Southampton UCU Rotating Header Image

October, 2021:

Higher Education ballots – Four Fights – say no to spiralling workloads! 

Spiralling workloads have been an endemic problem in higher education for several years, made only worse by the pandemic. The average working week in higher education is now above 50 hours, with 29% of academics averaging more than 55 hours. In December 2020, 78% of UCU respondents reported an increased workload due to the pandemic.  

At the University of Southampton the situation is particularly alarming. While some other universities were hiring more staff (although often on insecure contracts), the rule last year at UoS was to not replace staff who had left through the voluntary severance scheme. Members reported dealing with exceptionally high workloads, having to pick up the work left by those who left often in the middle of the year, without notice. Staff also bore the brunt of the overnight pivot to online working and the increased pressures and demands of virtual learning.  

The workload survey conducted by your branch in June 2021 shows that only 3.3% found their workload fine, 24% manageable while 72.3% found it very high or unmanageable with many respondents noting that they had to work evenings and weekends, and some reporting up to 70-80 working hours a week. The feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious about workload was widely shared. 









This unsustainable workload has consequences on the health and wellbeing of staff: many reported anxiety, depression, or panic attacks from working overtime. Some had to be signed off for several weeks for depression and anxiety. In our survey, 75% of respondents said overwork had impacted on their mental health, while around half developed neck and back pain and sight problems and a third repetitive strain injuries and weight gain.  







Loss of sleep, migraines, overall fatigue were frequently cited as symptoms of this overwork. One respondent said they cried every day for at least a week. 

Workloads affect our private lives and the quality of the work we deliver. Respondents noted that the work pressure made it difficult to ‘switch off’ and was detrimental to relations with friends, partner or children (68%). 84% of our respondents said they could not have weekends or evening completely off while 61% said they were not able to take all their annual leave. One colleague noted that they refrained from taking sick leave because they knew there was no process to cover their work and that the burden would fall on already overworked colleagues. The situation is even worse for staff on insecure contracts who don’t get paid annual leave or sick time. 







Overwork also makes us less efficient and creative in our work. Over four fifths of our respondents said that overwork did not give them ‘thinking time’ to reflect on their practice, be creative, read or get proper training. Many note that they can’t keep up with the changes of procedures within the institution. For colleagues on balanced contracts, research is often the first thing that is sacrificed when workloads are too high, while for others it is professional development and long-term career planning that get dropped. They note that things are often rushed, that they feel disorganised and that it lowers their mood. Basically, staff feel that they are mostly fire-fighting and have no time to ‘reflect, discuss and share their experiences’. ‘Collegiality’, understood as mentoring colleagues or taking on additional activities to be a ‘good citizen’, is also not factored in workload models. It is still important for many colleagues as shown in our survey, but done as a voluntary activity on top of their other tasks. 









Your branch will take the survey results to senior management at the next Joint Negotiation Committee in November. We want them to confront the reality of high workloads at Southampton and to commit to an open discussion of the different ideas brought up by survey respondents to tackle the issue: hire more people, in particular professional services staff who play a vital role in our academic community; have a more realistic assessment of our workloads and in particular of our administrative duties; create a staff-led forum to decrease the bureaucracy; a more transparent and fair distribution of teaching load which reflects the realities of staff-student ratio; have proper working contracts for PGRs; create the conditions for staff to take leave by provisioning for parental/sick leave replacements and having enough slack in the system to allow for annual leave. 

What are we fighting for? 

We are at a breaking point and we can’t go on like this any longer. Abstaining or voting no in the Four Fights Dispute is accepting the situation. So vote yes for strike action and action short of a strike in the Four Fights dispute. By using your vote, you also give your branch the power to fight for better conditions here at Southampton. 

We want: 

  • A plan agreed with senior managers for a reduction of workloads across the board 
  • 35 hours to be the standard weekly employment contract of all HEIs 
  • Clear and transparent workload models 
  • End to austerity in terms of hiring policy 


Higher Education ballots – Four Fights – staff deserve a pay RISE not another pay CUT

Last year our employers used the opportunity of the pandemic to impose a 0% pay award, despite a 4% increase in student numbers. This year, the final offer made is for a 1.5% pay increase. A 1.5% pay increase over two years is a steep real term pay cut.  

This year, we know that inflation has been rising rapidly. The Office for National Statistics reported CPIH in June at 2.4%, CPI at 2.5% and RPI at 3.9%.  Whatever tool is used, this year’s offer is in real terms a pay cut. New members starting careers in 2021 will earn around 20% less than they would have done if our pay had been maintained in line with inflation over the last decade.  

Not only will take-home pay be spread much thinner, but it will be minimally increased when considering the increase of National Insurance next year by 1.25 percentage points (to 12% of pay).  

As a sector, HE total income has risen by 15% over the last years after adjusting for inflation. At our university, tuition fee income from international students has increased by 36.6% over the last five years. Last year the University of Southampton had a surplus of 6.6% of income.  

Over the same period, staff salaries have fallen in real terms. In 2018/19, the University of Southampton even “outperformed” its target of capping staff costs. 

In spite of the impression given by our employer, who has been preaching austerity for several years while recruiting more senior managers on high salaries, the money is there to award a real term pay increase.   

What we are fighting for on pay:  

  • A pay uplift of £2,500 on all pay points 
  • A minimum of £10 per hour wage for all contract types 
  • For all universities to become Living Wage Foundation accredited employers, ensuring outsourced workers receive, at least, the live wage foundation rate of pay.  
  • A maximum sector wide pay ratio of 10:1 
  • Additional uplift at the lower end of the pay spine to address pay compression. 

Look out for your ballot papers, vote early and vote YES on the Four Fights! 


Higher Education ballots – Four fights – Experiences of a casualised teacher 

In this second of our four-part blog series, we hear from our branch President about the challenges faced by them as a casualised staff member working in Higher Education


When I was a PhD student, I supported myself by teaching at various FE and HE institutions. I spent countless late nights cobbling together lectures and seminars to deliver the next day, often outside my immediate area of expertise. With no official workspace I had to cart my laptop, books and notes around everywhere, often meeting students in cafes and other people’s offices. Working in a variety of locations I frequently had to navigate unfamiliar public transport, or search for semi-legal parking spaces, and I would spend fraught moments hopelessly lost in corridors, locked out of classrooms, or denied access to IT systems because of a malfunctioning ID card. It was important to me that my students trusted me, that they thought I was an established member of the teaching team, that they thought I belonged there. So, on the surface I tried to look professional, but I was permanently frantic, under-prepared and anxious. The teaching I delivered on core modules was the culmination of hours of work and I was only paid for a fraction of the time I had put in. But I was good at it. My students liked me, and I got consistently positive feedback. I did it for the love of the subject and in the vain hope that my experience would count for something. But it got me nowhere.  

After 5 years, while on maternity leave on a fixed term contract, I was made redundant. The job market in HE had become more and more competitive, and by then you needed extensive teaching experience, a monograph and a successful grant application even to get an interview. The lack of diversity that this ruthless job market encourages cannot be overstated. Once I had children, my ‘dream’ of becoming an academic was over; I was too far behind. I am now a permanent member of staff on an Education Pathway and I like my job, but I have never forgotten the feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and resentment which built up over those years on temporary contracts. My personal experience is common amongst PhD students but casualisation is now endemic. According to a UCU report carried out just before the 2019 strike over the ‘Four Fights’, 70% of the 49,000 researchers in UKHE remain on fixed-term contracts. Many more are employed on precarious contracts with short term funding, so the threat of redundancy is ever-present. 37,000 teaching staff are on fixed-term contracts, most of them hourly paid. 71,000 teachers are employed as ‘atypical academics’ but not counted in the main staff record. These are overwhelmingly hourly paid teachers, employed on the lowest contract levels, and many of them are employed as ‘casual workers’, with fewer employment rights. 50% of these ‘atypical academics’ are employed by the richest ‘Russell Group’ universities. UCU estimates that this ‘reserve army’ of academic labour is doing between 25 and 30% of the teaching in many universities (UCU report, June 2019). More recently, we have seen articles in the news highlighting the extent of casualisation at our ‘top universities’ such as Cambridge.  

During the 2019 strike, I ran a teach-out on the epidemic of casualisation in UKHE; a key issue in the ‘Four Fights’ dispute. Before this , I asked colleagues on hourly paid and fixed term contracts to share their experiences of working under these conditions. They highlighted the detrimental impact casual work has on their family lives, their ability to plan financially and their mental and physical wellbeing. They reported high levels of anxiety due to lack of certainty and said that they were unsure about their maternity, holiday and sick pay entitlements. Many colleagues had been working on short term contracts for more than 5 years and felt they had to accept unreasonable or unsuitable workloads because they were scared of being ‘passed over’ for work next time. Since becoming branch president in 2020, I have seen first-hand the levels of exploitation and have been astounded by the lack of awareness of the issues surrounding casualisation exhibited by managers and HR at the university.  

Students who attended the teach out were horrified to discover the levels of precarity at the university. Participants were asked to consider the impact of casualised work on key areas including family life, financial planning, mental and physical health and career development. They were given post-it notes for their ideas, and together we created posters highlighting the multiple effects insecure employment has on university staff. At the end of the session, we began an important discussion about concrete action the university could take to address SUCU’s concerns about casualisation. During the strike in 2019, members of SUCU executive met with Mark Smith and received assurances that steps will be taken to improve contracts and terms and working conditions for casualised staff. There seemed to be some hope that the message was getting through that casualisation in universities is bad for staff, students and the universities themselves. However, the experiences of casualised colleagues during the pandemic have shown that nothing has changed and in many ways things have got worse. The pressure, anxiety and insecurity we have all experienced over the last 18 months are exacerbated enormously when you have no guaranteed work, no sick pay and are struggling to work from home with inadequate equipment. Now that we are being pushed back on to campus, casualised colleagues are finding they are missing key information from managers, have limited access to office spaces and are facing increased pressure to accept in-person teaching when they do not feel safe because they have no choice. The final insult for our valued colleagues came when a covid bonus for staff was not extended to staff on hourly paid contracts. Despite repeated attempts from UCU to reverse that decision, management refused and, in their responses, showed once again how little they understand the extent and negative impact of casualisation at the University.  

This week, we are being called on once again to stand up for our precariously employed colleagues without whom permanent teaching staff would simply not be able to manage. We need to push back hard against exploitation in our universities. We must ensure that all workers enjoy fair and equal pay, decent working conditions and equal rights. Look out for your ballot papers, vote early, and vote YES on the ‘Four Fights’.  

If you would like to get involved in the fight against casualisation contact Amanda at 


Higher Education ballots – Four fights – why you should vote YES!

In this four-part blog series, we talk about the issues at the heart of the ‘four fights’ ballot and how they affect colleagues at the University of Southampton. In this first part, we will discuss the issue of insecure and precarious work.  

Insecure work is a prevalent yet often concealed problem at our university. Insecure and precarious work contributes to immense stress and also damages the quality of academic work. Those of us on insecure contracts suffer from uncertainty in our private lives and cannot make plans for our future. We find it harder, if not impossible, to buy a house, sustain long term relationships and support a family. Neither can we make long term plans with colleagues or students and are often treated as second-rank colleagues, excluded from department decisions and meetings.   

Despite these harms, our employer consistently turns to casualised forms of work as a cheaper and “just in time” form of labour instead of providing long term, sustainable and planned staffing. The contemptuous attitude of our management toward insecure workers was confirmed in the decision to consciously exclude hourly-paid workers from the COVID-19 staff bonus, despite the significant contribution that hourly-paid workers made during the pandemic. If you haven’t already, read their dismissive response to our request to reconsider their decision here. Additionally, management continue to deny hourly-paid workers automatic sick pay entitlement, maintaining they will only do so when legally required and they do not automatically inform hourly-paid workers when this is. Consequently, financial insecurity is forcing hourly-paid workers to come on to campus when sick.  

Counting casualisation at Southampton  

In the 2019-20 academic year, 955 academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts at Southampton—35.2% of all academic staff.  

When considering all those on hourly-paid or insecure contracts, the percentage of academic staff on insecure contracts could be closer to 50%. Unfortunately, the challenges of finding accurate data on the number of workers on insecure contracts is telling of the lack of transparency from our employer on this issue.  

Nationally we know that 30,335 academic staff were employed on hourly-paid contracts in the 2019-20 academic year, around 13.6% of all academic staff. So, if a similar figure were applied at Southampton, it would mean around 48.61% of our academic staff are on insecure contracts. But, of course, the figure could be much higher, and we intend to submit a Freedom of Information request to try and find out.  

What are we balloting for?  

The union is seeking institutional-level action and implementation plans that commit to tackling casualisation. We are asking that the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) agrees to a process for creating, implementing, and reviewing these plans across each of the institutions it represents. We ask that these plans be based on the principles of: 

  • Ending the use of zero-hours contracts. 
  • Introducing a Graduate Teaching Assistant contract. 
  • Agreeing a process of moving hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts. 
  • Moving staff with 4 years’ service on to open ended contracts. 
  • Introducing minimum contract lengths of 24 months, apart from incidences of genuine cover. 
  • Ending the outsourcing of support services.  

The final offer made by the employers insultingly ignored nearly all of our pay claim demands under the heading of casualisation. Indeed, the final offer does not even mention the word ‘casual’ throughout.  

Our proposals are for a better future for universities, a future which is fairer, more secure and more equal for staff and students. 

The ballot will close on 4 November. To make sure your vote is counted, return your ballot by Tuesday 2 November.  

Worried about not being able to afford a strike? 

Don’t forget that we will have a local strike fund to support members taking industrial action (if we get there!). There will also be a national fighting fund for members to apply to.  So, if financial concerns are a worry, you can rely on the solidarity of your branch and colleagues!  

UCU motion on returning to face to face teaching – a response from UEB

Further to our recent email to UEB forwarding on our recently passed motion that raised members’ continued concerns about returning to face to face teaching, we have received a disappointing response from Richard Middleton, Chief Operating Officer.
From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Tue 05/10/2021 16:59
Dear Lucy

I reply to your email dated 30/09/21, sent to all members of the UEB.  I reply on their behalf.  Also thank you for sending me the notes of your EGM which took place on the 24th September.  This was before our regular meeting on Tuesday 28th September which did provide an opportunity for you to raise these and any other points.  I am disappointed that you chose not to discuss these in the forum set up for that very purpose.  I also note that union H&S representatives have continued to meet with Cathy Day (Director Health, Safety & Risk), using that appropriately as an opportunity to raise and resolve such issues.  Indeed Adam George Dunn (UCU Health & Safety representative) reported at the meeting on 28th September that he would not follow up the issue of ventilation at the meeting because he was having extensive and detailed discussions with Maurice Woodcock (Director of Estates Operations) that were making good progress.

In response to your 10 points:

  1. Clinically extremely vulnerable staff, or staff living with or caring for clinically extremely vulnerable people, must be allowed to work/teach from home, without detriment, for the 2021-22 academic year. 

The terms Clinically Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable were developed by the NHS during lockdown to help prioritise health services and to advise on shielding for those who had clinical conditions.   Since all shielding and the lockdown have now ended, Government  ‘Guidance for those who were previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’ states ‘As a minimum, you should continue to follow the same guidance (provided to all) on staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19. You should consider advice from your health professional on whether additional precautions are right for you’.  

The University is very mindful of its duty of care under Health & Safety legislation and as such has strongly encouraged the uptake of full vaccination and regular testing.  We have developed guidance for vulnerable adults which enables employees to request a person specific risk assessment carried out in collaboration with their line manager.  This assessment will help to identify and implement additional control measures, where relevant to the specific vulnerability, which enable the employee to fulfil their role and meet organisational needs.   

  1. No staff member with concerns about the safety of their working environment should be compelled to work on-site until the University has satisfactorily addressed their concerns.

Throughout the pandemic the University has followed Government guidance to make the workplace as safe as reasonably practicable.  If employees have concerns about their workplace health and/or safety they should raise this in the first instance with their line manager who should work with them to identify their concerns and address them if they are able.  Employees can consult with their union appointed staff representative in addition to reporting incidents and near misses via the Health & Safety Incident Reporting system. 

3. Southampton UCU have not seen detailed data about ventilation in classrooms, despite numerous requests. Our H&S representatives need to urgently be supplied with quantitative data on each room cleared for teaching and shared occupancy.

As mentioned in my first paragraph I understand from our meeting on 28th September that Adam George Dunn as UCU rep is meeting with Maurice Woodcock to discuss this matter thoroughly.

4. If anyone feels that a room is not well-ventilated, they should be able to ask for it to be checked by Estates. UCU asks the university to provide portable CO2 monitors so colleagues can check rooms which may be unsafe and to regularly monitor ventilation in rooms.

 Maurice Woodcock addressed this issue at the meeting on 28th September.  The University is considering the potential contribution of CO2 monitors in teaching rooms.  Government guidance on this, from the DfE does not encourage this for universities and I am not aware of guidance on how to interpret CO2 monitor data in respect of Covid transmission risk.  We therefore continue to investigate the potential benefits of CO2 monitoring.

  1. Mask wearing should be mandatory in teaching spaces and other indoor shared spaces, and crowded outdoor areas, except for those with medical exemptions. Sufficient spare masks should be readily available. The University must ensure its communications around mask wearing are clear and consistent.

In July this year all legal restrictions were lifted included the use of social distancing and face coverings.  The University continues however to strongly encourage and expects staff and students to use face coverings indoors when moving around and in crowded spaces.   A crowded space is likely to include lecture theatres and seminars or any space where physical distancing affords a greater challenge. 

The University continues to provide face coverings for those who may have lost or forgotten theirs.  These are and will be available in teaching rooms.  The Government has made it very clear that some people will be exempt and that proof of such exemption should not be requested.  

Guidance on face coverings is available from the Health & Safety SharePoint site as it has been throughout the pandemic and there have been consistent and regularly repeated communications provided to all staff and students via Sussed and other communication channels.

  1. Clear guidance must be issued immediately to staff about what happens if a student or staff member in a class tests positive. If a staff member has to isolate, or care for isolating people, or they have numerous students in their class isolating, they must be allowed to switch to online.

From early 2020 the University has developed clear processes for line managers to report and manage local cases of COVID-19.  We also have an Outbreak Control and Response Plan for dealing with multiple cases which has been endorsed by the Directors of Public Health from both Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council.  The plan and process are focused on the prevention of infection spread.  The need for self-isolation is no longer required for close contacts who are fully UK vaccinated (with the exception currently of students from overseas).  If someone does need to isolate they should speak with their line manager so that alternative temporary measures can be take e.g. substitution.  

  1. The University must commit to an active public campaign to encourage vaccinations and weekly testing for staff and students, and share anonymised data gathered through vaccination surveys with unions.

Vaccination and testing is already strongly encouraged, nationally by Government, locally by the Directors of Public Health and within the workplace by the University, including a video campaign used on all our digital channels. Vaccination data is held by the NHS and as such is subject to legal confidentiality which means it’s not readily available to the University.   A vaccination survey of students has recently been undertaken and anonymised results are available.

  1. Maintain social distancing by lowering room capacity where necessary to allow 1m+ to remain in place.

As mentioned at 5. above all legal restrictions were lifted in July, including social distancing.  The University chose to take a more cautious approach initially in line with our local authority partners by gradually removing social distancing, signage and one-way systems.  Our Principles document includes the following statement for the local management of shared spaces –  ‘Try and aim for 2 metres space between each person if at all practicable’.

  1. Ensure all managers are aware that a blended model of teaching is permissible in order to reduce the number of students and staff on campus at any given time.  

    This issue is addressed in the email from the Vice President (Education) circulated on 23 September.

  1. If a member of staff feels a classroom situation is unsafe; e.g. students are refusing to wear masks, the number of students exceeds the listed room capacity, or the ventilation is poor (windows will not open, for example), they should cancel the class and reschedule it online.

As stated at 2. above if a member of staff feels unsafe they should in the first instance inform their line manager.  It is quite possible that some people will not be wearing face coverings either because of exemption or another reason, but this doesn’t automatically make a space intrinsically unsafe.  All those attending should however be encouraged by the staff member, to wear a face-covering if at all possible.  Room capacity identified for the purpose of fire safety and emergency evacuation should not be exceeded.  

Room ventilation is extremely difficult to assess without full understanding of the ventilation type and how to measure it.  The Estates team have checked CLS and teaching spaces to ensure they meet the standards recommended by CIBSE and the HSE.  Any spaces which did not do so have been taken out of use.  Rooms which only have natural ventilation should have opening windows that the attending staff member can check and open if not open already.

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer