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University rankings, markets and spin

In the current globalized economy, rankings are an obsession supposed to help consumers make an informed choice. Apart from the well-founded criticisms of ‘virtual customers’ flooding some platforms with positive feedback, the sheer amount of ‘information’ available often transforms even positive choices into daunting decisions.

With the growing marketization of the UK Higher Education and the metamorphosis of students into customers, the latter need to be ‘guided’ through their choice of university. Students are now told they need to ‘invest’ in themselves rather than become educated. And what better guides are there than league tables and customer feedback? The latter is ensured by the National Student Survey (NSS) in which ‘student satisfaction’ is dominant, as if satisfaction were a good measure of education. As for the former, there is no shortage of that either. League tables have flourished ever since the first release of the Shanghai Jiaotong ranking in 2003 and there are now many different sets of rankings and criteria. Unfortunately, ranking universities is somewhat more complex than ranking tennis or chess players. Universities do not oppose each other in events with a specific outcome (win, draw or loss) and they have a series of complex missions not easily captured in scores.

How did we end up here? In part this is the result of the incorporation of the former polytechnics as Post-92 Universities, and the target of 50% of school leavers going on to higher education. The sector is bigger and universities need to work harder to differentiate themselves. A ‘market’ needs data to drive ‘customer’ choice. As with any online shopping platform, it does not matter how relevant the customer feedback review is as long as it is there. Nevertheless, students are led to believe that the 10th ranking university is better than the 15th one. One look at the Unistats website (https://unistats.ac.uk) reveals the vast amount of ‘information’ students are deluged with when trying to make an ‘informed choice’. Apart from the stress this creates for students, these rankings do other kinds of damage, as captured in the excellent Distinguished Lecture Professor Dorothy Bishop gave at the university last year about the TEF and its shortcomings.

University reputations are high-inertia beasts, very difficult to move, one way or another. Rankings on the other hand, by releasing data every year, can tempt us to establish short-term correlations between measures, strategies and rank variation. A quick look at some rankings’ time series (Figs. 1-3) mostly shows stability over the last 5 to 10 years, and it is very difficult to establish whether a year-to-year variation is significant.

Figure 1 – from Evolution of UoS rankings in the UK,

Figure 2 – from Evolution of UoS THE World University rankings

Figure 3 – from the Evolution of UoS QS World rankings

An exception is the sharp decrease in 2018 (Fig. 3), but even here the reasons are likely to be multiple and these data would need to be rigorously analysed before any serious conclusion could be drawn.

A worrying trend is how communications teams often cannot resist the temptation and use the yearly release of these rankings to spin the news. In last year’s news post, while we took a strong hit in ranking as mentioned above, the message was Southampton’s ranking reflects its performance in the ‘pillars’ used by the THE to generate its list. Once again this year, the University’s strongest pillar is for International Outlook with a score of 92 – more than double the sector median score of 43.7. Southampton also scored well for citations at 86, some 39 points above the sector median with scores for Teaching and Research also above the median.” We might also have come third in the UK for coffee machine quality… The great thing with these rankings is that there is always something you can cherry-pick to make you look good.

But no worries, this year’s news saw the return of our glory. In this year’s financial statement, it is said (p. 3) that “In the spring/summer we received a flurry of good news, all pointing to the positive impact of our strategy and operational focus on quality: we rose 6 places in the Complete University Guide, 12 places in the Guardian University league table, 12 places in the Times Good University Guide, regained our place in the World’s Top 100 in QS and were awarded a Silver in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). […]. All major achievements.” This is Baldrick (from the BBC series Black Adder) at his most cunning: ‘drop’ in the rankings, come back to near where you were and praise the university strategy for a huge leap forward.

It goes without saying, NSS can be spun too. In the same document, there is more fantastic news: “The focus and effort that we have put into improving the student experience has been positively reflected in a gain of 1% in the overall satisfaction score to 84%.” Of course, any of our students making this statement in a Statistics exam would fail to get the marks, so this is not setting a great example. The strong evidence provided by Prof. Dorothy Bishop [sharepoint site, password needed 25:00, slide 29] should encourage us to take these with a pinch of salt rather than use flawed statistical commentary to spin the data in the direction you want.

The dire competition imposed on the HE sector by gradually removing public funding has led our universities to become individualistic, hoping that they will do better than the others. A symptom of this trend was revealed during the pension dispute and recent news that some universities are tempted to ‘leave the USS boat’ to escape any solidarity. Unfortunately, this competition is a negative sum game. Our ‘competitors’ have the same degree of intelligence as we have and fighting them will only result in all of us taking the hit. The risk is that while we spend all our energy trying to be ‘better’ than the others using such short-term and flawed criteria, we cease to be good according to academic criteria.

Rather than compete, we should collaborate and lobby against the plan to turn our universities into businesses. We should work in a university where honesty and transparency takes precedence over spin. In times of financial hardship, the right leadership would respond as an academic community, not as a corporation. We do not need ‘business plans’, ‘performance metrics’ and senior managers having to sign Non Disclosure Agreements before engaging with university strategy. We need open and honest debates and transparent decision making. These issues are at the heart of what staff and students believe are at stake in the appointment of our new VC. They are why we are asking for better senior leadership and a stronger more robust Senate.

 

The Story of Returning to the Tea Estate

Guest blog by Mahesan Niranjan

This time last year, I wrote an open letter to the Chair of our University Council (archived on the UCU blog here). I raised several points about scholarship and the need for better governance structures to support it. Nearly a hundred colleagues from across campus thanked me and agreed with my views. But, apart from a single exception, all of them ranked below the level of Head of Department. From the upper echelons, the reaction was simply one of politely raised eyebrows at my audacity in exercising my right to write.

More disappointing was my inability to trigger any open discussion within the community. Nobody expressed a view – in agreement or not – in public. I wondered why. Perhaps I was just wrong. Wrong about high salaries at the top end of our hierarchy. Wrong about annual appraisals and their demoralising effect. Wrong about the need for greater participation by the community in decision making. Wrong that scholarship is our revenue generator, hence academics should not be seen simply as costs. Wrong about the tuition fees we charge subsidising contract research. Perhaps those who agreed with me were a minority.

Or maybe we have accepted that we are mere human resources required to turn up at work and follow commands without question.

Hence this year, my reflections are inward. About myself. About my career of three decades. After all, I will be sixty soon. Grateful for what I have so far had. I can relax, have fun and reflect. Yes, reflect, for ‘tis the season of reflection.

I grew up in a tea estate in the central hills of Sri Lanka, a region of exceptional beauty. Hill after hill with rows of fresh green tea bushes. A tea estate has a special kind of beauty. Neatly pruned bushes grown to waist levels of the workers who pluck them. The workers, in bright coloured sarees with cane baskets hanging over their shoulders pluck tea with impressive skill: two leaves and a bud snipped with precision, and a palm-full of them periodically tossed over the shoulders into the basket. They continually chew mouthful of betel leaves to be spat on the deadly blood-sucking leeches that get between their bare toes.

Management of the estate is neat, efficient and hierarchical. There is the top level guy, usually the owner, referred to as the planter. Between him and the workforce is a layer of supervisors, known as kanganis. The planter sets the high level objectives for the estate. He (always it is ‘he’) defines how the workforce is partitioned into teams and which kangani supervises which team. Periodically, he shuffles the groups of workers among the hills. In days gone by, the planter was an European colonialist. The global thinker with vision and skill to spot where tea will grow and where it will be consumed, and what human resources would be needed to pluck the leaves and how precisely they shall be managed to maximise throughput. Since independence, the State and local entrepreneurs have taken over the estates, but retained the management techniques.

The kangani knows his place between the planter and the workforce. He is ambitious, dreaming of becoming a planter himself one day, though the probability of achieving that is infinitesimally small. In pursuit of that ambition, the kangani nods in the direction above to anything the planter cares to utter,  and barks orders downwards at the workforce. The objectives set by the planter are passed down as targets the workers should achieve: Pluck X kg a day, and you get N Rupees. Incentives also exist: Pluck 10% more the set target on any day, you get a reward of 1% increase in pay. If you overshoot, the target is raised by 10% the next day. Once in a while, when the kangani’s back is turned, the workforce have fun. They mimic his nods: “yes, Sir, yes, Sir, three bags full, Sir,” they tease and giggle.

During my childhood, I hated the tea estate. I hated the fact that the beauty of the estate hides intolerable inequality, poverty, hierarchy and exploitation. I wanted to leave the place as soon as possible and pursue scholarship and the discovery of knowledge, driven by curiosity. I did precisely that, leaving the tea estate and hiding myself in the bubbles of the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield and Southampton. Three wonderful decades.

Somewhere mid-career an interesting thing happened. I was asked to take on a university management role. My father was amused. “How could you do a management job?” he wrote. “You are an absent minded scholar. You hate wearing a neck-tie. You read the Guardian. You buy the Big Issue. You go to work in socks and sandals. Son, you do not even have a strong enough brake between thought and speech.” Despite such scepticism, I took the role.

Towards the end of my tenure in the said management job, my father asked how it went. “Alright,” I reported, immediately inventing a performance measure to justify the claim. “Yes, a small number of people didn’t like the way I did the job, but they all ranked above me in the hierarchy, and those who ranked below all seemed appreciative.” The dislikes and likes being above and below, respectively, shows I did alright, I explained.

“How did you achieve that?” he asked. “I owe it,” I said with  sincerity, “to the transferable skills you taught me, from the way the tea estate was organised: the separation of the skill of the workforce from the profit-making objectives of the planter, by the ambitious intermediary, the kangani.” “All I had to do was to recognise the importance of the workforce, and not mimic the kangani. I simply refused to nod in agreement upwards and avoided barking orders downwards.” My father was amused by the term I had just used. “What did you say, transferable… what?” he asked. He was a teacher of English and a scholar of Sanskrit. He was a good linguist, too. Our mother tongue, Tamil, comes from the Dravidian family of languages, distinct form the Indo-European family which include English and Sanskrit. He has studied the flow of words, morphological changes and grammatical structures between Sanskrit and Tamil. His particular interest was in Hinduism, a religion in which communication between man and stone is executed in Sanskrit. Despite that background, my father has never come across the phrase “transferable skill”. As a teacher, he has always insisted that the primary purpose of education is joy, the pleasure achieved by discovering knowledge. He would accept the ability to solve previously unseen problems as a secondary benefit.

I have plagiarised his practice. I try to instil the idea that there is fun in machine learning, which is the subject I teach, and insist that my success is measured by my students being able to solve problems they have not seen before. The pleasure I achieved last week, for example, when a student of eight years ago wrote to thank me when he got appointed to a lectureship, far outweighs the irritation I tolerate when the moderated appraisal score is returned informing me of my mediocre performance in the previous year. It is apparently axiomatic in present day universities that there is a sharply peaked “bell-curve” of performance into which our scholarship could be packed.

I regard quality assurance processes as necessary, but not sufficient proxies for achieving high quality. There is an anecdote I heard about someone who wrote in an Annual Module Reflection Form (AMRF): “As a result of innovative teaching this year, half the candidates achieved a grade higher than the median mark.” That AMRF has been approved by several committees and filed somewhere, as testimony to the quality of the quality assurance processes that dominate our lives.

It wasn’t my father’s ignorance of the phrase “transferable skill” that bothered me. My casual use of the phrase shamed me. Whatever next, I wondered. Have I been house-trained into the system? Will I now speak of “strategic priority”? Or will I have a “vision”? Or will I start believing in “learning outcomes”? Or will I be “moving forward”?

A month after that conversation with my father, I was nearing the end of my tenure in that management role. I was called into the office of a senior manager. “You seem to have done alright… we would like you to continue for another term.” He had consulted the foot soldiers. “They all seem to like your work,” he reported his discovery, quickly adding “me too.”  I declined the offer. “I do not wish to continue. I need to get back to the research lab, the classroom, the journal club and the coffee room of the foot soldiers.”

So, I went back to the tea estate! Spotting two leaves and a bud at a glance with amazing skill; manipulating my fingers to pluck them with speed; rhythmically shoving handful of them into the basket that hung on my back. I am promised incentives if I perform above target: 10% plucked above target gets 1% increase in pay. But the kangani moves my target whenever I overshoot it.

Yet, occasionally, when the kangani’s back is turned, I do have fun, thinking of the tea estate workers and their “yes, Sir, yes, Sir, three bags full, Sir!”, for ‘tis indeed the season of reflection.

Gender matters

The University’s 2017 statutory Gender Pay Gap return revealed mean and median pay gaps of +20.2% and +17.4 % respectively. This gap between men’s and women’s pay is wider than that found across the UK economy as a whole or the wider HE sector. Women account for 42 % of our academic workforce, yet they continue to be over-represented in more junior roles, and the recent Equal Pay Review and Gender Pay Gap return suggest the persistence of a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at the University. The senior management have suggested that women have done so well in past promotion rounds that the University has “exhausted female talent pools for promotion” (Equal Pay Review 2017 p.13) and this is why so few women are moving into the upper pay grades. UCU contests this. We think that presenteeism and a long hours culture at the University creates the perception that senior roles require 24/7 working, which may be more possible for many male staff. This deters women from applying for promotion. We are also aware that women continue to be over-represented in educational, administrative, and pastoral support roles that, while essential to the running of the University, are often regarded by senior managers as less valuable than other roles dominated by men. This means that women do not get considered for promotion. Moreover, the clustering of women in part-time roles and on casualised, fixed term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

UCU has been pushing the senior management to take action to address gender, (and disability and ethnicity) inequalities at this University. There is now a wealth of evidence that gender biases are highly problematic in the world of education and that women are held back by unconscious biases. We have suggested that more ‘hidden bias’ training is required for all staff who sit on promotions panels or manage staff. We have also continually pointed out that Module Evaluation Questionnaires and other student evaluations are subject to gendered biases and should not be used in promotion or disciplinary proceedings – yet we know that they continue to be used in these ways. At our most recent Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) we asked that senior managers cease using student evaluations in standard university CVs and appraisal – we await a response. We have also asked the senior managers to cease bell curve moderation of appraisals as this is known to be susceptible to gender=based discrimination and we believe this entrenches the gender pay gap.

One pernicious barrier to the advancement of women at this University is the lack of very senior role models and the continued over-representation of white men at the apex of the organisation. Four top senior management roles – President, Vice-President Research, Vice-President Education and COO – are all white men. We have recently added a female Vice-President International, and another for Internal Partnerships, but many believe that the real power rests with the roles currently occupied by men. If we look outside this University, it is depressing to see that only 26% of university vice-chancellors and principals are female. There are even greater challenges for our Black and ethnic colleagues. Last year the  Guardian reported that our Universities “employ more black staff as cleaners, receptionists or porters than as lecturers or professors”.  Professor Kalwant Bhopal, author of White Privilege: The Myth of Post-racial Society has continually pointed out how Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities – are marginalised – especially in Higher Education. She says “I think that universities – particularly elite universities – are not really interested in this issue because they want to perpetuate their own image of white privilege and whiteness.”

In recent years, our members have alerted the senior management to a number of public facing and outreach events, such as distinguished lectures, expert panels and presentations that have failed to include a single woman. Whilst we were happy that a recent issue of the in-house re:action magazine focussed on women, we believe that much greater efforts to represent diversity are needed. One particular University space where the representation of women needs to be addressed is our Senate room. In a University that seeks to be diverse many of us question the dominance of men in the artworks there. Alongside the Rothenstein mural which has been the subject of recent controversy, this room displays portraits of our previous Vice Chancellors. The sole woman represented is Dame Helen Alexander the former Chancellor. The continued resistance of senior management to suggestions that this room and other spaces in our University should contain images that better reflect our diverse community is indicative of the progress that should be made. These are just symbols, but symbols matter. Southampton UCU will continue to press for meaningful action to close the gender pay gap.

 

*the last two sentences of this blog were edited on 27/11/18 because, you know, we are a collective, a union, and we think and talk about stuff to make it better.

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.