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May, 2012:

Why Women Don’t Want to Work Here

The recent publication of the results of a longitudinal study of PhD students in chemistry in the UK (in PDF form here) has received a lot of attention in the press. The figures look bad, and highlight the enormous gender gap that persists in higher education; by the third year of PhD studies, the percentage of male students who wished to continue on an academic career path dropped from 61% to 59% — but for women, the drop is from 72% to 37%.

Curt Rice writing for the Guardian asks the all-important questions “How can it be this bad? Why are universities such unattractive workplaces?” The possible answers to this are many and varied, of course, but the report shows that many women are deterred by the ‘macho’, competitive and solitary nature of the academic life.

Perhaps we need to take a deeper look at our work environment to understand how we ended up where we are. I’m sure many of you would agree that the academic career path has become harder to navigate. The ‘perpetual postdoc’ problem has increased as permanent lectureships or research posts are thin on the ground, and talented researchers are pushed out of academia as they seek to avoid casualised insecure employment (perhaps because they wish to start a family or buy a home). The long-hours culture also takes its toll and makes our profession less attractive to many. All these pressures have a disproportionate impact on female colleagues.

Instead of addressing these inequalities university managers focus on such things as getting us higher up the university rankings or obtaining ever-larger research grants. In this context, the current hiring practices of universities make a lot more sense: they are driven by a need to make tables of arbitrary numbers go up (in league tables, departmental rankings, and finance reports), and the human cost is invisible or secondary.

At this University the decision to focus on achieving a top 50 world ranking (discussed in my previous blog post) has produced hiring practices directed at snatching up ‘research leaders’, rather than developing our own staff and offering them opportunities to shine.

UCU are pushing for improvements in the working environment at this institution. We have held informative workshops, created a Fixed-Term Contracts Working Group, pushed for  negotiation on the Academic Reward and Recognition project, and sought your input and feedback. But on a broader level, we face challenges extend far beyond the borders of this  institution. We have an academic culture now so focused on short-term goals and externally imposed metrics that it is tearing itself apart. Gender inequalities are just part of the evidence for this; clearly our institution fails to attend to the barriers facing women here. But we are also so pushed to seek grant funding that we give no time to the plight of postdocs on casualised contracts who we fail to develop and who have little hope of advancement or job security.

We need a work environment and culture that develops and nourishes its staff, and supports enthusiasm, intellectual vitality and academic freedom. Instead we often offer a workplace which forces all of its members to give up their lives and families to focus on short-term goals. This promotes gender inequality and produces an exploited academic underclass. We know why women can’t and don’t want to work in these environments. We know it is not good for them or anyone. Isn’t it time we did something about this?


Eric Silverman (President) and Catherine Pope (Equalities Officer)


USS – changes in pension tax. Are you affected?

Many universities will have had members receive letters from USS recently regarding a tax issue with those who bought Added years AVC’s during the USS PiP year 2011/12 (which ran to March 31st 2012).   This is a complex issue.

As it appears that there was very little consultation or publicity regarding these changes we thought we’d provide you with a helpful summary of the key points.  (please note the information below is courtesy of Edinburgh UCU)


Who Is Not Affected?

Folks who have cash Additional Voluntary Contributions (AVC’s) from Prudential. People who bought their Added-Years AVC’s from USS before April 1st 2011.

What’s Going On?

HMRC recently ruled that they would, for tax purposes, include all the added years contracted for in an Added Years AVC within the tax year they were contracted.


If you bought five Added Years contracted to be paid for over ten years, the taxman isn’t counting just six months of it in each of the ten tax years, but all ten, plus the one year you normally accrue, within the year you took out the AVC.

Why Is That a Problem?

Up until April 1st 2011, the tax allowance for pensions was 255,000 Pounds. In the current tax year, that dropped to 50,000 Pounds. So now you don’t need to be rich to get hit with a tax bill for pensions.

So What’s Happening?

This all appeared at rather short notice given that the end of the USS pension year is March 31st. To prevent anyone getting hit with a tax bill, the University Pensions Office has withheld the March AVC pensions contribution from the March salary.

How Does That help?

It prevents you being hit with a tax bill if you stop your AVC contract this year, and restart it next year. That’s because then only the Added Years you actually bought in 2011/12 would be counted towards tax, and not all the future years you contracted to buy.

Won’t Stopping The Contract Lose Me My Inflation Protection?

USS have said they’re willing to restart contracts in April for those who contact them early enough (within three months of receiving their letter from USS) and that they’ll honour the terms of the previous contract. So if you took out the original Added-years AVC contract before October 1st 2011, you’d have had the full inflation protection built into it, and USS will keep that if you take up the option to restart the contract from April 1st 2012.

But We’ll Have The Same Problem Again Next Year?

Minus one year’s contributions, yes, if you take out the same contract.
However, USS are also offering a tweak to the contract where you’ll be liable each year only for the added years you actually buy in that year.
All other features, including inflation protection, will remain the same. So if you take that option (within three months of receiving your USS letter) then the problem won’t repeat.

So I should do That Then?

Pensions are never quite that simple. The fly in the ointment here is that it could be that you’d really want to take the tax hit for 2011/12, particularly if that tax hit is low, or even zero.

Why Would I Want To Take a Tax Hit?

Because then you’d have paid off the tax for your entire Added-Years AVC contract, and it’d never be counted against your 50,000 Pounds annual limit again.

That’s a Good Thing?

Your normal accrual of pension (one year per working year) counts against that 50,000 annual limit. Nearer retirement, you might want to start putting aside more money into a cash AVC, which also counts towards the annual limit, and essentially you’d want as much leeway as possible to save as much as possible in your last few working years.

Eliminating the Added-Years AVC from future tax liability would give you some extra leeway. Besides, the government could bring that 50,000 Pounds limit lower in future years, so any extra leeway gained now could turn out to be a very good thing later.

Right. So How Do I Know If I’m Affected?

USS are currently doing calculations for the folks who they believe may be affected and sending out letters with details. After you see those calculations, you can make a decision.

What Decision?

You have four options:

A) Let the contract for 2011/12 lapse with the missing March payment, and let our Pensions folks know quickly in April that you want to restart the contract in 2012/13. USS will restart the contract on the same terms with one less year to go. You’ll have missed one month’s payment but otherwise things will continue as before.

B) Do as in (1) but on the new contract offered by USS which has the tweak to ensure this won’t happen every March.

C) Let the local Pensions folks know that you wouldn’t have to pay tax anyway, and you’d rather just keep the contract going from when it started in 2011/12. That way you’ve taken the whole tax hit (of zero or some small amount) already and have given yourself some leeway in your annual limits in future. A double contribution would be taken from your salary in April to make up for the missing March contribution.

D) Quit the AVC contract, in which case it will have ended on February 29th 2012, with whatever Added Years you had already bought. Hopefully this isn’t all so much trouble that people would want to do that.

Whichever way you want to go, you do need to tell the folks down at the local Pensions office. Wait until you see your calculations from USS though.

What If I Want to Do My Own Calculations?

I’m assuming for the following that you now have your letter from USS.

1) Get your “Final Salary” for the date 01/04/2011. This is given at the start of the second “Schedule I” calculation in your USS letter. (for year 2011/2012)

2) Get your “Years of Service” at that date from the same place.

3) Multiply that “Final Salary” (1) by 19. Divide the result by 80 and then multiply by the “Years of Service” (2). You may need first to convert the days into a decimal fraction of a year by dividing them by
365 and adding the decimal fraction to the number of whole years to give Years of Service as a real number.

4) Index the result in (3) by CPI. This was 3.1% in 2011/12 so multiply
(3) by 1.031 This gives you your “Start Value” for the year 2011/12.

5) Get your “Final Salary” at 01/04/2012 is given from the start of the first “Schedule I” calculation on your USS letter.

6) Take the total number of Added Years you contracted for last year.
(this will stated on your contract). Then add the service accrued on
01/04/2011 (2) to this. Then add 1 to that total (assuming you’re full-time). This gives you the Years of service accrued on 01/04/2012 for tax purposes.

7) Multiply the final salary from (5) by the Years of Service from (6).
Divide the result by 80 and then multiply by 19. This gives you your “Closing Value for the year 2011/12

8) Subtract (4) from (7). Then add in the total cash you’ve put in to any cash AVC’s (that’s into the Prudential USS one and into any stakeholder or other pension funds). You don’t need to add in interest or dividends, or capital gains from these, just the cash you put in.

This gives you the total used for tax purposes in 2011/12.

9) If that total is less than 50,000 Pounds, then you’re fine. There’s no tax to pay.

10) If it is above 50,000 Pounds then all is not lost, because you can use the unused parts of the 50,000 Pounds allowances from the previous 3 years.

11) The used portions of your 50,000 Pounds allowance for each of the years 2008.2009; 2009/2010; and 2010/2011 are given at the end of the relevant “Schedule I” calculations in your USS letter. To get the unused tax allowance for each year, simply subtract each used allowance from 50,000 Pounds.

12) Total up the unused tax allowances for years 2008/2009, 2009/2010, and 2010/2011.

13) If the spare allowances from those three years are greater in aggregate than however much you went above 50,000 in 2011/2012, then you still have no tax to pay.

14) Finally, if you’re *certain *you have no tax to pay (and by my calculations someone with a “final salary” of 50,000 Pounds would need to be buying 13 Added Years as well as the four years they normally accrue over the four years to cross the 200,000 Pounds total) then you could tell the local Pensions people that you wish to continue your contract as originated in 2011/12.

If you decide to do this, and you did need to use some allowance from previous tax years, then USS will later write to you saying that you have gone over the 2011/12 annual allowance limit and ask whether you want to use past years’ allowances to cover this. Provided that you haven’t used them for another pension, then you need simply inform them that you indeed wish to do so.

What’s Wrong With DAP?

We’ve been touring the University with our DAP-Alternative roadshow to try to gauge UCU member responses as well as soliciting feedback from staff who might not yet be union members (the meetings were open to all University of Southampton staff) on the proposals to introduce a new ‘reward and recognition’ policy or DAP (Development and Appraisal Process) as it is otherwise known.

Our Provost, Adam Wheeler, and Director of HR, Janice Donaldson, had a series of open meetings to explain their proposals for a new matrix model that they want to use to ‘manage up performance’. Whist these meetings were not part of the formal consultation process (which has to be conducted via UCU as the recognised trades union) they were useful as a briefing about the new plans.

I think it’s probably fair to say that Adam and Janice have been surprised by some of the negative reaction to the DAP ideas. Things came to a head in March when, in response to members concerns and our own concern about the failure to consult the recognised Trades Unions about this important and significant proposed change to our terms and conditions, we called an Emergency Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) to talk to senior managers about DAP. As a result of this meeting the senior management agreed that they would consult with the recognised trades union on this matter and a series of meetings between UCU reps and senior management began on 21 May.

At our UCU general meeting on 28 March we received overwhelming support for a proposal that we should ask our management to halt the DAP project. We put this to Adam and Janice at the meeting on 21st May along with summaries of the earlier feedback we have received.

Our series of meetings at WSA, Highfield, Waterfront, SGH and Avenue gave you the opportunity to air your concerns about the proposals. I thought I would take some space on the blog to describe in-depth three of the concerns expressed by staff at these meetings and in some of the correspondence we have received from members on this issue.

Why don’t they just fix PPDR (the existing performance and development process)?

This theme turned into something of a mantra in our discussions with staff. Rather plaintively you just kept saying ‘why do we have to have yet another new system?’ and perhaps more perceptively ‘what makes them think anyone will do this new system when we failed so abysmally to get buy in for PPDR?’ We gathered stories of staff who had not had a review for 5 years, or had been told they were too junior or senior to need one, and of others who had perfunctory PPDR which began with a heartwarming ‘Let’s get this over with for another year’ and ended with the crunch of the filing cabinet as ‘the form’ disappeared never to be seen again. In contrast there were also some good examples of PPDR working positively – managers who regularly review progress and staff development, work together with staff to set achievable expectations, try to address workload problems overload and seek to create environments where staff can succeed.

We don’t want performance related pay

There continues to be opposition to the increased use of performance related pay. One manager at our meetings said he categorically did not want to be in the position of deciding people’s salaries as he felt that would damage research and teaching teams. The University already has some flexibility to offer enhanced increments, to recognise higher responsibility and pay market supplements to attract staff. Managers can also withhold the annual increment if performance is deemed unsatisfactory. While pay is increasingly important in this economic downturn it is not the only thing that motivates our staff: we are typically motivated more by our science; our research; interacting with students, and so on. Many staff report that their workloads are now too high and are having a detrimental impact on their lives or health and – understandably – they would prefer this problem was addressed before paying a few selected individuals a little more.

Rejection of more complex change

One of the most overwhelming responses from staff as we toured the University was that this was yet more change at a time when everyone is already struggling to adapt to the radically new structures and reduced administrative support. Staff were unconvinced by the 9 matrix which they felt did not address the problems with the promotion system and introduced unhelpful additional layers within existing grade levels. They were worried that unreliable, unvalidated, and subjective measures of performance would be introduced. Staff in the meetings and in correspondence with us report that there continues to be a problem with bullying in the University and that promotion appeared to be dependent on patronage rather than merit in some cases. They were anxious that the proposed DAP system might exacerbate this. The key issue for staff centred on being valued. Many felt that the culture of the University and some of the ‘messages from the top’ (the hundred heavy hitters policy was one frequently mentioned, and the idea that everyone needed to be ‘over capacity’ in the early DAP diagram was another) devalued their contribution. They felt that management practices tended to be disciplinary rather than developmental, and that performance management was based on punishments/sticks rather than incentives/carrots.


We’ve had our first meeting with Adam and Janice yesterday and discussed how we might take this negotiation forward. Adam and Janice have prepared a revised version of the DAP proposals which is currently with the Vice Chancellor and this will go to the University Executive on 29th May. After that UCU will be asked to comment on the proposals and we will be using all the comments you have given us to prepare this response. We have a series of working party meetings scheduled with Janice and Adam and will continue to use our Joint Negotiating Committee to represent staff on this issue. We are grateful to the members who have volunteered to help us with this and will be involving them in the negotiations alongside the executive group. As ever we welcome your comments and views about the DAP proposals so please do keep sending them in.

A personal reflection

One of the things that strikes me about the debate around DAP and performance review is that most staff are in complete agreement with the goal of these processes – in the meetings this was often phrased as ‘of course we want the university to succeed’ or ‘we understand that there are targets that we have to do well against’. (There was much less consensus about the feasibility of getting into the top 50 world ranking (see Eric’s previous blog post about this), but staff genuinely want to do a good job – whatever their level and role). What makes me sad and frustrated is the fact that there continue to be places in this University where staff are not supported to deliver success.

We continue to fail to develop the talents of all our staff. In part this is because of casualization – the regular ‘dismissal’ of some 200 fixed term contract staff means there is little inbuilt incentive to develop a significant proportion of our colleagues. We appear to spend far less on training and development than many comparable institutions (we no longer have a member of staff devoted to developing Early Career researchers and delivering the Research Concordat, for example). Continual change has often had a negative impact on culture and morale – staff feel that they are not valued and their views about the negative effects of reorganisation are not heard. We have broken up the academic team – by separating our professional services and academic roles such that it is increasingly difficult to work effectively in teams, and many of the technologies introduced to replace staff (banner, agresso, managed print) have displaced work rather than reducing workloads as promised. We have failed to share good management practice and remained silent about poor management and the reasons for it.

The University has significant problems with promotion processes and valuing its staff. We know that there is a gender bias in promotion and this perpetuates the gender pay gap (and wastes talent). We do not adequately develop and support our staff to deliver their best. In some places we manage performance well but this is not consistent or universal — we need to improve. A good PPDR system – backed up by supported and well trained managers/appraisers – could address these problems. As someone who has had, and has benefited from, positive and supportive management I know this is possible with the existing PPDR system. Rather than investing in a new DAP system we could channel resources into training and developing our staff, and encouraging positive people management.

We might also want to reframe the questions we ask – what if instead of being in the top 50 our aspiration at University of Southampton was to be the best place to work?


Catherine Pope

UCU Executive Committee

The Top-50: Is This A Place Southampton Wants To Be?

As our members are probably aware, the University has set a strategic goal of achieving a spot in the top 50 in the world university rankings.  On the face of it, this seems an admirable goal; after all, who wouldn’t want our University to be recognised worldwide as a top-notch place to learn and to do research?

However, when we take a closer look, we begin to see how ludicrous this goal would be for our institution.  For comparison, let’s examine Penn State University, currently sitting at 51 in the rankings (just below Brown University and Peking University, which are tied for 49th).  Penn State — which also happens to be my undergraduate alma mater — currently sits on an endowment of $1.52 billion (about £955 million), with net assets of $8.73 billion as of 2010 (about £5.48 billion; Southampton’s net assets last year totalled £330 million by comparison).  Their operating budget last year was over $4.1 billion (approximately £2.56 billion).  Penn State’s research income last year was $780 million (£490 million; compare to Southampton at £93.6 million).  On top of this, the main University Park campus of Penn State has 44,000 students (compared to 23,000 at Southampton); but when you include the other 23 Penn State campuses, the total reaches around 95,000.

So, at number 51 on the rankings, we have an institution dealing in budget numbers far beyond the reach of this institution, educating
nearly four times the number of students, and earning more than 5 times as much research income.  Is this something we can compete with?  Moreover, is this something we *want* to compete with?

I’d argue that we absolutely do not want to get sucked into this kind of competition.  The further we look up the rankings, the worse the
numbers get (Harvard has an endowment of $32 billion, or just over £20 billion!).  There is every indication that these rankings are based upon these silly number games, and very little evidence that they provide any useful information to students looking for a place to study.  Meanwhile, there are institutions that do very well for themselves while abstaining from these prestige competitions entirely.

One of the more notable of these is St John’s College in Annapolis and Santa Fe, which has a remarkable letter on its website from its
presidents ( discussing why they have chosen to abstain entirely from the US News and World Report Rankings.  Here’s a small sample:

“Over the years, St. John’s College has been ranked everywhere from the third tier, to the second, to the first, to the “Top 25” among
national liberal arts colleges. Yet we haven’t changed. Our mission and our methods have been virtually constant for almost 60 years. We would rather be ourselves and have our college speak for itself, than be a part of this fluctuating outside analysis. The distinctiveness of each individual college and the diversity among them tend to be lost in a scale of “best-good-worse.” Research university or small liberal arts college? Religious affiliation or pre-professional training? Core curriculum or a multitude of majors? America’s colleges offer all of these. A college that is exactly right for a particular student– in its mission, mode of teaching, location, moral or religious
character– might receive a lower rank in the survey than a college which would not suit the needs of that student.”

I’d argue that this is the problem with university rankings: they attempt to quantify an experience that, by its very nature, is different for every student.  Our placement on an arbitrary table, decided by constantly-changing criteria, is not an adequate measure of the incredible variety and diversity present at this institution. Even if we were to reach the heady heights of the Top 50, there is still no guarantee that the following year would not see us displaced — and not due to a fall in research outputs, or student survey numbers, but simply due to a small change in the ranking criteria.

Where we certainly can, and should, compete however is in the area of the student experience.  This is an area where Penn State also excels and has excelled for many years.  Penn State has an alumni association  with 500,000 members or so, the largest in the world, and out of those, more than 160,000 pay dues every year to be a part of that association.  Think about it — 160,000 people paying money to the university, every year, simply to retain an association with their alma mater, to get a newsletter, and maybe a discount on football tickets.

Dedication and pride like that doesn’t come from arbitrary and constantly-fluctuating ranking positions.  It comes from having a fantastic student environment, top facilities, excellent teaching, and efforts to build a community that fosters cohesion, trust, and student identity.  These are all areas where Southampton absolutely *can* compete.  We can develop this institution into a nourishing and edifying community for our students — a place that remains with them, even when they go off to other institutions or into the workforce. These things do not require budgets in the billions to accomplish — they require dedication, support for our facilities and our staff, and the creation of an environment that fosters learning and a sense of community.

I worry that the focus on rankings takes us away from focusing on things that can truly bring character and reputation to our university.  They make us focus on budgets, surpluses and ‘economic impact’, rather than student satisfaction, staff development and retention, and community support and cohesion.  Rankings may bring us applause from University Deans, Presidents and Vice-Chancellors, but what brings the same from students are other things entirely. Likewise, creating a dynamic and challenging learning environment for students rests on giving our teaching staff the support and development opportunities they need to give every lecture their full attention, instead of being forced to worry about rankings, research output requirements, promotion panels and inter-departmental politicking (all things that an all-encompassing focus on numbers and rankings exacerbates).

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to suggest that we turn ourselves into Penn State, Hampshire Campus.  Not to mention that, as recent events have shown, Penn State is not immune to rankings fever — as evidenced by the disgraceful behaviour of their football coaches and related members of staff who sacrificed even their basic morality to push that football programme to the top.  But I do think the comparison is illuminating.  As a student at Penn State, I never knew nor cared what our ranking was — nor, I suspect, do the overwhelming majority of students at Southampton.  What I cared about, and what our students care about, is what they experience day-to-day: how their learning is supported and nourished; how their facilities look and feel; what sort of opportunities they have to make friends, foster relationships and build connections for the future; and the enthusiasm and dynamism of their lecturers.

This University is blessed with a energetic and diverse student body and fantastic teachers and researchers, all of whom want this institution to grow and be recognised.  So let’s work together to build that recognition in a real, sustainable way — one built on making this a supportive and inclusive environment for learning and discovery.  If we do that, top-flight students and staff will come here in droves and continue to do so — regardless of what the rankings say.


Eric Silverman

Southampton UCU President

UCU Goes Green

Climate Caravan and Green Jobs for Southampton

Monday 21 May

The Climate Caravan
This has been organised by the trade union arm of the Campaign Against Climate Change to promote their Million Climate Jobs Report. This details how a government programme of investment in climate jobs, such as public transport, home insulation and renewable energy, would not only help tackle unemployment by creating up to one million jobs, but would also significantly reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions. The caravan will be visiting several businesses that show the potential for future growth in the green economy. Monday morning will start at Olive, environmental consultants based at Chilworth Science Park, then move on to see the Sustainable Building Centre recently opened by Elliotts’ Builders Merchants. The final visit is to Portswood Cycles, who sell and support electric bicycles. Alan Whitehead MP will welcome the Caravan to Guildhall Square at 1pm, when there will be a 10-minute video about climate jobs in the Itchen Suite of the Sir James Matthews Building. During the afternoon, the Caravan will remain in Guildhall Square with information about the climate jobs campaign. There will also be a variety of stalls by local campaign groups.

The Caravan tour continues the following day, with visits to Portsmouth, Brighton and finally London.

‘Green jobs’ event, Southampton Solent University, Sir James Matthews Building, Guildhall Square at 7pm.
The event will highlight how the creation of climate jobs can help solve both the economic and climate crises. Speakers from both of the City’s Universities, Southampton City Council, trades unions and campaigners will be discussing this at an open public meeting and panel discussion. Speakers include Dr. Richard Blackwell, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Southampton Solent University, Simon Kemp of the University of Southampton, UK Academic Lead on Education for Sustainable Development for the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and Councillor Simon Letts, Environment Officer for the new City Council.

These Southampton events have been organised by representatives of the Southampton and SW Hants Trades Union Council, Southampton Solent University, the University of Southampton UCU, the local Green Party and the Low Carbon Group of Southampton City Council.

Further Information
Details of the tour can be found online at
The Million Climate Jobs Report can be found online at