Belfast Telegraph

QUB needs a lesson in staff rights

By Alan Harpur

Queen's University (QUB) prides itself on being a good employer, but its record with respect to recently appointed lecturers on probation tells a different story.

In January 2016 there were approximately 222 probationary lecturers at QUB hoping to be confirmed in-post by the end of their three-year probationary period.

However, in early-November 2015, 133 of them received a letter that effectively moved the goalposts by changing the requirements to pass probation.

Rather than applying for grant income, they had to attain grant income. They also had to achieve arduous student evaluation scores and be principal investigators on a grant application.

The catch-22 was that having applied for a grant, the individual has no control over whether they get it. In fact, in many subjects only about 20% of grant applications are successful.

At the time of their appointment, the 133 probationary lecturers were given one set of standards, only for QUB to unilaterally change and impose new requirements, thus breaching the terms of the employment contract. That is the legal advice received by the University & College Union, acting on behalf of lecturers.

In addition QUB will face claims for unfair dismissal if any of the 133 probationary lecturers fail to pass probation.

Essentially, QUB has shifted its priorities to generating grant research income at whatever the cost to the individuals concerned.

At a time when young, newly appointed lecturing staff should be teaching, publishing and furthering their subject, QUB has erected what are seen as unachievable income targets.

If these are not fulfilled the probationer is at risk of being dismissed. Many probationary lecturers feel betrayed by QUB and unjustly treated. Unfortunately, senior management at QUB seem oblivious to these opinions.

QUB stands to do itself reputational damage as word gets round about the unjust and unscrupulous treatment. The solution is simple: let the 133 probation staff complete their probation period under the profile existing at the time of their appointment.

Alan Harpur is president of the University & College Union at Queen's University, Belfast

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