Operations Review threatens redundancy for college staff

By Jack Taylor &

Durham University has begun to roll out plans to restructure college staffing, which will see some long-serving staff members made redundant and others receiving renewed job descriptions.

The proposals will affect all colleges besides John Snow, Stephenson, St Chad’s and St John’s.

Phase One of the plans, which is the product of an 18-month long ‘Operations Review’, will change the roles of Bursars, Operations Managers, Housekeepers, Administrators and Receptionists.

An Operations Directorate, who has already been employed by the University, will be top of the chain of command across the operational workings of the 12 colleges.

The proposals will affect all colleges besides John Snow, Stephenson, St Chad’s and St John’s.

Palatinate has learnt that long-serving staff members may face redundancy, some of whom have been employed at the University for over 20 years. It is also understood that many remaining staff will receive new job descriptions and responsibilities.

The University has accepted that there will be cost-savings, but told Palatinate “this is far from being the sole driver of the review.”

long-serving staff members may face redundancy, some of whom have been employed at the University for over 20 years

In a message to staff, the University said: “We appreciate that changes made within Colleges may have an indirect impact on other services and departments across the University, and that any change brings with it some insecurity.

“We want to reassure all colleagues that any decisions will be made with due care and consideration, and following all appropriate consultation with those potentially impacted, relevant stakeholders and the University’s trade unions.”

A new Community Operations Supervisor will manage a team of porters and cleaners. The current system sees these two separate teams managed by the Assistant Operations Manager and Housekeeper, respectively.

The University has told Palatinate that the review “seeks to enhance the overall student experience by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery across all Colleges and providing a consistent experience for all students across the University.”

While current bursars mostly manage one or two colleges each, the restructuring plans for two bursars to cover all twelve colleges. Each college will have a new Community Operations Manager, line managed by the two new Bursars, but task managed by their respective Head of College.

Professor Martyn Evans, Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) told Palatinate: “As part of the ongoing work to improve University ways of working, we are currently reviewing residential student experience services within our Colleges – including catering, portering, housekeeping and events management – to ensure they are operating as effectively and efficiently as possible.

“Our current structures within Colleges have now been in place for over a decade without significant changes. Over time, some imbalances have become apparent between Colleges.”

University catering services will also be reviewed, “with the aim of creating a more diverse, flexible offer, with greater choice and improved value for money.”

The University proposes that “appointment to the new structures will occur” in May and it anticipates that by the end of June the new structures may be in place, “subject to the outcome of consultation activity”.

We continue to operate in a very challenging environment

Professor Evans also said: “We continue to operate in a very challenging environment, and to deliver as a world-class University, we must be willing to embrace change.

“We are currently in the process of consulting College staff whose roles may be impacted, and until this process has concluded we are unable to confirm the final shape this will take. However, we are committed to complete transparency and all updates will be available to staff and students on our website.”

Group consultation began for operational staff within the Colleges and Student Experience Division on 13th March, which will be followed by individual consultation with those potentially impacted by the first phase of change.

The period of student consultation began on March 15th and will end on April 5th.

In response to the timing of the consultation, a JCR President said to Palatinate: “Is it really that surprising that the consultation is scheduled to fall to the period of Easter break? University decision-makers clearly want to avoid student opposition as they take a step towards destroying our colleges.

Is it really that surprising that the consultation is scheduled to fall to the period of Easter break?

“The university is clearly ready to disregard student interests and sacrifice Durham’s collegiate system in order to cut costs.”

The President expressed concerns about the damage to college communities and student welfare which “rely heavily on college staff who are the first point of contact in these situations”.

“These centralising measures would take away things that make each college unique and turn them into halls of residence”, they said.

A Senior College Welfare Officer, concerned about the potential impact on student welfare, told Palatinate:

If the solution is simply to reduce these activities, it once again removes the unique quality Durham promotes.

“The college events, from formals to balls, and welfare campaigns to freshers week, are a vital part of the Durham experience and a major factor in many prospective students’ applications.

“Drastically reducing operations staff, whose resources are already strained, puts an extra burden upon unqualified volunteering students to carry out these events.

“This added pressure will inevitably put extra weight on JCR roles, potentially affecting their mental health and student experience, and putting them at a liability if provisions have not been adequately checked. If the solution is simply to reduce these activities, it once again removes the unique quality Durham promotes.

“It is these events which are a testament to our student experience ratings and with a reduction in this, student mental health could be at risk.”




4 thoughts on “Operations Review threatens redundancy for college staff

  • I have worked for the university for over 15 years now and I have see a few changes in this period. But this new lot of changes Just proves they don’t give a damn about anything apart from the bottom line. The university doesn’t care about there staff and the students.

  • This is the review document – note that the cost saving nature and the fact that it will negatively impact on services in colleges is not hidden. It is blatant and the centralising nature that removes control from principals is a disgrace. If only all colleges were independent like John’s and Chad’s.

    College Operations Business Process Review – Background and Proposal
    1. Background
    The current residential operational delivery structures, service and catering provision and approach have existed for well over a decade without any significant or substantial changes. There have been some previous reviews and small modifications, notably in catering & the move to shared Bursars, but the fundamentals have all remained in place over this time. As part of the wider Durham DOES programme an outline Residential Operations Business Process Review (BPR) was initiated to investigate the provision of services and staffing structures to enable this delivery.
    The University is conducting a review of all structures, processes and systems in order to design and deliver the most effective and efficient model possible. This is extremely important given the significant number of external financial pressures and threats. This proposal seeks to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of one part of the University’s outputs in order to enhance the overall student experience through the introduction of a more coherent and consistent delivery. The review of College functions and outputs identified that each College provides four major functions:
    1. Setting the culture, standards and tone for challenge and development within a community.
    2. Enabling opportunities for participation.
    3. Providing an environment for positive wellbeing and reactive support where needed.
    4. Delivering the operational foundations that underpin the three other functions.
    Current Delivery. The current residential delivery structure comprises 235 FTE to deliver residential operations across 14 Colleges and Experience Durham; comprising 185 000sq meters of buildings and 100 000sq meters of gardens and land and serving over 11,000 meals per day across 10 fully catered colleges and 10 retail outlets. This delivery is further complicated with the significant investment in the residential refurbishment and will have an impact on the management of accommodation. The operational functional outputs are:
    1.1.1 Enabling the Student Experience. Operational staff enable student development programmes, activities and events through the provision of specialist guidance and advice. They provide the key skills and expertise that help guide the planning and execution of student events that can vary in scale and complexity. This enhances the student experience.
    1.1.2 Operational Management. The operational management teams are responsible for the recruitment and subsequent line management of the college operational teams across the functional areas. This includes all staff rotas, along with day to day staff development and investigations or reviews. Operational management teams rely upon advice and guidance from support services in areas such as HR and Finance.
    1.1.3 Repairs & Maintenance Operational staff deliver a range of routine services in situ; such as DIY and maintenance. They oversee all Health & Safety management and coordination.
    1.1.4 Portering, Security and Out of Hours Cover. The porters provide 24/7 security for the residential students.
    College Operations Business Process Review – Background and Proposal
    1.1.5 Reception. This is the gateway for the students and the primary point for students to approach a range of functions and staff.
    1.1.6 Housekeeping. This is cleaning all areas both private and public including College specific student spaces.
    1.1.7 Catering. Provision of catering services across 10 fully catered colleges, 4 self-catered colleges and 10 retail outlets.
    1.1.8 Bars. This is the provision of bar services (which are regulated) and adjacent social space.
    1.1.9 Assurance & Compliance. This is the operational oversight and assurance of all regulations – notably pertaining to Fire, Legionella along with General Health & Safety Management.
    1.1.10 Trade. Colleges trade to different levels across the scale of internal and external events and commitments
    2. Review Objectives.
    The objectives of the review are to:
    2.1.1 Enhance effectiveness and consistency with streamlined systems and processes.
    2.1.2 Retain student-facing services at reduced but acceptable levels.
    2.1.3 Allow for increased catering flexibility and choice.
    2.1.4 Deliver staff investment, initially through Job Families and then subsequent training programmes.
    2.1.5 Deliver far greater assurance and accountability.
    2.1.6 Provide an overall reduction in operating costs. Maintain the community – relationships and continuity of staff who work together across the Operations, support and development outputs.
    2.1.7 Understand the trade requirements with the benefits and costs.
    2.2 The proposal to restructure the WSE Division was agreed in November 2017 and included the creation of an Operations Directorate, which will enable the wider development and wellbeing framework. This requires qualified professionals to focus on these essential functions to ensure compliance, coherence and consistency. It will also free up more senior staff to focus on their core outputs to enable the student development agenda rather than being focused on routine operational matters. The potential new structure aims to satisfy five key objectives:
    2.2.1 Enhanced effectiveness and consistency with streamlined systems and processes.
    2.2.2 Greater assurance.
    College Operations Business Process Review – Background and Proposal
    2.2.3 Overall reduction in operating costs. The maintenance of student-facing services in residential operations at reduced but acceptable levels.
    2.2.4 Maintain the relationships and continuity of staff who work together across the Operations, support and development outputs.
    2.2.5 Sustain the trading model where it is of net benefit to the University (This includes cost and reputation)
    2.3 The proposed new structure is characterized by a simplified management system and a reduction in cleaning. The Residential Operations Directorate proposes to conduct a wholescale review and implement the changes to standardise and regulate the most efficient (and enduring) operational planning and management of residential operations.
    3. Job Families.
    3.1 The restructuring of the Division will ensure staff move into the new Job Families using generic Job Descriptions. It will also be an opportunity to revise the core competencies, training and progression.
    4. Approach
    4.1 It is proposed that the review is conducted as one over-arching project but with two distinct workstreams i.e. operations and catering.

    • You might note at this point, that this kind of centralising/consolidating agenda is one fo the things that contributed to erstwhile VC Chris Higgins’ departure. I rather suspect that this is slipping under the radar as a result of the very visible other elements of the expansion programme. You may also think, what with Interserve going into administration, that aggressive cost cutting is a way to keep convincing commercial partners of sustainable ROIs on their money.

      As others have said elsewhere, it concerns me that this may be eroding a fair portion of Durham’s main draw for a large number of students. The college experience is central to that, and unlike other comparator institutions who don’t have a full-blown college system (though York and Lancaster sort of do), maintaining colleges in the way we would like to is *expensive*. Unlike Oxford and Cambridge most of our colleges are not fully independent, and do not have the reserves to be able to ride much of this.

      There are things that can (and indeed should) be provided centrally as services (mostly because then you have single sources of accurate and timely information for everyone to use), but the way people are seemingly being treated at the sharp end is not winning the University any friends. After all, many of the people who work here also live here, and God knows the University is antagonising the local populace enough already, without this on top.

  • “2.1.2 Retain student-facing services at reduced but acceptable levels.”

    Which of course begs the question about what “acceptable” may be defined as, especially in the face of the University’s approach to maintenance and accommodation fees.


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