Letter to Chairs of RAE Panels and Sub-Panels

30 March 2009

Dear Chairs of Panels and Subpanels,

I write in order to make you aware of a situation of concern directly related to the recent Research Assessment Exercise and with potential implications for the conduct of REF in 2012.

Following the announcement of RAE results, Senior Management at the University of Liverpool set in motion a number of measures  intended to further the goal established by the Vice-Chancellor: to move the University to the middle of the Russell Group by the end of his tenure.

These measures include a statement from the University that it will in future only support 3* and 4* research, except in the case of early career researchers, or those who have had periods of illness, when extraordinarily, and for a limited period, 2* research may be deemed acceptable.

The University has also instituted a series of “academic reviews,” directed, in the first instance, at two groups of staff: those in Units who received a low proportion of research rated 4*, and those with a high proportion of research rated 0 or 1* in the recent exercise.   Those units in the first group include: Politics and Communications Studies, Statistics and Probability, and Philosophy.  Those in the second group include; Sociology, Cancer Studies, Dentistry, American Studies and Civil Engineering. 

The University has already strongly indicated that it wishes to close the departments in the first group, which will result in a zero return of the staff and disciplines concerned to the relevant Units of Assessment in REF 2012.  We can only assume that once the precedent is set, those listed in the second group will follow shortly thereafter.   The University has also indicated that this is but the first step, and that individuals across the university will then be evaluated in order to establish the overall star rating attributable to their research. 

The Liverpool Association of the University and Colleges Union believe that the actions of the University of Liverpool potentially call the RAE, and upcoming REF into disrepute.  The reasons are the following:

1.       The University is attempting to infer from the RAE results the “score” that can be attributed to individual members of staff.  To cite one example of this, in departments where there has been a low percentage of research rated 4*, senior managers have indicated they believe there is a particular “problem” with “underperforming professors.”  In such instances, the current availability of a voluntary redundancy scheme at the University has been emphasised to colleagues.

2.       Members of RAE panels and sub-panels are being deliberately selected as reviewers.  Officially, the remit of the reviews is still in consultation, but the University has already proceeded with a number of reviews without agreement as to their terms, remit, or the overall procedure.  In preparation, the University has requested details of the research plans and proposed publications up to 2012 of each person in the Units for review. These plans will be submitted as part of the documentation reviewers will be asked to assess before making their report.   It is clear that the University is seeking an indication from reviewers, given their knowledge of RAE, of the star-rating that might be expected in REF given the individual research plans submitted. The reviews, (eight in the first instance,) that have been initiated, are therefore constituted as tools of performance management rather than as developmental fora in which staff and reviewers can discuss strategic direction in a collegial environment. 

3.       The VC has indicated that he will make decisions regarding the future of staff and disciplines reviewed to date based on private, oral reports from individual reviewers made only to him, and following a private briefing with reviewers before the review itself.   This compromises both the reviewer and the staff being reviewed.  Neither will have a formal written record of what was said, nor, as a result, will there be any meaningful right of reply.  Reviewers run the risk of being misquoted, misunderstood, or of inadvertently damaging the careers of staff in affected departments.  Individual members of staff may be in receipt of damaging decisions taken by senior management outside agreed performance management or disciplinary procedures, in instances where there has been no misconduct and no failure to fulfil the contract of employment.  

4.       The University is using RAE scores to select disciplines it hopes to discontinue.  If departments are closed, Units of Assessment within the University disestablished, or the research of individuals discounted or devalued, this will be to the detriment not just of the University, but to those disciplines nationally, especially if other institutions take inspiration from the University of Liverpool example.  Senior managers have clearly indicated that the University is not willing to invest in those departments currently under the microscope, thereby discounting one possibly supportive suggestion that might emerge from review.

5.       RAE 2008 contained clear address to equalities issues.  Although the University of Liverpool produced the required Code of Practice on RAE, it has yet, despite the persistence of the campus trade unions on this issue, to provide any indication of an intent to comply with current Equalities legislation.  There is therefore no mechanism in place to ensure that the legislative requirement (2004) to Equality Impact Assess any decision taken around RAE results or REF planning will be met.  There will therefore be no indicator of the extent or degree of any direct or indirect discrimination occurring as a result, nor any attempt to remedy this.

On behalf of LUCU, I would therefore request that you draw the attention of the members of your panel and subpanels to the situation of others in your discipline in the University of Liverpool.  We strongly believe that the Senior Management of this institution is misusing RAE results and instrumentalizing the prospect of REF in ways that undermine the integrity of both, as well as the confidence that the academic community as a whole may have in them.

We would therefore request the following:

* That reviewers request full written details of the ways in which their review will be used, and decline to be fobbed off with vague statements such as “to determine the future configuration of the university,” etc.

* That reviewers, for their own protection and the protection of colleagues being reviewed, decline the option of any private oral briefing with senior management before embarking on the review process

*That reviewers decline to speculate on the “Star rating” of individuals.

*That reviewers draw up a formal written report of their conclusions, in a manner that will facilitate the circulation of that report.

*That reviewers provide a copy of all documentation surrounding the review to the members of staff concerned.

*That reviewers request advice from their own LA or UCU branch regarding the conduct and possible effects of the reviews before and after the review process.

We greatly appreciate the time, effort and collegiality of colleagues who agree to participate in what should be a supportive, professional process, and deeply regret the unfortunate attitude of the University of Liverpool, which places both those reviewing and those being reviewed in an entirely invidious position.

LUCU is happy to discuss any of the matters mentioned here with panel chairs, panel members and reviewers.

Thank you for considering our letter.


Best wishes,

 On behalf of LUCU Committee.


Sign of the Times

30 March 2009
Sign of the Times

Sign of the Times

The future of OUR University

20 March 2009

A statement on behalf of academic and related staff by Liverpool University UCU

Liverpool is a great university with students who are eager to learn; and staff who are committed to providing excellence in teaching, research and support. The current strategic direction adopted by the Vice Chancellor threatens to destroy OUR university and to turn it into something very different. If unchecked the proposals to cut three departments and place a further five at risk of closure will be the beginning, not the end of a transformation process which will undermine the fabric of our institution.

We believe the VC’s current strategy, agreed with minimal consultation with staff and students, is wrong in six key ways:

1. Liverpool and league tables

The University wants to move into the top half of Russell Group. Yet its strategy to do this seems to consist of cutting departments which did less well in the RAE until we are left with a smaller core of ‘star performers.’ This approach threatens everyone’s future while failing to deliver the objective.

Research performance cannot be improved in a climate of staff fear; nor staff attracted to work at Liverpool if the institution is synominous with slash and burn. The development of original research takes place in a variety of settings, both funded and unfunded. The University’s job in our view is to nurture it not cut off its life support. That is why UCU believes that in a university all academic staff have the right to be research active. We oppose any move to transfer staff from full academic contracts to University Teacher contracts against their will.

2. Liverpool and its staff

The University’s current strategy has big aspirations but fails to recognise that it is staff that are Liverpool’s greatest asset. We reject:

  • suggestions that academic staff should move to bigger and bigger teaching loads or teaching only roles to prop up the research of a few.
  • reductions in the number of academic-related and support staff which contradict the aim of freeing up the time of academics.
  • the current freeze on replacement of posts which will inevitably result in problems of leadership and research excellence.

3. Liverpool and ‘the global university’

Academic reputation is central to global standing. The University’s “brand” has been massively damaged by the Vice Chancellor’s attempts to rush through the closure of three departments. Press criticism of poor leadership, secrecy and lack of consultation are not the ideal advert for our institution; while pictures of hundreds of staff and students protesting to keep courses open will not encourage a view of the university as a serious institution.

We believe that prospective students want to see a university at ease with itself; which invests in and develops its staff and which listens to its students.

4. Liverpool and the ‘Student experience’

The University seems determined to spend a great deal of money on marketing Liverpool as an academic fun park. Yet the students demonstrating to save their courses have shown they care about much more than the next pint or whether there is a noodle bar, theme pub or sports club on campus. Learning must be at the centre of the Liverpool experience, not its periphery.

5. Liverpool and ‘knowledge exchange’

The Vice Chancellor seeks to increase our links with business, but without thinking through the consequences of describing academic work as a ‘product’ for which a market must be found. Our view is that the University’s reputation is precious and that relationships with the private sector require proper regulation to protect it.

6. Liverpool and widening participation

The University’s strategy plays lip service to the principle of widening participation. The campaign against the cuts has shown that the local community cares about our university. We believe this institution has a leading role to play in encouraging those from non-traditional backgrounds to consider university and to act as a regional and national exemplar for the principle of widening participation so talent and potential, not affordability becomes the central driver.

Liverpool UCU are campaigning for an alternative future for our university. Endless rounds of cuts will destroy what we have built. Our vision is of a university that staff and students can be proud of; where teaching and research excellence flourish; where all are listened to and valued; and which is rooted in its local and regional community.

Show your support

If you agree with us, leave a message saying you support the statement at: https://noliverpoolcuts.wordpress.com

Protestors angry at refusal to consider options to prevent department cull at Liverpool University

11 March 2009

The philosophy, politics and communications and statistics departments at Liverpool University are still at risk following a meeting of the university’s senate this afternoon to the backdrop of noisy protests from staff and students.

Read more here…

Liverpool University protests over department cull

10 March 2009

Students and staff at Liverpool University will protest from 1pm tomorrow against threatened wholesale department closures following the recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) results. UCU also warned that strike action could be on the cards as worried and angry staff consider their options.

Read more here…