the achievement of such institutional priorities and reward systems for staff.

14.21 As the Universities Personnel Association said in its evidence, managing in a higher education environment requires skills, many of which are best learnt in that environment, and the sector must be prepared to put in place programmes that enable it to develop its own support specialists. Similarly, the Higher Education Quality Council’s evidence specified the need to develop project management skills at unit, department and faculty levels, as well as strategic management skills. The National Audit Office made a similar point in its report (see Chapter 16), and, in our surveys, administrative and support staff referred to inefficient use of money and equipment resulting in duplication and fragmentation in services. It is clear from this evidence that institutions must ensure that, over the medium term, managers in departments have the necessary range of management expertise and skills to contribute to corporate improvements in value for money.

14.22 Our survey of administrative and support staff showed that they shared the perception of the personnel professionals that traditional definitions of roles are breaking down, and they are being involved in a wider range of functions than in the past.

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