Academic Workloading

We developed our own Framework for Academic Workloading which has been in place since 2007.  Below you can find links to our framework, the IT solution, and a case study about our development of workloading.

Framework for Academic Workloading at the University of Sunderland

¿You can download our current Framework using the link on the right.

About Our Framework

Our Framework for Academic Workloading is intended to provide a structure and a set of clear principles to enable an equitable, transparent and consistent approach to the allocation and management of academic staff workloads.  Workloading forms a part of our annual planning cycle, alongside appraisal and the development of Faculty and University plans.  Workloading data is used for TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing).

We identify three major categories of work:

  • Category 1: Formal Scheduled Teaching and Supervision
  • Category 2: Teaching Delivery Related Activity (including Preparation & marking.)
  • Category 3: Other Academic Activities (including Programme and Module Leadership, Personal Tutoring, Research and other Faculty and University responsibilities)

This ensures a consistent allocation of hours for different staff performing similar activities, but allows for local flexibility (with local variations agreed by the Faculty on a case by case basis).

The Framework does not manage outputs or performance.  These are managed through day-to-day discussions between team leaders and their team.  Appraisals take place as a parallel process which is aligned to workloading in order to enhance both processes.

For more detail about our Framework, please contact Iain Clark, Head of HR Management Information and systems (iain.clark@sunderland.ac.uk).

WorkLoadPlan (WLP)

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WorkLoadPlan

User guides are available below or within the system, through the Info tab.  For support with the system or your user account please contact Vikki Hewison in Human Resources.

For background on the development of the IT solution see below.

Case Study - Our approach to developing academic workloading

You can also find us as a case study on the Universities & Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) website.

Objectives

The University developed its Framework for Academic Workloading in 2007.  The key objectives of the Framework are:

  • to assist Faculties to plan and monitor workloads in a way that is sufficiently dynamic to cope with change;
  • to enable the distribution of workloads to be carried out locally in a way which takes account of differing circumstances;
  • to ensure academic staff are allocated a reasonable individual workload, by ensuring a fair and transparent distribution of work in line with the academic staff contract (and handbook);
  • to recognise the professional contribution academic staff make to the University by ensuring that workloading supports the full range of academic duties, continuing professional development and professional practice.

Development

The development process was led by our then Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and supported by Deans of Faculty and Human Resources, working closely with colleagues from the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU).  This series of meetings led to the creation of a negotiated document that builds on the principles of the post-1992 National Academic Contract.  A single Framework spans all four Faculties, providing a consistent set of principles and guidance across the University, with scope for local disrection where required.

Guidance on tariffs

In 2010 the University developed guidance on ‘tariffs’ or allocations of time for particular academic activities.  This process was led by senior academic managers and involved consultation with Faculties and academic team leaders.  The tariffs now form an appendix to the Framework, and have been reviewed regularly since they were first introduced. 

Regular review and communication

Both the Workloading Framework and tariffs are reviewed in conjunction with UCU every 12-24 months, and particular elements are renegotiated where necessary.  During the reviews Academic team leaders are actively consulted, both face-to-face and via email consultation, in order to gauge any priority areas for improvement.

Developing an IT solution

In 2012 the University again adopted a consultative approach in developing an IT solution, WorkLoadPlan, to record and monitor academic workloads.

Before an IT solution was introduced there were many disparate approaches to workload planning throughout the institution usually taking the form of spreadsheets. The data was therefore inconsistent and collating it was time-consuming. Accessing the data for monitoring, planning and feedback was difficult as there was no central owner. Furthermore, management had limited confidence in this data. With so many parallel systems, workloading and TRAC data was entered twice which wasted time and resource. Data was collated retrospectively and therefore prevented workforce planning from being proactive and timely. There was no way of quickly and accurately assessing equality processes.

In 2012 the University began work with our TRAC software supplier (Strenton) to develop an IT solution (WorkLoadPlan) to centrally record all academic workloads.  We were one of the first universities to do so.  Key drivers included:

  • to support workforce planning;
  • to deliver cost savings and other efficiencies, including to provide a primary data source for our TRAC return);
  • to provide accurate data on the cost of delivering teaching and research activities;
  • to address key challenges relating to the collection, analysis and monitoring of academic workloading activity data;
  • to provide timely and transparent information to managers, staff & unions.

In developing the system, academic team leaders were consulted widely through a series of focus groups.  Even though our Framework and tariff agreement were already in place, this consultation was very helpful in gaining a truer picture of how workloading was operating ‘on the ground’, identifying particular categories and activities that only applied in one area, or areas where there was local variation in how tariffs were applied.  

Since 2013 Academic Tutors have been included on the system, with a workload forming part of their contract paperwork. This has allowed the University to capture of all academic activity on each module no matter who delivers it, providing a picture of the shape and salary costs of the staff resource allocated to each module.

Although the University of Sunderland worked closely with the software supplier, Strenton, in the initial development of the product, WorkLoadPlan is not proprietary to Sunderland but is a standalone commercial product now in use in several institutions across the UK.  It supports a wide variety of workload models and categories, tailored to each institution.

Benefits of an IT solution

The University opted for a fully hosted solution, taking any potential IT pressures away from the University.

The system allows us to import large datasets such as staff data from our HR/Payroll system, and module and student data from our student records system.

The system is intuitive to use and therefore not seen as burdensome to academic staff and managers. The framework and IT solution have been well-received by academic staff, and UCU recognise its value as a safeguard for staff to prevent over-work. 

Transparency has been greatly facilitated by using a single, live online solution. Data is maintained in real-time by academic team leaders and reported as snapshots through the year. All academic staff can login at any time, using any web browser, and see their own workload and the workloads of their immediate team.  Faculty managers can view all data within thir Faculty.  UCU and HR have transparent access to all the data across the institution.

Since the introduction of the system the quality and efficiency of TRAC data has been significantly improved.

WorkLoadPlan has ensured transparent, standardised, and reportable recording. In addition to a suite of online reports which are used by team leaders and managers, it can export data straight to MS Excel where it can be easily manipulated for data analysis.It allows access to data at appropriate levels from individuals through to Deputy Vice-Chancellors and analysts.  Analysing the data has helped the University better understand our academic workforce. Analysis shows the capacity of different departments as well as the proportion of managed and un-managed time. This prompts a conversation about these metrics to inform strategic and operational discussion. The data shed light on where staff are spending their time which leads to a discussion about where the University would like them to spend time and how this might be encouraged. Individuals with particularly high or low workloads can be consulted and supported and workloads can be allocated consistently and fairly. The data has also been useful in supporting Athena Swan accreditation.

Following each new version, our academic team leaders are provided with briefings delivered jointly by a Dean of Faculty, UCU and HR.

This page was published on 5 July 2019