This letter was sent from HLS professors to the following members of Council on the 25th June 2021, cc’d to the Vice-Chancellor: Mrs Carmel Booth, President of Council; Professor Thomas Teubner, Elected Senate Representative; Professor Julia Balogun, Appointed Senate Representative; Professor Hazel Scott, Appointed Senate Representative.
Dear Mrs Booth and Professors Teubner, Balogun and Scott,
We write as members of the Professoriate in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences to raise some fundamental issues about University governance in relation to Phase II of Project Shape and the awarding of undergraduate degrees.
Section 12 of the University Ordinances gives Council the role of approving and ensuring “the appropriate and consistent treatment of staff in relation to the following: Capability; Discipline; Grievances; Redeployment; Redundancy; and Sickness absence.” Council is, in effect, the sovereign body charged with upholding those employment policies.
We are particularly concerned about the way that the following aspects of Phase II of Project Shape have not complied with the University policies and procedures that Council is ultimately responsible for. In your capacity as President of Council and Senate representatives on Council, we respectfully request that these concerns are raised formally at the next Council meeting.
1) Breach of University Redundancy Procedure.
We are concerned that there had been no reasonable attempt to avoid the redundancies proposed in Phase II of Project Shape. Section 6.1 of the University Redundancy Procedure notes: “In defining the selection pool of employees, consideration must be given to those whose work is to cease or diminish, those who undertake similar work and the extent to which the jobs of the employees affected are interchangeable, whether the work that is to cease or diminish is in one department, on one site or across the University.”
There is no evidence that the proposed redundancies involve cessation or diminution of work. This is crucial, because in law, a redundancy is defined (in the Employment Rights Act 1996) as a situation in which the employer ceases to carry on a particular kind of work or where the need for work of a particular kind ceases or diminishes. In other words, it is the post and not the person that is redundant. Yet here, staff have been selected on the basis of their perceived research performance, and the type of research work they are doing has not been considered. The Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Prof Louise Kenny, has stated that the purpose of the redundancies is to create “headroom” for Project Shape; there is nothing in the University’s Redundancy Procedure that allows redundancies on this basis. If redundancies are required, the first step should have been to state which posts are redundant and demonstrate why this is the case.
2) Breach of the agreed University Capability Procedure.
Alleged poor performance has not been raised with the individuals concerned or dealt with through the agreed process of the University’s Capability Procedure. Indeed, the BMA representatives were informed that the Capability Procedure has been invoked in only one case of those selected for redundancy and this process was not completed. Moreover, none of the staff identified for redundancy were apparently made aware of any performance issues, or indeed any specific grant income or research performance problems at any time. This redundancy scheme has bypassed the strict requirements of the University Capability Procedure, which ensures that Professional Development and Review (PDR) (section 1.3) as well as ongoing interaction with Heads of Departments/Institutes/Schools and Managers throughout the year (section 1.5) are central to the consideration of performance issues. Perhaps most worryingly, because the Capability Procedure has been bypassed, any guarantee that “poor performance is dealt with reasonably, fairly, equitably and consistently, in line with specific, clear and transparent guidance” (section 1.10) cannot be upheld by Council.
3) Phase II of Project Shape does not map to University Role Expectations.
The amended proposals for selecting staff for redundancy under Phase II of Project Shape indicate that the main criterion used was research income benchmarked against HESA cost centres. There are no prescriptive research income targets in the University’s published role expectations for each of the salary scale grades affected by the redundancies (7-10).
Grade 7 Teaching and Research role expectations stipulate the following “Possible exemplifiers of Core Expectations:
a) “An appreciation of the value of and funding opportunities for knowledge exchange, both internal and external”; and
b) “Applications for funding on the basis of agreed research and knowledge exchange plans.”
Grade 8 Teaching and Research role expectations stipulate “Attracting research and knowledge exchange funding” as a possible “exemplifier of core expectations.”
Grade 9 Teaching and Research role expectations stipulate “Attracting significant research and knowledge exchange funding” as a possible “exemplifier of core expectations.”
Professorial expectations refer to “consistent achievement in winning significant grants”. This is taken as an “indicator” only, which contributes to wider “evidence of contribution against all sets of indicators.” Line managers will “take this into account when allocating Professors to a level, but will give greater consideration to the scope of influence and impact that a Professor has in their lead domain and the evidence of leadership.” There is therefore nothing in the Professorial contribution levels that proscribes a level of research income.
Thus, across all affected grades, there are no prescribed levels of research income. To assess staff and to select those for redundancy on a set of target grant incomes which have not been previously defined, let alone agreed with staff, cannot be right. Secondly, the method for calculating target grant income used by HLS for the current redundancy exercise appears to be flawed. Even if the target research grant income is accepted by staff, none of the staff in HLS has ever been informed at any point by their employer or line manager, formally or informally, that they would be required to reach this performance target.
The University has always recognised that at every level, low-cost science is a necessary part of a balanced research culture. Prescribing research income targets would tie the hands of a large number of innovative researchers and stifle crucial elements of the University’s world leading research output. It would be highly damaging for the standing of the institution and the long-term health of the research culture were the University to apply prescriptive research income targets as it has done in Phase II of Project Shape.
4) The University’s proposal to breach the Code of Practice on Assessment
Section 1.2 of the current Code of Practice Appendix H states: “No University degree, diploma or certificate should be awarded without the endorsement of at least one examiner external to the University or collaborative institution, who shall also be a full member of the relevant Board of Examiners.” Many External Examiners have already resigned and it would therefore appear that many degrees, diplomas or certificates cannot be awarded. Yet the University Senior Leadership Team (SLT) has given assurances to students in its statement on 15th June 2021 that “Contrary to what you may have read, there will be External Examiner scrutiny of all Board of Examiners decisions and you will have a final grade which reflects all of the work you have submitted”. Without the external examiners, no decisions can be made by the Board of Examiners. The University’s statement to the students requires urgent clarification.
In the same statement, the SLT informed final year undergraduate students that they should have their results by 5th July and states: “if you have marks for 90 out of your possible 120 credits for the year, your average for the purposes of progression or graduation will be based on those 90 credits for a short period of time.” However, students are also informed that their degree classification cannot decrease after this point, irrespective of their marks for the final 30 credits. Even for degree programmes where there are External Examiners, we cannot see how these examiners would be able to scrutinise decisions and endorse University of Liverpool degrees under these circumstances. We could have a scenario where two students average 62% on their current 90 credits, but for their final 30 credits, one averages 65% and the other only 40%. Under normal circumstances, one would graduate with a 2.i degree and the other with a 2.ii degree. However, under the University’s proposals, both would graduate with a 2.i degree. This puts the External Examiner in an impossible position and gives a very poor image of the University. We are very concerned that these proposals not only breach the Code of Practice, but will also devalue degrees awarded by the University.
Finally, we are very concerned about the stress caused to our students by these proposals and the damage being done to the University’s reputation, these matters being recently reported in the media (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jun/18/concern-students-grades-liverpool-and-leicester universities-respond-to-strikes and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-57525379).
We feel very strongly that the University’s Ordinance and Codes of Practice should be upheld and hope that members of Council share our concerns and discuss the above issues at the next meeting.
The letter has been signed by 69 professors, including the 45 listed below.
Prof Patricia Murray, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Caroline Dart, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Sylvie Urbe, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Alan Morgan, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Andrea Varro, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Jonathan M Rhodes, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, ISMIB
Prof Dan Rigden, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Lu-Gang Yu, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Andy Jones, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Jerry Turnbull, Johnston Professor of Biochemistry, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof David Fernig, Professor of Biological Chemistry, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Philip Rudland, Emeritus Professor, Biochemistry & Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Sandy McLennan, Emeritus Professor, Biochemistry & Systems Biology, ISMIB
Prof Robert Sutton, Honorary Consultant Surgeon, Liverpool University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, ISMIB
Prof Harish Poptani, Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, ISMIB
Prof John Quinn, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, ISMIB
Prof Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences
Prof Zenobia Lewis, School of Life Sciences
Prof Luciane Vieira de Mello, School of Life Sciences
Prof Andy Fenton, Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, IVES
Prof Jay Hinton, Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator. Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, IVES
Prof Barry J Campbell, Professor of Gastrointestinal Physiology, Infection Biology & Microbiomes, IVES
Prof Mike Begon, Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, IVES
Prof Dame Margaret Whitehead, WH Duncan Professor of Public Health, Department of Public Health, Policy, and Systems, IPH
Prof Simon Capewell, Public Health, Policy & Systems, IPH
Prof Kate Bennett, Psychology, IPH
Prof Julian Pine, Psychology, IPH
Prof Sophie Wuerger, Psychology, IPH
Prof Jon Cole, Psychology, IPH
Prof Rhiannon Corcoran, Primary Care and Mental Health, IPH
Prof Pauline Slade, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Primary Care and Mental Health, IPH
Prof Bridget Young, Professor of Psychology, Public Health, Policy and Systems, IPH
Prof Richard Bentall, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, Clinical Psychology Unit, IPH
Prof Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Primary Care & Mental Health, IPH
Prof Fiona Rowe, Professor of Orthoptics, Health Services Research, Primary Care & Mental Health, IPH
Prof Elizabeth Perkins, William Rathbone VI Chair of Community Nursing Research, Dept Primary Care and Mental Health, IPH
Prof Ciara Kierans, Professor in Social Anthropology, Public Health, Policy & Systems, IPH
Prof Peter Salmon, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, IPH
Prof Paul Losty, Professor of Paediatric Surgery, Women’s and Children’s Health, ILCaMS
Prof Anne McArdle, Musculoskeletal & Ageing Science, ILCaMS
Prof Rob Van ‘T Hof, Musculoskeletal and Ageing Science, ILCaMS
Prof Joao Pedro De Magalhaes, Musculoskeletal and Ageing Science, ILCaMS
Prof James Gallagher, Emeritus Professor in Musculoskeletal & Ageing Science, ILCaMS
Prof Robin Huw Crompton, Honorary Professor of Musculoskeletal and Ageing Science, ILCaMS
Prof Luminita Paraoan, Eye and Vision Sciences, ILCaMS