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University Governance part #1: the one where UCU met the new Chair of Council

University governance is a hot topic in several UCU branches at the moment. We heard at our recent AGM from Hedley Bashforth of Bath UCU about how their branch successfully used their governance structures to draw attention to the excessive pay of their VC and senior management. Others will recall the dispute at Leeds University in 2017 prompted by senior management attempts to change the statutes and ordinances there.  The recent branch conference at Bristol UCU debated governance and concluded that “Power needs to move away from the centre and towards staff”. We agree. Many of the problems we face, particularly those associated with recent decisions to restructure the university (again),  appear to be fueled by a failure of senior managers to listen to, or meaningfully engage with staff.

It was therefore a refreshing change when representatives from UCU were invited to meet with the incoming Chair of Council Phillip Greenish as part of his induction last week. Your branch President and Secretary who attended this meeting were pleased to have this opportunity to share your concerns about senior management and University governance.  Phillip asked us to keep the content of the conversation private but we can share with you the content of the briefing we prepared for him and that we asked to be circulated to Council members (see below).

The briefing below may be TL:DR (Too long: Didn’t read) so the summary version is: We want better governance and senior management, and we need the University to stick to negotiated agreements and policies. The list of our concerns is long but we highlighted three pressing matters for Council’s attention:  1. Workloads and poor mental health of staff 2. casualization and 3. the gender pay gap.

Text of the UCU briefing for University Council

UCU is the recognised trades union for academic and academic-related professional staff at the university. We represent staff employed at level 4 and above. UCU is the largest post-16 education trades union in Europe and nationally represents staff in Higher and Further education as well as in prison, agricultural and adult education.

The branch here has an executive team of 16 elected officers and a casework team of volunteers who support individuals experiencing difficulties at work.  All the officers are in employment in the University and devote a limited number of hours during or outside working time to UCU duties. We are supported by regional and national officials, and have access to employment lawyers when needed.

Our branch is one of the largest in the South of England and we have members across all staff grades. Membership has grown considerably in response to local organisational changes and national threats to our pensions. You will be aware of the significant strike and working to contract action at the beginning of the year, and may have the impression that this is a militant branch. In reality the branch is considered moderate by our peers. In the past we have worked positively and effectively with the senior managers to improve the working lives and experience of staff and students here. Unfortunately relationships with senior managers have deteriorated over the past few years.  We have also seen an increase in the number of staff needing our support.

There are three pressing issues we would like to raise with you and the Council

  1. Governance of the university. Staff here want governance that reflects our values. We need our senior managers to be, and be seen to be, more accountable to our community. Governance processes need to be much more open and transparent. Academic and academic-related staff representation and engagement in Senate needs to be strengthened – this vital body has become a passive recipient of information and is not currently effective. We also urgently need more diversity in the membership of Council. Certain kinds of private sector experience are over-represented and we need much more recognition that we are an academic institution closely aligned with the public sector values. We also need to see greater diversity of membership of our governance structures in terms of race, gender and disability to better reflect our community.
  2. Poor senior leadership and people management. Staff are concerned at the disconnect between senior managers and staff. Successive staff surveys have highlighted this and yet little progress is being made. We believe that if senior managers engage with staff and actively attend to organisational culture and low morale we can make this a great place to work we will attract and retain the best staff, and this in turn will attract students and research funding. We have suffered 15 years of restructuring and cuts, moving from 3 Faculties to 8, and now to 5, and this has seriously reduced our ability to deliver. Staff here feel demoralised and devalued. We need better managers and leaders.
  3. Failure to adhere to agreements and policies negotiated with the trades unions. Members of all the campus trades unions have worked hard to support senior managers to improve the University. As the recognised trades union for level 4 and above we have negotiated policy and practice changes and balloted our membership when necessary to ratify these. We have been dismayed at the way some senior managers have ignored these agreements to the detriment of staff and students here.

What we are asking you

We welcome this opportunity for two of the branch executive to meet the new Chair of Council. Some of us also met members of Council during the industrial action and were pleased to discuss our concerns with them.

We would like to ask members of Council to seek views of trades unions, staff and students.  Come and listen to us.  Please visit staff where they work so you can see first-hand what they experience (the view from Building 37 and the Senate rooms gives a very particular view of our workplaces and we are sure you comprehend the importance of also seeing life ‘below decks’).

We also ask you to work with us to address our concerns.  These include but are not limited to

  • Workloads and poor mental health – We continue to battle a workplace culture of presenteeism and overwork. The University is reliant on hours of unpaid labour by staff – at night and weekends. We see increased stress, mental illness and musculoskeletal conditions resulting in sick leave. Sometimes, tragically this overwork contributes to suicide. We must do better.
  • Casualization – lack of job security is detrimental for staff but also to the ambition of the University – fixed term staff are constantly distracted by having to look for jobs elsewhere. We need to value our staff so that we get the best from them.
  • Gender pay gap – it is shameful that we have made so little progress addressing this issue (and other diversity challenges). We need action to reduce our 21% pay gap, this means actually delivering on Athena SWAN action plans and developing all staff to challenge hidden biases.We need also to take meaningful steps to address pay disparities.

Finally we ask you to support the trades unions at the University. We want to work with senior managers and use our governance structures to improve the education and research we do. We have done so in the past and we can do so again. Please help us do this.

We hope that this is the start of a productive conversation between Council and the representatives of staff at this University and look forward to further meetings and discussion with members of Council.

If you can’t stand the heat?

Your branch continues to be busy with lots of casework and more redundancy threats but last week we had a new kind of firefighting to do as several members asked us about regulations for workplace temperatures.

SUSSED offers helpful advice for staff and students about staying safe in the sun, but some of us found the lack of guidance from senior management on staying safe and well within overheating buildings disappointing. We asked senior management to address this lack of information and support but were told that they believed that line managers were dealing with this appropriately at a local level.

The recent thunderstorms and rain have reduced the temperature but we urge colleagues who experience uncomfortable work environments to report the issue as a health and safety concern. The University ‘Adverse Weather policy’ promises that the University “Will ensure that they take additional care during adverse weather and don’t do anything which may put themselves at risk”. Managers should make sure staff are aware of this policy. The HSE also provide useful advice about heat stress on their website. Incident reporting can be done on-line and if you find a room too hot to work in this can be reported to Estates and Facilities call x27474 or email efhelp@soton.ac.uk with the room number and state it is a Priority One call.

Some managers signposted actions we can take when our workplaces become too hot and we’d like to give a shout out to the fab managers in Chemistry who circulated helpful advice and allowed staff to alter working patterns, and alerted them to adaptations required to ensure sensible and safe working conditions.

Adverse weather conditions – hot or cold – are of course not under the control of University, but the University does have a duty of care to staff and students. We continue to push them to support our wellbeing, and as ever UCU are here for you – rain or shine – to help make your working lives better.

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.

 

Why I’m a UCU representative – a personal account

Dear colleagues

I should start by explaining that you probably don’t know me, and if you do it’s because either you work with me, or I’ve met you over the last year as a UCU rep. All of what follows is drawn from my own experiences in that role.

 As a UCU rep, I have only one task, and that’s to represent members.  UCU has given me training, support and most importantly the voice to do this. When you meet me as your rep, for whatever reason you are probably not going to be in the best situation.

 I might have met you before a tense meeting with your line manager, who has been bullying you for the last year. After the meeting you thanked me for my actions and realised you don’t have to suffer alone.

 Alternatively, I am walking in with you to a meeting to discuss your future in a restructure, and I’ll make sure your voice is heard, adding my own if needed. If the worse happens and you find out you are leaving UOS, I’ll walk out with you and sit down to talk over your options.

 Since my volunteering to act as rep at UoS, I have sometimes seen working relationships broken, and have comforted people in tears at how they have been treated. I’ve also had a number of 1-1 meetings with HR where I’ve fed back on those experiences and offered to try and work together to stop this happening. I felt we were making progress, and I genuinely want things to be simply better, for everyone.

 Not everyone falls back to a confrontational style. Sometimes, I sit down together with the HR representative over a coffee.  We talk about our children, Netflix, Brexit and then we open our notebooks and try to navigate a solution together. I wish this happened more often.

 In all of these interactions, I’ve never knowingly misrepresented the truth, been offensive or breached trust. I try to keep to high professional standards, and I’ve even sought feedback from the senior managers I’ve sat across from. One Dean wrote to my HoAU telling them how impressed they had been with my actions in formal 1-1’s. I’ve been told the University needs more concerned citizens like me. Maybe that is true.

 For me UCU is about support for its members. If I think UoS isn’t meeting its own procedures or legislation it’s my role to tell them this, and I will continue to do so as long as members ask me to.

 So if you do meet me as a UCU rep, I’m sorry we have to meet like that. But I promise to help.

 If you think you can help as well, contact UCU. We need more concerned citizens.

Mark Dover, Southampton UCU Honorary Secretary and Caseworker

 

Southampton UCU consultative ballot on new contract of employment

Dear colleague

We are currently balloting members on whether to accept or reject the new master contracts of employment.  You should already have received an email with a unique voting link and you have until Tuesday 10 October at 5pm to vote on the proposals.  If you have not received this email please contact Amanda at ucu@soton.ac.uk as soon as possible.

Southampton UCU has been in negotiations with University of Southampton on the new master contracts of employment for staff at Levels 4-6 since summer 2013. These negotiations have been taking place with renewed intensity in the last academic year. The stated intent of University of Southampton in re-drafting contracts of employment is, “To produce a set of modernised contract of employment templates which are legally compliant, written in ‘plain English’, to make the terms and conditions of employment simpler to understand, and, where possible, to future proof standard clauses. It is important to note that the existing terms and conditions of employment are not being changed in this revision.”

The proposed contract is for new staff joining the University, or for staff who are taking up a new post. At present this does not affect contracts for existing staff, who will for the time being remain employed on their current contracts of employment. Southampton UCU is keen to ensure consistency and equity in terms of employment at University of Southampton, therefore if our members approve the new master contracts of employment for new staff, we will in principle approve these contracts being rolled out to existing staff at a future date.  During the lengthy negotiations we carefully considered the views of University of Southampton and the University considered feedback from your Southampton UCU reps. We feel that we are now able to present to our members the final version.

We encourage members to look at the new contract as well as the summary document, both of which can be found here:  https://groupsite.soton.ac.uk/Administration/Master-Contracts-Project/Pages/Home.aspx

PLEASE USE YOUR VOTE.

 

 

International staff survey

UCU is the largest post-16 education trade union in the world and we are committed to representing our international workforce and fighting for their interests in uncertain times.

Please help us to support international staff by completing our survey of non-UK education workers and sharing it with colleagues.

Most recently, UCU’s campaigning on behalf of international staff has focused on developing UCU’s immigration employment advice service for both EEA and non-EEA nationals which now includes support for member’s families. UCU’s on-going ‘UK universities and colleges are international’ campaign also provides resources and guidance for your local UCU branch.

The UCU post-Brexit charter, produced in December 2016, sets out eight key policy priorities, and UCU’s general election manifesto also called for further protections. The UCU submission to the ‘impact of exiting the European Union on higher education’ inquiry was prominently cited in the final report.

The union does much to represent international staff but we need to do more. Please help us to better support members and future members by completing and sharing our survey of non-UK education workers.

Many thanks, Sally Hunt

UCU general secretary

p.s. – Office for Students: The Department of Education is recruiting for board members for the newly established Office for Students. Members may wish to consider this opportunity to contribute at a senior level to post-16 education. The union does not have any formal role in this process but we recognise that members may be interested in the role.

UCU advice and support related to appraisal process

All staff should have completed an appraisal by 31st May unless on probation.

UCU understands that appraisal scores for staff at levels 4-6 will be moderated at an Academic Unit/Directorate level followed by ratification of these scores at Faculty/Executive Directorate level.

The University previously agreed with UCU that only scores of 4/5 would be subject to moderation.  (See https://intranet.soton.ac.uk/sites/hr/appraisal/SitePages/Home.aspx).  This assurance about the limited scope of moderation was key to the University of Southampton appraisal system being agreed by national UCU.  This feature was highlighted to our members when we balloted them about the Pay and Reward arrangements.  These arrangements, including the appraisal scheme, were endorsed by 94.5% of UCU members at University of Southampton in September 2014.

We are aware that scores of 1-3 are also being moderated. UCU has not been consulted about this extended moderation process or Terms of Reference, and we have raised this with senior management, along with our other broader concerns about how appraisal has been conducted this year.  It appears that University of Southampton could be breaching the collective agreement with UCU on pay and reward, which includes arrangements for appraisal.

We are aware that some UCU members have been given a provisional appraisal score and have been required to attend a meeting with HR and Line Management, before appraisal scores have been moderated or ratified. If you are asked to attend such a meeting, please contact UCU for support. We advise you to request to be accompanied by a colleague or UCU representative into this meeting. You are entitled to ask the reason(s) for a meeting request and who will be present.

If you are asked to attend a ‘protected conversation/meeting’ you may be informed of capability, disciplinary or asked to consider leaving your job.  We advise you to request to be accompanied by a colleague or UCU caseworker into such a meeting and you are entitled to ask the reason(s) for the meeting and who will be present. You do not have to agree to settlement offers made to you in a protected conversation/meeting and we advise members to carefully consider any offers before responding.

University of Southampton has a Dignity at Work Policy statement which begins by stating, “The University of Southampton is committed to supporting, developing and promoting equality and diversity in all of its practices and activities. We aim to establish an inclusive culture, free from discrimination and based on the values of dignity, courtesy and respect. We recognise the right of every person to be treated in accordance with these values.”  We also note that the appraisal scheme approved by UCU members includes a commitment that “All appraisals should be carried out in a fair and equitable way, with due consideration paid to an individual in relation to the process and outcomes of appraisal.”  We are concerned that the practice of appraisal moderation outside of agreed processes, and the use of moderated scores to coerce staff into asking staff to consider leaving their job, appears to breach the commitments made by University of Southampton in these policies.

UCU is currently working with a number of members on issues related to appraisal. If you have concerns or comments regarding the appraisal process please contact us – you can do this via ucu@soton.ac.uk. (If you would prefer not to use university email please telephone the office on 023 8059 2364 and Amanda can provide alternative contact details.)

 

National Senior Management survey for UK University staff

The National Senior Management Survey (SMS) is an anonymous survey for university staff around the UK to complete about the practices of their senior management team. The survey is a form of audit that seeks to move the gaze from the narrow metrics of staff performance to the senior management teams who set the conditions through which staff performance becomes possible. The results will be disseminated as widely as possible and a league table of findings will be produced. In so doing it seeks to ask questions of the current trajectory of higher education in the UK and to broaden debate about what universities should and could be for our students.

You can complete the survey here:  https://smsproject.wordpress.com/

Preliminary findings were reported in the THE recently: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/overpaid-and-overbearing-uk-university-staff-management

Claim Tax Relief on UCU subscriptions

You might be interested to know that due to UCU’s status as a professional organisation, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave approval for members to claim up to 67% tax relief on the total annual subscription they have paid to UCU during the last four years, and on an annual basis thereafter.  Further guidance can be found at:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/taxrelief .  Please complete this template tax relief claim form ucu_taxclaimform_Apr16  and return it to the tax office on completion.  The University’s tax office details are:

West Hampshire Area HM Revenue & Customs
Trinity Bridge House
2 Dearmans Place
Salford 
M3 5BS 

The tax office reference number is 663/U1.  

If you need further information please contact the UCU office.

 

Southampton UCU General Meeting – 29 March

Members are invited to attend the next UCU General Meeting which is being held on Wednesday 29 March at 12.15pm in room 85/2207.  The topics of the meeting are:

Experiences with appraisal, two years in; and

A forward look at REF and TEF

We are now into the second year of the new appraisal process and have received a variety of concerns from members, both appraisees and appraisers, on the new system, particularly in relation to moderation at Faculty and University level, and the requirement within Faculties for final scores to conform to the “bell curve” of expectations.  The meeting will provide a forum at which you can raise your concerns, which we can then take forward with management.

With both REF and TEF on the horizon we will be discussing the impact of these processes on your current roles: in particular, possible changes in pathways (from balanced to teaching only) and how this fits with your career plans. We welcome your ideas and contributions, especially if you have concerns you would like to raise.

As we will be providing a light sandwich lunch could you please email Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk) if you will be attending, and any special dietary requirements, by Thursday 23 March.  Lunch will be available from 12.15pm with the meeting commencing at 12.30pm prompt.