What was the Christmas closure consultation process?

QUESTION:

The consultation process resulting in the decision to close for one or two extra days around the Christmas period was very much a divide-and-conquer exercise: members of staff were unable to see the comments made by colleagues, which meant that individuals did not know if they were expressing a minority view or a majority view.

To make this process more transparent, will Executive now publish the comments made during the consultation period?

ANSWER:

Thank you for your question regarding the consultation process for the changes to the Christmas closure arrangements. Consultation commenced on 22 May 2014 with UNISON, UCU and with all staff.

UNISON balloted members on the proposal and received a 65% vote in favour of the changes. UCU reported that they had received feedback from approximately 30 members, 21 of whom were against the proposal and 9 were in agreement.

The general feedback received during the consultation period from staff effectively mirrored the union feedback with professional support staff generally supportive of the proposed change and academic staff less so. We then weighed up the feedback received with the original proposal. Whilst a number of concerns were noted, it was felt that this did not go to the heart of why the proposal had been made and as a consequence, following discussions with the Unions we recommended to Executive that the proposal proceed. Executive as part of their decision making were informed of the feedback from staff and unions and following discussions there, the proposal was approved.

What are the safeguards in place to ensure our interview process is fair?

QUESTION:

Are there any safeguards in place to ensure that new appointments and the interview process is a fair and proper one?

Questions arising from recent appointments that I am aware of :

– is the interview panel chosen ad-hoc as it seems to be, because it seems increasingly rare for female panellists to be present. The same goes for Afro-Caribbean and Asian panel members especially if there are female, Asian or Afro-Caribbean applicants being interviewed.

– Ensure that certain candidates don’t have an unfair advantage because they know someone on the panel or are good friends with an interviewer’s family member.

– Ensure that politics are not involved and that someone is not being re-graded to safeguard their job prior to the 2016 merger of campuses, thereby putting a Stafford’s staff more at risk.
It also renders the whole interview process farcical and a waste of peoples time.

– Confirm that the job role as advertised is what the person employed actually does, especially when it asks for specific skills and is therefore preventing existing staff applying for that role.

ANSWER:

Every effort is made to ensure that our recruitment and selection processes are robust and free from any discrimination. It is important for the University to select and appoint the best candidate available for our roles.

In order to make this selection it is essential that the interview panel is properly constituted and should include consideration of the gender balance on the panel. It is not always possible, however, to achieve this balance as this will often depend on the specialisms required on the panel and the availability of staff. It is also clear that any member of an interview panel who has a connection to a candidate should declare this to the Chair of the panel in advance of the interviews taking place.

Any queries or clarification required arising from a particular recruitment and selection process should be sought from your line manager or Personnel Services.

Are their plans to increase scholarly activity days for non-academics?

QUESTION:

It is my understanding that academic staff are allowed generous self-managed scholarly activity time to study for approved qualifications such as a PhD. However, as a non academic member of staff I am only allowed 3 days per annum to study for approved qualifications such as a PhD which makes it impossible to do so.

Is there a plan to offer all members of staff the opportunity to progress if they so wish, or does the University prefer non academic staff not to develop in this way?

ANSWER:

The academic contract includes a time allocation for advanced scholarship for academic staff. The outputs from these days of advanced scholarship are determined by the Faculty and may include some time for PhD study in some cases.

Professional support staff are able to take time away from work for qualifications being undertaken if appropriate under the training for approved qualification scheme (TFAQ). The scheme allows for various types of sponsorship subject to certain criteria being met and also allows for 3 days study leave for examinations etc.

The University is committed to the development of all staff as appropriate.

Why was the Learning and Teaching Day scheduled on Law results day?

QUESTION:

The University insists that students are at the heart of everything we do. If this is the case, why has a Learning & Teaching Day been scheduled for the day that LPC & L6 LLB students in the Law School receive their results? It is vital that lecturers are available to deal with queries and that award managers are available to deal with any issues.

For example, one student has already been found to have been mistakenly listed as a debtor by finance. If he didn’t pass, he would lose his job and so was understandably keen to resolve this ASAP. If the award manager had been at the L&T day, he would not have been able to. Giving him a day’s unnecessary worry would have been a long way from putting him at the heart of everything we do!

ANSWER:

The University schedules two weeks for its Staff Fest – which contains numerous events linked to development opportunities and updating. Learning and Teaching is an integral part of this two weeks – though not exclusive to it. The University sets aside two designated days – one for its main conference and one for the Faculty based conference. These days are in the calendar many months in advance – we like to see as much engagement as possible but of course we recognise that there are number of other competing events which will inevitably clash, and many of these cannot be moved.

The University expects a flexible approach from its staff – likewise we understand that staff will need to prioritise within a complex portfolio. For many staff there are overseas commitments and external examining at other institutions – both of which reach a peak at the same time as here at Staffordshire. We trust our staff to be in the most appropriate location – as indeed happened in the question being asked – to support our students as best they can.

What is the process for Ask Executive?

QUESTION:

Please confirm:

• How many questions were received by Ask Executive in the period 1 Jan-30 June 2014.
• How many questions were answered.
• What was the process for deciding which questions were answered.

ANSWER:

Thank you for getting in touch.

There have been a total of 43 questions received for publishing on the RSS Channel in the period of 1 January 2014 – 30 June 2014 (excluding those sent for inclusion in the Executive Question Time event and the Stafford Consultation meetings).

Of those received, 40 were published.

It is only myself that has access to the Ask Executive email account.  Once a question is received, I completely anonymise the email contents before sending on to the most relevant member of Executive for a response.  We always aim to have the complete post published within the week, however, during busy periods, in the event that extra advice needs to be sought from expert colleagues around the University, or the relevant member of Executive or myself is away from the University, it can sometimes take longer.

The only circumstances in which a question would not be published on the channel (aside from missing an email due to human error on my part!) is if it uses inappropriate language or may cause offensive, if it uses the names or personal information of individuals and may be deemed as derogatory, or if the subject matter is judged to be inappropriate for the the forum and could be better dealt with elsewhere.  In these cases, the individual is contacted by myself and asked to rephrase the question to protect anonymity, or they are given an explanation from Executive as to why their question cannot be published.

If you would like to discuss the process or have any further questions, please feel free to get in touch.

Regards,

Judy O’Brien, Communications Manager

j.l.o’brien@staffs.ac.uk or ext: 4345

How do you see the academic calendar working?

QUESTION:

I have been looking at this in terms of our mod specs and hours and I don’t see how it lines up with the new calendar.

Take a FT UG studying 60 CATS in semester 1 this is 600 hours of learning time.
13 weeks (12 weeks teaching plus 1 reading week) 37.5 x 13 = 487.5 hours (112.5 hours short)

Semester 2 is the a similar calculation (12 weeks teaching plus revision week )
and even if you include the full two weeks of assessment (plus 75 hours and that assumes every student would have an assessment on the very last day) that would still leave us short overall for the whole academic year of 150 hours.

The only way to get to that 150 hours would be either
a. To say that two of the weeks in the Xmas holidays and the two weeks at Easter are not actually holidays at all but full time study – is this what we are saying because I find it very unconvincing? And given the diversity in our student body which includes mature students with families I think that will be a hard message to sell.

b. We expect the students to be working a lot above 37.5 hours i.e. in the evenings every night. Again given the diversity with mature students and families this would be an issue, plus the number of students with part time jobs.

How do you envisage this working?

ANSWER:

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) uses the term ‘notional learning time’ to denote
all time expected to be spent by a student in pursuit of a higher education qualification.
This includes independent study and reading, preparation for contact hours, coursework,
revision and summative assessment. This term is used because the actual time that learners need to achieve designated learning outcomes varies considerably. Notional study time of ten hours per credit is the agreed tariff that higher education providers use in designing their programmes and learning outcomes for higher education qualifications,
with 360 credits making up an honours degree.

Therefore there are 1200 hours (120 x 10 hours) of notional teaching time per level on our undergraduate awards.

Reasonably we would expect a student to have 40 hours notional learning time per week
(this is the assumed average in the HEA/HEPI Student Academic Experience survey 2014).

In the new academic calendar there are 13 weeks (12 reading weeks + 1 reading/revision week) in each semester.

This means that with 40 hours notional learning hours per week, 40 x 13 x 2 = 1040 hours would leave students short of 160 notional learning hours per year.

This could be accounted for by notional learning time during assessment periods at weekends and holidays (which isn’t a unusual expectation in the sector). This is evidence in the HEA Survey (referenced above).

In this way 1200 hours can be accounted for.

Is this the right time for Marketing activity?

QUESTION:

Although I applaud the re-authoring of the university website, it has looked rather dull and dated for some time now, I can’t help but think that it should have been completed weeks ago.

Clearing is approaching fast, our numbers are down and it seems risky to leave it so late.

Also the ‘marketing’ people are about to shoot a new promotional video, again I question the timing of this and the fact that, once again, they are using an external company to film it when there is plenty of talent and expertise to produce it in-house.

Could I ask how much is being paid for the video?

ANSWER:

Work on the website is always being undertaken, the current work is as a result of our investment in usability testing with our core audience (prospective students rather than staff). It has been designed to be live for August 2014 in order to push two messages – Clearing and Open Days.

Much more work is being undertaken and web authors around the university will be able to take you through the changes. In terms of marketing materials produced, we do, as much a possible, utilise the skills of the university or our graduates. Indeed many of the marketing team are staffordshire graduates and we use the film and photography expertise of FACT on a regular basis. Further investigation is underway to broaden this opportunity and to have students and academics participate in work would be welcomed.

Why is our news so Stafford focussed?

QUESTION:

Why is all the news published in University News is Stafford focussed, the birthday honours list for example, what about the fact we have a Shropshire Campus with approximately 30 staff and 400 students over here?

ANSWER:

Thank you for getting in touch.  The University News, Events and Announcements is made up of a mixture of corporate information from the University’s Executive Office, and information sent to our Communications and Press teams by members of each Faculty and Service.

We are always happy to hear from colleagues from across the University with regards to promoting their good work externally, and each Faculty and Service has a ‘RSS Rep’ who is responsible for gathering and sharing news from their area to share internally.  If you would like more information please contact Communications Manager Judy O’Brien on ext: 4345 or email comms@staffs.ac.uk – thank you.

Can University films be more accessible please?

QUESTION:

A new Environmental video seems to have appeared on many of the large screens around the university.

As someone with poor sight, the use of a serif font that changes colour from green, to yellow and then to white renders the video almost impossible for me to follow the narrative.

Can more thought be put into these presentations in future please?

ANSWER:

Thank you very much for raising this issue.

The University is committed to providing an inclusive environment and we try to make sure that all our communications, whether they are paper or electronic, are clearly understood by everyone. We recently issued guidelines for making all types of documents more accessible and any corporate video would follow these guidelines and should be easily accessible for everyone.

We are not sure which video you are referring to but we think it may be one that was developed by a student as part of a project.

We will liaise with the departments responsible for this initiative and make sure that they understand the difficulties that the student design has caused and ensure that any future projects take equality issues into account.

Thank you again for bringing this to our attention. Your feedback means that we can improve our communication to all our staff and students.

Can I get partial reimbursement for my parking permit?

QUESTION:

I see the parking permits are going up to £50 a year from September. I am going on maternity leave from October. Is there a way I can get a partial year reimbursement since I will not need the remaining 46 weeks parking?

ANSWER:

Final decisions regarding car park management for September are being considered at the moment, however the annual charge for a parking permit is not refundable.

Any individual who needs personal assistance with parking related queries can e-mail parking@staffs.ac.uk. Thank you.