Yesterday I visited the National Composites Centre, an R&D centre owned by Bristol University. On the way over there, an American Professor was on the radio pushing her new book in which she claims that ‘grit’ is the key success factor in leadership. I have been told that there are over 75,000 books on leadership in the British Library, so I guess that this is just one theory, but she defined ‘grit’ as a combination of perseverance and passion. I visited the picket lines at the University this morning, and I saw some of that grit in colleagues trying to hand out leaflets to those arriving, some of whom were clearly more intent on getting to work. The issues the TUs are raising are important ones and whether you agree with the Trade Union or not, I did have respect for the committed way the small group was representing their cause. I do have to make a special mention of Tim Barrett from UCU who remained cheerful despite the way in which some drivers treated him.
My other observation around the current industrial action relates to the use of information. Perhaps it is what the military call an information operation, we might recognise as propaganda or spin, or perhaps even the ‘selective use of facts’ (though an unselective use of facts might be a rather long document). The national message has been that this action is about ‘fair pay’ but the local message has been a bit more nuanced, so here are my thoughts on two of the subjects other than pay which have been used in recent communication.
- UCU have said that “female academics are paid £6,103 per year less than male counterparts”. On the surface this is quite shocking and if taken at face value, would mean that women are paid at the bottom of the pay scales and men at the top. If we look slightly more deeply at the data at the University it shows that this isn’t the case. In three of the academic grades, men do earn slightly more than women, but the biggest differences are in Grade 6 and the Professoriate (and this doesn’t include senior management who are in a grade known as ALC6) where, on average, women earn more than men. It all depends how you perform the calculations, and a simple headline such as this doesn’t provide that information.
- UCU have said that “the University of Bath is one of the heaviest users of zero hours contracts”. This is probably one of the most confusing sets of data to interpret, but UCU have recently produced an interesting report on the subject. The Union have used the data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on what are known as ‘atypical’ contracts. The University of Bath fails to make it into the Top 50 of users of such contracts (Table 1, p13 if anyone is interested). It all depends on what dataset you use, and, once again, this headline doesn’t tell you that.
If this sort of analysis interests you, I find Tim Harford on Radio 4 an excellent guide through some of the ‘facts’ presented in the media. I like to think that, as an academic institution our natural approach would be to question the facts, look at the sources of data and in particular understand the motivation of who is presenting them. These are very important issues which are firmly on the agenda for discussions with the Trades Unions. There is much more for us to do and I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress in resolving them.