What are WAMs and why do they matter?
When members are asked what the branch should prioritise, workload is always one of the top responses. This year, a lot of UCUE effort has been focused on addressing the workload allocation models (WAMs) used in many parts of the University to calculate academic staff workload through attaching tariffs, expressed in hours/fractions of hours, to key activities. These tariffs can vary substantially between schools and subject areas, and in some places they’re not used at all. WAM tariffs that substantially underestimate the amount of time it takes to undertake key (usually teaching-related) tasks mean that members are allocated work that looks reasonable on paper but in reality means working far beyond contractual hours – in effect they institutionalise members being require to carry out significant amounts of unpaid work for the University.
How has UCUE taken this up with the University?
WAMs were a sticking point in the anti-casualisation negotiations. We pressed as hard as we could for University-wide minimum tariffs but University management insisted that this would not be possible as it would unreasonably restrict Schools’ autonomy. Instead, they agreed to update the University-wide Principles and Operational Guidance for WAMs to strengthen requirements for Schools to consult staff included in the WAM.
The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS)
CAHSS has been a flashpoint for WAM tariffs. An article in The Student last week explored the relationship between unrealistic WAM tariffs and the exploitation of guaranteed hours (GH) tutors. In CAHSS, tariffs for some tasks are widely (though not universally) used across Schools, and some of these are extremely problematic, especially those associated with marking. It may also be worth noting here that morale as measured in the Staff Experience Survey would seem to be lower in CAHSS than elsewhere, with satisfaction rates relating to most of the questions below other parts of the University. Regarding workload, only 43% of staff respondents in CAHSS agreed that “I am able to strike the right balance between by work and home life”: that’s 13 percentage points below the University-wide result (this figure includes professional services staff in the College who are not affected by academic WAMs). Whilst the survey did not ask specifically about WAM tariffs, there does seem to be a problem with workload across CAHSS which we can’t address with management when the tariffs appear to show that workloads are reasonable.
Wasn’t there a branch motion on CAHSS WAM tariffs last year?
Last June, prompted by CAHSS management imposing the CAHSS WAM on Moray House, UCUE passed a motion asking the Head of CAHSS to “set in train a full and open consultation on WAM content and tariffs, led by and involving academic staff on grades 6-10 on a variety of types of contract, and with UCU involvement”. Should the Head of College refuse to do this, UCUE resolved to “work with students, UCU Scotland and the press to develop a high-profile campaign about the effects of flawed workload modelling for students and staff”. The Head of College agreed that Moray House, the School that had prompted the motion, could delay implementing the CAHSS WAM tariffs while a consultation was carried out. The Head of Moray House subsequently set up a working group to lead the School consultation: the working group was open to anyone who wanted to join, and included staff on different types of contract and a UCUE representative. The working group ran drop-in sessions followed by a well-publicised survey that was completed by 146 academic colleagues (around 73% of academic staff in the School). The findings of the working group, and recommendations for WAM tariffs were reported to College Staffing Committee in January. That’s precisely the sort of consultation we want to see.
However, CAHSS College Staffing Committee didn’t accept the recommendations of the consultation, insisting that School management carry out further work without UCUE involvement. New tariffs have subsequently been set for Moray House that in many places are lower than those recommended by the consultation. The biggest discrepancy is in marking allocations. For instance, 89% of respondents said that an allocation of 0.75 hours for marking assignments of up to 4,500 words was a ‘significant underestimate and 7% said they thought it was a ‘slight underestimate’, leaving just 4% who considered it about right. Yet this tariff is going to be imposed for GH colleagues. Marking for core staff will be calculated using a per-student-per-course formula as recommended in the consultation, but with a figure that is considerably lower than that recommended by the working group. Consultation, then, seems empty when such overwhelming findings can be overridden with no apparent rationale.
Elsewhere in CAHSS we continue to be told by management that consultation is happening, and that information is fed by Heads of School into discussions at College Staffing Committee. This is a far cry from the “full and open consultation process” described in our motion. Meanwhile our members give us a rather different picture. In one subject area meetings have been held to discuss WAM tariffs but no minutes appear to be available. In another subject area there has been a written consultation with everyone invited to contribute, but staff were told that marking tariffs could not be discussed because they were “decided at College level”. In most subject areas members tell us they are unaware of any consultations.
So where are we now, and what happens next?
We believe that where WAMs are used, members want full, transparent and open consultation on the tariffs. We think that consultation findings should be implemented: we don’t think our members are lying when they say it’s impossible to mark 4,500-word assignments in three quarters of an hour, or that it takes more than an hour to prepare a seminar. And we think that University management acted in good faith when they agreed to strengthen the requirement for Schools to consult meaningfully on WAM content and tariffs, but CAHSS management’s view of “consultation” and ours seem to be very different.
CAHSS management have offered to meet with us again. But it’s not clear that we’ve moved at all from the position last June. Full and open consultation has only happened in one School in the College, and some of its most overwhelming results have been disregarded. No consultation, in our understanding of the word, has happened elsewhere in the College as far as we’re aware – but please do tell us if you know different. We’ll take up their offer to meet and we’ll do so in good faith, but given the lack of progress nearly a year on from our motion, it’s hard to see how we’ll avoid the necessity to take the kinds of action we resolved on last June.