On his blog, Stuart will share his thoughts and the perspectives of University colleagues and partners on key issues at Warwick and in the Higher Education sector. He is keen to hear your comments on these topics too.
Please note: offensive or inappropriate comments may be removed by the administration team.
The following is a joint blog written by Stuart Croft and Larissa Kennedy, SU Education Officer
In the work on Warwick’s new strategy, we have committed ourselves to being an exceptional university. Of course, that means exceptional in our research and in our education, as that is the core of any Higher Education institution. But that alone is not enough. We must be exceptional in a number of areas - and one of the most important has to be how we work and live together.
Over the past few years, universities in the United Kingdom have seen a number of racist incidents. Unfortunately, Warwick has not been an exception. However, while we must show zero tolerance to racism, we must also understand more subtle measures of exclusion - often unconscious in nature - and talk openly about how to address them so that we become an institution where intercultural experiences are discussed, talked about, shared, and celebrated.
The starting point though, has to be confronting racism. We initially addressed this in the light of a very distressing incident a while back, and now want to share our work in this area so far.
We have begun a debate at Warwick to try to understand much, much more about the barriers that prevent inclusivity, and what steps each and every one of us can take to address these. Last year, we brought together a group of staff and students to explore what instances of racism BAME members of our community were experiencing. This exploration shows us that it is not solely overt racist slurs that are the issue – though, clearly, such comments must be called out and dealt with effectively.
However, we also see systemic, institutionalised and covert issues – from an example of the study options open to students (which can often be based on a historic, white narrative) and the challenges some staff and students face in challenging the established curriculum, to basic manners of learning individuals’ names and preferred forms of address. The effect can be to leave individuals feeling isolated, not supported, disillusioned and without a clear pathway to get a resolution. To compound this, we have staff who do not feel confident in identifying where colleagues and students need help, as well as individuals feeling worn down by a pattern of actions, comments and language that are invisible to others.
We are now seeing excellent examples of positive initiatives across the University – for example, intercultural training for students developed by the Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and International Student Office is now being rolled out to train staff, while the ‘Colonial hangover’ widening participation programme run through the department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) is working with a number of schools to decolonise the curricula. These initiatives should be celebrated and embraced for their thoughtfulness and empathy.
We proactively support student communities in getting their voice heard on such matters. The recent Warwick Speak Out campaign - a joint venture between the SU and Warwick Anti-Racism Society - created an online reporting tool for racist incidents, so that we now have a better understanding of the issues facing our students. The Hidden Histories Alternative Lecture Series also gives a platform to academic narratives and discourses which are often neglected or even deliberately erased from mainstream curricula. For those interested in being involved with this type of work, elections for the SU’s Liberation & Diversity Exec are coming up in October.
Though there is still much to be done, these examples show the value of the debate: using open and honest dialogue across the University to share experiences, discuss issues and find better ways of engaging with each other – all the while providing the world-class educational experience we aspire to. To that end, we want to share with you a poem from Faith Denya, a student involved in the Colonial Hangover project:
Teach me your heroes
Your heroes, that ordered the enslavement of my heroes,
Your heroes that massacred the mothers and fathers of my heroes,
Your heroes that fought and tortured and created a system to dehumanize, ostracize and spread lies.
You want to teach me your history?
The one that wiped out my history? Brainwashed and made me forget my ancestry - all in the name of colony.
The history that asks no questions and never mentions the pain, blood and tears of those you captured to create your history.
Instead of slaves in chains, we became slaves to ignorance and I refuse to let that be my history.
Stuart and Larissa Kennedy
The full report on gender pay gap at Warwick can be read here.
The first blog that I wrote on joining Warwick was about the gender pay gap and as we prepare to make our first statutory gender pay report as required under the provision of the 2010 Equality Act, it seemed a good time to return to this issue. And of course, having been here for 18 months, I’ve now got a much clearer idea of how our processes work and what’s being done to address this and other related issues.
The new reporting requirements on gender pay mean that we provide high level information on pay levels and distribution for female and male staff – and across the UK, employers have started providing this information with the deadline for submission towards the end of March. And of course the broader issue of gender pay differentials has attracted considerable interest in recent months. We’re probably all familiar with the furore over gender inequalities in pay at the BBC while data from other companies has highlighted some equally dramatic differences in pay between men and women. Organisations as diverse as the Bank of England, Shell, Ladbrokes Coral and the Department of Health are reporting differences in average hourly pay that are comfortably into double digits while some airlines have reported one of the differentials as high as over 50% largely because of the relatively high salaries earned by pilots who are dominantly male.
The airlines example highlights one of the challenges associated with a reliance on headline figures across the workforce. The factors behind gender pay gaps are hugely complex which makes it hard to look at this issue from a generalist perspective. The University’s own figures point to a significant gap in average hourly pay between men and women overall.
In trying to understand the source of differentials, a quick look at pay differences by grade shows that at levels 1 to 8, there is virtually no difference. As can be seen below, only at level 9 is there evidence that men are paid significantly more than women.
Grade 9 covers Professors and very senior professional staff. The differential here is marked but has fallen in recent years, in part because of a rigorous programme of equality adjustment each year as part of the review of senior salaries.
The problem that faces the University of Warwick – and indeed many other organisations – is not so much a failure to pay equally to staff at the same level, but rather a skew in the gender distribution across levels, with more women in lower paid occupations and more men in higher paid occupations. And until this changes, we can continue to pay equally for staff at the same level, but a gender pay gap will persist.
So, for us and for many other organisations, the imperative has to be around raising aspirations and creating opportunities for women to advance their careers. But there are few quick fixes. Some organisations outsource many of the activities that are dominantly female and lower paid. Their figures may look better but it doesn’t solve the problem. At Warwick, we prefer not to outsource. Some advocate quotas and positive discrimination – a more controversial approach and one that most organisations in the UK have steered clear of. Instead, our focus of attention continues to be on training and development, on the identification of structural barriers to progression and on tackling the widespread, implicit biases that inhibit the career development of women across all grades. It won’t produce quick change, but it will produce sustained change.
Christine Ennew, Provost
The full report on gender pay gap at Warwick can be read here.
Our sector has struggled and failed to find a resolution to the conflict on how best to assure the future of the USS pension scheme while preserving the best possible benefits for its members.We have now experienced weeks of industrial dispute. We cannot continue to simply drift into weeks or months of further strikes, with staff losing money and students losing confidence that we can deliver the educational or research experience that they signed up for.
The ACAS negotiations did of course produce a compromise proposal that might have brought an end to this dispute. Clearly it did not. I do think that there are things that both employers and union representatives can do to build on that proposal which might include further enhancing the employer contribution to USS. However, in order to get to that increased flexibility and mutual understanding, we first need to pull together what the vast majority of our sector can probably agree on, much of which I have been advocating for many months now.Perhaps if we can start with those building blocks we can then begin to move forward. So here are four things that we might have consensus on, that can help us construct a solution:
- Defined Benefit must remain part of USS - The original JNC decision to entirely remove the defined benefit element of USS cannot stand. I have long been on record as saying that I do not believe that this is necessary and I still believe that to be the case.
- A new independent valuation of USS,by a truly independent panel, is needed to replace both the September and November valuations as it is clear neither of those has sufficient credibility with all parties for us to build a solution based on them.
- A collective defined contribution scheme needs more detailed consideration. Such a scheme could help maximise members pension provision while also providing more certainty to both those members and the pensions regulator. If we have truly independent panel considering the scheme’s valuation perhaps we could ask them to also consider that.
- Let’s get serious about Government backing.USS, UUK and UCU need to start actively engaging with the Government to explore the option of the USS pension scheme becoming a government backed scheme, perhaps some sort of mirror of the Local Government Pension Scheme. I have seen several similar calls for that to happen but the call I really want to see is for at least one of the organisations to pick up a phone and propose that to a minister. Who knows you might actually find that it’s the one way forward that everyone can agree on.
Those are all the things I am confident we have, or can achieve a wide consensus for. I call on all parties to this dispute to work together now to use those areas of agreement to build a solution.
The following article has been published on Times Higher Education blog on Monday 26 February
Tuesday will be the fourth day of strike action in half of the country’s universities over pensions.
And Tuesday will be the day when the two sides – Universities UK for the employers, and the University and College Union – meet to discuss options. There will be no resolution then. If there is a breakthrough, that will have to be formally discussed in the pensions machinery through the Joint Negotiating Committee. But there are four vital moves that can be made that could take us all further forward towards the resolution to this strike and the achievement of the two goals that everyone shares: the maintenance of a fair and sustainable pensions scheme and the full delivery of education and assessment for all of our students.
First, we need new ideas that allow the Defined Benefit (DB) scheme to continue in practice as well as in theory. The two sides have met many times over the past 18 months, culminating in a split vote in the JNC on the one standing proposal left – which is the one that the strike is about. The onus is therefore very much on UCU to bring forward a series of new proposals: on the valuation process and assumptions, on the level of DB that can be afforded, and on what this might mean for strike action. I believe UCU have ideas, and now is the time to share them as proposals.
Second, UUK’s position is that the time is almost up; that there is a statutory process for the timeline running out this June. If there is the possibility of progress with a new proposal, we would need to see both sides engage with the Pensions Regulator about the timelines.
Third, I would like to see both sides commit to discussions about the future of the pensions scheme beyond this dispute particularly around risk sharing. For the longer term, the joint UUK – UCU agenda could include learning from the Royal Mail pensions process, which promises a novel approach with a collective defined contribution scheme, something that could be valuable to for that element of USS that is currently in DC mode; separately, it could also include employers committing to longer term guaranteed levels of contribution.
And fourth, I would like to see both sides approach the government about the possibility that USS becomes government backed. One reason for the current situation is that there is more risk around the future of universities since the government introduced the Higher Education Act (still less than twelve months ago) with its focus on ‘market exit’ – universities becoming bankrupt. The Higher Education Funding Council’s mission was to avoid such a possibility. The new Office for Students has no such responsibility. Risk is higher, as USS is a ‘last man standing’ scheme. If USS becomes government backed, such concerns are significantly mitigated. Half the country's universities are not striking; their staff are not in USS, but the Teachers Pensions Scheme, which is government backed. Sir Vince Cable lent his voice to the proposition on Saturday. And for the government, facing the costs of Brexit, some £60 billion would move into their assets, were this to be pursued.
This is a big week in this dispute; all want resolution; and the above is an agenda to take us all forward.
We are now only days away from a period of industrial unrest which I strongly believe could have been avoided and, with goodwill on all sides, could still be avoided. I have been very public with my criticism of the pension valuation and the subsequent decision by UUK to advocate what is in effect closure of the defined benefit element of the USS scheme. I do not believe that either party to the USS negotiation have exploited the full range of options which could have generated a meaningful pension for University staff without jeopardising the financial future of the sector. I am therefore calling for an early return to negotiations, with a more open and imaginative approach from both parties. A return to active negotiations with a real willingness by all sides to explore every option would of course enable deferral of industrial action until those avenues have been fully explored.
In short, I question the need for the change in the valuation assumptions last autumn which gave rise to the scale of this challenge. Second, I would ask that consideration is given to options which would protect the less well paid in the sector and future entrants, perhaps by restricting DB to those in the national pay framework and placing the higher paid into a DC only scheme. Thirdly, I believe it that instead of focusing on removing everyone’s choice on DB USS should look to give individuals the choice to opt out of DB where their circumstances make this less attractive e.g. some overseas staff. Finally, I would suggest it is time for government to take as close an interest in pension provision as it does in other aspects of reward in this sector. This could be through legislation which enables risk sharing DC schemes or by underwriting pensions for everyone currently in USS in a way that is more reflective of government support for unfunded public sector schemes such as TPS.
I recognise that there is a deadline being demanded by regulators. But it is vital that we find a way of resolving an issue which will be costly, both financially and in terms of reputation, for Universities, the sector and - most importantly - its students and staff.