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My name is bond, university bond…

Several universities have borrowed significant amounts of money from private and/or public investors. UK universities have issued £4.4bn in bonds since the beginning of 2013. This figure is scary given the total yearly HE sector income of about £30bn. This university has a £300M bond issued in 2017.

When we borrow money for a house mortgage, we repay interest and capital, so that the whole loan is eventually repaid. Or we can pay interest only, but this means there is still a debt to be cleared at the end of the term. The interest-only model is used for the university bond. The university will pay 2.25% interest every year, some £6.7M, and are supposed to pay the full £300M back in 40 years. (Oxford, has a bond for 100 years). The bond is akin to issuing shares to a group of shareholders who will have a steady regular income but it turns our university into a for-profit organization bound to make a yearly surplus to satisfy these investors.

This is the climax of marketization. Universities are burdened with financial obligation and under the surveillance of rating agencies. In recent weeks your UCU officers have been told that we are not allowed to know student numbers because this is ‘price sensitive’ information and we must not alarm the investors. How did we end up in an education institution that cannot tell us how many students we have?

When the bond comes to term those who made the financial decisions will be long gone, yet staff at the university will have paid the price many times over. How did we end up here? Such endeavours would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. The game changer of course was the reduction in public investment in Higher Education. Alongside the introduction of student fees and loans these kinds of bond arrangements shift public investment into private debt. A great way to make the national budget look better but not necessarily the best way to support education. The bond is a millstone around our necks: it demands that we – the staff – generate surplus. This is clear in the 10 year plan [password required], the source of pressures to reduce staff pay, pensions and announce redundancies, which UCU are currently fighting.

In the appointment of our next Vice-Chancellor, it is essential that we, as an academic community and as UCU, seek a Vice-Chancellor who will stand up with our community against the marketization of education. We need a Vice-Chancellor who will work towards more democracy and listen to frontline staff and students so that we are integral to the university strategy rather than mere recipients. There is still time to sign the petition about the appointment of the next VC and to make sure your voice is heard.

Workloads matter

Thanks to all members who attended the GM last week. We were really pleased to have Adam Lincoln, the Bargaining and Negotiations Official (Health, Safety and Sustainability) from UCU HQ as our speaker. Adam reminded us of the sad death of a colleague at Cardiff who took his own life after expressing concerns about being overloaded, UCU have for a long time been aware of rising workplace stress and staff concerns about workloads. Indeed action on workloads this was one of the elements in our recent pay claim. We know it is of concern to many of you especially following the recent round of cuts to staff which has seen the reallocation of their work to already over-burdened staff.

Adam told us about a new UCU campaign to build a network of workload reps who can use the Health and Safety legislation and legal protections to address workload stress and overload. This will begin with a process of identifying and appointing H&S workload reps in target departments. If you care about rising workloads talk to us about becoming a workload rep for your department – this is a small, defined role that means you can do your bit to make a difference. If you want to help please do volunteer – contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk). (The ppt slides and campaign packs on workloads are available from the UCU office).

 

All we want for Christmas … is better senior management and a new VC

At the time of writing, Southampton UCU understands that over 50 members of the University Senate have expressed their concern at being asked to rubber stamp the appointment of three Senate representatives to the Selection Committee charged with finding our next VC. The appointments themselves are of esteemed and respected colleagues, but what concerns Senators and UCU members is the process, which is opaque and rushed. Once again, as with the recent redundancies and the restructuring to 5 Faculties, Senate – the academic governance of our University – has been asked to approve, without adequate consultation or discussion, a vital decision about the future of our University. Senators, staff and students are rightly angered.

Alongside this attempt to railroad Senate, senior management have published a ‘3 question survey’ [password needed] for staff to indicate what attributes they wish to see in our next VC. The framing of these questions and the format – buried on the SUSSED intranet – effectively limits potential discussion and closes down debate, while allowing senior managers to claim they have ‘consulted’ the University community. To date the campus trades unions, the legally recognised representatives of staff, have not been invited to take part in this vital appointment.

Successive staff surveys have highlighted staff concerns about the senior management of the university. The disconnect between the top team and frontline staff is well known. The failure of senior managers to listen to staff is a repeated complaint. We have been promised no more change, better management, and a listening culture, and yet we have continued to experience poorly managed change and an abject failure to engage with staff and students.

There are now 137 senior managers earning over £100,000 pa. The top team ranks swell with every restructure and it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed. When some of our lowest paid staff struggle to make ends meet there is understandable anger at excessive salaries at the top especially when the senior management appear so out of touch.

We know that the next VC will have a profound effect on lives of all who work and study here. We are told that the next VC must deliver the 10 Year plan, yet many staff and students have little or no confidence in this plan which has created further unnecessary disruption at the University. It is vital that frontline staff and students have a voice in the selection of the next VC, and in University strategy.  Southampton UCU have created a petition to University Council – we urge staff and students to sign it (copies can be obtained here) – the text is reproduced below, in case you need some inspiration to answer the ‘3 question survey’.

We, the undersigned, want a Vice-Chancellor who:

1. Dedicates themselves in national and local debates on higher education, to a vision of Universities as public goods not just private economic ones;
2. Is willing to take a critical approach to the University strategy and 10 year plan and seeks to avoid further cuts to frontline staff;
3. Recognises the need to avoid further unnecessary and unhelpful restructuring and associated disruption;
4. Employs a management style that embodies the values of the University (excellence, creativity, community and integrity), and truly values and nurtures our University community;
5. Empowers the University Senate for active decision-making, and commits to returning to open democratic processes with University’s Senate at their heart to improve accountability;
6. Receives a salary that is no more than 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employee in the University and commits to ensuring that the University pays the real living wage to all directly employed staff*.

 

*this is carefully worded. We hope that the University will ensure that all suppliers and subcontractors pay a real living wage, but we know that they can, as a first step, ensure that everyone on the University payroll receives this.

University Governance – Time to take back control?

The news that our VC and President Sir Christopher Snowden is retiring a little earlier than anticipated has provoked a number of conversations by staff and students about what kind of VC we should hope for next. The emerging consensus seems to be ‘not more of the same please’.

Several colleagues have expressed relief at Sir Christopher’s departure and suggested that this is an excellent opportunity for those critical of the direction of the University over recent years to inform the appointment process for the next VC. We very much hope that the next VC will rebuild relations with academic and academic-related staff, and begin to repair the damage done to our University

The appointment process for the new VC must be transparent and take account staff concerns and morale. We have had two VCs in a row who arrived with a negative reputation for difficult relations with staff in their previous Universities. Sadly both lived up to these poor reputations and both wasted considerable staff time and effort on top down reorganisations and cuts to frontline staff.

Having met the new Chair of Council before he took up his post, UCU will be seeking further dialogue over the coming months to help him understand staff and student concerns. Some key points that we will be putting forward are that our next VC:
1/ should receive a salary much closer proportionately to that of other senior University staff
2/ must dispense with management approaches based on surveillance and bullying, and instead adopt an approach which is collegial, consultative and supportive and, above all, which values staff
3/ should take a more active role in national debates about Higher Education and argue for Universities as a public good.

One of the reasons we have ended up with out of touch leadership and excessively paid top teams is the disconnect between front line academic and academic-related professional staff and the governance of the University. The opportunities for Senate to genuinely influence the direction of travel have been curtailed and many senators complain that they are forced to rubber stamp changes rather than being allowed to debate and influence them. Council too looks increasingly out of touch. Our analysis suggests that we have one of the most unbalanced Councils, dominated by private sector corporate representatives. Despite recent efforts Council still fails to be truly diverse.
Students too are poorly represented in these governance structures – a few sabbatical officers are allowed to attend and make reports but again the ability of the study body as a whole to comment on changes is limited.

UCU have been watching our colleagues over the border in Scotland responding to the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act introduced in 2016. This set out new requirements for Universities in Scotland in terms of how their Courts and Senates should be constituted, notably requiring that more than 50 per cent of members are elected, and that 10 per cent of members are elected students. We are aware that University of Edinburgh has a Task Group, convened by the Principal, to consider possible models which would comply with the Act. We need to ensure that our governing bodies represent frontline staff, and students and something like this would be welcome here. We had already flagged concerns that the restructure of the University will reduce representation on Senate and are awaiting a response on this. In addition we are concerned at reports from some faculties here that opportunities to stand for Senate are not communicated in timely ways, and that the process for election is not open or transparent. This too has to be investigated and improved.

Staff and students are rightly concerned that the University will appoint another VC who wreaks yet more damage. UCU will be arguing forcefully for a stronger voice for frontline staff and students in the selection process. We will continue to push for better governance. It is time for everyone who is concerned about our University to raise their voices – it is time we took back control.

Recruitment week and beyond – upcoming Branch activities from 24 September 2018

*TODAY * 24 September 13:00-14:00 6/1081 (Nuffield Theatre) Open meeting
Come along and bring a friend. Find out about the national Pay and Equality campaign and ballot. Help us set our local branch priorities. Ask us about benefits for members.

26th September 12:00-14:00 UCU at WSA Cafe
We’ve let Amanda out of the office at Union House and she will be providing info about UCU on our stall at the WSA cafe. Please come and talk to her about why you should join your union. If you are already a member come and say hi and tell us how we can help you.

26th September 12:00-13:00 PGR Induction Physics and Astonomy B46/5081
PGRs Introduction to UCU – the union for academic and academic-related staff *INCLUDING PGRs* – talk for Physics and Astronomy PGRs by Cori Ruktanonchai from UCU Branch. Find out about our free membership offer and how we can support you

26th September 17:00-18:00 PGR Induction – Information stand at Avenue Campus Foyer
UCU represents PGRs as well as staff at the University. Find out about our free membership offer and how we can support you.

27th September 10.45-11.45 PGR Induction FEPS B46/3001
Introduction to UCU – the union for academic and academic-related staff *INCLUDING PGRs* – talk for FEPS PGRs by Cori Ruktanonchai from UCU Branch. Find out about our free membership offer and how we can support you.

27th September UCU 12:00-14:00 at Highfield Campus Lattes cafe
It’s recruitment week for UCU – Come along to find out more about why you need to join a union and how UCU can help you. Bring a friend. Ask us about the #DinosaurOfSolidarity … or ask us why we are concerned about the governance of the University.
Already a member? Come and pick up leaflets to GET THE VOTE OUT for our PAY & EQUALITY BALLOT.

3 Oct and 9 Oct 10:00 47 University Rd (Union House) Get the Vote out 

**visit departments /office doorknocking **
Our Pay and Equality Ballot is open. We are fighting for decent pay, and action on gender pay gap, job security and workloads. PLEASE COME AND HELP by joining our volunteers to visit departments to encourage people to vote. We must get over 50% turnout in this important ballot. Contact ucu@soton.ac.uk if you want to help but cannot make these dates.

Who pays to work at the University? or ‘A different kind of expenses scandal’

Following on from the concern about VC expense accounts earlier in the year, staff here have recently received emails reminding them of the rules governing expense claims and asking us to use the new corporate travel agency to make travel and accommodation bookings. UCU members have raised various concerns about the additional charges and sometimes higher priced tickets incurred via this new system, but this blog is about a different kind of expense – the money many staff spend to support the work they do here at the University, but which they cannot or do not reclaim.

Below is the list of the out of pocket expenses of staff we have compiled from a small sample of members of Southampton UCU. We welcome your additional examples to add to this list:

  • Exchange rate and commission charges on foreign currency used during work related travel, conferences etc. These can add up, especially for those who have to make frequent visits abroad on University business.
  • Allied to this many staff now pay their own conference fees and travel expenses to disseminate their University work or undertake professional development. Those caring for babies and young children may bear the cost of a companion to look after them if they have to accompany them, and this is another extra cost.
  • Ditto for research trips – many disciplines have no research budget or limited funds for ECRs only so that other staff are forced to self fund these vital activities.
  • Publication comes at quantifiable cost for many. Some colleagues have to pay for image reproduction costs and rights and these cost can exceed £1000. If these are not covered by a grant then the staff member has to pay to publish.
  • Visa costs for overseas travel are another a huge expense – we know of at least one junior colleague who had a prestigious fellowship that did not cover these costs.
  • Computers /laptops: several colleagues report that they have had to buy/upgrade these from personal funds.
  • Stationery: as budgets have been cut the impact has been felt on these everyday supplies. UCU members report buying envelopes, notepads as well as materials used in teaching or research. The Secret Teacher alerted readers of the Guardian to the fact that school teachers have long been subsidising school budgets, and it seems a similar practice occurs here. We are also aware that some research staff buy the majority of their own equipment for unfunded field trips for research or teaching.
  • Visiting speaker and external examiners’ refreshments– once again cuts to budgets mean that looking after these visitors typically means just a sandwich and a can of pop, and this often does not seem to adequately express our gratitude for expert speakers and examiners who may travel for 4-5 hours to viva our students, assess our education programmes or share their research knowledge. Whilst this varies by Faculty, we know that some staff are paying out of their own pockets to save the University’s reputation and maintain goodwill.
  • Books – yes some of us still use books, and we also pay for personal subscriptions to journals and these are a business expense.
  • Mobile phone – many staff use their personal mobile and data allowance for work and do not claim this. Having access to the internet at home has become necessary for most as work has followed us home in evenings and weekends.
  • Professional society subscriptions and memberships are another work expense falling on academic-related professional services, and academic staff alike – often these are required for accreditation or promotion and yet are paid from personal income.
  • We are aware that staff here sometimes house visiting colleagues and overseas students who may not have the budget to afford local hotel accommodation. These are more hidden expenses that staff pay.
  • And while we are making the list, we should probably add the cost of tissues for distressed students and staff as there seem to be more of the latter than in the past, perhaps as a result of the recent redundancies and reorganisations.

The money we spend on our work is often not made visible. We spend money to support our research, education and professional activity and seldom bother to add up what it costs to work at the University of Southampton. At a time when the employers are offering a pay settlement that is below inflation, and are still threatening our deferred salary (pension) this subsidising of the University starts to rankle. Our current VC receives £423,000 a year and we suspect he, along with other senior managers, has no idea how you are subsidising the work of the University from your wages. UCU will  continue to push senior management to start valuing our staff and properly reward them for the work they do.

We are currently balloting members on pay and equality. The value of your wages has been steadily eroded by inflation. As we have shown above many staff are paying considerable sums to subside University work. UCU has asked for a 7.5% uplift on salaries and for more substantial effort to address job insecurity, the gender pay gap and excessive workloads. We need to get 50% turn out in this ballot if we want to take action to get a better deal. So please VOTE NOW AND VOTE YES to strike action and yes to action short of a strike.

 

This blog was edited 1/10/18 to correct phrasing about VC salary package which is £433,000.

 

Vote YES for a fair pay deal

Earlier this year UCU members were asked what they wanted to do about the derisory pay offer made by our employers. Responses from UCU members here more than cleared the 50% bar demanded by TU legislation – you said, overwhelmingly, that you want to take action on pay.

The Pay and Equality ballot closes Friday 19th October at 12 noon. 

Senior managers have ‘implemented’ a 2% pay increase – but do not be fooled by this. The value of your wages has been going down. The last above-inflation pay rise was in 2014. UCU have asked for a pay increase of 7.5% or £1,500, whichever is greater.

We note that the VC’s pay was a whopping £433,000 (including pension) in 2016/17. Sir Christopher is paid more than double the head of our local hospital, although the hospital budget is larger than that of the university, and they have more staff. We note also that in 2007, the then VC, Bill Wakeham was paid ‘just’ £242,000 (including pension) so Sir Christopher’s pay represents an increase of 79% over 10 years. It is time that University senior managers showed front line staff that they are valued too.

UCU also want a nationally-agreed framework for action to close the gender pay gap by 2020. The most recent gender pay return for University of Southampton shows a mean gender pay gap of 20.2%. Women here are paid, on average, 20% less than men. Women continue to be under-represented at the highest levels of the pay scale and little effective action has been taken to address this inequality.

The 2018 pay claim asks for a nationally-agreed framework for action on precarious contracts. We have a small army of staff employed on fixed term and hourly-paid contracts. This ‘disposable’ labour force deserves a better deal.

Finally our UCU negotiators have pointed out that increases in workload and excessive hours also contribute to the decline in pay of University staff. We have had a year of more cuts to staff and yet no decline in the work to be done. The work of all the people who have left and the vacant posts deliberately left unfilled has been redistributed. During the strike at the beginning of the year people kept saying how good it was to ‘go home on time’ and to spend weekends with family and friends. Staff here routinely take work home after their working day is over. Most work more than their contracted hours. Many of us are bombarded with work emails at all times of the day and night. We have put up with almost constant restructuring, moving from 3 to 8 to 5 Faculties, facing the cuts associated with “INEX”, “Hartley” and “Wellington” projects. We have delivered more and more for this University and yet we are not recompensed. Our pay claim asks for a payment to recognise these excessive workloads. 

There is still time to avoid a dispute this year. Sir Christopher, as a key voice in Universities UK,  could represent us and use his excellent contacts to press for a better deal for University staff.

In the coming weeks we will be working to “Get the Vote Out” and will be visiting workplaces to encourage members to vote and asking non-members to join UCU. If you can help – please contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk).

You should receive your ballot papers over the next few days. We must achieve a turnout of at least 50% to take lawful industrial action so your vote is vital.

You can read the union’s full claim here and click here for further information and the latest in the campaign.

Please Vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike (ASOS).

 

*this blog was updated on 6/9/18 to add details about hospital chief, and previous VC pay (thanks to our member for reminding us of these comparisons). We also added the date that the ballot closes.

Something for the holidays – brief update on the USS Pension ‘holiday’

In the late 1990s the University of Southampton like other employers reduced its USS pension contributions to 14%. Tom Pike, Vice President of Imperial’s UCU wrote an open letter earlier this year saying “with the benefit of hindsight can be seen as the source of the current technical deficit — if employers had maintained an 18.55% contribution there would be another £7 bn in the fund, based on the known subsequent net levels of USS investment return.” Universities UK have argued that the ‘special rate’ of 18.55% met the cost of the future benefits then accruing, and met the shortfall in funding terms relating to the USS’s predecessor scheme, known as FSSU. Universities UK claim that linking the reduction in contributions to the current (disputed) deficit is misinformed.

More on USS pensions (and why the USS consultation is just a paper exercise).

Members will have seen the SUSSED statement, and had personal emails, informing them that USS is consulting on increased pension contributions from both employers and employees. USS have announced that they have opened the statutory consultation about these increases. The USS consultation is, we suspect, like all previous USS consultations – simply a paper process to comply with regulations. We have no evidence that USS has ever responded to input from scheme members or made any changes following such consultations.

To summarise the USS statement, the planned increases in contributions would be staggered, from April 2019, adding 0.8% to the existing 8% employees pay for April 2019 and this will rise in two steps to 11.7% in April 2020. Employers would also pay larger phased increases, and their 1% match of voluntary additional contributions would come to an end. These plans are being imposed by the USS Trustees under the scheme’s “rule 76” as the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), composed of UCU and employer representatives, has not yet reached agreement on how to balance contributions and benefits to the actuary’s satisfaction. USS claim the increases are needed to cover the projected (but much disputed) deficit in the scheme.

Following the strike action earlier this year a Joint Expert Panel was set up to look at the USS valuation and the alleged deficit. The JEP is continuing its work and will report to the JNC in September 2018. USS have said that their Trustees will continue to engage constructively with the JEP.

The valuation of the pension is at the heart of our dispute. The November re-valuation offered a gloomy forecast of a growing deficit. This re-valuation was provoked and supported – as we subsequently discovered – by a minority of employers with vested interests in shifting to a defined contribution scheme. (Members will recall the additional and coordinated voting by several Oxbridge Colleges).

In response to the earlier September 2017 valuation of the pension, USS suggested that employing institutions could afford increases, and as Mike Ostuka recently noted it would have been possible to retain the current pension benefits (minus the 1% match) via a more modest 5.8% total increase in contributions.

The November re-valuation of the scheme ‘created’ an allegedly much larger deficit but in recent months this has dropped from £17.5bn to £8.4bn in response to new modelling based on revised mortality trends and bond yield forecasts.

Our action earlier this year forced the employers and USS to suspend their plans to reduce our pension benefits and they agreed to set up the JEP.  We believe it is unlikely that the current proposals to increase contributions will actually be implemented as the employer costs are very high; they result from the trustees following the rulebook without waiting for the JEP or JNC.

Rather than wasting time engaging with the USS paper consultation, members here might like to write to our VC asking him not to support those in USS and Universities UK who want to reduce the value of our pensions. After a year of demoralising cuts and restructuring it is time that our VC stood up for his staff.

For those who want to read more on about the pension UCU has provided regular updates about the JEP. Mike Otsuka has threaded a series of his blogs about USS. There are also a number of new  USSBriefs on this topic.

What do you people do all summer?

There is a common misconception (perpetuated by the BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers, and the occasional taxi driver) that Universities have long summer holidays when everyone goes on lengthy vacations. We know, of course, that while many of the students are away, for many of us the work of the University goes on. Indeed for some it intensifies – the timetabling and admissions teams for example experience high workloads in this period. The Academic Centre for International Students (ACIS) team provide all the pre-sessional teaching for the hundreds of students joining the University from overseas. For researchers, the summer months are often dedicated to fieldwork, experiments or analysis that cannot be completed in term time, then there are conferences to disseminate research, writing projects and new funding bids to prepare. For other educators there is teaching preparation for the new academic year, reviewing and evaluating the past year’s activity and always, always, admin to be ‘caught up’ with. Supporting all this are our academic related professional colleagues who also have overflowing in-trays and inboxes, and who attend to the continued smooth running of our libraries, IT and HR systems, equipment and research governance.  And of course, the work of estates, health and safety, cleaning, catering and administrative staff also continues – with the additional challenge that the University is often hosting conferences and visitors amidst major building work.

Your UCU branch also stays open over the summer. Your executive team were left in charge of the UCU office while our fabulous office manager Amanda took her holiday recently and for me as your new president it was a sobering reminder of the volume of work the branch does.  In this two week period UCU representatives and officials dealt with several new and ongoing restructure consultations – involving teams, services and units where staff jobs are being directly threatened. We managed to support all our members involved in these – providing caseworkers and advice, and thus far we have successfully managed to ensure there are no compulsory redundancies. We also provided support to a number of staff making ‘compromise agreements’ or settlements (whereby the University agrees to compensation when a contract of employment is terminated – as in the case of voluntary severance). All this was on top of our ‘regular’ individual case work where our volunteers support staff experiencing difficulties at work. Alongside this we often provide information and advice to staff who are unsure of policies or rights – such as maternity leave entitlement or the flexible working policy.

We continue to attend meetings with senior managers and HR and we have written elsewhere about our meeting with the incoming Chair of Council. Regular meetings include ‘Reward’ where we are pushing senior managers to address the problems our members experience with appraisal and to understand our serious objections to bell curve moderation. The ‘Wellington Project’ * and associated meetings about restructuring, reconfiguration, faculty and service ‘closures’ have taken up much of our time, as has the process of consulting on non-standard contracts where we are trying to improve job security of our hourly paid and fixed term staff.

Our union is only able to do this work supporting our members because of the dedication and effort of our volunteer caseworkers, departmental reps, working group and executive committee members, and our team of officials in the regional office and national headquarters. I’d like to give a dinosaur sized shout out to all of them for the work they have done all year and will continue to do over the summer and year ahead.

The executive team have held two strategy afternoons to plan our branch priorities for 2018/19 and we are planning a further branch development day in Semester 1 for reps and officers to take this forward. We have our EGM on 6th September 1pm in 44/1057 to discuss union democracy and 2018 congress. We will soon be running national ballots on Pay and Brexit.  We also expect more updates regarding the fight for a decent pension so look out for notices about General Meetings to discuss these also. (There are regular updates about the Joint Evaluation Panel (JEP) on the UCU website here.)

We need some additional helpers to help Get the Vote Out for the Pay ballot and we will visiting as many workplaces as we can to remind members to vote.  If you can assist with this or any of the work we do please contact Amanda Bitouche (ucu@soton.ac.uk)

 

 

* this is the name the senior managers use to refer to the reshaping of the University – we have resisted reminding them that this is also the name of a boot and this might be seen as unfortunate given the accompanying redundancy threats.