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A few thoughts on the New Core postponement

Staff at the University of Birmingham were informed this morning that the ‘New Core’ system will no longer be going live for 4th February 2019 .  In an email sent out from the Vice Chancellor’s mailbox, it was confirmed that the system launch has been postponed until June 2019 . While the email sent out suggested that the decision had been made owing to issues surrounding the compatibility of the older Banner system (that holds all student records, past and present), many staff have encountered a number of other problems with New Core.

Most notably, the way in which New Core will force non-EU staff to record their attendance at work, which was covered by The Guardian recently and accused the University of employing ‘racist’ processes to monitor certain international staff.  The system, in preview sessions, also does not appear to have improved on the sick leave recording and remains discriminatory towards staff with disabilities. In the ‘old’ system, AltaHR, there was no way to record an absence as being disability related; from what staff have seen of the New Core system, this is still lacking.  Without being able to see why a person has truly been absent from work can lead to staff with disabilities being unfairly put onto attendance monitoring for circumstances that are beyond their control.

In advance of the February ‘go-live’ date, AltaHR had been turned off and was inaccessible to anyone; this meant than anyone who wanted to retire or resign during this period was not able to because there was simply no where to record it.  Some staff resigning during the shutdown have been made to sign paperwork to agree they will return any overpaid wages that come about as a result of the University’s administrative snafu. Associate members of staff were not considered in the design of New Core and when the Associate process closed last December there was no replacement system.

Since then, IT Services have been forced, despite objections, to create emergency accounts for staff who are being hired directly – despite the recruitment freeze – which does not equate to a regular staff account.  For example, someone with an emergency account can’t be registered for a lending account with Library Services because their system relies on AltaHR. These staff can’t access the full range of facilities until the HR systems are back up and HR have worked through the backlog.

Many departments have been left under resourced since the recruitment freeze and many have been forced to resort to hiring temps and contractors out of their own budgets.  In turn this is causing many departments to fall behind with workload, remaining staff are being put under increased pressure and stresses, and this has had a profound effect on morale across campus.

For the ‘go-live’, staff were going to be expected to enter all their sick days and annual leave from the start of the 2018/19 Academic year for themselves.  While most of us can remember when we went on holiday, not everyone can remember the precise day they had the flu several months ago. What would there be to stop misuse of this function?  It would be quite easy for someone to simply not enter their used leave days and they’d have a fully refreshed total, leaving honest staff at a huge disadvantage.

In some of the training sessions with New Core demo system this January, staff were able to give each other pay rises without the system seeking approvals from heads of sections, they were able to buy items against budget codes that weren’t theirs and if you are a manager, when delegating your New Core role the person you opt to delegate to will see all of yours and all of your staff’s full personal details (address, birthday, pay grade).  Clearly, the compatibility with Banner isn’t the only thing wrong with New Core!

Staff who attended these recent training sessions have also commented on how basic the new system looks, “like a basic webpage from the 90’s” one person said, which is especially galling when you consider the project has been paying for multiple external developers charging £1000 a day to build this new system!  This is, of course, on top of all the full time staff, new offices, new equipment and the ongoing colossal expenditure of the project. If we take into account how many working hours staff across campus have wasted as a result of New Core (so far), the amount is staggering.

For the last few years, staff around University have been at the whim of New Core and the frequently heard mantra that “New Core takes priority over everything”.  Senior management remain seemingly unaware of the real impact this has on front-line services and the detriment to the staff and student experience here at UoB. The project has been postponed significantly at least twice before and now has been postponed to June, a month that sees huge amounts of data being input for exam results, degree congregations and UCAS applications.  Will it really go live come June? Will we continue being messed-around for another year?

We hope that the University is going to take this latest postponement to really look at the issues at the heart of New Core.  Fair treatment for international and disabled staff under the HR functions. Protecting budgets from misuse. Protecting staff from unfair manipulation of the system.  Things that seem like common sense to the rest of us.

If you, or anyone you know, has had difficulties at work as a result of the New Core project (or anything else) and you’d like to seek some advice, please get in touch and consider joining UNISON.  Together we can be heard.

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