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Local Campaign

“Don’t let our pensions go extinct” – Or, it’s not over ’til it’s over

It’s now been a month since the Dinosaur of Solidarity led striking members around the campus in a conga, celebrating our strength of resolve that was evident from the fourteen days of successful strike action held during February and March.

We hope that branch members are aware of the result of the e-ballot consultation on UUK’s proposal, in which nationally members voted almost 2:1 in favour of suspending strike action to allow for the formation of a Joint Expert Panel; the JEP will be charged with scrutinising the valuation methodology of the USS scheme.  We understand that UUK and UCU are meeting this week to scope out a framework for the panel. We also understand that objections have been raised both in this forum and by UCU press office about UUK’s press release on Friday 13 April, after the result of the consultative ballot became known. We await a report to HEC on these deliberations.

We have so much to be proud of as a branch. We’ve delivered a continual and joyous message of solidarity throughout the strike (Nota bene: it’s not over ’til it’s over). Our commitment to consensus and democracy may make the message we deliver seem out of step with other parts of the union, but we’ve maintained a respectful conversation within the branch about the way the dispute has been managed; we have done our utmost to consult with our members on substantive issues, and we have tried to help all members make decisions for themselves.

We would love to see the warmth and cooperation of the strike weeks continue in the branch’s activities in the months to come: while none of us wanted to cancel classes or lose income, and most of us really didn’t like being out in the cold and wet, almost every other aspect of the picket was life-enhancing: the singing, the baking (if you ignore an extra kilo or two), the space and time to meet and talk with new colleagues, the shared sense of purpose, the support of our students, the teach-outs, the generosity of strangers.  While senior management opine about – without ever demonstrating – collegiality as a value, we found a way to make it work in the snow and the rain.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity is our gift to our colleagues, local and national; she may have been (contrary to reports) a serendipitous creation, but she is also a symbol of what is best about our branch: a collective expression of a positive will for change, fairness, courage, and good humour when faced with management’s baffling and sometimes surreal vision for our community. By tapping into our enhanced collegiality we not only keep ourselves ready, should need arise, to get back out on the pickets, but we also will be able to be a proactive force for good in the university, like never before. It’s wonderful to see our membership so dramatically increased, but it’s even more wonderful to have so many colleagues energised in the pursuit of a better, more democratic workplace.

 

 

 

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

How digital communication transformed activism

This blog was written following a teach-out facilitated by the author.

For the ongoing USS-Strike to defend our pensions, digital communication on e-mail and social media have played a tremendous role. In fact, in contemporary society it seems almost unthinkable that social movements were able to mobilise protest events without access to the internet. It seems useful to appraise how activism has changed since the advent of social media.

I begin by reviewing some of the main tasks of social movements. First, social movements are engaged in framing processes: they need to convince people that there is a problem and what the problem is, who is responsible for the problem and what should be done about it. In the case of the the current dispute, the problems are the proposed changes to pensions and the way the pensions are regulated.  UUK and The Pension Regulator are responsible. One tactic is strike action.

Second, social movements need to mobilise resources including people (supporters, activists, and leaders), access to meeting spaces, media and money and enlist support from the wider public, decision makers such as politicians, and experts. In the context of the USS strike, this requires mobilizing members to come to the picket lines.

Finally, social movements need to make decisions about tactics and strategies as well as about their organisational structures and decision making. For the strike for USS that includes decisions to continue or to suspend the strike, and the pursuit of alternative and/or additional tactics.

Digital communication and social media have made some of these tasks much easier, but have made others more complicated. It is possible to distinguish internet-supported and internet-based repertoires of action. Internet-supported actions are a continuity of previous forms of mobilisation – instead of handing out leaflets or contacting people via a telephone-tree cascade system, meetings or protest events are announced via websites, on e-mail or via social media. There is no offline equivalent for a hashtag-campaign on social media – this is an example of new internet-based activism.

So how are online- and offline activism related? Some are concerned that online activism decreases the involvement in offline activism and leads to slacktivism or clicktivism. However, others believe that digital prefigurative participation or engaging with an issue online through social media leads to participation in offline protest events. Collective action is based on collective identity (for example, as trade unionists) and organisational structures (for example, the UCU branch), but digitally-enabled activism can  produce connective action which is networked and may not be tied to collective identities, organisational structures and leaders. In the current dispute we can see that hybrid forms of action exist.

In her book, Twitter and Teargas Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly analyses the ‘power and fragility of networked protest’. The power might be quite obvious. When social movements are ignored by the mass media (see for example the lack of mainstream press coverage of the USS-strike) or are censored, digital communication allows the spread of information and can enable citizen journalism.

In 1999, Indymedia was created by independent journalists and activists in the context of the WTO protests in Seattle. Although the website still exists nearly twenty years later, including regional sites in many languages, today Indymedia is hardly known. It has been replaced by the behemoths Twitter and Facebook on which citizen journalism as well as fake news are disseminated. We also see that mass media and social media are not mutually exclusive;  articles and broadcast news media are frequently posted on social media. In addition, not everyone’s tweet or post gets shared, some have far more influence in the digital public sphere than others. Communication on social media raises important questions of verification, and representativeness.

Tufekci also discusses the impact of digital communication on the leadership, logistics and infrastructure of social movements. New communication technologies allow the kinds of quick dissemination which made the occupation of Gezi Park, Tahir Square and the Occupy camps possible. In contrast, the American civil rights movement required meticulous and lengthy organising over long time-periods. Slow dissemination allowed for capacity building over a longer time-period which created space for extensive discussions outside the public eye – for example concerning tactical shifts, and social movement organisations had a central role in providing an infrastructure for the decision making processes and dealing with dissent and conflict arising from these debates.

In contrast, Tufekci demonstrates how digitally mobilised movements can experience a ‘tactical freeze’ due to the lack of decision-making structures. Connective action is less well placed to deal with disagreement and building trust. Debates are played out publically, and while open debate might be welcome, it can be dominated by a few, prominent, but not necessarily representative voices. Moreover, discussing tactics openly  can signal to opponents where the breaking points in the movement are.

The USS strike has undoubtedly benefited from the existence of social media. While we stood in cold, snow and rain, it was inspiring to know that the picket lines were strong at Universities across the country. Moreover, social media enabled activists to crowd-source information about management practices at the institutions involved in the dispute, and to share information to support the protest. Petitions were circulated and signed, universities were named and shamed. Activists skilfully employed not just open digital spaces but also closed spaces which allowed for strategizing outside the public attention.

One important feature of social media use was the mobilisation of humour to support the strike.  Our own #DinosaurOfSolidarity (@of_dinosaur) has quickly gained 1950 followers (and counting) for example. But social media has also carried serious messages. The outcome of UCU/UUK consultations immediately resulted in the hashtag #NoCapitulation which perhaps influenced the swift rejection of this offer.

The question is – what next? How can we prevent a ‘tactical freeze’? It is clear that offline and online activism are intertwined and that the affordances of digital communication are invaluable. We need to consider whether the velocity of digital communication undermines careful strategic decision-making. And how online and offline resources can be used to ensure democratic and inclusive debate. Some things might not be best discussed online, and we may need to learn a ‘digital hygiene’ i.e. knowing when and what to tweet. However we move forward it is clear that movement building in digital times requires solidarity and respect.

Silke Roth is a sociologist @SilkeRoth

Letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council

NB: Update, 1700 9 March 2018.  We have had a response from the Chair of Council. attached at the foot of this post.


Away from the vitality and vibrancy of our pickets and teach-outs, Southampton UCU members have been busy writing letters and campaigning.  You will have seen our open letter, signed by over 1000 people, that we published on Monday.

Today, we sent another letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council, asking them to make representations to Sir Christopher Snowden, our President and VC.  We asked specifically for him to align the University of Southampton with the growing number of universities who are now rejecting the “November valuation” of USS on which UUK’s final proposals were based.  We also asked for Southampton to follow the example of a number of institutions who have committed to spreading pay deductions for striking members over the rest of the academic year.

The text of the letter is given here:

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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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All Level 4-6 members: Check your final 2016 moderated Appraisal score!

Recently, casework revealed an Academic Unit had not told colleagues last year’s final moderated Appraisal rating scores. Members only discovered their final scores when preparing for this year’s appraisal. It appears these scores were only confirmed sometime after the Christmas break.

It’s hard to quantify the damage to morale this causes. Colleagues, who believe they have been identified by their peers as a 4/5 and gone forward into 2017, now discover they have been moderated down. Explanations that a 3 is the norm do not help to combat the sense of disappointment, or future disengagement from the process. This moderation may be carried out by senior staff far removed from the individual being appraised, and is explicitly not intended to produce an accurate reflection of individual performance (see para. 4 here [intranet link]).

Please, check your final appraisal contribution score, and if it has changed let the branch know. If you wish, we can support you to pursue why the change was not communicated to you, and to ask for the feedback you should have received.

There is no appeal process to a moderated score, however, failure to inform is a breach of the guidance:

It is of utmost importance that the direct line manager is  involved in the process of communication to the individual, and remains fully engaged in the process.

All final, moderated appraisal ratings must be communicated to appraisees and entered in the online appraisal form by line management in a timely manner [Not by HR; however, line managers are not able to do this in the current system]

Both of these actions should take place in a timely manner, and the reasons for any altered appraisal ratings should be explained in person to the appraisee, along with appropriate feedback.

The Reward project was held up as an example of UCU/UOS collaboration. We know numerous academic, non-academic and HR colleagues worked hard to try and create an appraisal process that was aimed at securing higher levels of employee engagement as a key tool in the University’s pursuit of ‘operational excellence’.

The local branch continues to lobby senior management over breaches to the negotiated appraisal process for L7 and level  4-6 staff. At our meeting with HR heads in October 2017 we asked again for the contribution score methodology, the benchmarking of scores (including the measuring of faculties and directorates against each other – see para. 4 here [intranet link] again), and the associated moderation process to be removed.

We feel that the appraisal process has changed from the one we negotiated; we wanted appraisal to support staff with an honest conversation with no surprises.  Instead staff are reduced to numerical score and submitted to an opaque moderation process. This final failure to even inform staff of the number confirms that appraisal currently is only about providing metrics for performance.

Anne-Marie Sitton, the recently confirmed Executive Director of Human Resources, promised at the October 2017 meeting to take our concerns and suggestions to UEB.  No outcome has been passed back to us.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it  – our problem(s) with senior management at University of Southampton

We recently posted the ‘correspondence’ between your recognised trades union and the VC/President regarding the upcoming dispute on pensions on this blog. It will be clear to members that the VC is no longer in responsive mode, as least as regards UCU; we have received one-line acknowledgments to all our recent emails.  The VC also has access to the medium of SUSSED and all staff email lists where he has chosen to criticise individual members of UCU, and most recently to provide  a very particular view of the position regarding the USS pension situation.

This does not feel like meaningful dialogue.

In the run up to strike action it is common for the respective sides to become ever more polarised, and we are not hopeful that communication between senior managers and UCU will improve in the coming weeks. We are about to withdraw our labour, following an overwhelming vote by UCU members, signalling that they will not accept cuts to their pensions. Understandably much of the attention, in emails from the branch and from UCU headquarters, has been on the pension dispute and the coming strike action.  But the pension is not the only area of concern for members of Southampton UCU. Locally we continue to represent our members on a number of other issues, not least of which is the proposed restructuring of the University and cuts to staff.  On these other local issues the senior management appears unwilling to engage in meaningful communication.

UCU wants to talk with senior managers about what they are doing. Below we list just five of the pressing local issues that we’d like to discuss properly with our senior management: the University restructure; staff cuts; appraisal; casualisation; and equal pay.

1. Restructuring the University

 To be clear, UCU members don’t necessarily have a problem with restructuring, but we remain deeply unconvinced that reconfiguring to five instead of eight Faculties is the best way forward. Staff and students here are already suffering the ill effects of ten years’ poorly managed organisational change – the INEX project, Transition, the move from three to eight Faculties, the Pay and Reward review are just a few of the large-scale changes we have endured in recent years. Staff numbers have been cut, teams formed and reformed, people moved in and out of Faculties, with little or no thought to organisational culture, wellbeing, or morale.

Successive staff surveys have revealed low trust in senior management and deep concern at their failures to listen to staff, and yet we are about to embark on yet another top-down major organisational reconfiguration. Staff and students need to be supported and listened to before and during significant change. Genuine engagement with staff requires meaningful negotiation and consultation with recognised trades unions, and strong organisational development support – both missing in the early stages of this restructuring. The recent announcement that Mathematics will remain as a single academic unit and not be split into two different Faculties is a small step in the right direction, but this came rather late in the process and only after sustained lobbying.

2. Staff cuts and saving money 

Again, UCU is prepared to listen to arguments about cutting staff.  Of course, we must take a hard line against the threat of compulsory redundancies, and we have been angered by the so-called protected conversations with targeted individual staff, pressuring some to leave the University.  But when the voluntary severance scheme was announced, we asked if it could be opened up beyond the six publicly identified areas, not least because this appeared more likely to achieve cost savings and would have spread the losses, thereby reducing negative impacts on education and research. The University Executive said no to this.

Moreover, whilst imposing cuts to academic, administrative, and support staff to save money, the senior leadership of the University have studiously ignored widespread commentary on senior staff salaries. So we are cutting staff after a bumper year when the University spent approx £700,000, paying off the outgoing VC and making our incoming VC one of the highest paid University leaders in the country.  Little wonder that former education minister, Andrew Adonis, singled out these pay packages for criticism, but the University accounts also show that the salaries and benefits for 15.2 members of the top tier (‘key management personnel’) totalled £3.723m (ave. £245K each) in 2016-2017. Perhaps if Southampton wanted to take a consistent approach,  while we are cutting student-facing staff to save money we could consider a little prudence at the top end of the salary scale.

3. Misuse of appraisal

UCU is becoming increasingly disturbed by the misuse of appraisal and the introduction of increasingly draconian performance review measures. Our current case work includes examples of inappropriate conversations with staff, bullying and harassment. In some cases ‘Performance Improvement Plans’ have been imposed in a very one-sided, unhelpful manner – a case of “you will deliver more with less, but don’t expect any help from us”. The lack of staff development resource (following the closure of ILIaD and the loss of key staff) and the withdrawal of budgets for staff training supports the conclusion that PIPS are less about improvement and more about dismissal.

All staff at the University at some point went through a recruitment and selection process that deemed them worthy of appointment: why then do we refuse to develop and support them? Many colleagues already tell us that they pay for conferences, research materials, and business-related travel out of their own salary – now it seems they have to add training and development to these expenses. Are we really saying that the University of Southampton cannot afford to develop its own staff?   Southampton UCU simply wants senior managers to adhere to the negotiated appraisal process and to start supporting staff to deliver to their highest potential.

4. Casualisation 

We have always been critical of the reliance on short-term contracts and the damage that job insecurity does to education and research. We have an army of early career staff delivering research and education who struggle to make ends meet and are constantly at risk of contract termination. These staff are typically enduring high living costs whilst paying off debt incurred from years of study.  Many commute, either because partners work elsewhere, or because they can’t afford to move for a short temporary contract, or just can’t afford to move, full stop. Some will have been hit by the rise in train fares in January and those who drive already tell us how punitive the car parking charges are here.

Precarity damages education and research. Hourly-paid lecturers on short term contracts cannot engage in team meetings or curriculum development – this is bad for their development and students’ education and support.  Researchers on fixed-term contracts are preoccupied by their contract end date, and may find it impossible to get a mortgage, find they are not eligible for enhanced maternity pay, and so on, all to the detriment of our research. Alongside them, academic-related colleagues also find they too are increasingly offered only temporary contracts – and thus we regularly lose organisational memory and capacity.

Finally, a body of staff comprised largely of short- and fixed-term, hourly-paid, and fractional contracted staff will struggle to form a cohesive and supportive community, among themselves and with the students. This may be the intention of senior management, of course, but it is to the detriment of the institution, both currently and in the long term. We are all damaged by the reliance on casual teaching staff. UCU nationally and locally has continuously pointed to the damage wreaked by casualisation in higher education. We believe the University of Southampton should deliver on the commitments that it has given to UCU to reducing its reliance on casualised labour, in the interests of everyone.

5. The gender pay gap and equal pay

Senior managers are currently preparing the latest local pay review. UCU expects that that this will once again demonstrate a very significant gender pay gap at the University.  While much is made of the ‘equal pay’ for men and women within job grades (e.g. at level 4) the average gap between men and women’s pay in higher education is 12% – in 2015,the mean gap across all grades at Southampton was 22.9%, whereas in HE nationally it was 18.9%. Women continue to be clustered lower down the pay scale and in part-time jobs. The four most senior academic roles, some of our highest paid positons in the University (the VC/President and three Vice-Presidents), are all white men.

The new JNCHES Equal Pay Reviews and Gender Pay Gap Reporting Guidance for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) – published as part of the Pay Settlement for 2016/17 – calls attention to gender and diversity issues in our Universities, but this University does not seem to be at the forefront of those tackling these inequalities.  While the University of Essex took action and moved  female professors up three pay points to bring their average salaries in line with male counterparts there is no talk of such a move here. UCU has repeatedly called attention to pay gaps – not only gender, but also race and disability. Locally, we have asked for greater transparency in promotion and for better staff training on unconscious bias, but we see little evidence that senior managers wish to address this problem.

What is the branch doing? And how can you help?

Members of UCU can rest assured that this branch will continue to push senior management here to address these issues; your branch representatives take every opportunity to press for improvements to the working lives of staff here, and to defend education and research.  We do this alongside significant individual case work (and thanks are due to all our volunteers who support members in case work). We have pressed senior managers to improve the wording of redundancy and severance agreements, to improve their processes for consultation with staff, and to stop bullying and harassment. We will continue to make the case that the University will prosper if senior managers listen to staff and students. We will continue to do all this whilst pursuing the strike action to defend pensions that you have mandated. As ever we ask members of the branch to volunteer to help us take forward our work on these issues. If you can help – even for half an hour a week, we can use you.

Collegiality and Communication

Several members have asked what has been happening to letters to the VC about the USS  pension.  Below is our correspondence to date.

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 09 January 2018 11:05
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension

Dear Sir Christopher

Happy New Year to you.

Please find attached letter from UCU regarding the USS pension.  We hope that you are able to give your support to your staff and help protect their pensions.

We look forward to receiving a positive response from you soon.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 09 January 2018 15:37
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and the attached letter from Professor Pope.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 26 January 2018 16:50
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Please find attached letter from Southampton UCU in relation to the USS pension dispute.

We look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 26 January 2018 18:13
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and attached letter.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 29 January 2018 10:58
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Thank you for acknowledging receipt of our letter sent to you on Friday 26 January (copy attached).  Would you be willing to make a statement to members responding to the points raised in this letter?

I look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 29 January 2018 17:55
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email.

Recognising that their pensions are of great importance to all USS members at the University, I will be posting an item on SUSSED within the next few days which will  also address points raised in UCU’s recent letters.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

Hands off our money – fight to defend our pensions

With a single casting vote in the pension joint negotiating committee the financial security of current and future academic staff has been jeopardised.

Sadly this means that our strike action must go ahead. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9235/UCU-says-strikes-now-look-like-a-reality-as-pension-talks-end

Academics and academic related staff don’t like striking. We are here because we care about education and research. Most of us work longer hours than we are contracted for because we believe in what we do, because we chose service rather than profit.

But strike we must.

Here at Southampton UCU we are regarded (and regard ourselves) as a pretty moderate bunch. The turnout for the vote and the overwhelming support for strike action indicates that we have been pushed too far. This attack on our financial futures cannot be allowed to succeed.

The move to defined contribution pension with its frighteningly individualised risks (the value of investments may go DOWN as well as up) and attendant administrative charges, is nothing less than a pay cut. It is pay cut of between 10-40%, taken from our deferred salary. What is more, it is a pay cut supported by the members of the UUK side of the JNC who are most likely to be financially secure (http://www.ucea.ac.uk/en/empres/pensions/uss/governance/).

Not all VCs backed the UUK side or these damaging changes to USS. On Thursday last week, Warwick’s VC wrote that “there is a need to maintain a meaningful defined benefit scheme for those members of staff, present and future, who perceive pension provision as a key factor in their choice entering or remaining in higher education”. https://warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/vc_letter_to_uuk.

Alongside him, the VC of Loughborough also stated his opposition in a letter (partially reproduced here https://twitter.com/sheffielducu/status/952873826475528192 ) .

Colleagues at Bristol reported that their employers had been keen to find a middle ground and planned to revise how much the institution was willing to pay in contributions.

Sadly our own VC, one of the highest paid senior academic leaders in this country, did not stand with us against the proposals. The senior management here have continued to support the move to defined contributions.

Members can expect more emails in coming days about the strike action. What we can say now is that we must strike to show our employer that our deferred salary is not theirs to bargain away.

Your executive committee will meet on Friday 26th Jan to plan the action here. In the meantime here are some of the things you can do now to help defend your pension.

  1. Volunteer for our picket lines.We will picket areas across our university campuses and need up to six on each picket line. Please email Amanda with contact details (ucu@soton.ac.uk)
  2. Pass the message on. Tell those who are not members that these changes could wipe £200,000 from their pension. See https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9093/Overhaul-of-university-pensions-could-leave-staff-200000-worse-off-in-retirement. Urge non-members to join UCU https://www.ucu.org.uk/join and join us in action to defend our pension.
  3. Bookmarkhttps://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforussfor updates on the action.
  4. email the VC vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk and ask him why he did not defend your pension

Finally remember we are your branch. You are UCU. Send us your comments and ideas about how to make this strike effective. ucu@soton.ac.uk.

We may be reluctant to strike, but strike we must. We cannot allow this assault on our retirement security to go unchallenged.

 

the photo used is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cardboard_ballot_box_-_Smithsonian.jpgorm  and depicts an early US ballot box which of course is not related to the USS vote in any way but is instead a rather lovely piece of history.

 

An Open Letter to the Chair of Council, from a concerned member of the community

Yesterday, our member Prof Mahesan Niranjan sent us a copy of an open letter that he sent to the Chair of Council. He asked us to circulate it to our members, and to urge them to circulate it to other members of the university community and beyond. He has given us permission to reproduce it here, so please find the text below, without further comment.


School of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton

12 December 2017

Dr Gill Rider,
Chair of University Council.

An Open Letter on Recent Happenings

As I mentioned in an email last week, the University attracting media spotlight for the wrong reason concerns me greatly. I know that very high salaries paid to a small number of people at that top of organisations, which is a national problem, cannot be addressed by targeted attacks on a few individuals. I also know that it is usual to maintain “stiff upper lip” over salary paid to a colleague. Hence our own Vice Chancellor’s salary is not a topic I would comment on.

But there are more serious issues at stake that make me write this, and fundamental to what I write are two observations:

  1. University is about scholarship. We are a community of scholars in the pursuit of discovering new knowledge and in its dissemination, both to the wider society and to the junior members who come to study here. We educate by stretching their minds. Our research is driven by intellectual curiosity. Scholarship being our core business, academic staff are our revenue generators.
  2. In a research active university like ours, there is significant subsidy from teaching income to research. Research grants do not cover their full cost (FEC) and are subsidised from the block grant (QR) and student fees. To a certain extent this subsidy is justified because unless we engage in cutting edge research, we cannot educate students at the frontiers of knowledge. But universities have pushed this too far, paying for highly expensive research which ought to be funded either directly by the Government (e.g. MRC’s Laboratory for Molecular Biology) or by industry (e.g. Drug discovery research at GSK). When this subsidy to research is high, we cannot give our students the attention they deserve — and pay for — resulting in diminished quality of education.

I submit that drifting away from a recognition of the above two factors is what has caused the current unhealthy situation in which the Sector is attracting much media focus and public anger nationally, and we see much frustration and unhappiness among staff on our own campus.

Since my short tenure as Senate appointed member of University Council ended in August, I have no formal position to raise issues of concern directly with you. Hence this open appeal.

  1. I ask Council to consider announcing that while the University will honour the present Vice Chancellor’s contract, in future appointments we will set a salary cap of £ 200,000 for this position and scale down other senior salaries similarly. Let us take the lead and set an example to the Sector and declare in our advertisement that we in Southampton do not take pursuit of financial reward to be an indicator of talent.
  2. I ask Council to intervene and persuade management to reverse the decision to target Voluntary Severance on selected disciplines. If the primary problem we are trying to solve is a financial one, it makes better sense, in the first instance, to run a VS scheme campus-wide so the shock may be absorbed by the whole community. Should that not achieve the reduction necessary, we can scale down selected areas in line with demand for those subjects. But why do this over such short timescale? At the high level, in theory, we are running a ten-year plan with admirable long-term thinking, but in practice, at the implementation level, we are acting in haste, giving people just ten weeks to decide on a VS offer.
  3. I ask Council to take a closer look at the subsidy between teaching and research. Are we engaged in expensive research in Highfield and other loss-making projects in faraway places? Is it fair that the financial burden of these — however prestigious they are — be borne by our students incurring long-term debt? Let us work towards closer integration between teaching and research so that expensive research in some areas is not subsidised by teaching income from others.
  4. I ask Council to intervene and change the discourse on our campus, from one that continuously sees academic staff merely as salary costs, to one which sees us as revenue generators, achieving it through our scholarship. Shortly after the VS scheme was announced, I met three colleagues from one of the targeted areas. They were in shock. They had no idea that their subject area was financially weak. Over the years, they have had no information from which they could have worked it out and taken part in the planning process that could have re-built their areas. This is because much of the planning within Faculties happens with minimal transparency or consultation, which in turn is because staff do not feature in our discourse as revenue generators. An attitude change here would increase engagement to the benefit of us all.
  5. I ask Council to persuade management to suspend the appraisal system which in its present form does not appear to be fit for purpose. Insistence on a sharply peaked distribution of quantified performance is the biggest demoralising factor on campus at present. I am aware several colleagues, including myself, are working hard to resist the thought “if after doing so much I am slapped with a 3/5 and declared mediocre, should I not do less next year?” I myself will not be reducing my efforts because I am driven by intellectual curiosity and my commitment to my students, but the offence I suffer serves no purpose. “It is a waste of time,” an appraiser agreed with me, “it is a waste of time,” that appraiser’s appraiser also agreed with me. “Why then are you guys doing it?” I asked. “Because that is what we are told to do,” say both! In a good university such as ours, lost productivity due to diminished morale may outweigh any gains from a badly designed system of performance management. Please, let us not take that risk.
  6. I ask Council to create conditions in which the Ten Year Plan is owned by — and felt to be owned by — the entire University community, than as a top-down adventure imposed upon them. I myself am fully persuaded by the necessity of it and was supportive of it throughout its planning stages which overlapped with my tenure on Council. Across campus, I see very little awareness and buy-in from colleagues. Hence, I ask that the group working on its implementation be expanded with five colleagues elected by Senate to play a role in effective consultations, and to have a say in prioritising projects.

Dear Gill, at the start of this academic year, I emailed you and the Vice Chancellor with a photograph of an overcrowded class with my students stood at the back and seated on the aisles. You may recall that I ended that email with the comment: “Forgive me, I write because I care.” You were gracious in your reply, saying “Niranjan, I know you care.”

The effect of your acknowledgement was magical. My subject of Machine Learning is taught under testing conditions, with class size doubling, students admitted without sufficient scrutiny of their mathematical background and suggestions for improvement often rebuffed by middle management. Yet, I am pleased to say, I pulled it off, receiving a long applause at the end of the module, evaluation only slightly damaged (4.6/5, down from 4.8/5) and a student commenting: “One of the greatest and most stimulating module I had at University, in my 4 years.”

I do not say the above to blow my own trumpet. I hope it illustrates that our commitment to students and acknowledgement by university leaders of what we do well can be far more effective than top-down management and the neat “bell curve” of appraisal scores. The former is the best way to get the most out of the business of scholarship we are here for, and the latter is the way to kill it.

My position while making this plea remains exactly the same (“I write because I care”), and I very much hope your acknowledgement of it does not change either.

I also hope that sharing my thoughts openly with you and our University community might help shift the current mood on campus from one of anger to one of dialogue and debate, and that collegiality — a pillar of our strategy — is not perceived by the community as simply a catchphrase.

Yours Sincerely,

Mahesan Niranjan
Professor of Electronics and Computer Science