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March 5th, 2018:

Please sign our Open Letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor

NB: We closed the letter to new signatories at 1645, due to the announcement on SUSSED that confirmed that the VC would not be withholding pay from staff for ASOS. We’d like to thank everyone who signed the letter, and we are grateful to the VC for listening to our concerns.


We have compiled an open letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, urging him to support his staff in their fight to retain their pensions, and expressing our grave concern at the aggressive position taken against striking staff, in messages sent on 1 March 2018.

We would like to present this letter to the VC at the end of this third week of strikes, on 9 March 2018, but we will continue to collect signatures until the dispute is called off.

Please show us your support by signing the letter – anyone can sign, not just UCU or university members.   The text is reproduced below. To add your name, click on this link and fill in the form at the bottom of the letter: signatories will be added to this blog periodically, last update each day at 1730.

(Please do not leave a comment here to ask us to add your name: we really want your signatures, but we are really stretched for administrative capacity, especially during the strike. Please click on this link and add it via the form instead.)

A huge thank you from Southampton UCU Executive Committee.


Dear Sir Christopher

We are writing to you about the ongoing strike action, related to the sweeping reforms to pension arrangements proposed by Universities UK.

The proposal for radical change, which downgrades the USS pension scheme from primarily defined benefit to completely defined contribution, is a contentious and divisive issue amongst universities themselves. We think that Southampton should be demonstrating strong leadership to counter this ill-conceived proposal, and avoiding a damaging and potentially prolonged industrial dispute with its staff. We know that you were among the first VCs publicly to embrace the proposal (Southampton UCU blog, 4 October 2017), but you have expressed a desire to see meaningful consultation resume.

We urge the University of Southampton to lobby hard to find a fair and decent solution, which protects the interests and financial security of staff and restores relationships of trust across the sector. Whilst we appreciate the need for collective responsibility in negotiations, we think the issue is so critical and the consequences so grave, that you should consider making a public stand, similar to that taken by the VCs of Cambridge, Warwick, Glasgow, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Essex, Durham, Birkbeck and Imperial College.

Some institutions have challenged the proposals, including on the grounds of justice and fair play to their staff, as well as concerns about the underlying assumptions upon which the case for reform are based. Loughborough has led the way in demonstrating compassion for its staff, ensuring that strike pay deductions are made over the remaining months in the academic year, to lessen immediate hardship for those who can least afford the loss of income. In light of this, we are particularly concerned by the unnecessarily aggressive stance taken against staff in messages sent on Thursday 1 March by a number of AUs and Faculties, which set out threats of docking pay of those taking part in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), for failing to reschedule lectures (an instruction that is impossible for individual lecturers to fulfil), as well as restrictions on leave to attend conferences. We are dismayed that the University feels this is an appropriate position to take, and we are concerned that this demonstrates little recognition of the effort that will be needed to repair serious damage to staff-employer relations once the dispute is over.

We find it hard to think of an employment-related issue that has generated more anger, distress and strong feelings among university staff. To be sure, many senior academics stand to lose significantly in retirement, but the proposed changes will be devastating for the pension provision for younger and more junior staff, of both academic and related backgrounds, and those on lower incomes and part-time contracts, particularly female staff. The proposals – and the ongoing industrial action – will damage the sector, the financial wellbeing of its staff, its global competitiveness, and institutional relationships of trust and goodwill for decades to come.

We urge you and your senior management team to use Southampton’s influence in the sector to demonstrate active leadership in challenging the UUK and seeking to convince it to reconsider its position before the UCU industrial action escalates. Only through working together with the union, both within this university and across the higher education sector, can Southampton ensure that its staff are valued and fairly-rewarded, in particular those in weaker positions of income and contract; that students are given the best educational experience; and that its international reputation is maintained.

Yours sincerely

1055 signatories to 1645, 6 March 2018

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