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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power does corrupt, does it not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Disclaimer:

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

 

UCU Interim Congress – Feedback

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

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

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

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

 

Update from Saturday 13th Feb

Your branch delegates voted yes to all motions except:

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

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

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

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

​Update from Tuesday 16th February

We voted yes to all motions except:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Victimisation of trade union representatives – motion passed at EGM 26 February 2021

The following motion was discussed at an emergency general meeting held on 26 February.  The meeting voted overwhelmingly to support the motion and to withdraw from the Partnership Charter with immediate effect.

Victimisation of TU representatives

UK employment law provides a robust framework of protection for trade union membership, duties and activities.  This includes:

  • Legal protection for taking part in strike action or action short of strike action if all statutory requirements are fulfilled (for example a ballot, notice to the employer)
  • Victimisation from an employer on the basis of trade union duties and activities
  • Dismissal on the grounds of trade union membership

The University notified UCU of a disciplinary investigation against one of our reps in May 2020 and in November 2020 wrote to state that they would be brought to a disciplinary hearing for what amounts to participating in lawful ASOS as part of industrial action.  These allegations have been reviewed by UCU National and Regional Officials, including the national UCU legal team, and all are in full agreement that the University action against our member is unlawful on the basis that it constitutes victimisation.

The first disciplinary case against our representative has concluded with no further action being taken, not because the University accepted that they acted unlawfully, but because of their failure to follow proper procedure. It should be of concern to members that the University was prepared to seek to dismiss a long-serving employee without following the procedures, regardless of the subject matter of the allegations.  To be subjected to an investigation for so long, with such grave potential consequences, has understandably cast a long and stressful shadow over the working life of the victimized rep.

Following the failure to discipline our member due to procedural irregularities, University of Southampton management have chosen to continue with a second disciplinary against the same rep for activities which relate clearly and directly to their union Health and Safety brief. Again, UCU Officials are of a view that this is unlawful.  This second investigation is being carried out by an external investigator—presumably at some cost—which is outside of the procedures negotiated by UCU, and raises serious concerns about fairness and transparency.

SUCU condemns the victimisation of our rep in the strongest terms and has sought to resolve the issue through negotiations with the University over the past 9 months, but to no avail.

This branch calls on The University of Southampton to:

  1. Immediately cease the disciplinary action and investigation against our representative.
  2. Give assurance that University of Southampton will comply with the procedures agreed for disciplinary matters, which does not include the engagement of external parties to conduct investigations.
  3. Make a meaningful statement to all three campus trade unions that the university understands the seriousness of trade union representative victimization and provide assurances that it will not victimise trade union members or representatives.
  4. Apologise to our representative who has been subject to this victimisation.

Following the EGM on 26/2/21, this branch resolves to immediately:

  • Issue a public condemnation of the University of Southampton’s victimisation of our representative
  • Withdraw from the Partnership Agreement, originally ratified in September 2019: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/hr/services/tus/index.page
  • Call for an Emergency JJNC to discuss the case and its negative effects with regards to the lawful exercise of workplace rights by union members
  • Write to the General Secretary and President of UCU, notifying them of this victimisation case, and formally seeking national UCU support

If the University of Southampton does not carry out the actions set out in 1-4 above by  3rd April or they move to dismiss our rep, the branch executive will call a further EGM to discuss next steps, which could include the following proposals:

  • Make a public media statement about victimisation at the University
  • Write to elected representatives, such as local MP and City Councillors, to ask for their public support.
  • Enter a trade dispute with University of Southampton
  • Consider escalating collective action

Proposer Lucy Watson                  Seconder Claire Le Foll

Motion passed overwhelmingly.

Motion result:

Yes: 81%

No: 5%

Abstain: 13%

Correspondence with senior management regarding return of students in 2021

Response received from Alex Neill and Richard Middleton on Monday 21/12/2020 to concerns raised by UCU (original email also included below).

Dear Southampton UCU executive committee,

Thank you for the message below.  We believe that our plans for the return of students to campus after the winter break are indeed aligned with Government guidance, as it was when you wrote your email.  Events, information and Government responses have been changing since.  We therefore remain prepared for changes in guidance and in our plans.  The aim of the guidance you referred to was to limit the numbers of students travelling at the same time in January by staggering the points at which they will need to be back on campus.  Our plans will help to achieve this.

With regard to testing, we are strongly encouraging all our students to participate in our testing programme.   We have plans to further reinforce that message and the importance of testing.  We will continue to do all that we can to encourage and assist students to behave as responsible members of our (University and wider) community.

As we discussed at our meeting on Wednesday 16th December, when the University reopens after Christmas we will be happy to share with you details of our arrangements for students moving back into halls of residence, and our analysis of student movements on campus given our plans for their return to their studies.

With all best wishes for a peaceful and restorative break,

Alex and Richard

Professor Alex Neill
Vice-President

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

 

—————————————————–

We continue to remain concerned at the University’s stance on the return of students to campus after the Christmas break.  We have today (14/12/20) written to the Chief Operating Officer, Richard Middleton, and Alex Neill.  Cc’d to the Vice-Chancellor, Mark Spearing and Roberta Head

 

Dear Richard and Alex

We write to express our concerns about the University’s response to the latest government guidance regarding the return of students after the Christmas break.

To date, senior management have regarded government guidance as binding, over-riding the relative autonomy of the University—even when guidance has been open to interpretation and where other universities have made different decisions around teaching and learning. However, it seems that this latest coronavirus guidance is open to interpretation by University management and will not be strictly followed.

In the latest guidance, a staggered return of students to campus is recommended. A comprehensive list is given of the courses which should be prioritised, including ‘work, clinical or practical placements, courses requiring practical teaching or learning’, and ‘courses requiring access to specialist or technical equipment’. In addition, the guidance states that ‘HE providers do not have to allow all courses that fall within this list to return during this time and should consider whether any courses may be better delivered online at the beginning of term. For courses that meet these criteria, but that providers deem not to have practical elements, the return of students should take place from 25 January 2021’. The guidance clearly states that ‘the remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so that students can continue their studies from home’. Moreover, while it is accepted that some students may need to return to campus earlier for a variety of reasons, the guidance states that ‘their courses should not resume face-to-face teaching, unless they study one of the practical courses defined above’.

Yet, the latest email from Alex Neill to all students says that ‘Students who have on-campus teaching sessions timetabled from week commencing 4 January are advised to return to campuses in time to allow them to participate in those sessions’ (09/12/20). There is no attempt to discriminate between those courses which have a practical element and those which do not. In fact, as the UEB blog says, the staggered return of students is expected to be achieved through a ‘natural phasing’ due to the differences in students’ timetables across the University (07/12/20). It is extremely disappointing that the University is making no attempt to exercise any control over the movement of students on campus when the government guidance asks them specifically to do so.

Importantly, the guidance also says that students who do return ‘should be tested as soon as they start accessing university facilities’ but with no controls in place around who is coming back and when, how can the University be sure that students are being tested before they access the facilities? This seems to be a significant flaw in the University’s claim to be maintaining a ‘covid-secure’ environment. Staff will, moreover, certainly have to deal with more emails from students unsure whether they should return or not given the contradiction between the widely-publicised government guidance and the University’s statement.

UCU believes that this latest guidance should be followed for clear public health reasons. The University seems worryingly complacent as a result of its good fortune in not experiencing major outbreaks in the Autumn. However, conditions in January are significantly different to those in September. Overall case numbers in the communities from which our students will be returning are higher, and students will be returning to University following free social mixing with up to three other households over the Christmas period. The decision to allow students return to accommodation and teaching on 4 January therefore risks a large outbreak on campus, in residential accommodation and, because of the shared use of community resources such as buses and shops, in the wider Southampton community.  If the University is expecting to manage this risk through its testing programme, it first owes both its staff and student unions a detailed explanation of its plan as to how all returning students will be tested before returning to accommodation in the weekend of 2-3 January, and to teaching in the week of the 4 January.

We urge the University to re-think its decision for the sake of the health and safety of its staff, students, and the wider Southampton community. We also note that the reputation of the individual institutions and UK HE sector as a whole has been seriously damaged domestically and internationally by the behaviour of some institutions during this pandemic. A serious January outbreak attributable to the University’s failure to follow government guidelines could be catastrophic for the University’s reputation as a safe institution at which to study and work.

To ensure that the branch’s communication with management remains transparent, we will be sharing this correspondence with our members. We look forward to your earliest response.

Southampton UCU executive committee

 

 

Results of Southampton UCU survey of PGR and Hourly Paid staff

Southampton UCU surveyed PGR and hourly paid members from 26th October to 12 November 2020. In total, 38 postgraduate researchers (PGR) or hourly paid members responded to the survey. The purpose was to gather information on how our most precariously employed members have been affected by the pandemic and return to campus activities. We will use these responses in our negotiating meetings with management and to inform local UCU strategy moving forward.  The following document comprises a summary of the main findings and includes strong statements of dissatisfaction by casualised workers at the University of Southampton about their treatment during this time, summarised in the statement below.

“The University attitude towards PGRs has been cynical and reckless in this situation. We are taking much of the risk, and we’re even getting lower pay in real terms (before, 45-minute time slots, now 60-minute time slots for the same nominal hourly pay)”
Southampton PGR.

Effect of COVID-19 on work offered

We wanted to know how casualised members’ work allocation has been affected this year. In total, 74.36% of survey respondents have been offered work this semester. Of those offered work, all of the survey respondents accepted the work offered. When asked to explain the reasons behind this decision, the vast majority noted the need for money, to pay bills or secure their income during a period of uncertainty. Members also reported:

  • Needing the experience of teaching
  • Wanting to help out staff and students in their department
  • Feeling able to accept the work as it was mostly remote or virtual but wouldn’t have done so if it was in-person.

Two reported having to do teaching as part of studentship conditions. Of these, they were both undertaking in-person teaching, which raises further questions about the exploitative nature of these studentship contracts.

Question six focused on how the offer of work has been affected by the COVID-19 response. As the bar chart below shows, our members report a mixed impact.

 

In total, 38.24% have had less work offered than expected this year but 20.59% have had more work offered, meanwhile 41.18% have the same amount of work. Of those who had less work offered, the majority came from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, but at least one respondent from each of the five faculties reported having less work. Meanwhile, of those offered more work these were almost entirely in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical sciences.

Of those who have had the same work offered, members reported being offered work very late. For example, one member wrote “I had originally been told that there was no teaching budget this year. It was only with a week’s notice that I was asked if I could teach on the module.”

Nature of work

We wanted to know whether PGRs and hourly paid staff are doing a disproportionate amount of in person teaching relative to their permanent counterparts. We also wanted to know how safe members felt doing in person teaching and whether their status as hourly paid workers affected this.

Overall, 81.4% reported their teaching was mostly online and only 3 respondents (11.11% of survey sample) had mostly in-person teaching.  On the whole, respondents reported they did feel safe to do in person teaching, though there were only 12 responses for this question as it was intended for those undertaking in-person work and not all respondents are.  Those who didn’t feel safe reported:

“There was no H&S Consultation with staff, we were not asked if we or our families belong to vulnerable groups, both hand sanitizers in the main corridor on Avenue campus are empty (the were there before Covid and they were also empty then),”

“The workshop doesn’t need to be delivered in person, and is supposed to be delivered in groups. But I will have to keep the students apart realistically. Would be easier to facilitate this on Teams given the current situation.”

One member who voted they did feel safe, commented “Perhaps safe is too much, but I cannot say I feel unsafe. I acknowledge the university has made an effort”. This captured the written responses, with members who reported feeling safe listing some of the measures taken by the university in connection with the specifics of the members teaching obligations. Reasons included:

  • The small number of students in the class
  • That the member was only teaching a limited number of seminars (2 in total)
  • The screen arrangements and wearing of facemasks
  • Good supply of PPE in a clinical environment

In response to question 12, 63.16% felt that in-person teaching has not been equally distributed across staff profiles at the university.

When asked to explain their answer, there was a mixed response. Members reported no consistency within the health and safety strategy of the university. Several members expressed frustration that PGRs are being asked to do the majority of in person teaching. One member stated pressure of PGRs to do the work and another stated:

“Absolutely not, at least in my faculty. A big part of the in-person teaching has been left to PGRs. Most academics have been comfortably teaching from home or even releasing pre-recorded stuff.”

However, a significant number of respondents said this didn’t know and an error of this question was not to include a “not sure” option. Additionally, some members interpreted this question as asking whether work as a whole had been allocated equally and expanded on question 6, discussing how casual workers have lost work during the pandemic and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on them.

Health and safety

In total, 66.67% of respondents have registered for the Southampton COVID-19 testing program. Two members (9.52% respondents) were not aware of the scheme and five have not enrolled for another reason that was not specified. The majority report being registered under their student not staff status and 61.54% answered they did not feel the inclusion criteria adequately includes colleagues needing to be on campus.

When asked about the level of health and safety guidance hourly paid workers had received 57.14% reported they do not feel that have been offered the same level of health and safety guidance as permanent colleagues.

 

The reasons members gave for answering no to this question ranged from having no guidance at all sent on in-person teaching, to only receiving guidance via the graduate school after in-person teaching had already started. One member reports having to ask for information about in person teaching and when it was sent there was no training or guidance, just a generic risk assessment sent. Furthermore, unlike permanent colleagues who have had individual risk assessments, hourly paid members report not being asked if they have any health concerns or if they care for a vulnerable person. Consequently, hourly paid staff describe taking on a higher share of the risk than permanent colleagues. This is exacerbated by the lack of sick pay for casual workers, something we expand on below.

Concerns regarding health and safety guidance was not limited to in-person activities but also arrangements for working from home. Members report inadequate information on home working and no eligibility for equipment to support home working.

An error in the wording of this question was omitting an unsure or N/A option. Those who skipped this question report not being sure or not having enough information on what permanent staff have been told to make a judgement.

Finally, we asked members if they can self-isolate if required and asked members to explain their answer. 96.88% of respondents said they were able to and only one respondent said they weren’t. In their explanations members focused on the practical aspects of self-isolation such as whether they had friends who could deliver food. While it is positive the majority said they can self-isolate, we are still unsure whether the lack of sick pay means hourly paid workers will self-isolated if required to.

As one member said “If I become sick, I face financial hardship – there is no support scheme that I am aware of and I cannot claim sick pay”.

The issue of sick pay was discussed in our final question on what our members want UCU to fight for on their behalf. The majority of respondents want SUCU to fight for guaranteed sick pay for hourly paid workers.

Pay and workload concerns

We asked if members had anything else to add regarding COVID-19 and the University of Southampton. Members raised a number of significant issues regarding pay and workload as a result of the University of Southampton covid-19 response, which we discuss below.

On pay, respondents expressed multiple issues with pay which have been exacerbated by covid-19. The change in allocated teaching from 45 minutes to 1 hour has increased the amount of teaching time worked and preparation time needed with no increase in pay or hours of work claimable to reflect this change. Additionally, members report that online teaching takes longer to prepare, which has not been considered in the calculation for claimable preparation time. Some departments continue not to allocate preparation time for PGR demonstrators at all.

Members are also incurring additional costs as part of the move to online teaching, which they report being unable to claim back. For example, one member stated “I got myself an ethernet cable to help with connectivity, that cost an hour of my pay”. Finally, members reported having increasing pastoral and welfare roles with undergraduate students this year and they do not feel supported in this or paid for this additional workload. All this is compounded by the continued lack of paid training for PGRs and limited training opportunities for hourly paid staff. Those seeking to provide quality education in an online environment are spending a significant amount of unpaid labour hours learning and preparing for classes. Combined, this leaves PGR and hourly paid staff unsupported and undervalued as summarised by the comments below:

“We are all are highly educated and highly skilled workers, what we get is a third world hourly rate. It shows how little the Uni value us, although without us the whole system would collapse in a blink of a eye…”

“casual staff are the lowest of the low. So, I don’t expect the university, as an organisation, to do anything for me. The university only respects its permanent staff”.

“Overall it feels like the university management doesn’t care about us but neither does it care about the undergrads- surely everyone can see that being taught by a PGR with very little training, less than a weeks notice and who isn’t getting paid sufficient to cover all the prep time is not a good educational experience?”

 

Hourly paid members and PGRs also report feeling generally uninformed about critical departmental policies and decisions. This is hard when students ask questions and tutors have no idea on what to say. As one member commented:

“We feel really out of the loop. I have no real idea what is going on in the wider course or department decisions, the students come to us with questions and I have absolutely no idea because we are as much in the dark as them”.

All of the issues discussed in this report exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress and poor communication from the university was discussed by respondents as a contributing factor to this.

Members expressed “I feel communication has been poor and we are expected to just “carry on as normal”.

“While the financial caution of the university is understandable, the response of freezing new hiring and the uncertainty around the number of students for deferred international programs makes it very difficult to feel secure about the fact that there will be work available at all. It does not feel that the university takes into account the stress that these circumstances cause for casual staff especially, or how difficult it is to plan your life around such circumstances”.

What hourly paid & PGRs want from their UCU branch

We asked members to tick which actions they want the Southampton UCU branch to prioritise out of five options. Of these:

  • 88% of respondents want SUCU to campaign for guaranteed sick pay for any isolating member of staff, casual or otherwise
  • 82% want all information on health and safety to go to casual workers, including PGRs (whether they teach or not).
  • 64% want SUCU to campaign for paid training for casual workers
  • 42% want SUCU to campaign for a review of workload for hourly paid staff considering the new timetable.
  • 33% want SUCU to set up regular meetings between PGRs and management

Other priorities identified by members include:

  • SUCU should campaign for more marking to be given to PGRS to make up for lost teaching time and pay which will also benefit permanent colleagues by alleviating workload.
  • In line with the decision of our Higher Education Sector conference, one member commented that “UCU must fight for PGRs to be classified as workers. This is the first and only priority. Once this is obtained, the rest comes almost automatically”.
  • Members also want us to review the workload for online teaching and marking, alongside the review of an extra 15 minutes of teaching time per class.  As one member wrote “this takes significantly more time to prepare and conduct than face-to-face teaching, however this is not at all acknowledged in the hours that are offered”.

What SUCU will ask from managers

  • UCU would like assurances that vulnerable staff, including PGRS and those on hourly paid contracts, are able to have individual risk assessments put in place, regardless of contract type.
  • UCU would like management to ensure that PGRs and hourly paid staff have the appropriate and necessary equipment to carry out their teaching. These essential staff members are some of the lowest paid on our campuses and should not be expected to finance this themselves.
  • UCU would like assurances that studentships are not being used to require some students to undertake in-person activity disproportionately, and that they are not being pressured into taking on teaching they would not do otherwise.
  • UCU asks that management commits to ensuring any hourly paid workers unable to teach in person or online due to sickness is guaranteed sick pay, for the protection of all and the financial security of our members.
  • UCU asks that management implement a workload review based on the substantial extra preparation time required for online teaching and the decision to increase teaching slots from 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • UCU asks for recognition by senior management of the contribution hourly paid staff and PGRs make to the delivery of teaching and learning in the institution and a commitment to improving their terms and conditions of work.

 

Correspondence with management regarding in-person teaching, and return home of students

Email received from Richard Middleton, Chief Operating Officer, Mon 16/11/2020 12:32

Dear Southampton UCU Executive Committee,

Thank you for your email of 12th November, which was discussed at UEB this morning.

As I explained in my email of 3rd November and at our subsequent meeting on 6th November, the decisions we are making, and are regularly reviewing, are governed by a range of factors. These include the clear guidelines and instructions we are given by Government and in particular by the Department for Education, and also the context of our own local situation, informed by our near daily contact with the Director of Public Health for Southampton City Council and with Public Health England. We are also in very regular contact with the local Health Protection Board, the Director of Public Health for Hampshire County Council, and Hampshire Police. Our decisions are not made unilaterally, or in isolation.

The Government has now set out very clearly the criteria for ensuring the safe return home of students for the winter break: In order to ensure that students can be home at the end of the winter term and also reduce any transmission risk, the Government is asking that students return home once the national restrictions have been lifted, in a “student travel window” lasting from 3-9 December. It is obviously critical that universities follow these requirements consistently.

As a result, and following discussions with our local public health bodies, we are making clear to students today that teaching will move online from 9th December. Students will be advised that they should return home from the University after their last timetabled on-campus and in-person teaching within the period 3rd-9th December. This will enable us to stagger the leave dates of students as required by Government.

In addition, students are being encouraged to take part in our well-established Southampton COVID-19 saliva testing programme, if they aren’t doing so already. We will be advising students to take two tests: one 10 to 11 days before they plan to travel, and another 2 to 3 days before they intend to travel.  Those who test positive will of course be required to isolate following NHS guidance, and the University will provide support for them, as it has been doing in such cases.

We will continue to work closely with our local public health colleagues and with the wider City to ensure that we meet our obligations relating to the end of term. This includes liaising with other local universities and with travel providers.

In addition, we will obviously need to assess, in discussion with local public health bodies, the implications – if any – of any continuing local restrictions put in place following the end of the England-wide lockdown on 2 December.

Taken together, this package of actions means that we do not see a case for ending face-to-face teaching earlier than has been identified by the Department for Education.

We already have in place a mechanism for individual members of staff to raise with line managers any concerns they may have about their personal circumstances.

At present there has been no formal communication from Government about expectations of universities or students in the New Year. Our teaching will resume on 4 January, and we are currently expecting this will include some campus delivery. The precise blend of this will be determined by the prevailing Government guidelines and the advice of our local public health bodies. We will continue to provide a COVID-secure campus environment for all of our staff and students, and we will continue to offer, as we have this term, asymptomatic testing to students and eligible staff.

Kind regards,

Richard Middleton

—————-

Email sent by UCU on 12/11/2020 to Richard Middleton Chief Operating Officer, Alex Neill Vice President Education, and Kieron Broadhead Exec Director Student Experience

Dear Richard 

In a well-attended branch General Meeting held on the 11th November, we consulted our members regarding the continuation of in-person teaching during lockdown and the recent government guidance on getting students home for Christmas.  During the meeting, the branch consulted with members on the following points:  

1: While fully accepting that some students may choose or need to stay in their University accommodation up to and even including the Christmas period, UCU believes that the University has a responsibility to ensure that those students who wish to leave can do so safely and as soon as possible. In order to facilitate this and reduce the risk of infections, which are climbing steadily in Southampton, a significant majority of members indicated they supported ceasing in-person teaching by November 16th. This date would allow students 2 weeks to self-isolate before returning home at the beginning of December. A later end to in-person teaching risks students who have tested positive being stranded in halls or private accommodation without essential familial and social support networks well into the Christmas vacation period. 

2: The Christmas vacation period is likely to involve students visiting areas of the country with high levels of transmission during a period traditionally characterised by social mixing. Members shared concerns that asking students to return to Southampton en masse in January would risk increased spread of the virus across the country and our community. January and February are also amongst the most pressured months for the NHS. Responding to these facts, a significant majority of members voted to request the University reduce the amount of in-person teaching between January and March. This will help keep the infection rate in Southampton and surrounding communities low. We note that Independent Sage has recommended that Universities offer students the choice of where to study in January and February for the same reasons and ask the University to seriously consider their recommendations.  

3: In the course of the meeting it also became clear that a great many of our members are concerned about the levels of autonomy they have in deciding what is essential, or most appropriate, for their teaching. Many members wish to determine for themselves how much in-person teaching is pedagogically essential, and to make decisions based on their individual circumstances rather than solely on the risk factors outlined by University policy, or blanket requirements for specified amounts of in-person teaching per module. We recall asking for this to be considered in the COO meeting on the 6th November and note that this was refused.  

In light of clear member concerns on this issue, we would like you to reconsider. Anxiety around in-person teaching is having a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of staff. We note that you have pointed out that universities should not be driven by a ‘one size fits all’ policy and that decisions need to be made by individual institutions based on the local environment. We ask that the same flexibility is offered to staff, many of whom have genuine concerns about in-person teaching, and the risks associated with commuting on public transport in order to deliver such teaching. It is very clear from our consultations with our members that adopting a more individual approach would not lead to an end to in-person teaching; many staff wish to continue to come to Campus and have the means to do so safely during this pandemic. For staff who must travel long distances on public transport, or have vulnerable family members, and for those whose mental health is suffering as a result of pressure to commute or work in environments they consider unsafe, the freedom to decide how to best fulfil their responsibilities and duties would do much to repair trust and boost morale.    

We remind you that our branch position, reached at the General Meeting on 15th September, has not changed and again draw your attention to the motion which was passed in that same meeting. We continue to oppose unnecessary in-person teaching, putting the safety and wellbeing of our members first. We understand that the University does not wish to move from its position of offering blended delivery. Nevertheless, we ask you to share our members’ views with UEB and request 1) a more flexible approach in determining when in-person teaching is needed; 2) for UEB to end in-person teaching wherever possible by 16 November to enable students to go home on 2nd December without compromising the safety of their families and communities; 3) for UEB to help reduce pressure on the NHS and protect our Southampton community by reducing in-person teaching where possible during the Jan-March period. 

In the interests of transparency, we will share this correspondence with members. We look forward to receiving your response. 

Southampton UCU executive committee  

UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status – correspondence with senior management 

Following the announcement from the UK Government over the weekend regarding the new lockdown guidance, UCU wrote to the University Executive Board requesting that they reconsider their plans for blended online and face to face teaching, and review the current Tier 1 status.  Please find below the original email and the response from Richard Middleton, the University’s Chief Operating Officer.

 

From: Chief-Operating-Officer
Sent: Tue 03/11/2020 08:07
Subject: UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status

Dear colleagues in UCU

Thank you for the email you sent to UEB Members on Monday.  As you know, we are due to meet on Friday (with Unite and Unison representative also) and – as always – I am of course happy for us to discuss these issues in detail when we meet.

In advance of that conversation, I did want to make a number of points:

  • Last night Universities Minister Michelle Donelan wrote to Vice-Chancellors to say that the guidance the Government is finalising for Higher Education will make clear to universities, and to students: “We do not, however, want or expect to see a transition to full online learning during the new national restrictions – this could jeopardise the learning that students receive, as well as risk their mental health and wellbeing. We want you to make informed local decisions whilst ensuring all students have some form of face to face learning, where possible and safe to do so.” I attach a copy of the letter for your information, and her letter to all students.
  • The Minister also comments:  “I know just how hard HEPS have worked to put in place measures to ensure teaching and learning is provided in COVID-secure environments, and we have not seen evidence of increased transmission within these environments”.
  • I am aware of course that there is a national UCU campaign; I trust our discussion on Friday can focus on the local context of Southampton. One size, and one approach, does not suit all. In assessing the balance of online and in person teaching, we need to take account of our own local context and circumstances– this includes the current relatively low comparative rates of COVID cases at the University; the major programme of asymptomatic saliva testing we are offering to students and eligible staff, which is growing; the extensive investment we have made in creating COVID-secure campuses (praised by staff and students alike); and – in discussion with public health authorities – an overall assessment of the public health risks, including to the mental health of students, and staff, and the state of local outbreaks.
  • Of course some staff, and indeed some students, may share your viewpoint and I am fully aware that view is not shared by other staff, and other students. These are complex issues, with many viewpoints, and it is important we hear those voices so we can balance the needs and concerns of all our staff and students. The UEB takes its responsibilities extremely seriously, and we are currently reviewing the situation and the prevailing Tier level very regularly.
  • We are of course also acutely aware of the wider city context in which we operate, which you referred to. As the Vice-Chancellor has explained previously, that is why we are in near daily contact with the Director of Public Health for Southampton City Council and with Public Health England, and why we are in very regular contact with the local Health Protection Board, the Director of Public Health for Hampshire County Council, and Hampshire police. They will not hesitate to intervene if they are concerned about increased community risk, and we would not hesitate to take action. We also know from talking to local businesses that the return of students is seen as a welcome boost to the city’s economy, and we have ensured we are keeping in close contact with local residents’ groups, councillors and MPs.

I look forward to our discussion on Friday.

Best wishes

Richard

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

From: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 02 November 2020 18:02
Subject: UCU concerns regarding blended teaching and Tier 1 status

Dear UEB members

After the UK Government’s new lockdown guidance of 1 November 2020 and the Vice-Chancellor’s email of today (02/11) setting out UEB’s response, we note that UEB has agreed to continue with the same ‘comprehensive blend of face-to-face and online teaching’ that the University has been offering since the start of term, and that the University plans to remain at ‘Tier 1’ in DfE terms.

Though these decision have been made pending further clarification from Government, we believe that there is enough information in the government guidance to make further changes for the health and safety of staff, students, and the local community.  In particular, we want to emphasize the following points:

  • It was made clear in the Governmental briefings that cases were also rising fastest in the South; cases are comparatively low in the region now, but this is no cause for complacency. Minimising transmission must be a central goal, particularly when we consider the wellbeing of our students both in lockdown and during the lead-up to Christmas.
  • It looks very damaging—in terms of reputation if nothing else—for the University to continue to compel staff and students to travel through communities to deliver or receive teaching that could be provided online (in cases where in-person teaching is non-essential). In the event that community outbreaks worsen around the University whilst other businesses and families are making great enormous sacrifices to limit transmission, we risk a backlash that could cause damage to our reputation and local relationships.
  • The Government advice, as we understand it, is that universities are to remain open, but that workers are strongly advised to work at home if at all possible and that “Universities… should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible.” Prima facia, these guidelines are best implemented by staff delivering teaching online wherever possible. In any event, it appears to be the responsible step both in terms of safety and pedagogy, given the fast-changing nature of events.
  • It is clear that it is the university’s and all of our civic duty to contribute to the effort to bring the R rate and growth rate down so that students and staff might be able to join friends and family during the holidays. We are in a position to do this by moving all teaching online unless in person is required for lab or practice-based teaching. We are also conscious of students’ term-time mental health and wellbeing, but we remain concerned about the wider situation that might mean any continuation of the f2f status quo will cause greater difficulty for students’ and staffs’ mental and physical health in the long run.

As ever, we appreciate that UEB have stated its intention to work closely with campus trade unions. We are very keen to discuss these steps mutually, so that we can offer a staff perspective on how we can jointly navigate this difficult challenge in a way that safeguards students, staff and the goals of the University.

We look forward to hearing back from you.

Southampton UCU

UCU, UNITE and Unison survey – how safe do you feel on campus?

This is a summary of the findings from the UCU, UNITE and Unison survey we conducted at the beginning of October. We received 253 responses, mostly from Education, Research and Enterprise staff (87.7%) with permanent contracts (90%). We received responses from 29 Management Specialist, Administration staff, but very few from Technical and Experimental (1 member) and Community and Operational (2 members). 83.2% of respondents were full-time and 16.8% were part-time. Although we received 19 responses from FTC staff, we did not get a good response from hourly paid and zero hours staff (4 in total). This is one of the reasons why we have designed another survey specifically for PGRs and hourly paid staff. We need to find ways of capturing their views as well as those in more secure employment because the challenges precarious workers face are quite different and often slip under the radar, especially when the landscape is changing so much and so quickly.

Due to the poor response rate we cannot take these results as representative of union members’ experiences on campus. There were also limitations in the design of the survey. A lot of respondents did not have to teach in-person and some had not yet returned to campus, so their views weren’t based on direct experience. If a question had been added to separate those who were actually on campus from those who were able to remain at home, we might have got more precise and targeted answers. The survey was possibly sent too early as teaching had only just started. It might have been better to wait until later in the semester in order to gain a more comprehensive picture.

Below is a summary of the responses to the survey along with some brief analysis. Where applicable, percentages have been rounded up or down. The precise numbers can be seen in the corresponding tables:

Q5 The risk mitigation measures relevant to your job are clear

68% responded positively to this question, although a significant minority (16%) did not feel that the risk mitigation measures were clear. Importantly, a further 16% were undecided which suggests that they were might not have been clear what the risk mitigations were or how they related to their job. Given that most respondents were ERE and permanent, it is possible that they were not required on campus a lot, if at all. This could affect their ability to answer this question decisively.

Q6 Management have provided clear communication about COVID precautions

Overall, staff seem satisfied with the communication from management (63%). However, 18% disagree that management have provided clear communication and a further 18% were undecided.

Q7 You have been informed in good time of the impact of COVID-related precautions on your work

The split between positive and negative responses is a bit more even here. 55% of respondents felt that they have been informed in good time of the impact of Covid-related precautions on their work. However, a significant minority (25%) did not agree and a further 20% were undecided. Again, this could be due to the lack of understanding by staff about what the impact of these measures might be rather than a positive comment on communication. It may be because many of the staff who responded had only just come back to campus or they were not required to be there in the near future.

Q8 The COVID arrangements related to my job role are adequate to reduce risk of transmission to students to an acceptable level

53% felt that the arrangements put in place were adequate to reduce transmission to students. However, 25% of respondents disagreed. This might be related to the job families of the respondents whose jobs only require them to meet students in teaching spaces. Staff may feel that the risk to students in the classroom is minimal but might feel differently about the risk to themselves in that space.

Q9 The COVID arrangements related to my job role are adequate to reduce risk of transmission from students to me

Indeed, the higher proportion of negative responses to this question (33%) suggests that staff are more concerned about the risk of transmission to them from students than they are between students. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of respondents (47%) believe that the covid arrangements are adequate to reduce the risk of transmission between students and staff. The percentage of respondents who neither agree nor disagree is quite high again and it is possible that this is due to the lack of campus activity being carried out by respondents meaning that they cannot comment on the level of risk.

Q10 The COVID arrangements for students across the University adequately reduce risk to other students

It is clear that staff are less certain that the arrangements for students are adequate to reduce the risk of transmission between students. Only 23% believe that these arrangements are adequate, while 47% feel that they are not.

Q11 The COVID arrangements for students across the University adequately reduce risk to neighbouring communities

Only 18.5% of respondents are confident that the covid arrangements for students implemented at the University reduce the risk to neighbouring communities. This is quite significant because it suggests that staff are concerned about the impact students returning to campus might have on the local community. 35% were unsure, however, which suggests that they do not feel they have enough information about this to make a judgement. At the time of this survey, numbers in Southampton were very low so the high level of uncertainty might be because staff are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Significantly, 45% of respondents are clearly concerned about the impact of students returning to campus might have on the local infection levels.

Q12 I expect the COVID arrangements related to my job role to be fully adhered to by staff

Staff were very confident that colleagues would adhere to the covid arrangements on campus; 73% agreed with this statement. Again, a significant proportion (16%) were not sure, which suggests that they had not yet seen enough evidence to make an informed judgement.

Q13 I expect the COVID arrangements related to my job role to be fully adhered to by students

46% of respondents were confident that students would adhere to the arrangements, while 27% were not. Again, a significant proportion (27%) did not feel able to make a judgement about this, maybe because of lack of evidence.

Q14 I feel safe to carry out my job on campus

38% of staff feel safe on campus but it is deeply concerning that 40% do not. A further 21% of respondents did not feel able to say conclusively. These responses suggest that even if staff are quite happy with the measures put in place and the communication around them, they still do not feel safe carrying out their jobs on campus. There is clearly more to be done to make staff feel confident on campus during the pandemic.

Q15 Please provide any additional concerns or other information which it would be useful to include

There were 98 answers received to this the open-ended question. The responses are summarised below and some quotations are used to highlight pertinent points.

Some respondents were positive about the University’s management of the pandemic and the risk mitigation measures they have put in place. There were positive comments highlighting the ‘flexibility’ of line managers, praise for the testing scheme and communication from management. Some staff said that the University was doing well, ‘better than some’. There was acknowledgement that the pandemic is an ‘unprecedented situation’ and it is a ‘tough time to lead’ and on that basis, the University is ‘doing what it can’, has ‘made all reasonable efforts’ and ‘the measures that the University have taken are noticeable’.

As noted in the introduction, there were plenty of responses from staff who have not returned to campus and this is a limitation in the design of the survey. Of those who were undecided or more nuanced in their responses this was mainly due to lack of direct experience. Many respondents were delivering online teaching only or were exempt from returning to campus for health reasons. Two people pointed out that coming to campus was important for their mental health. A few respondents pointed out that students ‘deserved’ a face to face experience and one commented that it was ‘defeatist’ to simply not try. One respondent said ‘I personally recognise the considerable physical/mental health risks posed by students not having any meaningful in person activities to engage in. On that basis I am willing to engage in in-person teaching’. Again, this respondent had not yet begun teaching in-person and they stressed that their comments were ‘in theory’. There was also some misunderstanding presented in the comments. One respondent said ‘I particularly commend the university for moving all possible lecturing online and to limit face to face teaching to courses that cannot be taught solely online’. This is not, in fact, the University line, although it is what SUCU has been pushing for. The University wants to provide some in-person teaching to all students and whether that teaching is pedagogically the best option is of less importance than the ‘social’ benefits.

Some of the comments were quite mixed. One member likened the University response to a ‘car cash in slow motion’ but then went on to say that they taught clinical skills and the measures that had been put in place for that (after concerns had been raised) were adequate. The staff member has access to PPE and is using it, although they are responsible for stocking up the teaching rooms, which is ‘frustrating and time consuming’.

Some staff expressed their anger at the workload: ‘the workloads are punishing. They increased this year by at least 20-30% and in addition, everything takes longer to set up because of online recordings, marking, delivery’. Some highlighted the stress they were under caused by the pressure to teach on campus despite their reservations. One respondent said that ‘the approach the University has taken in relation to staff teaching in-person is a disgrace’ and that they felt ‘forced’ to teach across the week even though they feel ‘unsafe’. Some staff feel that ‘reducing face-to-face teaching to where it is *required* — e.g. laboratory or clinical work — would be a safer and more sustainable approach’ than insisting on some face to face for all students. Another staff member said they ‘feel very stressed, let down, and frankly do not understand what UoS is waiting for to move everything online’. One respondent was angry that most face to face teaching was being done by PGRs while permanent staff stay at home. This clearly raises equality issues which need addressing and will be part of the next survey we carry out. Some people felt that the University was prioritising money over safety, ‘The University puts us in the front line simply to justify asking students to return to campus, and therefore charging full fees. This is unacceptable’. There was some doubt expressed that students actually wanted to come back to campus because the process of canvassing students’ views had been opaque.

Other criticisms centred on poor ventilation in the teaching rooms, lack of adherence from staff and students to risk mitigation measures such as hand washing and wearing masks, lack of access to anti-bacterial products and hand sanitiser, and some staff were concerned about the added risk of travelling to work by public transport: ‘staff and students may be required to use public transport to come to campus. Public transport is NOT covid safe’, ‘The uni may feel the campus is covid secure but it’s too late by the time I’ve got there via train and bus’. Some staff felt strongly that this element of risk was not being considered fully enough.

One zero-hour contract worker said that they had not been given enough information to make an informed decision about returning to work. This is obviously very concerning for this colleague, who is being asked about shifts but does not know if they will be safe on campus.

Conclusion:

This is a small sample and cannot be taken to be representative of staff across the University. There is by no means universal satisfaction in the way the University has handled the situation, nor are staff feeling safe on campus on the whole. Nevertheless, many staff feel that management have done their best in difficult circumstances and have put in place reasonable measures to mitigate the risks of Covid-19.  There are numerous criticisms of the University’s decision to insist on in-person teaching and concerns about the increased risk posed to staff who deliver that teaching. It is clear from the findings that staff who are given flexibility to make their own decisions about whether to teach online or in-person are happier than those who feel ‘forced’ back to campus.

SUCU believe strongly that senior management should stop insisting on in-person teaching for all students regardless of pedagogical value and instead allow module leaders, HODs and DOPs to decide what is best for their students. This is happening in some Schools across the University and not in others. Where staff feel fully consulted and supported by local managers, their responses are more positive towards the Covid-19 risk mitigation measures put in place by the University. As we have done since March, SUCU will continue to work constructively with management to address these issues and represent the views of staff during this pandemic.

03/11/20