Our blog

How many redundancies are Sheffield University’s management planning to make in Archaeology?

In a recent blog post, we explained how the financial information used in the review of Archaeology and published as part of a Freedom of Information request indicate that the University would be better off in five years’ time were it to keep the department open and invest in four new posts. But this revelation is not the only nugget lurking within the figures, which also contain both an indication of the possible levels of redundancy under consideration and what looks like a worrying standard of financial analysis underlying our university’s decision-making.

Redundancy costs

By comparing the figures from the three different scenarios in the review document (investment, full closure, and the selected option of ‘closure and realignment’), we are able to draw inferences on what the nebulous ‘closure and realignment’ option may mean for staffing levels.

In the case of full closure of the department (by far the worst financial decision the University could make), there are two rows relating to staffing levels. One shows the projected costs relating to redundancy payments, and another the cost savings due to the reduction (to zero) of future salary payments. Redundancy payments are projected to start at £360k in 2022/23 and tail off to £144k by 2024/25, and zero thereafter. Cost savings move in the other direction: £775k in 2022/23, increasing to £1.7m by 2025/26.

Option 3 is based on 80% of the redundancies in Option 2

The interest comes not so much from the magnitude of these numbers than from the comparison with the case that UEB decided to pursue of ‘closure and realignment’. Here, both the redundancy payment and cost saving rows are around 80% of the figures for full closure (precisely so, in the case of redundancy payments). In other words, the ‘closure and realignment’ model used in the decision-making assumes 80% of staff (by total payroll) being made redundant.


Does this mean that the University is planning to make 80% of those currently working in Archaeology redundant? Possibly. But there are other potential explanations. It may be, as the University has indicated to us, that the 80% figure is a prudent upper-bound for the number of redundancies, something of a worst-case scenario.

So, is it prudent to use a figure relating to an upper-bound for redundancy numbers in the financial projections? Not if one uses this same proportion to also adjust the cost-savings! Since the figures for cost-savings are larger than for redundancy payments, using an upper-bound for the proportion of job losses to adjust both sets of figures results in something far from a prudent financial projection, since the gains from the cost-savings outweight the redundancy costs. A lower proportion (a half? a quarter? a fifth?) would be more financially prudent. Over-estimating the number of staff likely to be made redundant boosts the financial summary statistics for the ‘closure and realignment’ case, potentially making it more appealing to decision-makers.

Were the University to take a genuinely prudent approach to modelling potential redundancies in its projections, it would use an upper-bound when calculating the redundancy payments and a lower-bound in the cost-savings. This would skew the figures for UEB’s chosen scenario significantly for the worse. Using, for example, a figure of 80% for redundancy payments and 20% for cost savings would show the ‘closure and realignment’ option as leaving the University over £4.3m worse off over five years (up from the £1.6m in our previous analysis) as compared with investing to keep the department open. It would also push up the projected departmental deficit for that scenario in each of the years from 2022/23 onwards, above those forecast in the situation that the department remained open.

We do not know whether UEB is planning to make 80% of staff in Archaeology redundant, or whether they believed the figures represented a prudent estimate for the purposes of decision-making. As the University of Liverpool’s UCU branch has shown in its successful recent dispute, one compulsory redundancy is one too many, and members are unlikely to tolerate any threat to jobs. A plan for 80% redundancies in the department will pour petrol on a ballot for industrial action. On the other hand, if the calculations were intended to be a prudent approach to financial planning, then they raise serious questions over the quality of the decision-making at the University and, ultimately, the soundness of basis on which the decision to close Archaeology was made.

Formal declaration of trade dispute

As mandated by our members at our recent EGM, we have now entered into formal dispute with the University. Please see the declaration of dispute letter submitted to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Koen Lamberts. The trade dispute is over:

    The decision to close the Archaeology department;
    The decision to restructure the School of Languages and Cultures, the School of East Asian studies, and the 12 dual and single honours partners impacted by this decision;
    The breach of the implied term of trust and confidence by the University in its failure to provide fair governance procedures for its decision making leading to (i) and (ii).

As we have discussed as a branch, points 1 and 2 fundamentally arise from the problems described in point 3. In this respect, the first step we have asked for is a fair and transparent independent barrister-led external review of the governance procedures that have led to these decisions. With full access to records, communications, and staff and student interviews, this should reveal where and how our governance processes are currently broken, and the steps which can be taken to fix them. During this review, we have asked for all actions related to the closure of the Archaeology department, and the continuation of the Future of Languages project, to be entirely halted.

We now await a response from the University. This is a simple, constructive and reasonable request that should help rebuild trust, getting management nearer to the “one University” goal. If they reject this request, we will proceed to a ballot for industrial action.

It is of special note our three other campus unions: Unison, UNITE and GMB were joint authors of the failure to agree letter and are also all exploring the next steps to escalate this dispute through indicative ballots etc within their own union framework. All staffside trade unions recognise the growing threat of the growing number of top-down flawed ‘change management processes’ which increasingly seem to run directly counter to the input and needs of staff and students in this community.

To join the Sheffield UCU dispute committee, please email us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.

Does the decision to close Archaeology make financial sense? Not on UEB’s figures.

In May, the University’s Executive Board (UEB) announced the results of a review they had conducted into the future of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology. The review proposed choosing from one of three options:

  1. invest in the department with four new posts;
  2. close the department outright;
  3. close the department, moving some areas of research strength elsewhere.

The three-option set-up was plain for all to see, and to no great surprise UEB recommended the ‘compromise’ of option 3 to Council: Archaeology would cease to exist as a department, though small amounts of its activities would continue in other departments. As expected, Council backed its executive board and rubber-stamped the decision.

There has been much discussion over the processes that led to this decision (were students treated ethically during the review? why did Senate not provide a clear recommendation to Council?), but the financial aspects of the decision-making are yet to receive much scrutiny. If you assumed the decision to close Archaeology was in the best financial interests of the University, then think again: the numbers tell a different story.

Financial implications of closure

You could be forgiven for thinking the financial case for closure would be clear cut. Archaeology was making a loss as a department, so closing it and retaining its strongest elements would cut the losses and retain the profitable elements, putting the University in a better financial shape over the long-term. Or so the story goes.

The review document contained 5-year financial projections under the different options. It claimed the figures show “immediate cost savings and further saving realised following teach out which could be re‐invested into retained areas of strength and into other academic departments” in option 3 (closure and realignment). Meanwhile, option 1 (investment) “requires a large upfront investment, with limited evidence that the investment will address the challenges faced by the Department”, and warns that “the university will not recoup the investment if a) cross disciplinary programmes are not viable; and/or b) the department is unsuccessful in the development and expansion of the consultancy offer”.

A version of the review document was released as part of a Freedom of Information request (look in ‘FOI Papers.zip’, document 6). While it has some redacted figures, it contains enough information to assess the validity of the claims made. Interestingly, Senate wasn’t trusted with the full figures, and also received the redacted version.

Immediate cost savings?

First, the claim that closing the department generates immediate cost savings. On first glance, one can find in option 3’s figures a row for “cost savings” versus the status quo, which start at £620k per year in Year 2, rising to £1.2m per year in Year 5. But these cost-savings are more than offset by redundancy payouts and a projected loss in income of £1.2m in Year 2, rising to £1.5m in Year 5 (see Figure 1). In other words, there are no “immediate cost savings… which could be reinvested into retained areas of strength and into other academic departments”: quite the opposite. Closure of the department will cost the university hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.

By 2025/26, our analysis of the figures (not refuted by University management in our dispute meetings) shows that choosing option 3 over option 1 has a cumulative detrimental impact of over £1.6m. That is, by recommending closure of the department, UEB expect to be worse off to the tune of around £1.6m in five years’ time. They may have found a way to send the departmental deficit towards zero (after all, a department that doesn’t exist can’t lose you money), but the University as a whole takes the hit. Shared costs will be passed on to other departments. We all lose out.

Figure 1: Sheffield UCU analysis of the financial implications of options 1 and 3, based on UEB figures
(Spreadsheet available here)
Option 1 shows a better financial position than option 3 by £1.6m over 5 years

Recouping the investment?

Next up, the claim that the University may not be able to recoup the investment inherent in option 1. And again, one can see a row for the planned investment under option 1, starting at £178k in Year 1, rising to £402k in Year 5. In total, this represents a cumulative investment of £1.7m by Year 5.

The first thing to note is that there is no allowance for any improvement in income as a result of this investment, either in terms of improved student recruitment or improved grant or consultancy income (this is put down to “prudence”). But even without any allowance for this, option 1 still beats option 3 to the tune of £1.6m cumulatively over 5 years, as described above. In other words, the £1.7m investment to keep the department open will recoup itself and provide a £1.6m improved financial position over ‘closure and realignment’ over the next five years, representing a 96% return on the investment. In taking option 3, the university is implicitly setting itself a challenge of being able to find an alternative investment that doubles its £1.7m stake. It won’t manage it.

And then we get to the investment outlay itself, which is included under option 1 but not under option 3, despite UEB’s commitment to targeted investment in the areas it proposes to realign. If this unspecified level of investment were to be included in the figures for option 3, the financial benefits of keeping the department open would be even more pronounced.

Were the financial best interests of the University taken into account in the decision-making?

We are yet to see evidence that the financial best interests of the University as a whole were properly taken into account in reaching the decision to close the Department of Archaeology. There is no indication that UEB discussed them in reaching its recommendation (see the minutes of the 25 May meeting), and Senate had the necessary information redacted. We are used to seeing financial arguments as central justification for decision-making, so it seems unusual for them to be kept out of the picture here. It is hard to shake the feeling that the financial best interests were at odds with the recommendation UEB was keen to make, so they were kept out of sight and out of mind.

We are yet to see minutes of the Council meeting where the final decision was made, which will not be publicly released until October. Whether Council properly interrogated the financial implications of the recommendation they received from UEB, time will tell.

Calling Professional Services staff! Are you thinking of joining a union?

The following post was written by the founder of the SUCU PS members network and prior SUCU committee member Amy Ryall, with our thanks! Amy has since moved on to a new position at the Open University, but is now a representative on the National UCU Academic Related and Professional Services committee, which you can learn more about here.

Thinking of joining a union? Have some questions? Here’s a good place to start. Perhaps you’re interested because things aren’t going so well for you personally, or perhaps you’ve been looking around the sector for the last few months or years and wondering what on earth is going on. We’re all doing the same, but by joining UCU you can help to make a difference to our conditions and those of your colleagues and students. Unions work on collective action – the more members they have, the more effective they are.

Isn’t UCU ‘the lecturers’ union’?

No! It’s very definitely not. UCU is the union that acts most usually on behalf of staff at the University who are at Grade 6 and above. This is linked to negotiating agreements over benefits for staff at these grades. Membership is for all academic and academic-related and professional services staff. It might be though, that one of the other Unions has more members in your work area and that’s definitely something to consider when you’re thinking about joining one. . Sheffield UCU has a particularly strong Professional Services (PS) staff making up about 20% of the total membership, and the branch committee has a number of PS staff on it. To try and address issues affecting PS staff more effectively, we hold regular local Professional Services meetings, and at the UK level, Vicky Blake, the current UCU President, is a member of Professional Services staff at Leeds. Ignore what you read in the press or hear from colleagues, if you’re a PS member of staff who joins, you’ll be made very welcome.

Isn’t membership of a Union all about going on strike?

No! Though if you’re not a member, you may only become aware of the work of unions when strikes occur. Strikes are definitely part of union activity, but they are a last resort, when the normal day-to-day work of negotiation between employers and workers breaks down. They’re also less likely to happen if the union has a large membership. Employers are more likely to continue talks or come to an agreement if they think that a strike will involve a large number of the workforce and therefore be disruptive. A lot of work happens ‘behind the scenes’ and on behalf of all employees, whether they are union members or not. We have representatives involved in negotiations over terms and conditions, over pay, health and safety matters and many other aspects of the management and running of the University. You might remember the threat of Section 188 ‘fire and rehire’ last summer, which would have seen the terms and conditions of all staff at the University worsen. Negotiations by campus unions succeeded in getting the University to back down and rescind the threat. Union reps have been involved in weekly meetings about health and safety during the pandemic and they are currently working to support staff going through restructures, which are a type of ‘change management’ process. As a member, you’re entitled to individual support if you’re involved in a restructure and we also have caseworkers who support members to ensure they are being treated fairly if specific problems in the workplace arise.

What can I do?

To start with, you can become a member. A trade union is its members and we work together to make things better for everyone. You can benefit from this without being a member, but as a member, you can influence how things are done both at branch and UK level, not to mention bask in the knowledge that you’re doing something for the collective good. Learning how to advocate for yourself and your colleagues is also a benefit of being a member. By doing this, you can help actively improve your work situation. It can also help you to resist policies which might make conditions worse. Higher Education has come under increasing attack in recent years, with growing marketisation very difficult to resist and the ‘business’ of a university taking precedence over almost everything else. But together we can change this. In addition to the successful campaign against Section 188, we have successfully campaigned for the Graduate Teaching Assistant contract and for Saturday open days to be voluntary and compensated with time off in lieu. The national strikes of 2018 saved our defined benefit pension. Outside Sheffield, action taken by cleaners at the University of London’s six colleges has brought their employment back in house from being outsourced and a recent strike ballot at Brighton University was enough to make employers rescind their plan to make IT staff there redundant, without members having to actually strike. These successes do not happen unless members make them happen and the more members we have, the more effective we are and that’s good for everyone.

If you want to know more get in touch with ucu@sheffield.ac.uk. We are happy to answer your personal questions, or talk to non-members from your workplace as a group. If you’re curious, please do join us, we’d love to meet you.

Our Ongoing Work to Reduce (and Ultimately Eliminate) Pay Gaps at Sheffield

Trade unions most often make big wins when we are willing to take collective action over issues that are important to our members. But we also do make incremental progress on a day to day level, sometimes in ways that aren’t fully obvious until some time has passed. This report shows how long-term behind-the-scenes work by your UCU reps is resulting in real change in policy and practice, and the ambition of the university to address inequality.

At Sheffield, relationships between recognised campus trade unions and management are structured by a recognition agreement [PDF], which sets out the normal frameworks for industrial relations locally and commits both us and university management to “an organisational system of employee relations that will be founded upon the key principles of; collaboration, team working, equal opportunities, transparency and mutual respect.” The agreement sets out systems for consultation and negotiation and resolving disputes, if they arise.

In March 2017, UCU joined with our fellow recognised campus trade unions UNISON and Unite to submit a joint claim to the university about its gender pay gap, which we noted then was unacceptable: “This pay discrimination is fundamentally unjust, and it can be bad for reputation, bad for staff morale; it could also mean that our University is potentially liable to equal pay and discrimination claims at employment tribunals/in the courts.” Our claim coincided with the introduction of mandatory statutory gender pay gap reporting – our view then was that simple reporting was not enough; action was also needed. That view has not changed in the four years since.

In March 2017, UCU joined with our fellow recognised campus trade unions UNISON and Unite to submit a joint claim to the university about its gender pay gap, which we noted then was unacceptable: “This pay discrimination is fundamentally unjust, and it can be bad for reputation, bad for staff morale; it could also mean that our University is potentially liable to equal pay and discrimination claims at employment tribunals/in the courts.” Our claim coincided with the introduction of mandatory statutory gender pay gap reporting – our view then was that simple reporting was not enough; action was also needed. That view has not changed in the four years since.

We acknowledged then that the University had made some progress on reducing the pay gap and that the reasons for continued disparity were complex. But we also called for an equal pay audit or review, joint analysis of the results and the development of an action plan to meaningfully tackle discrimination and inequality. To the university’s credit, senior staff engaged productively with this claim in line with the principles of our recognition agreement.

Over the interim four years, UCU reps have been working with colleagues from HR and from across the university on a Gender Pay Gap Working Group that has been analysing the gender pay gap and its complexities and reporting to the University Executive Board and Council, through its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. This has involved both the production of data to align with legislation, but also the creation of additional data aimed at understanding where there are particular issues around equal pay at Sheffield, along the lines of what we asked for in 2017.

What is now several years of data has revealed – perhaps unsurprisingly – that the overall pay gap persists because we have a disproportionate number of women working at lower grades and a disproportionate number of men at higher grades. Overall our pay gap has declined marginally since 2017.

The additional data we requested has also revealed particular issues at different pay grades, which aren’t always visible in the headline figures that government reporting requires. The data also backs up concerns our members regularly raise, including inequalities around academic, and particularly professorial, promotion processes; gendered differences in the levels that people are appointed to; access to and impact of maternity and other parental leave; the lack of a promotions pathway for professional services colleagues; and other factors.

Throughout the last four years, we have consistently argued that data reporting was insufficient without a concrete plan of action. We have also argued that a plan of action was pointless if it did not identify targets and develop mechanisms for progress towards those targets to be measured. This position was also supported by other members of the working group.

We are pleased that after four years of meetings and negotiation, at last December’s University Executive Board the university’s senior management agreed with the working group’s recommendations to commit to the eradication of the gender pay gap and to develop interim progress markers towards that end goal, against which we can hold the institution to account. The first of these is a 5% reduction in the gap by 2025, with annual reviews that will aim to accelerate movement towards that reduction target if possible. At UCU, we believe the university can move faster and will continue to push for the change necessary to do so.

The gender pay gap working group also had its work extended last year to address the ethnicity pay gap. We know that there are real issues of racial inequality at this university – the BAME staff network has been leading the charge on this to great effect and the establishment of a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan in 2019 is a welcome development.

The pay gap working group has a role to play within this wider strategy, particularly through the interrogation of data and the development of similarly ambitious plans for addressing pay inequality on the basis of race and ethnicity. The group is currently asking similar questions we asked of the gender-related data. UCU reps on this working group are also conscious that there are different factors that influence this pay gap – for example, the university has a persistently low recruitment of Black British staff, particularly at higher grades. There are also complex ways in which race, ethnicity, nationality and migration status intersect.

We are proud that our branch led the fight for and won reimbursement of visa and ILR fees for international staff at Sheffield in 2017 and 2018, therefore reducing some of the additional costs borne by non-UK colleagues, but are conscious that there is much more work to be done to address racism, xenophobia and pay inequalities.

UCU will continue to work with our fellow campus trade unions and others across the university, to push senior management to take bold steps to set and enforce goals for combatting inequality and to make the University of Sheffield a fairer place to work. We very much welcome member involvement in this work – please do drop us an email at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk if you’d like to get involved. You can also read more about UCU’s UK-wide work on eradicating the gender pay gap here and in our 2021-22 pay claim, which retains pay inequality as a key part of our demands for UK-wide action across the sector.