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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.

 

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