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For whom the bell tolls … The Model Statute under threat at University of Sussex

For whom the bell tolls … The Model Statute under threat at University of Sussex

Sign the petition, SOS21   

At the initiative of the national employers’ association (UCEA), a number of universities across the UK are considering taking protections for academic freedom and job security out of their statutes and putting them in separate and revised policies that are easier to amend and weaken. This has been tried at places such as Aberdeen and the Royal Veterinary College as well as considered at institutions like Goldsmiths.

At Sussex University, the management have decided to revise all statutes including Statute 21, the employment statute. Statute 21 provides concrete measures to protect academic freedom and covers redundancy, capability and dismissal. To change any statute, the University has to get the permission of the Privy Council (an external parliamentary body). Taking policies out of Statute 21 makes it easier to change them within the university and without external involvement. While doing this, the management want to revisit all policies on issues like redundancy and dismissal and the relevant procedures and appeals processes.

Some parts of the statutes are old and cumbersome and there is potentially room for increasing employment protection during revisions. However, taking employment protection out of statutes makes it easier for management to weaken it. Academic freedom, the right of academics to say controversial things or speak against the grain without fear of losing their jobs, requires an extra layer of protection of external approval above normal employment protection measures. This also applies to academic-related staff at universities who need to be able to speak out about what the university should be without fear of the consequences.

UCU representatives at Sussex are negotiating on Statute 21 and new job security policies. At other universities decent protections in the statute have been maintained after talks. One aim is to make sure that abstract statements of academic freedom in the statute are backed up by robust policies kept there. And a key aim is for staff representatives to negotiate over what should be kept in the statutes as well as the shape of policies outside it.

Unions have to be consulted over such measures. But their agreement is not required. So staff at Sussex have decided they need to participate collectively.  Please sign the petition whatever university you are at, as this is a national issue, and whether an academic or otherwise.

Sussex SOS21 petition  

National UCU page on statute reform

Sussex UCU website 

The Model Statute matters for all pre-1992 universities precisely because it determines how redundancies can be made under the Education Reform Act 1988, and a threat to the Model Statute is a potential threat to academic freedom.

Professor G.R.Evans (author of The Effort to Create a National System of Higher Education in Great Britain, 1850-2010: The Conflict of State Regulation and Academic Autonomy) writes further:

“The Model Statute was created by the University Commissioners under the Education Reform Act 1988 s.202.  All universities then existing were required to adopt a version of it and add it to their statutes and also to create regulations/ordinances to provide detailed procedures.

In Oxford this is Statute XII, in Cambridge Statute U. Other universities have other numberings. At Sussex University it is Statute 21. Academics lost old-fashioned tenure with the ERA 1988, except for those who had a contract which began before or during 1987.  Promotion coupled with a rise in salary gave rise to a new contract, but a change of title or a rise on its own did not. The purpose of the Model Statute was to ensure that the loss of tenure did not allow university managers to dismiss academics for voicing unpopular opinions.  Lengthy debates in both House of Parliament expressing this concerned produced s.202, which forms part of Oxford Statute XII and the Cambridge Statute U and the counterpart statutes in all other universities affected. At the University of Cambridge, Statute XII, A, 1 accordingly incorporates the words of the ERA 1988 s.202:

This statute and any decree or regulation made under this statute shall be construed in every case to give effect to the following guiding principles, that is to say:

(1) to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges;

(2) to enable the University to provide education, promote learning, and engage in research efficiently and economically; and

(3) to apply the principles of justice and fairness.

The senior administrative staff in most of the universities subject to this requirement have been allowed to adopt the title ‘academic-related’ or something similar and therefore to enjoy the special protections against dismissal originally designed to protect academic freedom.

A further development since 1988 is the increase in the numbers of short-term contract research staff as well as the incorporation as universities of the former Polytechnics. There have also been attempts  nationally to update the Model Statute, to ensure that it complies with changes in employment law since 1988, notably the ‘Zellick’ revision of 2001.

Some universities have sought to amend their statutes accordingly.  Some have not. The most recent moves to change statutes have been prompted by the realisation that the Model Statute makes it more difficult to make an employee subject to it redundant.”


    Now it’s even more confusing – only Scottish Education?

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