A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that since 2011 UEA has paid out over £1.1 million to staff leaving the university.
Spread among the 90 staff members who received financial settlements, the figures mean that the average amount paid was slightly under £13,000. The FoI request also discovered that in the same period, 79 university-employed staff signed compromise agreements as part of their redundancy packages.
The compromise agreement in severance deals usually takes the form of a payment to former employees, in return for the university gaining immunity from legal action. These deals include confidentiality clauses, known as ‘gagging orders’, which prevent former academics from discussing aspects of their time at the university.
UEA was one of 48 universities which responded to Liberal Democrat requests regarding payments to staff. In the last five financial years, over 3,500 staff signed compromise agreements, with the universities which responded paying out in excess of £145 million in financial settlements.
A UEA spokesperson said: “Confidentiality clauses are a standard legal clause in this type of agreement. They are there to protect both parties involved, and to maintain confidentiality about an agreed financial settlement.”
The spokesperson added: “Such clauses do not prevent an individual from making disclosures under whistleblowing legislation.”
Campaigns and Democracy Officer Amy Rust said: “Rocketing rents and tuition fee increases are bad enough when they get spent on the student experience- but when they are spent on gagging disgruntled staff and massive increases in senior management pay students will rightly be furious.” She said the union are “calling for student representation on University senior management remuneration decisions,” and they wish to see “an end to these costly gagging clauses which prevent proper discussion about deteriorating employment conditions on campus for our academics.”
High users of compromise agreements since 2011 include London Metropolitan University with 894, the University of Exeter with 346 and the University of Cambridge with 237.
Education experts have implied that confidentiality clauses are now used habitually by universities, and not just with particularly disgruntled former employees.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron condemned this, saying: “Universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech and forthright opinions, yet our research has shown that confidentiality clauses may have been used not only to avoid dirty laundry being aired in public but now are just common practice in higher education.”
However, Dusty Amroliwala, University of East London’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, disagreed saying: “Compromise agreements are not drafted to prevent discussion about general failings that might impact on students,” and said such failings would be in the public domain.
A spokesperson from London Metropolitan University told Concrete: “Universities often have to make redundancies for a range of reasons, from the need to adjust to changing student numbers to the closure of courses with low demand or which do not meet the high standards of quality we expect.”
In the last financial year, UEA paid out just over £255,000 in settlements to 13 employees, a slightly lower spend than the previous 12 months and above 2013-14. However, the average payout of over £19,500 each was by far the highest of the five years included in the data, as the cash was spread among fewer staff members.