Variation of duties


What is the purpose of this guidance?

This guidance explains the Variation of Duties scheme, which is designed for academic staff holding Associate Professorships jointly with college Tutorial Fellowships (for example, those holding APTF posts; not APNTFs). It enables APTFs, with the agreement of their College and the University, to vary the balance of duties between the college and university parts of their joint appointment for an agreed fixed period of time so that they can focus on different aspects of their work at different stages in their careers. For instance, APTFs may wish to focus for a period on developing their research or establishing a new taught course; or they may wish to reduce their teaching and protect their research while they take their turn in an administrative role either for the University or for their College.

Examples of Variation of Duties might include:

  • an APTF bought out from 50% of their college teaching for 3 years to act as associate head of department
  • an APTF bought out from 25% of their college teaching for 1 year to develop a new FHS optional paper
  • an APTF bought out from 50% of their university teaching for 2 years to hold a college office

The maximum duration of a period of variation is normally limited to three years, with a maximum reduction of the duties owed to one employer to 50%. Over an individual's career, the time allowed with maximum variation of duties should not exceed one half of the time spent working to standard contractual duties.

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is for Associate Professors who are considering applying for Variation of Duties, and for Heads of Department/Faculty Board Chairs, Senior Tutors, and other colleagues in Departments/Faculties and Colleges considering requests for Variation of Duties.

Why is this guidance in place?

The scheme is intended to support the career development of APTFs while maintaining proper teaching provision and safeguarding both university and college interests. This guidance aims to ensure that the scheme is applied fairly across the Collegiate University.

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The Variation of Duties scheme was agreed by Conference of Colleges, Education Committee, and Personnel Committee in 2015, and the right is reserved to make changes to the scheme in the light of experience. The scheme does not establish any contractual right to any variations of duties.

The variation available to any one member of staff necessarily has to be limited on grounds of fairness to others (in terms of the availability of opportunities for all and the equitable distribution of academic work) and on financial grounds. It may not be possible, therefore, to agree to all requests, and some may need to be deferred.

Data Protection

Information about agreed Variations of Duties and other buyouts will be held by Colleges and Departments/Faculties, and anonymised data will be collected periodically for review by the Advice and Oversight Group overseeing the operation of the Variation of Duties Scheme and for report to Personnel Committee, Education Committee, and the Conference of Colleges.

The parameters of the scheme are as follows

  • The postholder must normally have held office for at least 5 years, during which time they have carried out the normal duties of the post satisfactorily.
  • The scheme may involve a reduction of almost any aspect of contractual duties, with the exception of the duty to act as an examiner for the University.
  • The maximum duration for a single period of Variation of Duties is normally three years.
  • The duties owed to one employer cannot normally be reduced by more than 50% (for example, in the case of college teaching, the limit is 50% of the college teaching stint and its associated duties).
  • Over an individual’s career the time allowed with maximum variation of duties should not exceed one half of the time spent working to standard contractual duties. So for every year with maximum variation of duties (50% reduction) there should be at least two years worked to full duties; for a year with a 25% reduction there should be one year's full service, and so on. Reckoning for this purpose runs from Michaelmas term 2009 or the start of the individual’s appointment, whichever is the later.
  • Proper provision must be made for replacement teaching, either via provision in-kind or via a buy-out (see Tab 3 Steps 3 and 4 for details).


  1. In the case of academics whose initial period of office has been extended, meeting the requirements attaching to that extension must take priority in any consideration of that individual's duties.
  2. Exceptionally, consideration may be given to a proposed reduction greater than 50%, but only if it is taken over a period significantly shorter than three years to meet some defined need: consideration may also be given to a proposed variation for a period of up to three years with a pattern (to be agreed in advance) of varying amounts of reduction averaging to no more than 50% overall.

Variation of Duties is strictly subject to tripartite agreement in each case between the individual, the University, and the College. There is an optional form (VoD Record of Agreement) [LINK] for recording agreements for Variation of Duties should any of the parties (individual, College, or University) wish to use it. It also acts as a checklist for what needs to be decided before a request for Variation of Duties is agreed.

Variations which do not fall within the scope of the scheme

  1. Initial period of office for newly-appointed APTFs

Any modifications to duties during part or all of the initial period of office are not part of the scheme, and time worked under such arrangements will count as time worked to full duties.

  1. Sabbatical, family leave, illness, and disability

Sabbatical leave, parental leave, and periods when duties are reduced or altered on account of illness or disability are outside the scheme: time taken under such arrangements counts as working to full duties. Entitlement to such arrangements is not affected by an individual's having taken a period of Variation of Duties.

  1. Minor variations of duty

Periods involving minor variations not exceeding 25% of duties and not extending beyond two terms fall outside the scheme and are counted as working to full duties: this would include arrangements typically made to facilitate the taking on of tasks such as Chair of Examiners.

  1. Teaching leave for major administrative duties

Major university roles such as Chair of the Faculty Board or Head of Department typically require a college teaching buyout of more than 50% and/or of longer than 3 years. Such buyouts lie outside the scheme and are not counted as time taken with Variation of Duties, nor are they counted for the purposes of the Scheme as time working to full duties. Similar considerations arise when an individual takes on a major college office.

  1. Prestigious external research fellowships[1]

Prestigious externally funded research fellowships that provide explicitly for a buy-out of teaching duties, and which often involve a complete buy-out for several consecutive years, lie outside the scheme. Such leave is not counted as time taken with Variation of Duties, nor is it counted as time working to full duties.

  1. Work for third parties

Any proposal to reduce the duties owed to either employer to accommodate work for a third party falls outside the scheme unless it is agreed that such external work is of benefit to the academic purpose of the collegiate University (as might apply, for example, to work for learned societies).

  1. Permanent contractual changes

Any proposals for permanent changes to an individual’s contract fall outside the scheme.

Advice and Oversight

  1. A small Advice and Oversight Group will have oversight of arrangements that are agreed across the University. This Group will consist of four members: one to represent divisional interests; one a representative of Education Committee with particular concern for teaching quality and the student experience; and two appointed by the Conference of Colleges to address senior tutorial and bursarial interests. The Group will be neither a regulatory nor an appeal body, but it could, on request, offer advice and guidance on precedent, especially in circumstances where a particular request for variation proves to be problematic.
  2. The Group will review the working of the scheme every three years and will report to the Education and Personnel Committees of Council and to the Conference of Colleges.

For example, Leverhulme, UKRI, Royal Society, Wellcome, ERC.

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Step-by-step guide

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Variation of Duties may be requested by the individual, or by the relevant College or Department/Faculty in cases where it relates to the undertaking of administrative duties. Individuals considering making an application under the scheme should contact their college Senior Tutor or department/faculty head of administration, who should be able to advise on local processes for implementing the scheme.

Requests should normally be made at least two terms in advance to allow time for proper consideration of the request and for appropriate substitute arrangements to be put in place, for example, at the latest by the end of 2nd Week of the relevant term (for example, 2nd Week of Hilary term for variations proposed to commence in Michaelmas term of the same calendar year). Earlier notice than this will often be helpful: notice of less than two terms could mean that either or both employers might not be able to consider the request.

The optional form (VoD Record of Agreement) may be used if any of the parties (individual, College, University) wish to do so.

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The scheme acknowledges both the commitment of the University’s Strategic Plan to “maintain the tutorial system at the heart of Oxford’s distinctive approach to undergraduate teaching”, and the need for flexibility at the level of the individual academic, in order to recruit, retain, motivate, and develop high-calibre academics who will be committed to the collegiate university. It will be in the interests of all parties to try to meet reasonable requests for flexibility.

The optional form (VoD Record of Agreement) provides a checklist of the matters which need to be considered.

It is the responsibility of the party/parties requesting a variation or supporting a requested variation which would involve the individual taking on additional duties for one employer:   

  1. to explain why this change could not be accommodated by that employer without requiring any reduction of duties for the other employer
  2. to find a detailed solution acceptable to all parties
  3. to demonstrate how the full range of the individual’s current duties would be discharged effectively during the period of variation

In addition the following should be taken into account:

  • the effects the proposed variation would have on the workloads of others and/or on their opportunities to seek variation themselves (this is intended to ensure fairness and sustainability in the subject, and it should not disadvantage applicants in single-tutor subjects)
  • the effects on the long-term care of students (both what they do on a day-to-day basis, as well as oversight of their overall educational development), particularly in single-tutor subjects in Colleges
  • whether the individual is likely to return successfully to full duties after the period of variation, and if not, what the implications for the individual and for the University and College are
  • especially if approval looks for any reason to be borderline, the individual's history including matters such as, on the one hand, recent externally funded research leave and, on the other, the individual's commitment to the common good in accepting administrative tasks either in the University or the College.

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Arrangements for Variation of Duties should balance the career aspirations of postholders with the needs of students: the guarantee of substitute provision of high quality is recognised as being crucial.

Substitute teaching provision may involve:

  • one employer providing the other with teaching at no charge (provision “in kind”) from a suitably trained and qualified teacher (for instance, an early career researcher, a CDF or college JRF, an APNTF, or an RSIV, whose substantive contracts might require them to do some teaching if asked)
  • one employer's providing financial compensation to the other, according to a set of standard buy-out rates (see Step 4)

Robust quality assurance must be put in place in order to ensure that the arrangements for replacement teaching and/or tutorial provision safeguard the maintenance of high standards in educational and pastoral support for students. Replacement teachers should receive appropriate induction and mentoring. In particular, arrangements for substitute teaching should include an assurance that everyone involved is appropriately qualified, competent, supported, up-to-date, and developed.

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Provision “in kind” should always be the first option to be explored.

Where substitute teaching is provided “in kind”, but the college duties to be covered include broader tutorial duties that might otherwise have necessitated the use of a stipendiary lecturer, then the Department/Faculty would reimburse the College for modest additional costs as appropriate. Agreed costs under this heading are a tutorial responsibility allowance, meals, and an academic allowance. In such cases, care will be needed in the case of the use of a college Fellow (such as an 'APNTF') for any but the shortest arrangements to avoid issues of lack of parity of total emoluments with Tutorial Fellows within the College (though it should be noted that the maximum duty being replaced is 50% of full tutorial duties).

In some cases, tutorial duties other than teaching itself might be provided by appointing a Director of Studies, which could involve similar additional costs to those in the preceding paragraph. This provision acknowledges that some applicants for variation of duties might wish to continue teaching but to be relieved of other administrative and pastoral roles in College. While this option represents a radical departure from the expectation at Oxford, it is included as a possibility which might be considered if there were a suitable person, perhaps already providing teaching in the College, who was willing and able to take on the role of general oversight: in such a case, this option could be an attractive route to maximise the delivery of teaching by the Tutorial Fellow.

The rates for use when one employer (University or College) needs to reimburse the other in respect of the cost of replacement teaching have been agreed by the University and Colleges and are published by the Conference of Colleges and updated from time to time (see the Register of Approved Payments issued by the Senior Tutors’ Committee.)  

Where it is necessary to employ replacement teachers, the buy-out rates to be used have been agreed by the University and the Colleges and are intended to cover fairly all the major additional costs incurred whilst at the same time aiming for relative simplicity (for example, by using an approach based on an estimate of typical costs). There are three rates:

  • Rate A, a basic capitation rate.
  • Rate B, to cover the employment of a retained lecturer. This rate should only be used where it is needed to obtain a teacher of sufficient expertise or to secure the availability of a teacher over the desired period.
  • Rate C, to cover the employment of a stipendiary lecturer. This rate should only be used if no suitable alternative can be found. The duties to be covered would probably include most of the following: tutorials, setting and marking collections, arranging out-of-college tuition, guidance of students, oversight of their academic progress in the long term, pastoral oversight, attendance at Tutors' committees, open-day and access work, admissions selection.

Details of the rates are given in the Register of Approved Payments issued by the Senior Tutors’ Committee.

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There is no automatic right to Variation of Duties; all three parties (individual, University, and College) must agree to the variation and to the practical and financial arrangements for any substitute provision required.

The optional form (VoD Record of Agreement) may be used as a record of the agreement if any of the parties so wish.

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Which duties may be varied under the scheme?

The duties that may be varied under the scheme include teaching, postgraduate supervision, research (except research specified under an externally funded contract), administration and committee roles, student admissions, and pastoral care and oversight. NB The duty to serve as a university examiner cannot be varied.

Can duties be varied for either employer?

Yes, variation of duties, including variation of teaching stint, can take place in either direction between department/faculty and college.

Can an APTF in their IPO have Variation of Duties?

No, the workload of an APTF in their initial period of office may be adjusted but such adjustments are not part of the scheme, and count as working to full duties for the purposes of the scheme.

What happens about refilling a post when the postholder has had a Variation of Duties?

Variation of the duties of an individual postholder does not change the underlying joint appointment should it become vacant for refilling.

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