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'Utterly Shambolic': UoA Slammed as Rising Workloads Spark Concern

A professional services "brain drain" has left remaining staff scrambling to keep up with workload


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco


Photo Credit: The Gaudie

Professional services staff at the University of Aberdeen have raised concerns over rising workloads, after more than 100 employees departed the University earlier this spring. 


Insiders tell The Gaudie that despite being “severely depleted in numbers”, remaining staff are “expected to do almost twice as much work to cover the gaps.”


Staff also expressed frustration at the way a potential restructure had been handled, with many learning about proposals for the first time at a University-wide meeting. 


‘Professional services’ is a catch-all term for non-academics at the University, ranging from student recruiters and admissions assessors to security officers and catering assistants. 

 

Workloads on rise as recruitment freeze continues


In response to a 19.7 million budget shortfall, University management took steps to reduce costs throughout the autumn and winter months. A voluntary severance and enhanced retirement scheme saw more than 150 members of staff leave the University

this spring. More than two-thirds of those who left worked in professional services. 


In addition to the VS/EH scheme, a ‘near-recruitment freeze’ has been in place for over a year. Now, as roles remain unfilled, staff are speaking out about skyrocketing workloads.


One member of staff accused management of valuing academics more than professional services workers.


They said: “We’ve been left to worry about what our teams look like and where they will sit. My team is brilliant - with morale low across the university you need the support of a good team. 


“Is this going to be taken away from us? It was ridiculous offering VS when we don’t know what the future holds. It is felt PS staff are seen as inferior to academics and we are certainly treated like that too.”

Another staff member added: “In my department we've been left with a team half the size of when I started here 10 years ago and after the departure of two line managers we've been left with one of our former colleagues sitting up in the office trying to run the operation single handed.”


A third insider quipped: “There’s no communication on who is leaving, we’re absorbing workloads ‘by stealth’ - a little bit here and there to cover those left and/or support those covering.”


A fourth member of staff said: “I have been stressed out of my mind for months, with the pressure ramping higher and higher in the past two months or so.


"It felt like there was a carrot being dangled above our heads that would be pulled away every so often regarding whether or not we’d keep our jobs."

Staff informed of potential restructure at University-wide meeting


An institution-wide meeting on the University's financial position was also criticised by staff.


During the meeting, held in late May, proposals regarding the potential ‘reshaping’ of professional services were announced. 


The proposals, shared by University Secretary Tracey Slaven, would “respond pragmatically to some gaps in senior leadership roles” and “bring student services from “registration to graduation” into a single professional services area”, among other changes.


However, staff told us that they felt like the news had been dropped without warning.


One told The Gaudie: “The whole thing has been utterly shambolic.”


Another staff member added: “The announcement was horrible. People have been tense and worried for months about their future and their families etc so to be told in an open meeting that "staff didn't actually save the uni, but it helped" as the closing comment was a final kick in the teeth for the saga.


“We were spoken down to like primary school children and many people are upset about how it was all handled.”

The staffer is referring to a comment by University Principal George Boyne, who said that a headline in the Press and Journal which hailed staff for “rescuing the university” was “over-dramatised.”


“You’ve certainly helped to stabilise [the University],” he quipped. 


“Whether you feel you’ve rescued it or stabilised it, thank you for your efforts," Boyne went on to say.


Another staff member said concrete action was needed to reassure staff in professional services, noting: 


“No action has been demonstrated to PS in regards to the restructuring, just fleeting words that change is coming, when it's clear excessive workload levels due to the VS/ER, will not change.”


University has invited staff to participate in reshaping consultation


For their part, University managers have directly appealed to staff, asking them to provide their thoughts on potential changes. 


In a message to professional services staff, Slaven said: “I’m looking for your help in working through how our Professional Services will operate in the future. 


"We need to adapt and evolve to deliver effectively."

In a statement, a University of Aberdeen spokesperson suggested that a restructure would serve to reduce workload pressures. 


They noted: “Broad outline proposals for the reshaping of our Professional Services directorates have been shared with the community and feedback is being sought to inform more detailed individual plans which staff will be consulted on formally.

 

“Having reset our financial footing, we are now exploring ways to deliver our professional services in the most efficient and effective way possible to mitigate workload pressures, support student and staff experience, and enable increased focus on academic commercialisation, research support, transnational and online education, philanthropy, and other avenues for increasing revenue.”

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