Issues & Campaigns

Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET)

UCU at Queen’s demands the exclusion of SET from personnel decision because of their infringement of the principle of equality. Student evaluations from a range of settings consistently reflect bias against women, lecturers who speak with ‘non-native’ accents, staff with disabilities, and lecturers from racial and ethnic minorities. The integration of SET scores into probation and promotion procedures is therefore not equality proofed, and amounts to a form of indirect discrimination.

A staff survey of experiences and perceptions of SET carried out by UCU at Queen’s in 2013 underscored recurrent and obvious forms of prejudice in students’ evaluations. SET raise serious questions about the university’s duty of care: our report showed that nearly half of respondents had received insulting comments on feedback forms and prejudicial comments based on a range of perceived/actual characteristics or attributes relating to personality, nationality, accent, gender, religion, social class, disability and sexuality. Since then, SWAN Committees in schools across the university have raised objections to the use of SET for personnel decisions, pointing out that SET often constitute a recurring form of discrimination against female lecturers, with serious implications for gender equality in the University.


Casualisation and Teaching Assistants

Back in October 2016 UCU launched a report on the working conditions of teaching assistants (the PhD report). The report exposed that some PhD students were paid less than the minimum wage. Moreover, this report outlined some very serious issues around the lack of regulation of the teaching assistants’ responsibilities across Faculties, resulting in PGR students being employed under inconsistent working conditions, with significant discrepancies in terms of payment, and expectations that PGR students should perform teaching related tasks for free, such as marking formative assessments and keeping office hours. UCU therefore has asked that QUB remedy this situation promptly, by ensuring the university complies with the law and pays its employees fairly for their work, including reasonable and unified rates of pay for marking student work, lecture preparation time and office/consultation/feedback hours.

Gender Equality

This spring will see Queen’s University apply for an institution-level Gold Award from the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN initiative. If Queen’s is serious about securing this award, UCU campaigns for the university to tackle the following issues:

  • The use of student evaluations in personnel decision-making when SETs consistently discriminate against women and minorities.
  • The gender pay gap, which is most severe at professorial level but which has its roots in the University’s approach to promotion at every level.
  • Female promotion or, more accurately, the lack of it – the current criteria used to assess candidates (based on Academic Standards) and the process itself is at fault.

UCU has proposed that Queen’s adds the following points to its SWAN action plan:

  • Remove student evaluation data from all personnel decisions
  • Ensure gender equality on all committees which make personnel decisions, especially on probation and promotion
  • Remove grant capture as an essential criterion for probation and promotion
  • In line with the European Research Council, count every pregnancy as an 18 month break in service to acknowledge the heavier responsibilities shouldered by women
  • Revise Academic Standards to ensure that equality is prioritised in every field

Academic Standards

Academic Standards constitute a major reason for the critical results of the staff survey. UCU did not agree to the introduction of the new Academic Standards. Since they were implemented, we have raised several issues with management, including the detrimental effect that individual research income targets have in many disciplines, the fact that Academic Standards were never equality proofed; and how the emphasis put on securing funding is in fact hindering quality research and the detrimental effect that individual research income targets are having on staff. This unrealistic raising of standards, has led to further increases in staff workload and occupational stress, a pressing issue in its own right. UCU at Queen’s opposes individualized and increasing grant income targets, the transformation of appraisal into performance management, and the implementation of crude, quantified metrics that are unable to capture research publications’ quality and excellence.