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A bonus……for some

Southampton UCU Executive Committee has written to the VC and University Executive Board, urging them to reconsider their decision not to award the one-off COVID bonus to University of Southampton workers employed on casual contracts or whose fixed-term contracts ended before 13th July.

We are, of course, pleased to see that the hard work of colleagues has been recognised in this one-off bonus of up to £600. We know that it has been an exceptionally difficult year for many of our members, who have often gone above and beyond to carry out their duties in the face of huge uncertainty and upheaval. We are sincere in saying that the bonus is a significant gesture for a sector that is prone to recognising staff contribution in words rather than action. However, we are compelled to highlight a fundamental inequality in the bonus as structured — specifically, the decision to exclude casual colleagues from receipt of the payments.

Since the announcement, many of our hourly-paid members have contacted us to express their disappointment and anger about their exclusion from the bonus payment. They have pointed out that their work over this period is often indistinguishable from that of staff on more secure contracts. Additionally, like their permanent counterparts, they have stepped in to take on additional duties as part of the COVID-19 response. This is to say that they have taught, marked, enabled, supported and administered in the same way as their colleagues. In fact, they have seen their workload increase with the extension of teaching slots from 45 to 60 minutes, with no accompanying increase in pay. They have worked even when sick, because of the shameful policy that leaves Uniworkforce employees with no contractual sick-pay entitlement. They have also been unable to access many of the schemes of Government support made available to more formalised employees during lockdown.

The hard work of staff on casual contracts deserves no less recognition and reward than that of other staff.  We appreciate that there may be added complexities in identifying and quantifying the work histories of casual workers — and we are happy to work with UEB to seek solutions to these.

Actions you can take

Those who share our sense that this situation is unjust are welcome to join us in the following actions:

  • If you are active on social media, share examples of the important tasks carried out by casual workers in your team this year and why these contributions deserve to be recognised. Remember to tag @SouthamptonUCU in any tweets.
  • If you are on an insecure contract, either employed through Uniworkforce or on a fixed-term contract, join UCU (if you’re not already a member) and come along to a meeting of casualised members on 17 August at 12pm (invitation to follow). We will discuss a further response to the decision and our campaigning priorities for the year ahead as part of our insecure contracts working group.
  • If you are a PGR member, you can join our active PGR UCU Teams page for updates from UCU where we will also be coordinating the PGR as staff manifesto campaign. Contact UCU@soton.ac.uk to join.
  • If you are a staff member that has received a bonus and would like to donate a portion of it toward insecure colleagues, unfortunately, there is no general hardship fund for PGRs at University of Southampton (we are working on that). Please consider donating to Education Support, a partnership initiative with UCU that provides a variety of support to all members. Given the strong likelihood of industrial action in the upcoming academic year, you might also consider contributing to the  UCU national fighting fund or Southampton UCU’s local hardship fund, both of which provide financial support to members taking part in industrial disputes.

What else is Southampton UCU doing?

As well as lobbying for a reversal of this decision not to include casual workers in the bonus, Southampton UCU remains committed to improving the long-term employment conditions for all our members, including those on casual contracts. Under the new definition of a casual worker being introduced by HR, we hope to see all colleagues engaged with Uniworkforce for more than 12 weeks move over to fixed-term contracts. We will push for equality of these contract terms with those currently offered to permanent staff members.

In line with the recently launched PGR manifesto, we will be campaigning for uniformity across the University of Southampton in the way PGRs are treated: concerning both research work, and paid teaching work. In addition, for those PGRs who teach, we are seeking to negotiate a Graduate Teaching Assistant Contract based on the principles of employment laid out in the recently launched UCU PGR manifesto and in the 2021/22 JNCHES pay claim, which includes the principle that PGRs who teach should be included in any reward or recognition schemes run by the employer.

 

UCU Congress 2021 – Motion Results

https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2021

UCU Congress 2021 took place over the May Bank Holiday and into half-term. Thanks to Marianne O’Doherty, Bea Gardner and Denis Nicole for representing the branch alongside Claire Le Foll and Lucy Watson. Again, it really was a team effort.

In full conference (29th and 31st May) 270 delegates were sent a unique voting link. 231 delegates voted. In HESC (2nd June) 191 delegates were sent a unique voting link. 164 delegates voted. The Conference was held online, but this time there was added security and the webinar mode was used. This meant that no spontaneous interventions could occur, and all speakers had to be invited in. Although we understand the challenges of holding such large meetings online and the UCU staff and elected officers chairing the meetings did a fantastic job, it must be acknowledged that managing conference in this way stifles debate and makes for a very ‘dry’ experience for delegates. There is also the added complication that voting is not synchronous. Separate voting links for amendments and motions were sent out after the close of conference.

Our branch was able to canvass members’ view in advance on the key issues surrounding the Four Fights dispute and USS, and we had extensive discussions within executive committee around the more controversial motions, including ones which focused on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. All delegates voted in accordance with the views of the branch where there was a clear steer from members.

Congress motions

Delegates voted for most motions which carried, except for the IHRA motions (12, 13 and 14) where these motions appeared to contradict each other. Delegates voted against 13 and 14 but for motion 12, with 12A.1. Motions 12 (as amended) 13, and L3 carried and 14 was remitted to be considered at NEC. Motions 13 and L3, carry references to BRICUP and thus, to an Israel boycott.

A full report of Congress motions may be found here:
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/11576/Congress-Motions/pdf/Voting_report_Congress_29and31.05.21_1.pdf

HESC motions

The motion on electronic voting was lost. The motion to reject the UCEA offer for 21-22 (HE3), enter into dispute, and ‘organise towards the possibility of balloting’ passed. The motion to develop a timetable to ballot for industrial action over the unfinished ‘four fights’ campaign (20-21 claim) (HE5) passed. A number of USS motions were passed, some of which cancel parts of the others out, and some of which may or may not have much of an impact (replace USS as trustee; initiate legal action against USS). The key one which passed and was mentioned in the branch AGM (23rd June) is HE12, which commits branches to a summer ballot for escalating industrial action in the autumn if employers won’t join UCU in calling on USS and the pension regulator to cancel the 2020 valuation. Since then, HEC have agreed to hold a special conference on the 9th September where important decisions will be made about the future of the campaign. We will contact members with more details when we have them.

By a margin of 62 to 56, HESC also carried motion HE13 to scrap two of the principles for negotiation on USS from the report accepted in HE11 (explore conditional benefits and additional covenant support); this also instructs negotiators to focus on demands to set aside the valuation and preserve members’ benefits and contribution levels. HESC also voted to declare all current industrial disputes to be of national significance (HE 21), remove requirements for consultative ballots before industrial action, and allow academic Boycott and Censure to be declared immediately on request of the branch.

A full report of HE Congress motions may be found here:
https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/11578/HE-Motions/pdf/Voting_report_HE_sector_conf_02.06.21_2.pdf

Future Ways of Working – UCU concerns

UCU  has raised concerns with senior management about the potential changes to terms and conditions of staff as part of the Future Ways of Working project.  As the recognised trade union for staff at L4-6, any changes to staff contracts are subject to negotiation with UCU under our recognition agreement with the University.  Please see below our recent email communication and response from the Chief Operating Officer.

 

From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Sent: 28 June 2021 09:02

Dear colleagues,

As some of you heard at our latest meeting on Thursday 24 June, the Future Ways of Working (FWOW) project is still very much in its infancy. I believe during the meeting, Mandy reiterated that the desire of the project is to consult effectively and hear from all colleagues across the University, including the trade unions. However, at this time the mechanisms and timelines for doing so are yet to be established.

The project is currently in the process of recruiting a dedicated Programme manager, as well as a post focusing on communications. These posts are likely to be in place between August and September and once recruited their priority will be establishing the next steps. As explained, the project encompasses many elements and will consist of different work streams, some of which will naturally lead to more discussion and input than others. Our communication to present has been focused on providing both unions and colleagues with an early overview of the project, given these are questions many colleagues are soon to be asking, if not already.

In the past when there has been a specific and fully-described goal, we have engaged more directly at the beginning.  With this project the level of change has yet to be determined and therefore needs a different approach. We envisage that this starts with co-design, which then leads to some overarching goals. Once the project goals begin to take shape we would expect a similar level of union involvement and engagement as previously experienced.

I note and understand the points UCU raise in this email and I assure you that the University will of course adhere to its recognition agreements and negotiate and consult where appropriate. The sole purpose for setting up a standing agenda item at our regular meetings, which was welcomed at the time, was to ensure a constant link between our meetings and communications and that of the overall project. As above, once Mandy and the project team identify and develop their thinking and approach, the mechanisms for effective communication and consultation will become clear for the various work streams across the project, which will of course include appropriate and meaningful consultation with the unions.

For now, I suggest that we keep communication lines open on FWOW within our regular meetings.

Best wishes,

Richard

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

—————————-

Thu 24/06/2021 13:11
To: Chief-Operating-Officer
 Mandy Fader

Dear Richard (cc Mandy),

Thank you for your recent communications in response to our enquiries about the Future Ways of Working project. Your most recent all-staff email (15/06/21) mentions a desire to proceed ‘to consider the longer-term change and support framework required around our people […] in discussion with our campus trades unions’. We have also received a response to our enquiry from Luke Kelly, indicating how you propose to proceed in this regard: to have ‘a standing agenda Item at our regular meetings to update and allow union input and discussion with project representatives’. We had the first of those updates at a meeting this morning (24/06/21).

We welcome the initiation of a project dedicated to thinking through future ways of working. However, we are concerned about the ways in which working with campus trade unions is referred to in these recent communications.  As I mentioned in the meeting this morning, the statements from University of Southampton do not seem to fully take into account the University of Southampton’s existing agreements with UCU which cover all matters affecting the terms and conditions of our members:

  1. A project dealing with future ways of working will inevitably, if it is to have any effect at all, impact upon our terms and conditions of employment. As I stated this morning, the University is obliged to negotiate with UCU on changes to terms and conditions of employment. UCU has a clear recognition agreement with University of Southampton, and it is established practice that University of Southampton negotiates terms and conditions of level 4+ staff with UCU.  We are concerned that no reference to these existing agreements is included your recent message.
  2. Luke Kelly’s email seems to indicate that making this project a ‘standing agenda item at our regular meetings to update and allow union input and discussion with project representative(s)’ is sufficient. This is not the case where changes to our ways of working are under consideration. We would draw your attention to the University’s prior practice in managing large projects of this kind. Prof. Fader, who we understand will be leading this project, will remember Project Wellington in 2018, in which the University consulted much more extensively with Trade Unions for its ‘Reshaping the University’ organisational change programme through a series of dedicated meetings. One standing item in the more informal setting of the regular TU meetings will clearly be inadequate to allow for meaningful consultation on the issues raised by such a project.
  3. We further note that the Future Ways of Working project has the potential to impact on the contracts of employment for some or all of the staff, for which University of Southampton recognises UCU as the sole agent for collective bargaining.  It is also a matter of record that the last significant change made by University of Southampton to contracts of employment in 2016 was negotiated and agreed with UCU.

We suggest that, if this is an important project, it is surely important enough for the University to convene a dedicated meeting with all three campus trade unions to discuss it, including setting out a schedule for dedicated consultation meetings with campus trade unions on matters that affect our terms and conditions of employment.

Any changes that may be proposed at the end of this process, will need to be tabled at a full meeting of the JJNC or JNC that is a part of our established employment relations processes.

Any agreement that UCU enters into that could amend the terms and conditions of our members’ employment will be subject to a full ballot of UCU members, before UCU can approve of any changes.  UCU has worked with University of Southampton on a series of large projects, in areas under which University of Southampton is obligated to negotiate with UCU.  The successful conclusion of these projects provides a clear demonstration that the university honouring its agreements with UCU should not prove to be an impediment to University of Southampton making changes to terms and conditions.

Can you please confirm that University of Southampton is happy to proceed on the basis that we have suggested?

We look forward to hearing from you.

With regards

Lucy Watson, President

Cuts to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) Funding – response from senior management

At the UCU JNC meeting on 11 May we tabled a paper outlining our concerns about the cuts to ODA funding and the implications on research staff employed at the University.  Our initial letter and the response from Mark Spearing, VP Research and Enterprise can be found below.

 

3 June 2021

Dear UCU Colleagues

Thank you for your queries on the effect on the University of Southampton of the Government’s decision to reduce significantly the overseas development assistance funding that was directed through UKRI funding schemes such as the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund, and the University’s response.  This is a very difficult situation and is still very much under discussion.  We only received the notification of our proposed allocations at 4.25 pm on Friday 28th May, and it will take a few more days to understand what these proposals actually mean in practice, and we will be continuing to work closely with our lead investigators at the University of Southampton to minimize the damage caused; although given the scale of the cuts this will be challenging.  The interaction with UKRI up to this point has been to help them understand the likely effect of the proposed cuts on the individual projects and to make the case, wherever possible for additional funding.  Everyone involved is aware of the very difficult decisions that this involves, and the consequences for staff and students at the University of Southampton as well as on valued partners in low and middle income countries, where the effects of these cuts are likely to be even more severe than they are here in the UK.

In response to your questions, see below:

Questions:

  1. What effects did these cuts to ODA/GCRF-funded projects have on staff at Southampton? The cuts have not been implemented yet, and now that we have recently received notice of our proposed allocations, we will be working with the Southampton investigators to minimize the effect. The overall reduction for fiscal year 2021/22 is from £3.0M across ten projects to £1.8M, against the original UKRI proposal of a reduction to £1.0M.
  1. What attempts did the University make to prioritise the protection of jobs?  We have been making every attempt to protect jobs and people in this process. This will continue to be the focus as we work through the implications of the revised allocations that we have just received.
  2. What is the estimated number of fixed-term contracts that will have to end early because of these cuts? It is too early to make this estimate as the proposed final allocations have only just been issued.  Although we should stress the overall impact will not be as severe as originally feared, but this will vary by individual project.
  3. Did the UoS conduct an Equality Impact Assessment? If so when will this be published? Since we have only just received the proposed allocations it would be premature to do this. Each investigator, on each of the ten projects will need to assess the equality impact, but also, importantly the longer term impact on our partners in LMICs.
  4. Has the University taken any steps to challenge these cuts? Why has there been no public discussion / leadership on this? We have been working very actively through our representative groups, particularly the Russell Group, and with our partners to challenge these cuts.  There has been considerable public debate on the matter, and Prof. Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford, spoke eloquently on the matter on behalf of the Russell Group on the Radio 4 Today programme, shortly after the initial announcement was made.  In my capacity as Vice-President for Research and Enterprise, I spoke directly to the Chief Executive of UKRI on the matter, on 25th March 2021,  to convey our collective dismay at the decision to make these cuts.  Along with the interventions of many others this has resulted in a significantly improved settlement from that which was originally proposed.   It is also important to note that at the same time there were also threats to the budget for the UK’s association in Horizon Europe, which is about six times the budget for ODA research, both nationally and for the University. It is a great relief that this budget seems to have been satisfactorily agreed.

Thank you for your suggestions of actions to take. See comments below.

  • More open consultation and discussion would have been helpful in the early stages. For example, it would have been useful for senior management to reach out to all PIs to discuss options early on in the process so that they could understand possible options and decide on priorities. I wrote, by email, twice, personally to every UoS PI.  Once when the overall scale of the cut was announced and a second time when the specific proposals for individual projects were known. The great majority responded directly, thanking me for making the effort to engage with them directly.  I spoke to several investigators via Teams following the second of these emails, at their request.  I have worked closely with the Associate Deans Research throughout, who have been liaising on a very close basis with the investigators. I am under no illusions as to how difficult this has been for all involved.  It is an unprecedented move by government and UKRI.
  • Communications could be clearer, and more compassionate, recognising the stress and uncertainty these staff are facing. In some communications it was announced that the University would support them, but it was not clear what this support would look like. I very much recognise this.  In all our communications we have aimed to make clear that we understand the levels of stress and uncertainty that this situation has caused.  We have tried to provide the greatest reassurance that we have been able to support, but given the uncertainties that still exist regarding the situation, we have been limited in terms of the assurance that can be provided.
  • The decision to not allow moving budgets between DA and DI was seen as extremely disappointing, especially as many other institutions have allowed this. Moving money from DA to DI could have saved some fixed term contracts for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, this is not true.  It just shifts the problem from one part of the University to another.  Given the overall University financial situation and the additional costs incurred due to Covid mitigation, and a reduction in other income streams due to reduction in halls of residence revenues and international student fees, we are quite constrained in the actions we have been able to take.  We have applied some underspend on GCRF QR funding to the projects that have been particularly badly affected by the cuts, which has helped to mitigate their effect.  In talking to colleagues at our peer institutions the great majority have found themselves in a similar situation to us.

  • Finance needed to be better prepared to engage with PIs quickly. Some reported that finance were unable to meet with them until very close to the deadline, this caused a lot of additional anxiety and uncertainty.

I am aware that the initial response was requested very quickly by UKRI, with notification being issued in late March and a response being required by 17th April, with the Easter closure period constraining the time available to respond.  I understand the difficulties that this caused, but the timescale was not of our choosing and I know that colleagues in Finance were working very hard, with ADRs and colleagues in Research and Innovation Services to provide as accurate and timely a response as possible.

  • University management could have taken a proactive stance at contacting external partners to explain the situation, rather than leaving this responsibility to PIs.

We did discuss this, at an early stage, but felt that we needed to be guided by the PI’s who understood best the detail of the relationships.  Where they have guided us, we have followed up with higher level communications.  As a result of a meeting with the CEO of UKRI a cover letter was also provided from that organisation to explain the situation to our partners.

  • Reassure and ensure that these cuts do not have an impact on career trajectories: how will this time-consuming and demoralizing process be taken into account in future appraisals?

The effect of this, and many other extraordinary circumstances that have occurred over the past year, will very much be part of appraisal conversations over the coming year and beyond.  This is very much the point of having annual appraisals; they have a vital role in allowing the individual to articulate difficulties encountered and to reset expectations for the future.  We are also working to ensure that as the ERE promotion process resumes, that we make full and fair use of the existing provision for candidates to declare their particular circumstances and ensure that these are taken into account in promotion decisions.

I very much hope that the responses provided above address your concerns. I will be able to give a further report once we have worked through the consequences of the proposed settlement that UKRI informed us of last Friday.

In the meantime, should you wish to discuss further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours faithfully

Mark Spearing

Vice-President, Research and Enterprise

 

 

 

USS – UCU concerns regarding member survey

Branch officers recently wrote to the Vice-Chancellor raising concerns about the current survey of USS members.  Our letter and the VC’s response can be found below.

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UCU concerns on contributor content on University’s Strategy Consultation padlet

We recently wrote to the Vice-Chancellor raising serious concerns about the discriminatory nature of some comments posted on the University’s Strategy Consultation padlet site.  Please see below our email and the VC’s response.

 

From: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 26 April 2021 12:47
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Cc: Mark Spearing <S.M.Spearing@soton.ac.uk>; Camilla Gibson <C.R.L.Gibson@soton.ac.uk>; Lucy Watson <Lucy.Watson@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: UCU concerns on contributor content on Padlet for University Strategy

Dear Vice Chancellor

We are writing to you to express our dismay at some of the remarks we have read on the Padlet you authorised for the University community to share their views on the University of Southampton Strategy.

It is extremely disturbing to see a few people have chosen to use this platform to anonymously air aggressively racist and transphobic views under the guise of ‘free speech’. [We included screenshots from Padlet of these comments; the Padlet has now been removed.]

While we can see the benefit of using such platforms in educational settings to enable people to contribute to discussion, this Padlet is accessible on SUSSED and open to anyone to use or abuse as they see fit. We are concerned that allowing these posts to remain in the public domain risks serious reputational damage, particularly when staff across the University are working hard to make it an inclusive place to work and study. 

These comments are directed at colleagues who work in gender and race studies and one of them is an attack on the student-led de-colonizing the curriculum plan. They are not relevant to the university strategy document, and they create a hostile environment for both staff and students. To allow these comments to remain unchallenged goes against the stated aims of the UoSRespect campaign and recent EDI initiatives which have been widely publicised. 

We are concerned that the Senior Management Team thought it appropriate to use this platform for this type of consultation without considering the possibility of its misuse. As employers, you have a duty of care for your staff and students, and we question whether the impacts of this open unregulated Padlet have really been thought through. Freedom of expression must always be balanced with our Public Sector equality duty, which stresses the legal responsibility of HE providers to think about how they can promote equality and minimise tension and prejudice between different groups on campus. A number of these comments have made both staff and students feel vilified and marginalized.

It is our responsibility as the University’s UCU branch executive committee to actively and publicly oppose discrimination and discriminatory and offensive language wherever it is found. Therefore, we ask that managers reconsider their approach to creating an inclusive and appropriate space for this online consultation, including some system of moderation with a clearly defined set of rules about how moderation will work. This would rebuild trust in the process and reassure colleagues that the hostility expressed by these anonymous individuals will not be allowed to continue unchecked and should not, therefore, dissuade them from engaging as valued members of the University community.

We look forward to hearing back from you.  

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

—————————— 

From: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 28 April 2021 10:13
To: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: UCU concerns on contributor content on Padlet for University Strategy

Dear UCU Colleagues,

Thank you for raising the issue around a small number of the posts to the recently launched Strategy Consultation on the Padlet site. Like you, I was disappointed to see that a small minority of anonymous posts did not really play to the values we aspire to of courtesy and respect.  There will be members of our community who will hold some of the points that were criticised very dearly. Any member of our University community affected by this can access support via volunteer Harassment Contacts, our staff networks or their line manager.

These few posts really ran counter to the intent behind running the consultation an open, co-designed way as this was in direct response to the community’s feedback that they wanted a more active and inclusive role in shaping the strategy. It was recognised that adopting a co-design methodology is never without risk. This was not simply a decision of senior management as the approach was explored in detail with a range of academic colleagues who are experts in this area.  One of the points made by our co-design expert colleagues was that such a community approach may surface some of the more challenging views that colleagues hold. The weight of community response then should cause people to reflect on others’ viewpoints. It was noticeable in the cases that you highlight that our community in their responses were self-moderating, resulting in criticism of the tone of some comments as well as a diversity of perspectives.  In that context I would also note that the issues that you draw attention to include ones which are part of the current national discourse. Given the current focus on free speech a University should not censor challenging or uncomfortable debate, but encourage a civil exchange of views, indeed our regulatory responsibilities expect the promotion of free speech rather than its restriction.

Since the launch of the consultation less than a week ago our initial assumptions about the security of the Padlet have been tested in action. The issue of external security has also been raised by a few other people. We are not comfortable with the level of security that has been achieved; this has resulted in the Padlet being replaced yesterday with an online reporting form that accords colleagues a more rigorous level of protection as they post their responses.

We also heard from some colleagues whilst the Padlet was live that the small number of less than civil posts was deterring engagement. I hope that the swift action described above will encourage people to have their say. Responses are being sought from both individuals and teams/networks and mangers will reinforce the values of respect, courtesy and dignity when highlighting this opportunity.

It is important we have strong engagement and a civil exchange of views in arriving at our strategy.

With best regards,

Mark

 

The Story of Resurrecting Thoughts from Beneath the Glass Ceiling – Mahesan Niranjan

We were asked to publish this guest post by a member of the University community. The views in the post are not necessarily those of the UCU Executive Committee, but we felt it raised many issues about which members are currently concerned.

Easter is the time of resurrection. To my friend, who doesn’t believe in that Biblical tale, the short break of a few days helped recall to the surface much thought he had suppressed over a period of three and a half decades.

The friend about whom I write teaches at a UK University, specialising in the subject of making inferences from large and complex datasets. His background of escaping from a racist environment is relevant to what follows. At the age of 20 one night, he stood at a police cordon crying, when the library in his town was torched by thugs under the supervision of government ministers. Then at the age of 22, during race riots, he gained his second lease of life by jumping from a second-floor balcony to escape machete-wielding militia.

For someone with that background, the protective bubble of research intense British universities is paradise. He is safe, pursuing curiosity-driven research and challenging junior members with open-ended coursework to show them there is joy in learning. Increasingly though, these are being threatened, with research quality measured by grant income and education packaged into learning outcomes.

Career-wise, it bothers him that he has reached the top and has to stop. If we view a university as consisting of a hierarchy of career jobs, positions of its upper strata of a senior chief, some deputy senior chiefs, other middle ranking chiefs and some deputy middle ranking chiefs are not accessible to my friend. Other observations have upset him, too. The classes he teaches are at best 15% female, homogeneous in ethnicity, and the purchasing power of his students is likely to be in the top fifth of the age group. Along those three orthogonal axes, his subject is far from being inclusive.

Of both the above – the glass ceiling and the non-inclusive enrolment — universities claim to be taking action: reports written, strategies drafted, charters signed, and awards distributed. Yet, over a thirty five-year period, nothing much has changed.  Noise, however, gets amplified. For example, should the proportion of female students in a class increase from 14% to 15%, someone in the hierarchy would claim credit for strategic planning. The phrase “Eee-Dee-Eye” has entered all walks of life like the mantra one repeats during transcendental meditation: rhyming, repetitive and meaningless.

On observing these, my friend shrugs his shoulders, buries the irritations they evoke and carries on with his scholarship. It is easy for him. The knocks he receives from the glass ceiling don’t hurt, for he is endowed with a thick helmet.  His knowledge of far worse. That of his library burning. That of jumping off a second-floor balcony to save his life.

What has changed this Easter, and why is there a re-surfacing of suppressed thoughts?

Context is important. About a year and a half ago, the Equalities Commission (EHRC) suggested UK universities are “institutionally racist”! In a follow-up report, Universities UK (UUK) agreed with that assessment. The timing of these coincided with Black Lives Matter protests. Health inequalities exposed by the pandemic added to the context. The Royal Society, too, chipped in with a report, observing significant differentials in attrition rates along ethnic lines, while failing to analyse why this is so. Then more recently, a UK government commissioned report on race suggested that such things won’t exist, if only one were to stop looking.

The response of universities to these events was predictable. They issued statements. My friend read about ten such and was amused by how correlated they were: (i) about taking it all seriously; (ii) about a lot of work having already been done; and (iii) about much work still remaining to be done. Perhaps the same management consultant was hired to write them. When EHRC and UUK described the universities as institutionally racist, not a single Vice Chancellor could respond by saying “No, my institution is not like that!” Even the future King did a better job when a member of the household was alleged to have expressed curiosity about the skin colour of Her Majesty’s then unborn great grandchild.

Where has my friend heard that shameful phrase “institutional racism” before? Twenty years ago, the Macpherson report on the Metropolitan Police’s botched up inquiry into the racist murder of a Black teenager used that description. Even if one could have some sympathy with the police accumulating statistical bias because, day in day out, they deal with crime, can my friend accept the environment he reveres so much, and where he has sought sanctuary, attracting such a description?

With these thoughts resurrected during the Easter break, my friend ponders: Why?

Mercifully, the ceiling above him is made of glass. He can see through it and look at the holders of high office. None of them could ever be described as racist. None of them would ever utter a racist word or even have racist thought. They value my friend as a person, as a colleague and as a scholar.

That poses a paradox. How is it that individuals who are not racist, collectively run organisations that is judged to be structurally so?

“When malice is not present,” I suggested, “incompetence is where the explanation lies.”

He dismissed me instantly on the grounds that any holders of high office are analytical problem solvers who know how to identify the root cause and solve it at source than fiddle with symptoms. Person specifications of senior jobs require those fine qualities. Having ruled out malice and incompetence, we are left with one last plausible explanation, the mistaken belief in meritocracy.

Senior managers of universities tend to believe that their positions were attained by fair and rigorous processes with merit as their determinant. This is perpetuated by a remuneration system that has expanded its scale in recent times. It is then easy to make the transition from a job interview position of “I am good, pay me a high salary” to a self-fulfilling position of “I am paid a high salary, so I must be good!” Such self-evaluation is a right, my friend concedes, but is that supported by available data, he questions.

This belief is so strong that we have seen several examples of unhealthy behaviour recently: a leader found guilty of bullying holds onto their job; another who erected fences around student halls of residence, attracting a vote of no confidence, also remains in post; another claimed that even though their salary is admittedly high, soccer players earned more; yet another reportedly filed a claim of two pounds for biscuits.

Power does corrupt, does it not?

Once the mindset of meritocracy gets entrenched, cloning becomes the driving force in making appointments. One would want to find someone “solid” to be their deputy or to carry their legacy. In that process of cloning, the use of recruitment consultants is a clever way the system keeps the “other” out. These talent-spotting agents are skilled at saying: “the job attracted a large number of highly qualified applicants” in so many eloquent ways. One could be sceptical of such claims when considering, across the sector, the statistics of international searches discovering that the favoured local candidate to be the best since sliced bread.

More broadly, illusory meritocracy also hurts at the level of enrolment, when entry grades we set are insensitive to wider educational inequalities at schools. To my friend, long-term payoff could only be maximised by encouraging applicants from under-represented communities into Foundation Year programmes and offer them the motivation and skills the schools were not resourced to impart.

With these thoughts resurrected, my friend had a terrible time this Easter weekend. His doctor has ordered doubling his daily dose of Amlodipine as a temporary solution to hypertension.

But he has a long term solution, too, when Semester starts and burying disturbing thought becomes easy: there are research questions to pursue; part of a new module to teach; a challenging assignment to set, and to show students that intellectual curiosity is fun.

A safe and enriching life indeed, beneath the glass ceiling.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Author’s Disclaimer:

Material in this piece is based on publicly available data and aims to address a generic structural issue of importance. Except in the few examples specifically linked, no part of this blog should be taken as referring to any specific institution or office holders in it.

 

Comms with senior management about returning to campus on 12 April

Further to our email (see below) to the Vice Chancellor on 31 March raising our concerns about returning to campus on 12 April, we received the following response from Roberta Head, HR Director Client Services on 1 April.

To: Southampton UCU Executive Committee,
Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for your note dated 31st March to the Vice-Chancellor relating to the arrangements for return to campus on 12th April. He has asked me to respond as many of these items were dealt with in our joint meeting earlier in the week and we want to ensure that our response is fully informed by our previous discussions with you.

We have been very happy to have ongoing detailed and frequent dialogue with our UCU colleagues on the return to campuses, including at weekly meetings with our Health, Safety and Risk team. We have discussed this at the regular meetings with our Trades Unions led by Richard Middleton including the most recent meeting on Tuesday 30th March . At all of these meetings colleagues have been able to discuss the plans for a safe return to campus and raise issues and concerns for response. This positive engagement has helped us to plan and we believe has provided an opportunity for meaningful consultation.

In addition, we have been clear about our plans for return to teaching on 12th April, and the need to revisit risk assessments, for some weeks. Colleagues have been engaged in planning for the return of students and have been making amendments to risk assessments since the Government announcement. We would always have planned to have students on practical programmes on site on the 12th April, since this became possible after the 8th March. The generic risk assessment for learning and teaching will revert to that which staff engaged with in the autumn term, with the additional enhancements added relating to face coverings which has been shared directly with all students who are returning to campus. We believe that this means that we have planned well in advance.
Whilst we note members’ concerns relating to the percentage of 16-24-year-olds who will have received a vaccine, we remain confident that the risk mitigation measures that we have agreed will keep students and colleagues safe. We continue to offer access to a testing regime, enforce social distancing and have guidance in place on the wearing of face coverings and hygiene. As always our approach will be monitored and reviewed in light of any new information and Government guidance.

I hope that you would agree that we have been clear that any return for students on 12th April will be in line with Government guidance. We have planned on the best-case scenario but it is possible that we will, in fact, not be able to bring students back at the level of the autumn term. Should this be the case a number of the points your raise become less relevant.
With best wishes,
Roberta

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We have today (31 March ) written to the Vice-Chancellor and senior management over continued concerns about returning to campus on 12 April.

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We write regarding the latest University communications about the return to campus teaching and working. 

Whilst we recognise the importance of a return to normality on campus—from both a financial and a student wellbeing perspective—we must insist that this be handled with care, so that staff safety and wellbeing do not fall by the wayside. 

We note that in the SUSSED blogpost dated 29th March the University accepts there is still a lack of clarity over what the recommended procedures will be for 12th April . This lack of clarity creates a number of serious problems.  

1.      It is not possible for colleagues to engage meaningfully with risk assessments before going on leave, as the only generic teaching and learning risk assessment currently available on the HS&R Sharepoint is the one that applies before Easter. Trades unions on campus have been asking for colleagues to be provided with the post-Easter information for a number of weeks. As we are entering a period of closure days, common annual leave and school holidays this timescale also precludes a meaningful process of statutory consultation with trade union H&S reps before the likely resumption of further in-person teaching. 

2.      Also relating to the upcoming Easter break, there will not be time for many staff to read and meaningfully engage with whichever risk assessment regime will be in place come 12th April – a process that will be vital to ensure assessments are adequately localised. Alternatively, it will require staff to undertake this important work outside of work hours. Both of these outcomes are detrimental to staff safety and wellbeing. 

3.      The University communications lean heavily on both forthcoming Government advice and the relative success of the UK vaccination programme. We note UK official guidance has to date been riddled with miscalculations and poor advice that have resulted in measurably worse outcomes in terms of health and safety. Further, any impact of national vaccination rates on COVID transmission on campus may be limited; the ONS estimates that only 15% of 16-24 year-olds have received even the first vaccine dose. Students thus constitute a largely-unvaccinated but proximate population ready to encounter the more transmissible and more dangerous B1.1.17 variant. We do not see adequate consideration of this fact. 

 SUCU has previously asked senior management to consider a short delay to return to teaching plans, until 19th April. This has been refused but management could still give clarity and reassurance to staff about post-Easter arrangements by proposing that the first week post-Easter continues on the pre-Easter model, so that staff (and H&S reps) have time to consider and plan for whatever return to blended learning was then proposed the week after. This would not only support staff safety and wellbeing over the break, but help ensure that the return to campus is considered and durable—something that we all have an interest in.  

 We hope you will give this matter your urgent attention and look forward to receiving a prompt response.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

General Meeting Motion – Support for Funded Extensions for PGRs

The motion below was passed by a quorate General Meeting of Southampton UCU members, held on Wednesday 17th March 2021.

Motion: Branch support for funded extensions for postgraduate researchers  

This branch notes that: 

  • Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, PGRs have been campaigning for funded extensions and have been supported by many UCU members and branches
  • The UKRI phase 2 funding scheme will make available up to 3 months of funding for less than half of all UKRI funded students, despite UKRI’s own research finding that 77% of funded PGRs required an extension averaging 5 months.   
  • The UKRI phase 2 scheme is the benchmark for other funders, including the University of Southampton (UoS) scheme which launched on 3/2/21 and applies to both UKRI and UoS funded students. 
  • Criticisms have been levelled against the UoS phase 2 scheme including its potential to discriminate against PGRs with protected characteristics.  
  • Central government has not released any additional funds for PGRs. A recent FOI revealed the regulator, The Office for Students, has not discussed PGRs at any meetings since before August 2020.   
  • UCU is running a national campaign for PGRs to be treated as staff in order to improve conditions for PGRs who often have an ambiguous status within UK universities.  

This branch believes that: 

  • As a union with PGR members, it is right for our branch to take a campaigning stance on this issue. 
  • UKRI have not released adequate funds necessary to meet the real need of PGRs through the Covid-19 pandemic, and the funding support offered falls short of what is needed to ensure PGRs can complete their research.  
  • The current University of Southampton application system is flawed, discriminates against PGRs with protected characteristics and needs an overhaul. 
  • All PGRs studying during the pandemic should be entitled to access 6 months of funding, with further extensions available based on need.
  • The UCU national campaign for PGRs to be recognised as employees would resolve many of the issues experienced by PGRs due to their ambiguous role as both staff and students.   

This branch resolves to: 

  • Issue a statement in support of 6 month funded extensions to be offered to all PGRs studying during the Covid-19 pandemic, regardless of funding source. 
  • Call upon both UKRI and the UK government to make more money available to support research/ers affected by the pandemic, including PGRs.  
  • Call upon UoS to collate and publish the outcomes of the Phase II extension applications including the number of successful and rejected applications.
  • Continue to work collaboratively with the Southampton University student’s union (SUSU) to campaign for fair and equitable treatment of PGRs throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. 
  • Support PGRs campaign to pressure UoS to immediately overhaul the current Phase II extension application system, including:
    • Allowing PGRs to apply more than once for an extension if their first application is unsuccessful. 
    • A specific and measurable plan for how UoS will ensure fairness across application rounds, marginalised groups, and research areas. 
    • To reduce the unnecessary burden of proof put upon PGRs to disclose trauma experienced during the pandemic by requesting the only the minimum evidence necessary.   
  • Support the UCU national campaign to have PGRs recognised as workers, recognising the additional protections this status brings

 

Proposer: Bea Gardner.  Seconder: Alex Nicol- Harper 

Motion passed.

UCU Interim Congress – Feedback

The delayed interim Congress took place online over two days and the branch had 2 delegates in attendance on each day.

Congress was chaired by Justine Mercer on Day 1 and Vicky Blake and Janet Farrar on Day 2. The standing orders for online Congress have significantly altered the way that discussions take place; members have to request in advance if they wish to speak and there is no hand up option or chat available. While this is understandable given the amount of people attending and the need to ensure a balanced debate, there is no free-flowing discussion and it can feel as though some motions are not properly debated. The strict time limits imposed on speakers mean that it is difficult for those who speak more slowly to get their points across, and doubtless harder for people who find it more challenging to articulate their thoughts in high pressure situations. Nevertheless, the chairing on both days was excellent and, where time allowed, chairs tried to accommodate more people who had signalled that they wanted to contribute. Some flexibility was allowed and we felt that the elected officers were doing their very best to facilitate discussion while keeping the business moving.

The branch would like to extend our gratitude to all the UCU staff who must have worked incredibly hard to make Congress happen.

You can find all the motions which were moved and debated on the UCU site, at this link

 

Update from Saturday 13th Feb

Your branch delegates voted yes to all motions except:

Motion 1 – Civility and kindness: democracy, equality, diversity, and inclusion: While we agreed with the principle of the motion, an argument was put forward over whether ‘civility’ was a privileged position and might unintentionally be used to police the speech of those who struggle to be heard, women and people of colour in particular. We were split on this motion and felt that the branch membership would be as well and so we voted Yes + Abstain.

L2 – Using the law to maintain our safety: Congress went into closed session on this to receive legal advice. The legal advice from central UCU took issue with the word ‘instruct’ in the motion. The view presented was that the union instructing people to use section 44 amounts to illegal industrial action, which could potentially lead to action being taken against unions calling for this, including sequestration of funds. There was some disagreement from attendees about the length of time the legal advice took, and there was some disagreement with it, received via email afterwards. We generally support the spirit of the motion and feel UCU could do more within the spirit of the law, however we take the point about the wording ‘instruction’ and therefore decided to abstain.

L9 – Opposing the new DFE curriculum guidance: There were issues with the accuracy of the phrasing raised in discussion, so it was suggested that this motion was remitted. We agreed with this.

Motion 16 – Trans solidarity: It was raised in discussion that the factual points in this motion are now out of date: the government has now responded to the WEC saying that reform of the GRA is not a priority, meaning that a response is now needed to that response. The suggestion was made to remit the motion for updating in the light of recent developments. On balance, we agreed with this suggestion.

​Update from Tuesday 16th February

We voted yes to all motions except:

Motion 24 – The life of the democracy commission: The setting up of a Democracy Commission was controversial at the time. Many branch members were against it and did not agree with the recommendations that were made. On balance, our view was that the Democracy Commission had carried out its remit and did not need to be extended. If another one were to be set up in the future, we could discuss the merits of that, but we decided to vote no to extending the life of the current one.

Motion 25 – Case work: We voted no for confidentiality reasons as we felt it would be difficult to maintain anonymity if we had to ‘publish the type of cases/complaints’ that members of the branch needed support with.

Motion 28 – ‘People before profit’ programme: While we fully support the principles included in this motion, we were reluctant to vote for something which implied support for a group (SWP) which does not enjoy the backing of our members. We decided to vote no.

Motion 32 – Commission for sustainability, professional development and job security: We support the general principles of this motion but were not convinced that the actions proposed would help, so we decided to abstain.

Motion 34 – Indexation of pensions and benefits: We did not feel that there was enough detail in this motion for us to have a consensus. We abstained.

 

All motions were carried except Motion 24 (Democracy Commission – Lost) and Motion 9 (Opposing the new DFE curriculum guidance – remitted).