The Consultation framework:

Why Do We Plan Workload?

Planning and recording planned workloads allows staff to review their workload in advance of the academic year and ensures there is a factual evidence base for any discussions around equality. Once every college adopted the SWARM system in 2017 it became possible to draw institutional conclusions around the division of academic time, so central services have begun to use this as a tool to understand our activities.

What Statutory Requirements does SWARM currently fulfil?

The TRAC process requires academic time to be analysed by activity (teaching, research, other and support). TRAC data informs government funding decisions and also informs UKRI on the full costs of delivering research projects, including the calculation of cost rates used in research pricing to recover some of these costs. In order to fulfil the requirements of TRAC using workload planning data staff need to:

  • See their planned workload at the start of the year
  • Have the opportunity to make changes to their workload if it is materially inaccurate
  • Sign it as a reasonable representation of actual activity at the end of the year.

This is in contrast to the WebTAS system previously used by the University to analyse academic time for TRAC which instead required academics to complete their own percentage analyses of actual activity three times a year.

In addition to TRAC SWARM has also been used as a resource to evidence time spent on PCAP (to the ESFA[1]) and Widening Participation (to OfFA[2]), both of which provide funding to the University. These requirements will still need to be fulfilled somehow if we move away from our current processes.

Benefits

It is our intention that planning workload and recording the allocations across three years will allow staff to have factual discussions about their workload that takes account of anomalous years affected by, for instance, a large grant or personal leave.

At Exeter we have a transparent approach with staff able to view where their workload sits in relation to the rest of their department- this is commonly cited as a desirable thing across the sector.

Using a single database to fulfil external requirements means we don’t need to gather this data twice.

Concerns

Staff have told us that they’re concerned about the culture that has grown up around workload planning which includes issues with management culture, the tensions between measuring time and preserving academic freedom, and a risk of moving to a ‘clock watching’ culture. There are also concerns that the existing tariffs are not ‘right’, or measuring the right activities.

As Workload Planning has been adopted incrementally across the institution there are different policies in place across each college, making it difficult to draw institutional conclusions.

Reflecting and equating the workload of any role would be challenging, no model would encompass all the elements that make up a professional role, particularly softer skills that support but don’t have direct outputs. Academic roles are particularly complex and diverse, so it is challenging to represent them in a way that is detailed enough to be considered fair by all parties, and is simple enough not to be overly arduous to create.



[1] Education and Skills Funding Agency

[2] Office for Fair Access

 

The following points for discussion were suggested:

Guiding Principles

  • What does, or should, ‘workload planning’ mean to you?
  • What is the most valuable element of workload planning for most academic staff?
  • What aspects of the current workload planning process do Colleges and academic staff find most challenging and how might these be addressed?
  • Is there anything in the current culture, process or IT application relating to workload planning that you’d like to see protected?

Planning and Recording- Balance of Priorities

  • Do you see a workload policy primarily as a planning tool for individual staff or is it most suitable for reporting past activity across the institution (and can it do both satisfactorily)?

Consistent Descriptions: Granularity, thresholds, comprehensiveness

  • How might workload policies be further simplified? For example, would more standardised roles or simplification of teaching allocation help?
  • What role could more automatic process and calculations play in generating workload profiles?  
  • What is the optimum level of granularity for adjustments to workload- how big is something before it is ‘material’?

Lessons from other colleges or universities

  • Please share any examples of good or poor practice from elsewhere in the sector