The start of the new academic year is always a busy time in Higher Education - but this year, with the removal of caps on student numbers taking effect, UNISON members working in the more successful Universities in England are expecting to be particularly busy.
Given that many staff are already struggling with high workloads, the excitement of a new intake is replaced by pressure to provide a service to even more students with insufficient resources.
From late September, University staff begin to deal with an influx of new and returning students after the summer break - and October each year sees UNISON members going the extra mile to help important processes go smoothly and to ensure that the student experience is a good one. The removal of caps on student numbers has meant that record numbers of students have been accepted for places on University courses, raising concerns that investment in infrastructure such as halls of residence has not been matched by investment in staff, both in terms of pay and numbers.
Whilst both Jo Johnson, the Conservative Party Universities Minister and Mary Curnock Cook of UCAS are enthusiastic about the benefits of lifting the cap, at University of Southampton Hartley Library, staff expressed concern that because of the increased intake, their already stressful workload would increase and that the student experience would be impacted upon.
With the new Vice Chancellor Sir Christopher Snowden now in post and earning a figure likely to be in excess of his predecessor’s package of £320,000, staff were invited to complete post-it notes outlining their hopes and fears for the academic year. This was so that reps could map this feedback and use it as a guide when negotiating with University management. The post-it’s was also compiled into a poster to be circulated around the campus as a snap shot of staff concerns.
UNISON University of Southampton branch secretary Anna Lyon said:
"We are delighted with the increase in recruitment, which reflects the hard work of our members. We hope this will be acknowledged by the University of Southampton and that we will be provided with the resources to continue to provide a top level service, without undue strain on the workforce."