Tag Archives: Jan Hulme

Joint statement agreed between GCU Unions and management on past year’s work and future priorities

The university unions and GCU management have for the first time adopted a joint assessment of the past year’s work. This has been published in the form of a joint chairs’ statement from Douglas Chalmers, current chair of the Joint Consultative Committee, and Jan Hulme, University Secretary. This was adopted after several discussions at the JCC and is one of the outcomes that emerged from the commissioning of an independent report ‘Building better relationships – a way forward for Glasgow Caledonian University and its trade unions’, which was written by Nita Clarke of the IPA in 2014.

One of the suggestions of Clarke’s report, which was cautiously welcomed by both unions and management, was that: ‘The work of the JCC should be positively, proactively and jointly communicated by the unions and GCU to the wider university community‘. Another was that: ‘At the heart of agreed behaviours should be a firm agreement on a no-surprise approach, with both sides committing to mutual discussion in good time and the earliest possible sharing of information‘.

Unions also particularly welcomed the proposal that: ‘Union representation should be considered a mark of status and representatives recognised particularly at departmental level for their contribution to the smoother running of university life.

Within the framework of the new approach suggested by Clarke, there has been an acknowledged improvement in the relationship between unions and management, and the approach to solving issues of difference. This is despite the fact that it was also a time when several periods of industrial action took place.

It is envisaged that the joint statement from the chairs of the JCC will be published simultaneously early in 2015, in Caledonian Connected, on the Staff Portal, and on this blog.

Glasgow Caledonian Unions welcome management change of heart over student resit ‘fines’

The announcement today that GCU management have withdrawn plans to ‘fine’ students for resits and retaking modules was today welcomed by GCU unions. Speaking on behalf of the University and College Union, branch president Douglas Chalmers said: “We welcome this step back by management on the issue. This really would have hit hard those who already find it hard to finance a university career – exactly the students who the university has a proud record of aiming to help.”

Earlier this month a joint statement of support had gone to the Students Association from both the UCU and EIS, pledging support for the students’ campaign in this area, and Douglas had addressed the Student Parliament to add the support of the combined unions at GCU.

We believe the original proposals were ill conceived” said Douglas, “it appeared that there had been no equality impact assessment done, and in this case, no real consideration given as to how the university carries out its remit to ‘improve the Common Weal’ – something the unions have always supported. In this light, we also welcome the pledge made to the Student Association president from the university secretary Jan Hulme today, that  ‘support available to students who face hardship in the course of their study could usefully be more clearly flagged, and [that]the Student Funding Team will be tasked with looking at that’.

We also welcome the pledge from Ms Hulme that the signposting of provision for students who need additional learning support will similarly be reviewed so that students undertaking resits or retaking modules are reminded of the range of support they can call upon”

In a message to the University Unions, Student Association President Matte Andrews said: “On behalf of the Students’ Association and the student population, I would like to extend a massive thank you for all your support over the last month and I hope that this is the beginning of a pro-active relationship with the Students’ Association campaigning alongside the Unions“.

A small step for court perhaps ….. but GCU needs a giant leap

It’s far too early to tell, but the recent executive briefing by chair of court Tony Brian (see posting below) may be a helpful acknowledgment that things need improved in the governance of the university.   However, it was really too difficult to be certain, given this was a ‘briefing’ with the parameters set in a way that precluded any real debate on what has been clearly incompetent management by our university’s executive over a substantial number of years.
The staff survey clearly shows what the staff think and the unions have made their points on this so  we don’t want to belabour the points again here (though we are intent on achieving their resolution).

In passing however it needs to be noted that the totally disrespectful way it has been treated in The Caledonian magazine would be laughable if it wasn’t so disgraceful.

If court wants to see what is wrong in GCU in microcosm, they should consider the raw results as published, and then look at the spin put on them in this publication.

How to take the issues forward?

Firstly we believe there is a logical inconsistency in arguing (as the chair of court did), that changes need to be evidence based, and then arguing (as the university secretary did)  that the people who could provide exactly the evidence needed – the unions at GCU – are somehow out of the loop of discussions with court. This is complacency at its worst, and threatens to devalue any claim of the court that they are looking at GCU’s serious situation, in a serious manner.
Of course there are many stakeholders in the University… so we say why not speak to them all. Limiting yourself to the assertions of a group who less than one in 5 of our staff trust, is not serious governance and won’t be seen as such by the Scottish community. People including the press, are aware of what has been happening here and the general expectation in the Scottish community that meaningful change needs now to  happen at GCU should not be under estimated.

Some additional issues were raised where further dialogue is also needed. What is the role of staff governors? Do they ‘represent’ or just ‘voice’ views? The staff governors themselves are aware of the contradictions of their positions. This needs looked at.

According to the university secretary, the disappearance of the court minutes from the university web site, seemed ‘inadvertent’ and possibly linked to resourcing. We welcome that and look forward to their re-appearance, plus their availability in formats which are accessible to disabled members of our community.

Finally we were interested to see that there will be ‘external input’ into a review of the effectiveness of court. Whether or not  court will have the courage to publish the outcome of such a review (apparently under discussion), will be emblematic of whether the GCU is moving on from a ‘closed shop’ approach, to that of open governance.

GCU Court talks to (some) GCU staff – a welcome, but very small step

Tony Brian - newly elected chair of GCU Court - first meeting with staff

Some faltering steps which might lead to a more meaningful dialogue between GCU Court and university staff were taken when recently elected Court chair Tony Brian led an ‘Executive Briefing’ on ‘Governance and the role of Court at GCU’.

The organisation of the meeting left something to be desired, with only three working days notice being given to staff and the original time of the meeting clashing with teaching time – something resolved when Court Office were reminded what teaching hours were at the university. The final room chosen turned out to be too small for those present to be seated comfortably in but this did not prevent a first airing of views on some issues.

Disappointingly, the parameters on discussion were narrowly set by Tony to preclude any discussion on ‘revisiting decisions which may or may not have been made by court’ or ‘anticipating decisions that may or may not be made by court’. While quite happy to talk about governance around a decision, he did not think we should be ‘revisiting specific decisions’.

Quoting the Governance review panel definition of Governance as:

‘Effective Stewardship to secure sustainability’; safeguarding the mission and services to the public; the proper use of public and other funds; and ensuring stakeholder participation and accounting for institutional performance’ he suggested:

“Good governance if you break it down to its absolute essence is quite simply decision making and oversight by the right people with the right information at the right time”.

“It has the responsibility of offering constructive but robust challenge to the executive, and guidance, and the whole purpose of that is to hold the executive to account and improve decision making”. “Robust challenge is what makes the difference in decisions making in my view. We must have that for people to reach the right decisions”

Although the Court did not discuss the Governance report till the following week, he reported that the Committee of Scottish Chairs, were against moving to the election of chairs, feeling it could introduce a conflict of interest.

“The chair has the responsibility to act impartially across all of the university and all of the Stakeholders….. Many other people have stakes in the Universities – people funding universities, public or private; local communities, businesses who use our services; public services that use our services, the third sector that use our services”.

He went on to say that he felt any change needed to be evidence based.

In contributions from the floor, it was pointed out that the report recommended an enhanced role for the Trade Unions in university governance, and it was therefore suggested there should be a meeting with representatives of Trade Unions to look at issues of mutual concern.

Tony’s view was that its was too early to say – he hadn’t had a chance to talk to court about this at all and didn’t know what court’s views were on any of these issues, bar the election of the chair, and therefore would have to go through that process.
A direct answer was that he couldn’t comment as he simply didn’t know what courts’ view was. “I couldn’t say yes or no to that at the moment – I would have to see how things evolve.”

Jan Hulme - Staff representatives on court already play a full part.....

He suggested Jan Hulme was the point of contact for all governance issues and if there was a request made it should be made to her.

On this point the university secretary suggested that the issue was really about the mechanisms that were already in place for the unions to engage with the university, which was the JCC… She acknowledged there were discussions and there would be future discussions about how well that operates, and how it can be made to operate better, but at present it was the formal and court approved mechanism for the university to engage with the unions on campus. Anything else would be unusual, atypical and there was not a process for that. So she thought the short answer was that there wasn’t a means for doing that.

She also raised the fact that there were staff representatives on the court, who play a full and active part in the court as well. So to that extent too, the court was informed about staff views, staff perspectives as well. If it was suggested there should be another mechanism then that opened up a whole other discussion and debate that would have to be reviewed. ….  “we might want to pause and reflect before we invented any other piece of machinery.”

A discussion then ensued about the role of staff governors, and what part they played in relaying staff concerns to the court, and whether they represented the people that elected them.

According to the chair of court they gave court their view of staff feelings, views, whatsoever “and we listen to that”.

There were then some points of view given by individual staff members of court including the difficulties they had – being ‘unable to canvass views’ beforehand as court business was confidential, but hoping that they still put over a range of staff views:  “if there’s a decision to be taken on court, I see my role as judging what the academic members of staff would think of that, and then convey it…. It’s not a fully representative role”

One suggestion was that ‘representative’ was perhaps not the correct term, but a better one might be ‘voice’ of staff.

At this point the university secretary argued that responsibility as charity trustees meant that “people have to step back from whatever constituency they feel they know best and who might have elected them and they have to put on the hat of the collective good of the university, weigh things up, on balance and act actually as part of the corporate body.”  To that extent it was not like being a trade union representative who can say straightforwardly ‘this is what my members believe…..’  It was a role that demanded skill and experience, and she believed court were well served.

Brian Pillans: "Staff reps are not accountable to their constituency..."

Brian Pillans, talking for the UCU said the terminology was a problem – ‘staff reps were not accountable to their constituency…..’

Nick McKerral, joint union convener turned to the three pronged structure of governance previously outlined by Tony and suggested there was a clear benchmark of respect for senior staff to be found in the recent staff survey. The Executive had an approval rating of 18% and in some schools it fell to 8% which meant Nick Clegg has a higher rating in Scotland.

Nick McKerrell: "NIck Clegg has a better approval rating in Scotland, than our senior management.."

It was obviously very worrying that such a big prong of university management is held in such scepticism by staff of the university. Turning to the role of court and the fact they had been in discussions with the executive over the decisions that they have made over the last 5 years in the university, NIck asked that given this fact, did the chair of court think court was a successful body just now and that it had done its job well over the last 5 years?

Tony declined to talk about the staff survey as it would be dealt with the following week but suggested Governance had been working well…….. “if you look at the sector as a whole, the HE sector in Scotland is one of the most successful sectors we have…..”

Governance had played a significant role in the successes of the sector. He also stressed that any changes should only be made where there was evidence that they will improve things. “I’m not closed to changes, but they have to be evidence based improvements”. On being pushed on whether he thought governance was working at GCU, he believed “it absolutely was”.

It then being suggested by Brian Pillans that this answer was something that would have been said by the banks 6 or 7 years ago, and perhaps the complacency on the part of the governance of the banks had seen them go where they had, Tony conceded that it didn’t necessarily mean that in the new world what had happened in the past would be adequate. It was one of the things they had to look at – “is governance today sufficient for what we will have tomorrow and the day after tomorrow”. He didn’t want to say that what we had today was perfect, but things needed to be evidence based – ‘there was no point in doing things that will make it worse’.

The question of scrutiny and transparency was raised from the body of the meeting when it was pointed out that the minutes of the court meetings were no longer available to the public – they had been taken off the university website. The question was asked how people were to find out what court was deciding? Court regulations of lodging one copy in the library was totally inadequate – and particularly questionable in terms of disabled access. The question was raised why this decision had been taken.

On this the chair confessed he hadn’t been involved at the time and handed the question to the university secretary who first suggested the decision had predated her, but when it was pointed out this wasn’t correct, suggested that it was possibly inadvertent – a point welcomed in the meeting.

She also suggested that she didn’t think the court web presence was as good as it should be or as informative, or as helpful and that as much as anything it had been a resourcing issue.

She continued to say that it was something that she really thought had to take priority now. Colleagues in the Court office would agree that it was very much a priority – that it was high on the agenda, and very much part of the work plan that they were doing. So she hoped this would address some of the issued that existed.

“The fundamental point as to how court communicates its work is a very fair one, that I think we’d recognise and one we’d very much like to address”.
Tony Brian also agreed it was something that should be looked at.

One of the two last issues raised was on how the University would avoid ‘crony committee-ism with regard to the composition of the court – on this the university secretary welcomed the possibility of having a chat with the member of staff who had made some constructive points in the discussion.

John Biggam - 'We don't seem to see what you are doing...'

Finally UCU membership secretary John Biggam asked what the measure of the court’s effectiveness was, and how it was measured and challenged if the court was found to be ineffective. He asked if there was a role for a staff survey regarding court.

Tony Brian’s view was that judging the court by the standards laid down by the committee of university chairs was the way it ought to be done. On John querying whether they should be judging themselves, Tony replied that they increasingly used external people to come and ‘kick our tyres’ and give that external perspective.

John suggested that the Court’s own procedures made it difficult to judge the effectiveness of court. “We don’t seem to see what you’re doing.  There’s the continuing issue of the difficulty of operating as a staff rep…. but collectively it sounds very discouraging about court – what do you think? … you can’t tell us…….. you might put minutes up….. you don’t know if a survey would be effective….  to the point where, to me it is depressing.”

Tony expressed his disagreement with this, asserting that the effectiveness review would be done with external input to make sure that it was suitably robust….

The meeting finished with a member of staff asking whether this would be published to which Tony Brian answered…. “there are discussions around that kind of thing”.

Report of Meeting with GCU Management Thursday 10th March

The trade union representatives had a meeting with Senior Management this morning from 10 – 12 to discuss the compulsory redundancies announced by management last Thursday evening and the imposition of a number of policies on staff by HR and Senior Management earlier in the year.

The trade unions EIS, UCU, UNISON and UNITE were represented along with their union officials, except for EIS whose official could not attend.

Unfortunately  only one member of the Executive Board of the University chose to attend, Jan Hulme, she was accompanied by Keith Ross, the HR Interim Director and Stella Bartram from HR who took minutes.

The trade unions  put forward their own responses to management’s plans Continue reading

Why Management Strategy at GCU is wrong

At 8am on 4th March, Principal Pamela Gillies announced in an e-mail to all staff that as a result of proposals presented to University Court by the Executive Board “a reduction of 95 support and administrative posts across the University may be necessary.”

It was claimed that these proposals take place “against a background of cuts in public funding, the need to grow other income and the continuing importance of vigilance in seeking efficiencies wherever possible.”

However as MSP Bill Kidd and others pointed out at the recent rally to defend jobs (see pictures here), 41 senior staff earn more than £70,000 at GCU, nine senior staff earn more than £100,000, four earn more than First Minister Alex Salmond, and three earn more than UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Furthermore as a recent Union FOI request discovered Continue reading