Vice Chancellor's Office

VC's open staff forum: 6 June 2019

Presentation slides

 VC's presentation 6 June 2019 [PDF 2.05MB]

Presentation video

Questions received online and via text message

Human Resources

Some time ago there was discussion of overhauling the way that PS staff pay rises, discretionary awards and other promotional routes are currently managed. For example, opportunities for salary to rise by more than one scale point each year on the basis of good performance against key indicators would be more fair than the current system which means everyone gets 1 scale point regardless of how diligent, high-performing or indifferent they are at their jobs. What changes are under consideration currently, and when might they be implemented please?

In terms of our pay awards, we are represented by UCEA (University and College Employers Association, which represent University employers) who negotiate the pay awards each year – which includes employees moving along the pay scale if/as appropriate – so we’re not in a position to change this.

However we’ve made a number of changes to our processes that I believe will make a big difference to ensuring staff are fairly recognised for their contribution to the University.

These include delegating responsibility for the discretionary pay reviews to schools and directorates; making the job-evaluation process easier and faster by actively involving the line manager and using online forms.

We’ve also introduced additional benefits such as Cycle to Work and a staff reward scheme. More information.

All of these changes are involving a lot of recruitment. What are the policies at this institution around ethics in staff recruitment? I'm particularly interested in when and how candidates or recruiting managers might declare existing relationships (business or personal), and also the circumstances around when roles are advertised or not.

Appointments to posts require senior approval, preparation of a job description and person specification. All our vacancies are normally placed on the sussex.ac.uk/jobs and jobs.ac.uk as a matter of course. (We do have procedures to advertise internally only for a period for anyone on the redeployment register). In addition to the above we may also advertise on occasions in traditional media / publications.

Our financial regulations confirm the University’s commitment to the Nolan principles of public life: selflessness; integrity; objectivity; accountability; openness; honesty; leadership.

These regulations also cover obligations under the Bribery Act 2010 and disclose an ongoing obligation on all staff, Council members and others disclose any potential or actual conflict of interest which may impinge on their impartiality.

We have a range of guidance on our website which set out arrangements for appointment panels, which ensure we comply with good practice, Nolan principles etc. Managers who make selection decisions are required to complete basic recruitment / selection / equality training.

All senior staff, members of Council and staff with significant financial authority are required to declare any interests in an annual register of interests return to Governance. HR are currently in discussion with the Office of the General Counsel and Director of Governance, about making the requirement for such declarations more explicit at the point of recruitment.

In relation to the USS pension, why are we agreeing to the least worst option instead of holding the trustee to account as Sheffield have done in rejecting all the options?

The rules of USS mean that the Trustee Board determines the required level of contributions and they are able to impose an outcome if the stakeholders (UCU and UUK) are unable to recommend one. This means that, if Option 3 does not go through, there are only two alternatives. The first of these would be that the 2017 valuation would stand, and the planned increases for October 2019 (to 10.4% for employees and 22.5% for the University) and April 2020 (11.4% for employees, 24.2% for the University) will automatically be implemented. The second would be that the USS Trustee would impose Option 1 – the, so-called, upper bookend – from July 2019. 

The best actuarial advice is that Option 3 is very close to the recommendations of the JEP in terms of the costs to both institutions and individual members and it allows for the current benefits to be maintained. The overwhelming majority (85%) of employers have taken the same approach as Sussex. If the approach taken by the University of Sheffield, or that of UCU, were to be adopted redundancies would be necessary in many universities to pay the additional costs.

Operations

How much of our energy is now coming from renewable sources?

Looking at electricity consumed in the 2018 calendar year, electricity generated on campus from the University’s solar panels supplied 3% of the electricity the University consumed in 2018. Of the rest, 15% came from the Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) and 82% was imported from the grid.

33% of the UK’s grid electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2018, so it could be argued that a further 27% of our electricity came from renewable sources, making 30% in total.

Are we going to have an interim Director of Estates?

Deputy Director of Estates and Facilities Management, Francine Hill, and Chief Technical Officer, Steven Johnson, have taken over a number of Simon’s projects while we go about recruiting a new Director.

Which organisations do we accept commissioned research from, and which do we not?

We do not have any specific policies on the types of organisations we accept commissioned research from. However, we engage in thorough due diligence on potential research funders both through established Research & Enterprise Services processes and the ethical review process to ensure that the appropriate questions are asked and financial, sustainability, legal and reputational checks undertaken prior to formal engagement.

The authorisation for projects to progress follows the schedules of delegation set out in the University Financial Regulations. Where these processes generate concerns or queries, matters are escalated to the Director of Research and Enterprise and/or the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) for consideration.

All research is potentially subject to both internal and external audit by funders and regulators. Internal post-award processes ensure that there is an on-going means of ensuring alignment with our Financial Regulations and University policies.

Do you have any plans to bring staff back from the Amex stadium onto campus?

At the present time we don’t have plans to bring staff working at the Amex back on to campus. We really wish we did have this as an option, but unfortunately we are having to make decisions based on maximising our teaching space and student study space on campus.

However, I am acutely aware that being located in the Amex is not the preferred option for many of the staff working there. In order to help address this we have encouraged opportunities for flexible working arrangements, working from home and hotdesking in other parts of our estate where possible.

We are also currently looking for ways in which we can immediately improve the environment at the Amex for our staff – and there will be updates on this soon.

Any update on the delayed, but desperately needed, new Life Sciences building?

We are considering this as part of the Estates strategy and there will be an opportunity to contribute to the decisions we are making in the autumn – more information on this will be published soon.

Student experience

What role do you perceive a counselling department to have in the future of mental health support for students?

Clearly counselling services will always be an essential part of the mix for our mental health support for students. Jayne Aldridge, as I’m sure you know, is taking a comprehensive look at our whole offer to make sure we have the balance right in terms of wellbeing services and protection for those students who do need an enhanced level of support, such as counselling.

Please can you clarify your languages strategy, and how language learning will look at the university going forward.

The Sussex Centre for Language Studies aspires to be a centre of excellence in language teaching and language teacher education.

Recently the Centre has taken the lead in formalising a Languages Strategy for the University.

The creation and adoption of a formalised strategy were considered to be central to the University’s aspiration to be a truly international institution, committed to promoting the values of global citizenship in its graduates.

This draft strategy has been produced in response to this manifest need and in alignment with the values and ambitions of the Sussex 2025 strategy and it is currently being considered by members of the University Leadership Team.

At a Bridging the Gap with the Chinese Students training course recently, it was discussed that two areas that are problematic for our overseas Chinese students were using the support services and knowing they can join societies. Could we have leaflets about the Student Life Centre and Welcome Week printed in Chinese and have a page on the Web for these things written in Chinese?

I will ask Jayne Aldridge to consider this proposal as part of her Student Experience work – it’s a good idea and we’ll look into it.

Is it true the University is going to scrap student fines for fire alarm and other breaches?

Student discipline fines are placed upon students if there has been a breach of Regulation 2 (standard of conduct) on student discipline, and are not related to tenancy agreements. The new Tenant Fees Act states that a fine cannot be placed on an individual if they are in breach of their tenancy.

Do you have a clear idea how the one stop shop will operate? Who will be based there if anyone?

The Student Centre (we’re calling it that rather than a ‘one stop shop’ because it will be a space for much more than transactional interactions) is due to open in 2021. Students tell us they’d like more clarity about where to go for information or to access support services, and that there’s a need for more space on campus - different space at different times in the academic year.

The intention is for many of our staff whose roles involve delivering support or advisory services to students to operate those services from the Student Centre. Of course, there will always be some services where it’s still appropriate to deliver from other locations, and the key will be to provide clear signposting for students, and a consistent approach and level of service.

The Student Centre offers us a really exciting opportunity to showcase the highest standard of service and student experience, and we’ll continue to work with students and staff across the University to develop the plans and ensure we capitalise on this opportunity.

You briefly mentioned the Sussex award. What is this expected to look like and what are the expected timescales for this and who will be responsible for it?

Kelly Coate, the Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Students, currently heads a steering group which is exploring the scope and timescale for the delivery of the Sussex Award and will report on this as soon as possible.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Today's BBC article: Gender not children 'holds women academics back' made me wonder what progress Sussex is currently making for gender equality, e.g. has the low share of female professors improved in the last year?

The latest data shows that 31.4% of our Professors are female i.e. a 12.7% increase in the percentage of female professors in the last 9 years. Our analysis also shows that women’s success rate when applying for professorships is consistently higher than for men.

We believe that our commitment to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter and the work of the University and our individual Schools towards departmental Athena SWAN awards has contributed to this increase in female representation in the Professoriate. We acknowledge that there is still work to be done to increase female representation in senior roles – considering that 54% of our total staff and 45.5% of our academic staff, are female.


Are there any updates about the university's approach to recruitment in diversifying our staff?

As part of our gender pay gap action plan, we have made our approach to recruitment more inclusive by making all of our roles flexible by default (unless there is a business reason that prevents flexible working arrangements).

This opens up our vacancies to a broader and more diverse recruitment pool. We also have a guaranteed interview scheme for disabled applicants through which a disabled applicant who meets the essential criteria for a role will be automatically offered an interview. This is part of our commitment to disability equality as a Disability Confident Committed employer, and is an example of positive action under the Equality Act.

We have plans to make our recruitment process even more inclusive by taking other forms of positive action aimed at broadening our recruitment pool further, and recently participated in a public sector jobs fair in Churchill Square shopping centre, Brighton, where we were reaching out to the local community to talk about our Professional Services roles at Sussex.

UoS prides itself on diversity and multiculturalism yet there's little /no recognition for religious celebrations other than Christmas. A message from VC will mean a lot for intl. students and staff.

I appreciate what you’re saying and it’s true that Sussex is what is because of the sheer range of different cultures and faiths that come to study and work here.

That is why in addition to Christmas, we make a real effort to celebrate a wide range of multicultural and religious events such as Holi, Eid al-fitr, and the Jewish Festival of Lights.

Attending events on campus to celebrate these celebrations are truly some of the best moments of the year for me.

Furthermore, our Meeting House provides a multi-faith space where Chaplains provide a service for members of both their faith group and the whole campus community, whether this means having a chat about faith issues or matters unrelated to religion and faith.

One World Sussex also gives Sussex students and staff an opportunity to share aspects of their own cultures with others, promote cultural understanding and explore global issues.

Thousands of students and many Sussex staff take part in this special annual celebration - attending events that showcase food, language and culture.