Vice Chancellor's Office

VC's open staff sessions: 24 April 2018

Presentation slides

VC's presentation 24 April 2018 [PDF 493.79KB]

Morning session video

Afternoon session video

Answers to the questions that Adam didn't have time to answer during the events

Human Resources

A move to more modern ways of working and increased flexibility is very welcome. What progress has been made towards overhauling appraisal and reward procedures for staff? 

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; introducing a cycle to work scheme and offering travel savings through the easit scheme, as well as providing special discounts with the local bus company

We will make further announcements about new rewards packages for staff as soon as possible.

You've mentioned flexible by default on a number of occasions - how, when we have IT services which can't cope on campus and an outdated telephone system, can staff be able to work effectively at home or elsewhere?

As part of a small team within professional services we are completely reliant on the IT systems to undertake our work. Over the last few months the systems have become increasing unstable. It feels like those making the decisions not as reliant on the systems on a daily basis, and not aware of the subsequent impact the lack of systems stability has on productivity and morale – we come in to work to work and want to be able to get on with the job required and not have to do additional hours to compensate. We have been informed that this is being looked at as port of the longer term strategy, but given the disruption it causes each day what is being done now/in the short term to address this?

Over the years we’ve under-invested in our IT infrastructure and many of our systems don’t compare well with those in other universities. The Executive has just approved a proposal to invest £4m in upgrading our IT infrastructure and we know that further investment will be required later. We know that improving our technology is absolutely critical to running the University today and in the future. Infrastructure improvement will form a key part of our new strategy. An improved – and more likely ‘transformed’ - technology provision will very likely form part of that.

As the university will become "flexible by default". When are we likely to see this change in policy and job adverts?

Work is underway to launch the new “flexible by default” approach. Our new focus will be on a more supportive, proactive and flexible use of a range of options such as part-time, compressed hours, working from home and job shares.

It will ensure that staff and managers work together to identify the right solution from a range of options and increase awareness that flexible working does not necessarily mean part time working.

It will also look at temporary flexible arrangements and making it easier to change an existing arrangement permanently or temporarily.

The EDI Unit is working in conjunction with HR to develop a new Flexible Working Toolkit and this will be launched over the summer both online and through a series of workshops.

Communications around this will appear in the next couple of months along with invitations to attend sessions.

Following this implementation period, all jobs will be advertised clearly stating that flexible working options can be considered unless there is good reason why this cannot be accommodated.

One size will not fit all for either roles or staff, so the approach will be flexible and require managers and applicants to discuss options.

With the annual pay review taking place at the moment, is there an intention to increase pay or will it remain the same as it is, just below inflation?

At Sussex, we don’t set the pay for our employees. This is done at a national level. Employers and trade unions are currently engaged in negotiations for the 2018-19 pay round. You can read more about the process here.

Why does the university employ contractors over a long period at high cost rather than creating a permanent or fixed term post? Why does the university employ contractors over a long period at h8?

Contractors are often the right choice when seeking to fill interim and short-term roles, or for project work or tasks requiring specialist skills. However we’ve tried hard in recent years to limit the use of these roles.

Does the university have a recruitment freeze? If so, how have the high level appointments mentioned been made when low level positions are not being replaced?

Why is the recruitment freeze affecting the re-grading of current positions at the 'lower end' of the University hierarchy? Whereas recruitment to new/replacement directorships seems to be moving apace.

While a recruitment freeze does apply to some academic posts, there is not currently a freeze on the regrading of current positions. If you are experiencing any delays on this front please contact our Director of Human Resources, Sheila Gupta.

The high level management positions we have made recently are important in providing the leadership the University will need in the coming months and years to guide us through a moment of change and challenge in the sector.

I strongly believe that Sussex is an institution that can thrive in the future, especially with our new strategy – however in order to do that it is absolutely necessary that we have a strong team in place. We are a complex organisation and that does mean we need to employ a small number of staff with a high level of skills, experience and expertise.

I am aware that there have been several new appointments to the University Leadership Team recently and this recruitment drive is now complete.

You are right we do need to keep a close eye on our staff costs at all levels of the organisation – this includes at the most senior levels.

When advertising new roles, do you think it is attractive to candidates to need to view "Non-academic" vacancies, rather than professional services? It's defining prof services as what we aren't rather than what we are. Maybe academic posts could be advertised as 'unprofessional services'?

I take your point, and I wouldn’t want you to think that we don’t value our Professional Services staff.

I accept that there are alternative ways to present this information and I will have a conversation with our HR Director about best practice in advertising language.

While we have focussed on gender pay gap, what is the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people? Will the university address this question?

We have welcomed the requirement for gender pay gap reporting. We are looking at how we can extend this transparency to disability and race and we will be exploring options for reporting pay gaps for these categories when we undertake next year’s gender pay gap reporting.

Such reporting can only be based on the information we hold and equal opportunities monitoring is voluntary.

Many people do not complete these forms during recruitment or update their records at a later stage if they develop a disability.

It is really important for us to understand the demographics of our workforce to enable us to undertake pay gap and other reporting and ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that opportunities are inclusive.

I would encourage everyone to complete an equal opportunities monitoring form if they have not done so or to update their records if they wish to declare a disability. 

The new “flexible by default” approach was designed in response to feedback from carers groups and from disabled staff so hopefully we are already taking at least one action that will benefit disabled staff and reduce any pay gap that exists.

How popular with staff is the easit commuter scheme, how many people are registered? Is there any data on changing travel habits and is there a plan to promote the scheme further?

The easit scheme will continue to be promoted to staff and details are currently available on the staff homepage.

1,113 members of staff have either purchased an easitCARD or have registered on the website in order to take advantage of other easit initiatives such as bus discounts, Halfords discount etc. 

Analysis of modes of travel to campus between 2001 and 2015 in the University Travel Plan suggests that staff car usage has remained at a similar level with a decrease in student car use (driver alone) of 1.1%.

Student and Academic Administration Transformation programme (SAAT)

Given that a key rationale for purchasing a new student record system was to reduce cost and complexity; does the university intend to cover the cost of the existing database technology staying in place to meet the non-student functions it serves And does the university plan to manage the complexity arising from managing key functionality that is not in scope for the saat project?

It’s worth pointing out that other reasons for purchasing the new software also included a desire to modernise our systems and improve the student experience. IT Services will retain the budget for maintaining the central database which currently supports functions such as health and safety, car parking and staff development. We will consider functionality that is not in scope for the SAAT project as part of the wider IT Strategy.

What us the rationale for using PA consulting within the SAAT project given the multi million pound cost of their input?

The SAAT programme is led by a team of Sussex secondees, supported by PA Consulting, and our technology partner, TechnologyOne, with whom we're implementing the new student information system, OneUniversity. 

PA Consulting have a history of helping organisations through complex changes and to find solutions. In an increasingly challenging financial climate I believe it is likely we will use fewer consultancy firms.


What can the university do about students with super sport cars with foreign number plates parking on disable bays regularly without any permit? Fines are clearly not effective

I can understand your frustration.

Drivers who park in a disabled bay without the appropriate badge will receive an immediate fine of up to £60 as they cause serious issues for disabled drivers.

We’re working in partnership with First Parking, an approved parking operator that is registered with the British Parking Authority and is permitted to impose fines. First Parking are able to obtain details of car ownership from the DVLA.

We’re still working hard behind the scenes on our Travel Plan, including changes to car parking as well as improvements to bus and train services.

Student experience / student services

What additional resources are available to the central student services, given that all services must now be adapted to include students studying online, in potentially any country in the world?

Student facing support services have been involved in workshops with Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) to consider how we offer services to students and protocols have been established. Services are aware that resources will be available relative to demand.

Do we know if our students are part of the lawsuit for student compensation (from strikes) that was in today's news?

We know that less than 50 students have signed up from the University of Sussex. We’re actively looking at the effect of the strike and have already put in place some measures to make up for the missed classes.

The University is revising assessments and examinations, to ensure that no student will be disadvantaged academically. We have, additionally, let students know that they can make a complaint under our standard procedure if they believe that our other actions are insufficient.


I've heard that the Office for Students will require curriculum items (at module and module content level) to be published 18 months in advance to comply with aspects of commercial law. If true, this seems like terrible policy which will completely clash with the university's strategy for innovative and modern teaching and will be detrimental to the student experience. How will we combat this?

It is not correct that the Office for Students (OfS) explicitly specifies any particular timescale for the approval and publication of curriculum items. Rather, it is a condition of the University’s registration with OfS that we pay due regard to consumer law in our processes for curriculum development. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provided UK Higher Education providers with detailed advice on complying with consumer protection law.

Consumer law deems that the process of a student applying to a course and a university making an offer to the student means both parties have entered into a contract. If material information about the course – such as modular structure, course title and learning outcomes – changes after the offer is made, then it is a requirement that we contact applicants and, in some cases, seek their consent for changes.

Consumer protection law, when applied to Higher Education, is predominantly designed to protect prospective students from applying to a course and then being taught a different course when they arrive at the University. In some circumstances the only reason why a student chose a course may be down to a small number of modules and if these are removed/changed the student may be understandably aggrieved. For the majority of students deciding which course to study is a one-off decision that requires a significant investment of time and money.

The University has developed a policy on managing curriculum in compliance with consumer law, which has been approved by the University Teaching and Learning Committee and the Executive Group. This policy seeks to strike a balance between the need for academic autonomy and continuous enhancement of the curriculum with the need to protect the student interest and the applicant experience. In practice, approval timescales for curriculum development have been brought forward so that major curriculum changes for 2019/20 will need to be finalised by the end of the 2018 calendar year.

Officers will be working with academic colleagues to communicate the revised timescales and plan the work of School Committees with responsibility for curriculum change approval. While major changes will require approval as described above, other types of change can be made later and the content of lectures and seminars is not subject to any formal central approval process.

It is important to note that consumer law focuses on applicants because enrolled students can, and should, be actively involved in any further changes to the curriculum – this means changes can be made once delivery of a course has begun given proper consultation with students. Work on ensuring compliance with consumer law is not static and, sector wide, is a relatively new area which represents a cultural change to previous working practices. Our practices will continue to evolve as we strive to balance providing applicants with accurate information and development of innovative and modern teaching.

Are you aware of the poor quality of teaching at engineering department? It has created a situation where competent and caring faculty members have lost motivation. The culture of bad teaching and passing students with high marks to achieve a high score in NSS is not helpful for students and reputation of our department.

Please feel free to contact me directly to provide more detail on this so I can respond.


Do you enjoy being a Vice Chancellor at the Uni of Sussex?

Yes, of course. Not every moment of the last few months has been easy, but I’m proud to be leading this unique institution, packed full of talent and passion.

Will there be a staff summer party this year?

Unfortunately not. Schools and professional services divisions are under considerable financial pressure and we did not believe that we could justify the expenditure against this backdrop. All staff are invited to attend the Sussex Community Festival with their families and friends. More information.