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June, 2021:

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 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:


  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