Your questions answered

Throughout the pilot, the Workload Balance Project Team has been receiving questions from academic departments about the project, and about the model. You can submit a question at any time via workloadbalance@le.ac.uk

NB. A few of these questions have been paraphrased to extract the essential nature of the query from longer passages. Typical examples of similar questions have been chosen to avoid repetition.

General Questions

Q. A very rigid model is a huge danger and can lead to staff discontent

Although the pilot is only in its early stages, it has already become apparent that all departments and schools are very different in how they work in all aspects of teaching, service and research. It is highly important that a workload model correctly reflects all aspects of the work that staff undertake, and as such a very rigid model is not appropriate. However, for a fair and transparent system there needs to be some consistency in how staff hours are allocated across the university. Discipline-specific allowances will be decided at either departmental/school or college level.

The primary aim of a workload model is to provide information to heads of department/school which allows them to make informed judgements when distributing work. It is their role to do the best they can to make this distribution as equitable as possible within the practical constraints that they have. If the head does not have confidence in the data that the workload model provides then the model will not be of any use. Therefore it must be flexible enough to adequately capture the range of activities within a given department/school for it to serve its purpose.

It may also be of interest to note that an administrator in each school/department will be responsible for maintaining staff workload entries, under the direction of the head of department/school. They will know members of staff and have a good understanding of the working culture within the department/school. Staff will have access to their personal workload allocation through a web-based interface. They will be able to provide feedback to the administrator through this interface which will keep a log of the discussion.

Q. Is a 40%:40%:20% split workable (for a research and teaching career form)?

The aim of workload models is to predict the activity of staff for the coming academic year so that work can be fairly balanced across the department/school. Staff themselves will generally not know how long they spend on every activity they do, so it must be recognised that workload models have a limited level of accuracy, and therefore should never be interpreted too literally. They are therefore just a guide to help inform the head of department/school when workload balancing. The career form split is again a guide of how the university would expect its staff to be spending their time

Q. How will the model account for the majority of academics working much more than 40hrs/week?

The purpose of the model is not to capture additional hours completed by academic staff in year. The purpose of the model is to provide the parameters in which planning for future academic years can be delivered. The workload model is based on a notional working year of 1665 hours based on a 37.5 hour week after subtracting holiday and closure days.

Q. It must be taken into account that not all hours are productive hours, e.g. time spent walking across campus, small gaps between meetings etc.

Tariffs for activities are generally quite generous to include many of these aspects. Staff tend to focus on activities where they feel they have been under-allocated, whereas there are many areas where the allocation is greater than most staff will require. Hopefully this reaches an equitable balance where the overall allocation is a fair reflection of the time required

Q. How will the university use the model to aid transparency of staff workloads in departments?

Transparency refers to staff within a department/school seeing their colleagues’ workload allocation (typically just a short summary: % teaching, % service etc). There are a wide range of attitudes to this across the university. The aim is to have full transparency of the model within every department/school. Some departments/schools may be given the option to delay this for 1-2 years however. There are a number of reasons for this: workload models tend to take a couple of years of refinement to correctly reflect activity within a department/school, especially if they have no pre-existing model to work from; this delay also provides some time for all staff to achieve a balanced workload (this is especially helpful if there are some pre-existing tensions within the department/school about balance); the private circumstances of some individuals may make them appear to be poorly balanced in the workload model when this is not the case; it is better to look at 3-4 year averages of staff workloads (as some staff may be given a lighter year to compensate for previous heavy years) and this allows those averages to develop

Teaching

Q. I am going to teach a course on a summer school for phd students. This requires, including preparation approx 80 hours. I believe they should be accounted for under teaching, not research.

This is teaching and therefore would be counted as such.

Research

Q. I have concerns that “top slicing” funded research income will not leave enough staff time to fulfil their teaching and service roles

The proposal to “top slice” funded research income is to ensure that staff receive the time funded on grants so that they can fulfil the requirements of their awards. This should also help incentivise research applications and encourage staff not to undersell themselves when applying for their time on research grants. We think this is a good aspiration, but it is a valid observation thatteaching and service hours within a school/department must always be allocated and that there could be implications that arise from this in some schools/departments. This is one of the reasons for the pilot project. It is only when actual cases are considered, with real input data, that the pros and cons of these proposals are properly understood and the capacity to implement them known.

Q. Lab-based research cannot be conducted on 40% FTE (for staff on a research and teaching contract)?

The proposed 40% research allocation target is for unfunded internal research. The pilot project aims to see if this allocation is possible. Most departmental/school incomes rely on teaching. If this is done efficiently (e.g. a minimal number of modules with small class sizes) then there is more time available for research. Additionally, in the workload aims and principles, externally funded research income obtained by staff will directly increase the time they have allocated for their research.  Staff can also be appointed to research-focussed contracts which will allocate more time for research (60% FTE is proposed)

Q. The right to apply for and be awarded study leave should sit entirely outside the consistency of expectation in the workload model. Otherwise in practice staff will lose it.

The pilot project will look at how to balance the various demands of study leave across the university. It is clear that the use of study leave across the different Colleges varies massively. Some disciplines find study leave a vital part of their scholarship (e.g. to provide an extended period to write a book) whereas in many others the take-up is very low. In some departments it is zero. Workload balance needs to ensure that staff in different departments are treated equally on average. Staff who are in departments/schools that typically have a high fraction of staff absent on study leave will normally have an above average load to compensate for the reduction in staff available to undertake teaching and service at any given time

Q. How are official roles for funding bodies (grant award committee memberships), journal editorial boards, and work for national/international learned bodies to advisory/consultancy roles included?

External research roles can be entered, but the total will probably be capped at a certain number of hours. The member of staff can do as many hours as they wish of course, but above a certain number of hours this will not affect their requirements to undertake departmental duties

Q. How is the valuable work that goes in to developing an impact case for the REF recognised in this model?

In general, if staff are requested to undertake substantial activities for their department/school then they should receive an allocation for this in the model. The preparation of REF Impact case studies is similar in many ways to some administrative roles, in that the hours required are not always easy to quantify a priori and that the precise nature of the task may often vary between disciplines. In this instance it may even vary for each case study depending on its level of development and complexity. The proposal is that such tasks will have an allocation in a predetermined range and that a head of school/department can allocate time within this envelope. 

Q. Point 12 that ‘all members of academic staff are available and able to make contributions to all three areas of work at all times, including when undertaking major leadership roles or externally funded research’ is strongly supported. Please clarify what the expectations are when a colleague has won an externally funded fellowship where the terms of the grant specify that they are to be 100% allocated to the research project? It is assumed that PGR supervision is still part of the academics role, but what about other University citizenship work (e.g. reviewing grant applications, participation on funder groups)?

Many academics would continue with this type of scholarship during their fellowship, but it would be at their own discretion to decide whether to do this or not. It may also depend on the conditions of the fellowship. The workload model would allocate 100% of the year to the individual for their fellowship. Any additional hours for PGR supervision undertaken during the fellowship would largely be for the record, as the head of department/school cannot provide an individual with more than 100% of their time. 

Q. How would organising an international conference be recognised?

This could be entered as a one-off activity at the discretion of the Head of Department/School to acknowledge this

Q. Higher Education often works on a notion of reciprocity and we engage in work for the good of the academic community. Some of this work takes place outside of the institution - serving on committees, review panels, reviewing our grant applications, papers, etc. Without it the academic community could not function. Yet this crucial citizenship does not appear here in the academic workload planning: aims and principles document. Why?

It is proposed that specific instances of serving on external committees and panels can be entered as a separate activity at the discretion of the department. Reviewing papers, grants etc. is an essential part of academic activity. However, a workload model would not be viable if every instance of this type was accounted for separately. Therefore it is intended to include a general allowance for this for all research active staff

Academic Service

Q. It is very important that time spent by staff on health and safety be included. How will these roles be incorporated?

The model does not exclude any aspects of work conducted by staff as part of their contracts. The only exception to this is work for which staff personally receive additional payment, e.g. external examining, contract work where the staff takes the income as salary

Individual questions

Q. Can we buy and sell annual leave?

Annual leave can be bought (see recent announcements by university) but not sold

Q. Additional time will be allocated for Early Career Researchers (staff in first 3 years new to a lectureship). What provision will be made for returners following periods of substantial leave, including but not limited to, maternity, additional paternity, long-term sick, carers leave?

This is a good point which has not been considered. It will now be included as another issue to be addressed within the pilot project

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Contact

If you have any questions about the project, or the information contained within these pages, please contact the Workload Balance Project Team at workloadbalance@le.ac.uk who will be happy to help you.