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Feedback from Special Higher Education Sector Conference (SHESC) on 9th September 

SHESC on the 9th September was organised to decide the next steps in UCU’s campaigns on USS and the Four Fights. The SHESC was contentious from the outset given the strong views represented in the union about the best strategy for industrial action. Additionally, the decision of HEC to delay acting on motions at June’s HESC, including motion HE12 which had proposed a summer ballot over USS was perceived by some as having lost us time. Since the last HESC, UUK has submitted their proposals to the USS JNC, which have been accepted and will cut the retirement benefits of members in USS. UCU had not been able to submit counter proposals because UUK refused to offer the same covenant support as they would for their own.  

Southampton UCU shared the motions with members prior to voting at conference and asked for feedback, and we also canvassed members through our survey conducted in May prior to HESC. We gathered important feedback on USS and the Four Fights, primarily focusing on whether members would support industrial action on pay, USS and/or Four Fights, the timing of any industrial action, whether IA should be aggregated or disaggregated, and whether Four Fights and USS should be fought for together or separately. The feedback we received from branch members was mixed but there was a steer for delegates to vote: 

  • Yes, to industrial action on USS 
  • To allow branches time to gain momentum for strike action – not to strike in the autumn 
  • To continue to campaign on the Four Fights and pay, but not to ballot on these for now
  • There was no clear steer on aggregation or disaggregation. 

In the lead up to SHESC on September 9th, there was a lot of information being shared by pensions negotiators and experts, including Sam Marsh and Michael Otsuka. The following blogs were also made available and clearly illustrate the differences between the views of UCU’s members: 

Our advice for HE Special Sector Conference 9th September | ucuagenda 

If we don’t fight, we lose – UCU Left 

At the conference itself, the discussion was detailed and informative despite the usual restrictions of the webinar format which has become the norm for large UCU meetings during the pandemic. Here are the motions which were debated: 

UCU2001 

Overall, delegates were convinced of the need to take action on USS sooner rather than later, although it was acknowledged that HEC would make the final decision. We believe that we need to ballot on USS now, notwithstanding all the difficulties that presents to branches in terms of launching a successful get the vote out campaign. We also voted against disaggregated strike action because we believe that may weaken our action. Branch delegates acknowledged that there were strong reasons to ballot for Four Fights, not least because another below inflation pay award has been imposed, but also to show solidarity with post-92s and to stand with precarious and junior colleagues. The arguments presented that Four Fights and USS are linked, that pensions are deferred pay, and that inequalities in pay continue through to retirement were compelling.  

Nevertheless, the two disputes will be resolved via different negotiating groups and it would be difficult to communicate what would constitute a win on both. Additionally, while we were convinced that there are strategic reasons to ballot for industrial action over USS now, coordinating the two disputes forces Four Fights onto the same timescales as USS which could be counterproductive to building a sector wide strike mandate timed to have the most disruptive impact. In the end, our steer from branch members was that we should separate Four Fights and USS so delegates voted in line with this. However, on motion 10 ‘what a win looks like’ there were clear instructions for branches to continue to campaign in the issues of the Four Fights ‘with vigour, determination and all means possible, bar strike action for now’. Your delegates voted in favour of this motion. Equalities, anti-casualisation and workload are issues that we will (continue) to fight hard for locally and we need members to help shape specific, measurable aims for making improvements for all staff at Southampton.  

One of the more controversial motions of the conference was B4, which committed UCU to ‘initiate exploration of the feasibility and promise of Conditional Benefits (or Conditional Indexation)’. While it was understood that investigating was never off the table, delegates voted in favour to show our willingness to explore all avenues available to protect pension benefits. 

You can read the results of votes online here: 

HESC_09.09.21_voting_results.pdf (ucu.org.uk) 

A bonus for some…… further response from University management

We have received a response from the University regarding the COVID bonus. UEB only responded to one of our concerns and it was to confirm that UniWorkforce staff did not receive the bonus which was awarded to frontline staff at the beginning of the pandemic either. This clearly underlines the fact that the University is operating a two-tier workforce, where some members of staff are treated less favourably than others. UCU will continue to challenge this system and work hard to address the inequalities that casualisation causes in our institution.

The branch has an insecure contracts organising group, which we would really like members to get involved with. We need as many people as possible to get behind our anti-casualisation campaign in order to successfully challenge this two-tiered system and win better employment terms and conditions for our insecure colleagues at Southampton. If you want to be part of the campaign for fairness and equality in our community, then please contact us on ucu@soton.ac.uk.

 

Date: 9/9/2021

Dear UCU,

Further to your email on 25 August following the University’s response to your concerns regarding the ‘Staff bonus payment’ and our subsequent discussion with local representatives and the Chief Operating Officer on 9 September, I can confirm that the University will not be reconsidering its decision on this matter and consider it concluded.

I can also confirm that nobody engaged via UniWorkforce was in receipt of the payment made to key frontline workers in June 2020. More details on the payment can be found here.

Best wishes,

Luke Kelly

Industrial Relations Business Partner

A bonus for some ….. further update

Following the recent response from Anne-Marie Sitton to our earlier email, we have written again to the Vice-Chancellor and UEB.

 

Dear Vice Chancellor and members of UEB,

Thank you for your response to our email complaining about the decision not to award the covid bonus to workers employed on casual contracts. We were extremely disappointed by your reply and take issue with a number of points, as outlined below:

  • UEB replied: ‘[We] made a conscious decision in drawing a firm distinction between employees and casual workers’

UCU believes that this underscores what we stated in our letter to UEB (21/07/21); that the University has a two-tier workforce operating and is not serious about addressing the problem of casualisation, which harms staff and students and damages the reputation of the institution. The work carried out by hourly paid lecturers and PGRs who teach is indistinguishable from much of the work done by permanent staff. They should not be treated any differently.

  • UEB replied: ‘On the basis that there is no contractual entitlement or commitment between the University and casual workers, no way of clarifying thresholds for payments or fairly applying any form of proportionate payment it was determined that the exclusion lines had to be drawn between such workers and employees.’

UCU questions why a simple calculation of how much a staff member had earned during the period stipulated by the bonus scheme could not be applied. Had we been engaged in a consultation on this proposal we are confident a fairer arrangement could have been found and regret that, once again, the campus trade unions were not properly consulted over a matter impacting our members’ pay and conditions. We note that Cardiff University was able to agree to a much fairer mechanism of recognition which included PGRs in their COVID bonus scheme. This was done because University management discussed their plans with unions in advance and a better, fairer system of distributing the award was found.

  • UEB replied: ‘We also took the view that our casual workers are paid by the hour for the work done, and so are far more likely to have already been recompensed for any additional hours they may have worked, than our core workforce.’

UCU formally raised at February’s Joint Negotiating Committee that teaching staff employed through Uniworkforce were not being appropriately compensated for the additional time worked as a result of COVID-19 measures. UCU representatives requested that the rate of hourly pay be increased to recompense staff who were now teaching a full hour while still being paid for 45 minutes. We additionally requested a review of claimable preparation time considering the additional workload associated with online learning, including increased preparation time and queries from students. Our request was refused. We therefore believe it to be factually incorrect that hourly paid workers had already been recompensated and UEB should already have been aware of this.

  • UEB replied: ‘For example, early in the COVID pandemic we agreed to honour all UniWorkforce commitments (and overtime commitments of staff at Levels 1-3) up to 19th April 2020 which was then extended further to 31st May 2020. Your note did not make any reference to this point.’

UCU believes that this is missing the point. Of course the University should honour its UniWorkforce commitments. The work these staff were assigned had already been budgeted for. The covid bonus is an entirely different category of payment, which is a payment in addition to existing commitments. The University’s reply implies that UniWorkforce staff should just be grateful that they were not left without any income at the beginning of the pandemic without notice, which is an extraordinary position to take. In addition, the response of UEB implies that hourly paid workers were not carrying out work for the University during this period when many were integral to the delivery of online teaching and marking at the end of the 2019/20 academic year. In a lot of cases, they carried out this work remotely, with inadequate equipment, and often at very short notice.

  • UEB replied: ‘In terms of our PGRs, when UKRI provided a funding package for doctoral students in their final year of funding, who were in need of a COVID-related extension to submit their thesis, the University responded by committing significant sums to match the UKRI extension scheme.’

UCU believes that this is irrelevant. The covid bonus was awarded to staff who have carried out valuable work for the University during a pandemic, the fact that these members of staff may also be students in receipt of grant money or funding from other sources is beside the point.

  • UEB replied: ‘It is also worth noting that the University recognised the essential contribution of key frontline workers of staff at the lower end of the pay scales, who were required to attend campus to maintain essential institutional services and support for students during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, by awarding them a fixed maximum value payment of £500.’

UCU would like to know whether UniWorkforce staff were included in this payment as your response does not make that clear.

To summarise, UCU is not at all satisfied with the University’s response to our request that all workers, regardless of their contract status, are appropriately rewarded for their contribution during the pandemic. We once again urge the University to reconsider its position and agree to award a bonus to all staff on casual contracts. In addition, we ask that the University commits to engaging with UCU and tackling the damaging culture of casualisation within the institution and ending its reliance on UniWorkforce staff to deliver core activities.

 

Southampton UCU

 

 

 

 

A bonus ….. for some – update

Further to our recent blog post of 23 July detailing our request to UEB to reconsider their decision not to award the one-off COVID bonus to workers employed on casual contracts, we have  received a disappointing response.  See the full text, and our original request, below.

 

Wed 28/07/2021

Dear Southampton UCU Executive Committee

Thank you for your email to the Vice-Chancellor of the 21st July 2021 regarding the staff bonus payment. I have been asked to respond on behalf of the executive.

The University Executive Board wanted to recognize the incredible amount of hard work, discretionary effort and professionalism demonstrated by our staff, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, over the last year. By doing this we had to decide who should qualify for such a payment and the cutoff points. This is always the most challenging part of developing an award of this nature, but on this occasion we made a conscious decision in drawing a firm distinction between employees and casual workers. This decisions in no way underplays the significant contribution other staff groups have made, but was made in recognition of the very significant financial support we had already provided to casual workers, PGRs and key frontline workers.

UniWorkforce/casual workers are widely used within the University for a whole range of activities including one off lectures, exams support, temporary administration, front line cleaning support, and many more, and on average PGRs make up about 6.5% of those workers. On the basis that there is no contractual entitlement or commitment between the University and casual workers, no way of clarifying thresholds for payments or fairly applying any form of proportionate payment it was determined that the exclusion lines had to be drawn between such workers and employees. We also took the view that our casual workers are paid by the hour for the work done, and so are far more likely to have already been recompensed for any additional hours they may have worked, than our core workforce.

 It is simply not true that we do not understand or value our casual workforce. We absolutely do, as we have demonstrated throughout the year. For example, early in the COVID pandemic we agreed to honour all UniWorkforce commitments (and overtime commitments of staff at Levels 1-3) up to 19th April 2020 which was then extended further to 31st May 2020. Your note did not make any reference to this point.

In terms of our PGRs, when UKRI provided a funding package for doctoral students in their final year of funding, who were in need of a COVID-related extension to submit their thesis, the University responded by committing significant sums to match the UKRI extension scheme. This was considered important since 73% of our doctoral research students are not funded by UKRI. Both schemes have been in operation since the summer of 2020 and Phase 3 will run until 2023 which is also a very significant financial commitment from the University.

It is also worth noting that the University recognised the essential contribution of key frontline workers of staff at the lower end of the pay scales, who were required to attend campus to maintain essential institutional services and support for students during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, by awarding them a fixed maximum value payment of £500.

In terms of the qualifying date, we applied the principle that if the employee was employed on the day of the announcement, they get the bonus and if they are not employed by the University on that day they don’t get it. Unfortunately, some people will always fall on the wrong side of a dividing line, wherever it’s drawn, but picking anything other than 14th July would be completely arbitrary.

With best wishes

Anne-Marie Sitton

Executive Director of Human Resources

—————————————————

Sent: 21 July 2021 13:55

To: Vice Chancellor and UEB members
Subject: Staff bonus payment

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We were pleased to see the dedication and commitment of colleagues recognised in your end of year email. However, we were dismayed by the qualifying criteria for the announced bonus. We seek urgent justification for why valued colleagues paid by UniWorkforce, including PGRs and hourly paid teaching staff, have not been included. Additionally, why those whose contracts finished on 13 July also do not qualify. 

We firmly believe that these colleagues have provided essential contributions to the university this year and should have been included in the bonus payments, on a pro rata basis where appropriate, and urge UEB to reconsider their position on this matter.  

This decision to exclude members on casual conditions of employment is indicative of UEB’s lack of understanding of the key role our casualised colleagues and PGRs perform at the university, including providing core teaching and essential student support. Our experience is that UEB also underestimates the length of time colleagues can be on these conditions of employment, which can be several years. Most permanent members of staff could not do their jobs without these colleagues, and they deserve to be recognized.  

The decision not to include casualised colleagues is also indicative of University of Southampton’s approach toward maintaining a two-tiered workforce. By the nature of their employment, casual workers have the least financial security and are already some of the lowest paid members of our university community. We note that hourly-paid teaching staff, including but not exclusively PGRs, still do not have contractual rights to sick pay as was requested by UCU this year. They saw teaching slots increase this year from 45 minutes to 60 minutes with no increase in pay, something we also requested to be rectified but was not. Many of these invaluable staff have experienced increased stress regarding the status of employment given the recruitment freeze and the financial caution implemented by the university at the start of the pandemic.  

We at Southampton UCU recognise and value the contribution of all University of Southampton workers this year, and indeed every year. Without such dedication from all staff, the University would not be in the position it is. We urge UEB to review the eligibility criteria for the bonus payments and to work with UCU to improve the uniformity of employment conditions for all staff at the University of Southampton.  

We look forward to hearing back from you.  

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

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