Statute 18

On November 28, 2012, UCL Council has a decision to make. On the table is a proposal from UCL SMT, summarised below, which removes specific rights from academic staff (defined under Statute 18 as clinical and non-clinical professors, readers and lecturers). Rights to Appeal decisions on Academic Freedom are lost.

These rights were written into UCL's Statutes to protect the tenure of academic staff following the Education Reform Act 1988, which abolished formal tenure in law. The definition of a Chartered University depends on the independence of academic scholarship protected by such tenure-type protection.

On 21 November, a Special Meeting of Academic Board voted (150+ to 3) to advise Council that they should not accept the current proposal and "only approve changes to specific references to employment law in Statute 18" at this November meeting. Join the lobby. Call on Council to accept that advice and vote accordingly.


In April 2012, UCL Management announced to the unions its wish to formally initiate a consultation process to seek to make changes to UCL Statute 18. This Statute is the relevant part of UCL's Charter and Statutes intended to protect academic staff from dismissal by redundancy, discipline etc. 

For the purposes of Statute 18, 'academic staff' are defined narrowly to mean all staff with the title of Lecturer, Reader or Professor, whether clinical or non-clinical. On this page we discuss the implications for academic staff and for UCL more broadly. We explain why it is in every staff member's interest to defend the rights of academic staff.

UCU is the recognised trade union for academic staff and as such formally objected to the original proposal as soon as we saw the detail. In the Autumn Term we, and very many staff at UCL, were compelled to publicly campaign against the original proposal.

UCL Management have now published a NEW Statute 18 Proposal after a series of meetings with UCU and the other unions to discuss a way forward. Management have made a number of important revisions as a result of this consultation, including the establishment of a Standing Committee on Academic Freedom with powers in relation to Organisational Change and providing non-binding advice in the case of other dismissal and grievance appeals. 

The original revised Statute:

  • removed the right to legal representation for staff to be made redundant
  • removed the need for a Redundancy Committee and transfers the power to dismiss staff to individual managers (the Dean or Head of School)
  • made no adequate provision to guard against mass redundancies
  • made no adequate provision for the protection of freedom of research
  • allowed a wide range of interpretation for what might constitute inadequate job performance
  • permitted Council to divest itself of any powers to defend academic freedom.

The new revised Statute proposal:

  • still removes the right to legal representation for staff to be made redundant
  • replaces the Redundancy Committee with a Standing Committee on Academic Freedom (SCAF) which has similar powers in cases of organisational change (closing departments, shedding jobs etc)
  • however decisions of the SCAF cannot be appealed
  • this committee is also available to provide advice on the interpretation of 'academic freedom' in appeals against dismissal, or in grievance appeals
  • pressures around job performance still exist, but 'capability' dismissals would now be subject to the same academic freedom test 
  • provides Council with some powers to defend academic freedom - but this is limited to lecturers, readers and professors.

Finally, the new Statute proposal retains these procedures in Statute by creating a new Part II, rather than pushing them into regular HR employment procedures.

Redundancy: New vs. Old

Current Process

New Management Proposal

UCL Council oversees redundancy process from start to finish.

The process is difficult, costly and time-consuming to carry out. The burden of proof is on Council to show redundancies are necessary. Deans and Heads of Department make recommendations to Redundancy Committee - not decisions to fire individuals.

Staff have additional rights not listed below.

UCL Council decides to make redundancies. Redundancy Committee replaced by Standing Committee on Academic Freedom (SCAF, no appeals). HoDs/Deans run process.

Redundancy process is streamlined. SCAF intervenes if it decides Academic Freedom is breached (but this decision cannot be appealed). Deans and Heads of Department issue redundancy notices.

UCL Council decides to reduce academic staff in a Department/Faculty.
UCL Council decides to reduce academic staff in a Department/Faculty.
UCL Council sets up a Redundancy Committee of 2 Council members, 2 members of Academic Board and Chair.Department/Faculty Management carries out redundancy consultation and selection process with staff (Organisational Change Procedure).
Department/Faculty Management carries out redundancy consultation and selection process with staff (Organisational Change Procedure).Standing Committee on Academic Freedom decides whether Academic Freedom is breached. [No appeal against SCAF decisions possible]
Redundancy Committee carries out Termination meeting of selected staff.Department/Faculty Management carries out Termination meeting of selected staff.
UCL Council organises separate Appeal (new hearing, Redundancy Committee or Council meeting). [Core element under threat]Senior Management hears Redundancy Appeal.
You're fired!You're fired!

Proposition to Academic Board, 21 November 2012

"That the way forward, given the significant level of opposition displayed on Academic Board (24/10/2012) and the wider university to the current Statute 18 reform proposals, is: 

  1. That the Academic Board advises Council that its November meeting should only approve changes to the specific references to employment law in Statute 18, to update them or remove them altogether, thereby making the statute consistent with employment legislation, in the immediate future, whilst 
  2. Academic Board establishes a working group, answerable and reporting back to Academic Board, consisting of members of Academic Board representing different constituencies of the university (professorial academic staff; non-professorial academic staff; fellows; non-academic staff; student union AB members; management; and the campus unions) selected by Academic Board to develop a future proposal for reform of the Statute that preserves and protects staff rights and considers the possibility of extending statute rights beyond the constituencies currently mentioned in the statute." 

[NB: Part i. of the matter to be discussed is in line with the function of Academic Board, Statute 7(10. B) of UCL's Statutes, part ii. is in line with the UCL Committees Code of Practice (3).]

Frequently asked Questions

1. What is at stake?
2. What is Statute 18?
3. Academic freedom - a dead letter?
4. Why not remove procedures from Statute?
5. Are academic redundancies a realistic threat?
6. Do Statute procedures prevent redundancies?
7. How does this affect other staff?
8. Should Statute 18 be improved?

1. What is at stake?

UCL originally proposed to replace the 'arduous' Statute 18 procedure for dismissal of academic staff with the Termination Procedure and other standard procedures for capability and disciplinary. Last year, UCL made over 400 teaching fellows and research staff 'redundant' by using the Termination Procedure.

The second proposal amends this by introducing additional protections for academic staff. Although these are a step forward, they are not, in our considered view, sufficient.

Probably the greatest revision in the current proposal is the omission of any Appeal procedure comparable to the current one covering decisions to dismiss academic staff. 

  • There is no mechanism for staff to Appeal decisions made by the new Standing Committee on Academic Freedom (SCAF). If new information comes to light regarding the fairness or appropriateness of a decision regarding whether Academic Freedom is infringed, the only appeal available is to a "lower" body of senior management.
  • All decisions of the SCAF are reduced to the status of 'advice', whereas at present decisions made by the Redundancy Committee and other bodies formed under Statute are answerable to the right to appeal.
  • The current Appeal mechanism is robust: it requires the Chair to be independent from UCL and be either a judge, barrister or solicitor of at least 10 years' standing.

It is clear, therefore, that the loss of an Appeal mechanism is a significant matter. Any body that knows its deliberations cannot be challenged is more able to make poor decisions.

Crucially, redundancy is perceived by UCL management to be a simple process to carry out for many staff, but not (currently) for academic staff. If this change goes through, academic staff will be much more easily dismissed than at present. This will inevitably damage UCL and its ethos of collegiality.

As a union we are acutely aware of the need to defend staff against redundancies, whether actual or threatened. Indeed we continually campaign against redundancies, defend staff in redundancy situations and negotiate improved procedures with UCL.

We have to say from hard-won practical experience, that current standard procedures do not prevent managers making staff redundant provided that they comply with legal requirements to consult. Employment tribunals typically permit employers to make bad decisions, provided that they don't break a specific civil or criminal law and their solicitors can argue that they believed that they acted reasonably. Tribunals rarely insist on reinstatement - so once a staff member has been dismissed the only argument concerns compensation.

Consequently, what we might call "stringent and restrictive" internal procedures, such as those currently enshrined in Statute 18, remain the best defence against the arbitrary use of management power.

If academic staff are subject to the UCL Termination Procedure rather than the Statute 18 redundancy procedure, then there will be no impediment to the redundancy of academic staff becoming routine, despite the creation of a Standing Committee. 

This is exactly what is happening at Queen Mary's University of London, where some departments are at present seeking to dismiss as many as twenty academic staff in one department to boost their REF rating. 

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2. What is Statute 18?

Statute 18 is a complicated document containing several detailed procedures which require direct oversight and intervention by Council and directly-appointed delegated Committees (Redundancy Committees, Tribunals etc) which follow what was known as the Model Statute provisions in 1988, when it was drawn up. 

These procedures were designed with two interconnected purposes in mind:

  1. to ensure that Council is able to execute its Chartered responsibility to protect academic freedom.
  2. for the University to offer assurances to academic staff that they would enjoy protection broadly equivalent to 'Tenure'.

UCL's proposal deletes these procedures from Statute. The original proposed statute merely stated that Council will ensure that procedures exist. The revised proposed statute introduces a limited mechanism for protecting academic freedom. However as we note above, its decisions cannot be appealed and are treated as advice to management.

UCL says that if this is agreed then it will negotiate with UCL trades unions to make changes to the other procedures (Termination ProcedureDisciplinary Procedure etc.). 

UCU formally objects to this 'consultation' process.

  • If staff are to take an informed view on Statute 18 they have a right to review the entire package of proposals. They need to see how UCL will make good its commitment to academic freedom in policy.
  • In the absence of real commitment to the contrary everyone who cares about the University must oppose these changes.

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3. Academic freedom - a dead letter?

If the current proposal is implemented, once Council decides to reduce staff in a certain area, or a Head of Department wishes to call for the dismissal of a staff member on grounds of gross misconduct, Council will "carry out its responsibility to protect academic freedom" via the Standing Committee on Academic Freedom. The procedures are compared side by side above.

The loss of the right of Appeal over decisions made by the SCAF and the replacement of a decision-making capacity with an advisory one together represent a reduction in the tenure-type protection that has existed under the current Statute 18. 

If bad decisions cannot be challenged, they are more likely to occur.

The most likely scenario where academic freedom would be tested is when an academic is selected for dismissal by a Dean or Head of Department who has an academic dispute with that staff member. UCL Departments often pride themselves in including practitioners of plural and competing academic paradigms. UCL further encourages competition for grants, prizes and funding. The clear danger is that academic differences become a factor in selecting staff for redundancy.

UCL Management has also initiated trials of its so-called 'Performance Enhancement Scheme' which aims to measure staff 'performance' by counting outputs, citations, grant income and positive student feedback. (We have developed a detailed analytical critique of this scheme and objected to it formally. UCU disputes that this scheme represents a meaningful assessment of academic performance. However, Senior Management appear to think academic excellence can be 'managed' in this manner.) 

We accused UCL of setting up what is called in industry a 'Rank and Yank' scheme, which UCL denied. But it is clear that this scheme provides the Ranking and the new Statute 18 will provide the Yanking. 

In sum, UCL has already begun creating a culture which encourages staff to aim for a quick return on 'safe' research, aiming for a rapid generation of results and publications, rather than initiate risky, collaborative and complex research which may take a number of years to come to fruition. Removing protections from Statute 18 for 'awkward innovators' will further discourage novelty and collaboration - a truly sad state of affairs for a University that is first amongst equals. 

UCL's new proposal, while an improvement on the old one, is still not fit for purpose.

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4. Why not remove procedures from Statute?

UCL Senior Management originally made the following argument:

" The Charter and Statutes should be statements of principle, not procedure. So what is wrong with moving the procedures for dismissal out of the Statute and into policy?

The Charter and Statutes should be statements of principle, not procedure. So what is wrong with moving the procedures for dismissal out of the Statute and into policy?

We pointed out that there are two fundamental objections to this line of reasoning.

  1. The instruments are binding on different parties. 

    1. The Charter and Statutes, including Statute 18, are constitutionally binding on UCL Council. UCL Council is required to follow particular procedures laid down in Statute 18. 
    2. UCL Policies and Procedures (on the HR website) merely detail the process HR and managers should follow.
  2. The Charter and Statutes are more stable than UCL Policy, and additional safeguards exist in changing them. In practice this means that UCL cannot pressure the trade union in a 'crisis' to change the policy.

We successfully argued that if all current procedures were removed, new procedures would need to be inserted which identified how UCL Council (not HR or Senior Management) would carry out its responsibilities towards protecting Academic Freedom. The first proposal, in merely declaring that there will be a procedure in Policy, allowed Council to wash its hands.

Indeed if one reviews the Charter and Statutes you will note a number of procedures apart from those in Statute 18. For example Statue 7 includes the statement that a meeting of Academic Board can be called at the request of 10 members writing to the Secretary. 

Faced with this argument, Senior Management backed down. The second proposal reintroduces procedures in its Part II. However once it is accepted that procedures have their place in Statute the question then becomes are these procedures sufficient?

The conclusion is that UCL Senior Management wished to remove any responsibility from UCL Council for overseeing redundancies or other kinds of dismissal. 

We believe that the watered-down procedures in the new proposal reveal Senior Management's priorities: they make academic dismissals more easy to undertake, and they do not extend any rights to other staff, such as Teaching Fellows, Research Staff or other staff engaged in academic activity.

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5. Are academic redundancies a realistic threat?

To-date UCL has never set up a Redundancy Committee for a permanent member of academic staff and made them compulsorily redundant. Academic staff are protected by the perception of political disrepute that a redundancy process would entail.

In 2000 then Provost Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, notoriously lobbied Council to set up an Academic Redundancy Committee three times (and failed) in pursuit of his "core activities" agenda.

However, UCL's White Paper says that UCL faces a very uncertain future due to changes in University funding, increased problems with recruitment of overseas students, and the global economic crisis. Leaving aside the fact that the current Provost lobbied for high tuition fees against the express wishes of staff (and so some of this economic whirlwind is self-inflicted), the principal conclusion must be that UCL wishes to make the process of making academic redundancies easier.

If academic staff are dismissed, it will become easier to shrink and close departments. Research staff and research-related staff (such as administrators and technical staff) will be undermined by research-active academics (Principal Investigators) losing posts.

From: UCL's White Paper 2012 (download)

The new funding arrangements pose grave challenges to UCL. We anticipate that the new tuition fees will reinstate much of the foregone HEFCE teaching grant for undergraduate teaching, but will in turn generate an absolute requirement to make transformative investments in the estate, teaching infrastructure and other aspects of the student experience.

In addition, we anticipate flat cash funding for research, a cut in the recovery of overheads on Research Council grants (a reduction of up to £6 million a year by 2012-15), and steadily rising energy costs, particularly for IT provision. There are some limited opportunities to increase income through modest expansion of student numbers where these are not controlled by the Government. This presently includes postgraduates and international students, but we anticipate that the restriction on UK-EU undergraduate student numbers will also be relaxed.

Yet several fundamental uncertainties remain, including:

  1. the extent of residual funding for UK-EU undergraduate programmes in HEFCE Bands A and B. These are the laboratory and clinical subjects that are central to provision of the science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) subjects. It remains likely that funding will be reduced in real terms from its present level;
  2. the extent of residual funding for other strategic and vulnerable subjects;
  3. the extent of residual funding for postgraduate taught programmes;
  4. the future of the current cap on UK-EU undergraduate student numbers. The Government proposes to lift the cap in respect of students with A levels of at least AAB or equivalent from 2012-13, and may lower the threshold further in future years;
  5. the funding of medical students, who presently pay fees for all years of their course, but this is offset in years 5 and 6 by an NHS bursary which is not guaranteed to rise to meet the cost of the new fees;
  6. the number of medical students. There may yet be a national cutback, which could be imposed equally across all medical schools. A quota of 7.5% is still imposed on international student participation;
  7. the potential knock-on impact for universities from proposed reforms to the National Health Service;
  8. potential reductions in HEFCE funding as a response to perceived over-pricing by the sector as a whole, and the impact on the student loan book and increased risk of default in loan repayment from higher fees. This could result in less money being channelled into research;
  9. the future of capital funding, where we face a reduction of over 60% in the annual HEFCE allocation with effect from 2012.

In the new framework, Council initiates the redundancy process. Once the decision to 'review staff numbers' in a Department or Faculty is made, Council has no responsibility towards the process except to ensure that a Standing Committee under its auspices is able to sit. 

All decisions going forward are made within the Department or Faculty by senior managers using UCL's Organisational Change Procedure and Termination Procedure. Even the Appeal meeting of the Termination Procedure only requires a more senior staff member from a different Faculty to chair the Appeal. The Standing Committee on Academic Freedom is advisory only, and its decisions cannot be appealed.

Having fired the starting pistol, Council leaves the actual redundancy consultation in the hands of senior managers.

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6. Do Statute procedures prevent redundancies?

Management has claimed that:

" The current Statute procedures do not protect academic staff from redundancy and this change will have no effect.

The current Statute procedures do not protect academic staff from redundancy and this change will have no effect.

This argument is not credible.

UCL faces significant institutional resistance to redundancies. If a department is threatened with closure or a significant reduction in size, then many individuals including staff, students, colleagues, alumni etc. are likely to protest against the reduction in their chosen discipline of study.

  • If Council retains decision-making authority over specific redundancies, individual members of Council would be targets for lobbying.
  • If Council can divest themselves of this responsibility, as they propose to do, then protests are merely directed against UCL managers, Deans and Vice Provosts. 

Moreover, at a College-wide institutional level of management, cross-subsidy is an option. At Department and Faculty level managers frequently have little opportunity to challenge the budget they are given.

The case of King's College London exposes why this argument is also wrong in reality.

  • In the 2000s, KCL management took SIX years to dismiss one staff member under the old Statutes. They were more arduous than UCL's because (among other things) panels had to be chaired by a High Court Judge. King's could simply not have used these Statutes in 2010 when they launched their purge of academic departments.

A similar argument applies to the current fight at Queen Mary's University of London, which was made possible by a process which allowed the responsibility to make redundancies to be handed down to Heads of Departments and Schools.

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7. How does this affect other staff?

One of the most insidious and hypocritical arguments that is being pushed is one of "equality". Management say that it is not fair that academic staff should have protections not afforded to other staff.

This is a rather odd argument for any management caste to be pushing: if UCL management are suddenly concerned about unequal treatment then why have they objected whenever UCU has raised this question with them?

However, it is clearly the case that Statute 18 protects some staff but not others. So, if you are a staff member not currently covered by Statute 18, why should you also oppose management's proposed change?

  • More restructuring and cuts. If academic staff may be made redundant easily, it means that managers can restructure departments more easily. 
  • You're on your own. Departments will be increasingly expected to stand alone in difficult and uncertain financial circumstances, rather than to cross-subsidise each other. The risk will be passed down. If departments fail to meet student recruitment targets, then support staff will lose their posts.
  • Research staff face a double burden. In addition to having to generate research income to pay their own salaries, if their PI is targeted for redundancy, they may be blocked from submitting grants. 

The real implication of this proposal is that academic staff will be placed in the same position as research staff - constantly expected to prove their value to the institution.

Research-active academics will be increasingly considered to be self-funded, like research staff. Already professors are expected to cost part of their salary (10-20%) into a research grant as part of its Full Economic Cost. UCL will likely treat this as income that they 'expect' from staff, and any reduction in income may mean that previously successful research academics could find themselves in the firing line.

There is no benefit to research and support staff to be "included" in Statute 18 and told that "academic freedom applies to you" if what it really means is that Statute 18 is toothless and academic freedom is unenforceable. 

UCL's commitment to academic equality was put to the test. In consultation over the new proposal, UCU asked Senior Management to include academically-active staff under the auspices of Part II (i.e. to have recourse to the Standing Committee on Academic Freedom). UCL refused. Part II only applies to academic staff narrowly defined. 

Currently UCL has a critical academic community who have, in the not-so-distant past, challenged some of Senior Management's wilder excesses, such as the attempted Merger between Imperial and UCL. 

What this proposal really does is strengthen the hand of Senior Management at the expense of academic staff, and give them the means to suppress dissent. Next time they try something dangerous or stupid like the UCL-Imperial Merger, staff are likely to be more scared to speak out.

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8. Should Statute 18 be improved?

Absolutely, yes. We noted at the start that "redundancy is perceived by UCL management to be a simple process to carry out for many staff". Nothing in our defence of Statute 18 means that we think that UCL should have a two-tier workforce. 

In a redundancy process involving teaching fellows or research staff for example, there may be occasions when UCL should lawfully 'pool' those staff with academic staff for the purposes of redundancy consultation, if they perform comparable levels of research and teaching. This would require UCL to treat those staff as if they were academic staff. If UCL were concerned at addressing indirect discrimination (a higher proportion of research staff and teaching fellows than lecturers are women, or BME staff) then UCL should also allow teaching fellows and research staff to apply for redesignation as lecturers more easily than at present. 

But we must not lose sight of the fact that first we must defend what we already have. Management admitted that the crux of their first proposal was the removal of procedures from Statute. In their second proposal they have weakened those procedures. It is clear what they wish to accomplish. 

There is no quid pro quo for other staff.

In conclusion, UCL should be aiming for equality, but by 'levelling up' protection for staff, not 'levelling down' to some of the worst examples of poor treatment. 

If UCL management was really concerned about improving the position for all staff, then it would propose to apply the more stringent elements of the Statute procedures to general UCL policy and procedures, not axe Statute protections.