Revealed: Newcastle University edited forms after they were signed by members of staff

Joe Molander reports on an incident uncovered from March 2020

Joe Molander
7th May 2021
Image: Andrew Curtis on Geograph, edited by Joe Molander
Newcastle University altered three forms in March last year after they had been signed by members of staff, The Courier can reveal. An Internal Audit report concluded that this did not constitute forgery.

The forms were signed by members of the politics department working on fixed term contracts, and related to their impending redundancy. Prior to being edited, the forms suggested that the redundancies may not go ahead.

The unedited forms promised “we will be making a case for retention of all our teaching fellows… in late-spring 2020.” They emphasised “the need to retain our existing cohort of teaching fellows on temporary 12 month contracts for the foreseeable future.”

However, the forms were then edited to remove any mention of this. What takes its place is an explanation that the head of the politics department would be “working closely with those at risk of redundancy to support them in the search for further work, either at Newcastle or beyond.”

The edited forms add that staff in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology (GPS) have access to “individual dedicated funding for training, networking, conferences and other career development needs”. The edited forms also discuss “career discussions” and “support for writing and teaching”.

Two of these forms have been seen by The Courier. A copy of one can be found below, with some redaction applied by The Courier to protect the anonymity of the signatory:

Page one of the unedited form (labelled “Page 3 of 4” [bottom left] owing to its attachment to another document)
Page two of the unedited form, which was not changed in the editing process. The lecturer’s (redacted) signature is next to the word “Employee”.
Page two of the edited form. Changes have been made under “Reason for potential dismissal by means of redundancy” and “Actions taken to mitigate the need for redundancy”.

The edited forms cite “End of work for the academic work for the academic year 19-20 [sic]” as the reason for redundancy. This replaces the original reason given in the unedited forms, namely a lack of funding.

As far back as December 2019, however, the University acknowledged via emails that both lack of funding and end of work are not sufficient reasons for redundancy. These emails have also been seen by The Courier (our underlining; The Courier did not apply the redaction, though):

Note: JCG stands for Joint Consultative Group, which facilitated the collective redundancy negotiation. Its membership is split equally between UCU branch members and members of the University management staff. The JCG were only sent the edited forms.
Note: People Services is a university body also involved with redundancy proceedings.

Speaking to The Courier, the University confirmed the forms were altered:

“An alteration was made to the Redundancy Consultation [sic] forms and this has been fully investigated. It was found that this change did not compromise the redundancy process, by which fixed-term contracts are terminated.”

The University added “As a matter of good practice, the University has implemented a number of recommendations to strengthen the process going forward.”

The incident was uncovered by a representative from the Newcastle University branch of the University and College Union (UCU) in June 2020. One of the affected lecturers reported it to Northumbria Police shortly thereafter.

It was then deemed a civil, not a criminal matter, opening the possibility of the case being brought before an employment tribunal.

The UCU initially worked with the University to resolve the matter. It came to pass, though, that “trust has now broken down”, according to an email sent to branch members in September 2020.

According to the email, the University investigated the document alteration and concluded “it was part of the administrative quality check of documentation and not an attempt to subvert the process and mislead anyone.” The email dismisses this as “plainly nonsense”.

After a UCU representative contacted the University under its whistleblowing procedures – suspecting forgery – the University’s Internal Audit body concluded forgery had not occurred. In a report, the Internal Audit claimed one person had edited the forms, despite not being able to remember if they’d been told to.  

In a separate incident, the University claimed in January 2021 that no members of staff had been made redundant at all.

The claim was made in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by The Courier in October 2020. The response states that no redundancies were made at Newcastle whatsoever from 17 March 2020 to 28 October 2020.

Speaking to The Courier more recently, the University affirmed there were no redundancies in this time period “Other than the end of fixed term contracts which expired at the specified and agreed end date.”

The email sent to UCU branch members also takes to task People Services, a university body that worked on the redundancy proceedings. The email explains “It seems to be a theme in dealings with People’s [sic] Services that rather than acknowledge a clear and demonstrable failing, they circle wagons, bury the victims in administration, and then sap their energy and mental health until they can lose the will to fight.”

The email was made public on social media by two of the affected lecturers.

Soon after, they were told by the Head of GPS, Kyle Grayson, that he would no longer provide them with a reference. He had volunteered to just weeks earlier.

The University told The Courier that the affected lecturers “were offered support to find new roles”.

Speaking to The Courier, UCU branch chair David Stewart opined “This episode [the document editing] did not represent the institution’s best work”.

The three affected members of staff are part of a larger group of eight politics staff who were made redundant.

The other five members of staff signed the same form, but at a later date, after the forms had been edited. All eight forms were edited, though.

The University explained “The fixed term work undertaken by these colleagues was to support teaching while some staff members in Politics [sic] were undertaking other activities before they returned to their roles at the start of this academic year.”

“These colleagues were employed to meet a specific need at the time and the roles were always foreseen as fixed-term.”

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AUTHOR: Joe Molander
Head of Current Affairs and co-founder of The Toon Lampoon. Politics, interviews, satire and the Courier's leading authority on frosted tips. @JoeMolander on Twitter and full portfolio available on Muckrack.

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