Working in Partnership in Higher Education
a report for JNCHES
Neathey F, Regan J, Newton L
Universities and Colleges Employers Association, November 2005
a study commissioned by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association
This report sets out the findings of a study conducted by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association on behalf of JNCHES, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and undertaken by IES.
This study is part of the HE Working in Partnership project which has the aim of developing the skills and attitudes amongst managers and union representatives in higher education institutions (HEIs) to enable partnership working to reach local agreements under the terms of the 2004 Framework Agreement for Pay Modernisation.
The research comprised a literature review, good practice case studies and the evaluation of pilot workshops facilitated by Acas in 11 different HEIs.
The literature review, together with the other two elements of the project, identified a range of factors that can help or hinder the development of effective partnership working. Some examples are given below.
There needs, for example, to be agreement on the status of communications between unions and managers working on the local project, and in those issues that are released to the wider organisation. The parties need to be clear how confidential information will be treated.
In particular both union and management representatives need to be provided with the time and the skills necessary to properly engage in discussions.
Honesty and trust were seen as key elements of an effective partnership working, and often absent in current union-management relationships. The engagement, from an early stage, of all stakeholders was also a recurring theme. These included representatives of all the unions in the institution and senior line management.
Effective project planning is needed to take forward a complex local project such as the framework implementation. To plan effectively those involved need an idea of how long tasks will take; need to allow time for consultation with those outside the scope of the immediate discussions; and require someone with responsibility for keeping the plan on track, or adjusting and updating it if, due to unforeseen circumstances, it begins to slip.
Structures and processes
Partnership working is unlikely to be effective without a combination of both formal and informal forums for discussion. However, there needs to be clarity as to the status of ideas shared at the different meetings.
The case study findings show that working in partnership can be an effective way of taking forward local projects such as implementation of the framework agreement. In three out of five of the institutions that had established arrangements for working together, partnership working was felt to have contributed to a speedier and more satisfactory outcome to local discussions than would have been the case with a more traditional style of collective bargaining. In the other two cases union and management representatives felt that this way of working would in the end lead to a better local agreement. However they had found the process to be time- and resource-consuming.
The same part of the project also showed that there are several issues facing HEIs attempting to work in partnership.
- how union representatives can ensure that although they are working more closely with management, they are still representing, and being seen to represent, the interests of their members
- ensuring that line management is committed to the principles of partnership working and will abide by decisions reached by the partnership forum
- partnership working between union and management representatives can be highly dependent on the relationships between a few important individuals. This makes these relationships vulnerable to break down should one or more of these individuals leave.
From the workshop evaluation we found:
- most of the workshops had met all the objectives set for them by the project steering group and Acas, although there was considerable variation in the nature and quality of action points which were the major output of the workshops
- the majority of the workshop participants had enjoyed the workshop and found them helpful
- there was evidence of the workshops already having a positive impact on union-management relationships in some of the HEIs concerned
- however, at least in those institutions with more acrimonious previous relationships, it was unlikely that a single day’s intervention would on its own bring about a sustainable change in industrial relations culture.
Working in Partnership in Higher Education: a report for JNCHES, Neathey F, Regan J, Newton L. , Universities and Colleges Employers Association, 2005.
ISBN: (no ISBN). Bound copy: £free