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Correspondence with senior management following the EJJNC

Following the email sent to the COO on the 30th September from the 3 campus unions, we received the following response on the 5th October and have since responded with our comments (highlighted in blue):

 

Dear Lucy, Adam, Naomi, Alastair and Gwen

Thank you for your email.   I have been very busy during this first week of the new teaching year and regret that my reply is delayed.

Following discussion with you at one of our weekly meetings and in the correspondence to arrange the EJJNC on Tuesday, and its agenda, I believe our mutual intention had been to address the many topics you had previously raised in emails and letters at that meeting.  That was the reason I had deferred replying to those emails.  We have established regular dialogue at our weekly meetings and we all agreed that the additional time at an extra JJNC would be the best place to raise and discuss issues and concerns.

We also expected that the meeting would be organised in that way and hoped that you would specifically address the concerns that we raised. We believe that we had been quite clear what these issues were in our emails so did not feel it necessary to alter the agenda to itemise these. We felt that too much time was devoted to listening to the University’s position, which by now we know well, and going over old ground, and not enough time was given to listening to UCU’s specific concerns over H&S and in-person teaching. 

Clearly from your email you think that did not comprehensively happen in practice.  I propose therefore to prepare a comprehensive reply to the points you have raised and ensure you have that before our next weekly meeting on Wednesday 7th October.  That would be much appreciated.

Our weekly meetings have been an unprecedented opportunity for issues relating to the establishment of a COVID-secure campus to be raised, to be recorded and for answers to be given.  I believe that we all participated in those meetings in the spirit of mutual determination to provide a secure environment in which to work, to research and to educate our students.  I am very grateful for the contributions union representatives made to development of the protocols and guidance for re-opening the campus after lockdown.  Those have been the foundation of a successful re-opening of University activity on campus and have been rigorously followed in every building opened.

We have always said that we appreciate the opportunity for discussion in the weekly meetings and thank you for the time you have taken to attend. However, we do not believe that the unions have been comprehensively included in the ‘development of the protocols and guidance for re-opening the campus after lockdown’. For example, UCU did not contribute to decision-making around the return to in-person teaching. We were allowed access to the operational ‘curriculum planning’ group but not the decision-making Active Campus group.

There are a number of important communications we did not sight of in advance of their publication, including the guidance for in-person teaching sent out by Alex Neill and the “good practice for socially distanced teaching” guidance. The latter contradicted some of the guidance in earlier correspondence (part of which has subsequently had to be corrected by Cathy Day). We also dispute that protocols have been ‘rigorously followed in every building opened’; we hear from our members and our sister unions that contractors are not socially distancing, have not received information about ‘Covid-secure’ protocols and that one-way systems are not being used. Rooms booked for teaching have been found locked at the start of class, preventing students and staff from entering and thus encouraging people to congregate in large groups. Masks are not always being worn and cleaning equipment, such as bins, are not always provided. Our members have found sanitizer stations turned off. The 25-student upper limit on classes has already been waived for some booked teaching, creating the dangerous possibility of ‘superspreader’ events and undermining the risk mitigation strategies we rely on.

You will be aware of the Government’s clearly expressed expectation that universities will be open, will be teaching their students in a blended way (including in-person) and that they will take care of students to ensure their well-being.  This is consistent with the University’s commitment to provide the best education we can in current circumstances.  This approach has been evidently supported by students who want to come to our University to learn, to experience new opportunities and to develop their potential.

The government line is constantly changing and their own advisors on SAGE warned that students coming back to halls would aid transmission. The government line on face-to-face teaching has always allowed for interpretation by individual institutions. In his recent address to parliament, Gavin Williamson said that face-to-face teaching should happen where it is difficult to replicate learning online, for example, for some clinical and practical subjects. UCU agrees with this. It has never been our line no in-person teaching should occur at all, nor that online is always preferable; it is simply that it is safest for all if in-person teaching is restricted to what is strictly necessary. We do not agree that face-to-face teaching under the current constraints is always the best possible education, because it is less flexible than the online alternatives (e.g. in terms of group work). Our staff are being pressured to provide in-person teaching even when they believe that the online equivalent would be pedagogically equivalent or better. 

Students can still enjoy new experiences and develop their potential but we must be realistic and honest about what can be provided during the current crisis. We note with concern that students are presented as wanting the on-campus experience. This is based on the model of ‘the student’ as young, able-bodied and without caring responsibilities. The voices and viewpoints of disabled, clinically vulnerable and mature students are missing from this picture of ‘business as usual’, though our members are hearing the voices of these students. 

Moreover, the government’s expectations were based on a national-level approach to the pandemic that would include both a functioning test and trace system and a case rate either falling or at least controlled. We draw your attention to the test and trace fiasco that played out over the weekend; across the country the number of positive cases has been dramatically understated, and over 15,000 contacts have not been traced due to an error in using Excel for data storage. The risk of many thousands more infections as a result of this mishandling is significant and we suggest that merely meeting the earlier expectations set by the Government is inadequate to ensure good public health outcomes.

Those plans that you have contributed to are robust and stand comparison with other universities across the UK.  In several ways we exceed the mitigations of other universities, not least with our unique surveillance testing for all students and for staff working regularly on campus.  The testing programme will identify even asymptomatic infected people before they have opportunities to transmit infection widely.  That will give confidence that those on campus are most likely to be staff and students who have recently tested negative for coronavirus.

The last sentence does not quite follow—and there is some uncomfortable vagueness in the term ‘recently’. We were told in recent communication that the coverage of students was far from universal, and take-up by staff falls behind that of students. We are being asked to bring our saliva samples to campus on the first day we are scheduled to teach, which means there is a serious danger that we bring infection to campus, pass it on, and then receive our positive result too late. If arrangements are similar for students, this will mean any given student could spread the virus widely before they are located and asked to self-isolate. We have also heard reports that staff due to teach in-person have received kits but not the first “take a test” instruction. Students have also informed staff that they have received nothing in the last week so there are already numerous students mixing with no testing in progress.

As of Friday morning there were less than a dozen staff and students with known positive COVID-19 tests.  That does not warrant a move from our tier-1 to a more restricted amount of in-person teaching.  The teaching rooms are designed to reduce the risk of transmission – as you know there are Perspex screens for teachers to stand behind, strict spacing, anti-viral wipes, cleaning between each teaching session, a requirement to wear face-covering indoors, one-way systems and timetabling to avoid cross-overs between classes.

We believe that this does not reflect the realities of the national infection rate, nor the lessons we could learn from other universities. While Southampton’s planning compares well to some other universities, it is not leading the way. Solent and Bournemouth took the courageous decision to move the vast majority of their teaching online in order to protect staff and students. Some students are still in student accommodation but they were able to make the choice to stay at home if they wanted to and were able. The requirement to wear face-covering indoors is undermined by the fact that staff and students are allowed to take them off when distanced of more than 2m. This does not take into account airborne transmission. A recent report shows that the CDC in the USA is now taking the risks of aerosol transmission far more seriously: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/10/05/920446534/cdc-acknowledges-coronavirus-can-spread-via-airborne-transmission?t=1601988013329 Face-covering indoors should be compulsory at all times. This lack of clarity has already resulted in several cases where staff or students took their masks off during in-person classes.

In order for us to assess the validity of the University’s claims regarding COVID-positive numbers we need substantially more information. We need to know: how many students have been recently tested (out of the eligible population); how many have tested negative and how many positive, and the same for all staff working on campus. Again, Southampton management is not here following best practice in the sector, and could and should provide a publicly-accessible COVID cases dashboard of the kind developed by Sheffield University and as recommended by UCU nationally.

Moreover, the University’s approach assumes that moving from ‘tier 1’ to a higher tier should a wholly reactive measure based on the prevalence of cases within the University, rather than a pro-active measure taking into account the prevalence of cases within the wider community, and thus the capacity of that community’s health infrastructure to cope with a surge in cases and hospital admissions. We believe that the move to a higher tier should be a pro-active. In an environment where cases are rising exponentially, the University’s responsibility to its students, staff, and community is to do what it can to suppress and prevent further infections, not simply to react to outbreaks after they happen. This is particularly important because, even with the University’s testing regime, by the time an outbreak is identified affected students and staff will have potentially already infected many other members of the community via buses, cafes, bars etc.

The reduced teaching timetable and limited, booked, spaces in the libraries reduce the number of students coming to campus and only those staff who need to work on campus are expected to be there.  Staff who can work at home and do not need to be on campus (eg for teaching) will continue to work from home.  I have confidence in the ability of our students to understand our guidance and requirements and to behave in ways that keep themselves and others safe.  Partly I have that confidence because I have seen them sticking with smaller groups and wearing face-coverings when needed.

This does not reflect what we are hearing from our colleagues working in halls, or indeed from the local community with respect to students living in private housing. A substantial number of students are not adhering to the ‘rule of 6’. We do not blame the students for this—they are being told they need to be here to study, and they are being asked to restrict their movements more than the rest of the adult population in order to stay safe. Students still need to work, to socialise and move around the country to visit their families—not least for the sake of their mental health. Those students who have chosen to come to halls are likely to be highly mobile with few obvious health concerns. The lifestyles they lead and their living conditions are not conducive to social distancing. With regards to staff, we are still extremely alarmed that insufficient attention has been paid to the commuting needs of staff in back-to-campus planning. It is also not true that staff are being allowed to continue to work from home – they are being told they must attend PAT meetings F2F, inductions F2F and other pedagogically non-essential interactions with students in-person. If they have commuted to work, they will not be able to go home between sessions and there are limited spaces for them to work on campus.

The University has developed its outbreak response plan in discussion and partnership with the City and County public health officials.  We have clear plans for what to do when someone reports they are infected and comprehensive support arrangements are in place for students who are in self-isolation – with their health and mental well-being our priority.

The latest guidance to students states that flatmates and friends should help students who are isolating with food. This is too great a burden to put on students who hardly know each other, notwithstanding the fact that flatmates may also be isolating. There are limited delivery slots for supermarkets and if there is an outbreak, pressure will be put on these services. We want reassurances that students will be looked after by the University (not their friends) in the event of an outbreak.

Moreover, it remains clear from early outbreaks, as well as from recent ones at universities and even from the Rose Garden of the White House last week that the really problematic period for infection spread is before people realise they have been infected.

You have raised concerns about staff who are especially vulnerable to the risks consequent on COVID-19 infection.  The risk assessment for individuals used by the University enables anyone with concerns to identify those risks in discussion with their line manager, so that their line manager can make appropriate arrangements.  Those arrangements can include working from home and in my conversations with line managers since Tuesday I have heard examples in which that has been readily agreed.  Following the EJJNC on Tuesday I followed up on the commitment I made at the meeting to ensure that line managers would be familiar with this risk assessment process and how to respond to their staff members’ concerns.  This work is in hand and I can report progress when we next meet.

While some risk assessments for staff permitting them to work at home have been readily agreed, others have not, and indeed we are aware of cases where working from home arrangements have still not been agreed for vulnerable staff, or staff living with vulnerable individuals, even though their on-campus work is scheduled to begin this week. We believe that in the current environment, which is fraught with risk simply because of the national context, all staff who can work from home and wish to work from home should be able to do so, in line with the government guidance for the rest of the population. We also note that the RAs do not directly consider the impact of an activity on anyone but the staff member who is the subject of the RA. There is no space to assess the impact on family members or cohabitants of that staff member; their vulnerability to Covid-19 does not therefore get taken into account even as such a staff member is required to return to the workplace. This will put considerable strain on their mental wellbeing, due to the very real chance of spreading Covid-19 infection to such family members. Asking staff to put their family at risk to undertake activities that could be more easily be undertaken remotely is simply unacceptable and shows a deep unseriousness about staff well-being. We would be grateful if you could provide us with a copy of the Equality Impact Assessment pertaining to the University’s decision reopen campus and recommence in-person teaching in the middle of this pandemic.

I look forward to meeting you at our next weekly discussion.

Best wishes

Richard

 

 

Position statement: COVID-19 Safe return to Campus

We write in our capacity as your branch executive committee to state that we do not feel that Southampton University has yet demonstrated a plan which is clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level. Since students mingle freely with the wider community on buses, in cafes, bars, shops and other public spaces, and since they often travel home at weekends, any increase in infections in University settings will quickly spread among the wider community.

We believe that the safest way to reopen our campuses is to follow the guidance of the Independent SAGE report and recommend that all teaching should be online by default, unless it can be demonstrated that in-person teaching is pedagogically essential. Our view is informed by the Independent SAGE report on universities (20 August), the BMJ editorial ‘Re-opening universities is high risk’ (1 September) and the SAGE paper on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in higher education (4 September) and recent research, discussed in WonkHE. from Bristol University. We also note Warwick UCU’s call to move teaching online (18 August), UCU’s national call on reopening campuses (29 August), the UCU event on reopening universities and colleges (1 September), UCU Fund the Future and internal statements we have seen from other unions. We have also taken account of moves towards all-online teaching provision next term at other universities, including St Andrews, QMUL, UCL and Birkbeck.

Following expert advice, UCU identified 5 tests that must be met to make a return to campus safe for staff and students. Our appraisal of Southampton’s status vis-a-vis these tests follows:

Test 1: Sustained reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases and infection rates

Not met: Government statistics suggest that cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. We appreciate the University has limited power to affect this national picture, but these facts affect the risk and our ability to mitigate it nonetheless. We are extremely concerned that bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk not only to staff, but to these students, their families (some students commute and some frequently travel home) and the wider community in Southampton.

Test 2: Coherent planning for social distancing

Not met: The university has put in place various control measures to encourage social distancing such as community messaging, signage, one-way systems, additional communal spaces. However, these steps do not adequately reduce risk to a safe level.  There remains no way to make in-person teaching within a shared breathing space safe. We do not yet know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate to these guidelines, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance. Furthermore, it is inevitable that students will mix when they are off campus, meaning transmission on campus – particularly via asymptomatic students – is extremely likely. In particular, we cannot see a coherent rationale for the University’s refusal to make mask-wearing compulsory on campus (with the standard medical exemptions)

Test 3: Comprehensive testing and contact tracing

Partially met: We welcome the recent announcement about the use of saliva testing for staff and students and are proud to have colleagues who have worked to produce this testing method. We note, however, that this project does not follow the BMJ recommendations that testing should be mandatory. We understand that the university has limited scope to enforce this, but while testing remains voluntary, we are concerned about the level of uptake. Many uncertainties remain.  We believe that test results will be received via text message, but we do not yet know what steps will be taken once positive tests are returned to trace those who have been in contact with the testee. What plans are in place to support students and staff who need to self-isolate and how quickly these arrangements can be made? Until these questions are answered, it is our view that testing and tracing cannot be said to be ‘comprehensive’.

Test 4: University- wide strategies for safe returns and continuing health and safety

Partially met: In a recent letter written by Health and Safety representatives from UCU, Unison and Unite, which we published on our blog, significant concerns were raised around consultation. We remain concerned that expert advice from unions is not being sought or taken into account sufficiently in the university’s planning and that there are significant gaps in terms of planning for the future. For example, what are the university’s plans in the event of an outbreak? What action will be taken in case of an outbreak in student halls? What will be the trigger for a return to online teaching in all or part of the University? What steps are being taken to prevent a potential on-campus outbreak from becoming an all-Southampton outbreak, amplified through shared public transport systems and facilities such as cafés, bars and shops? Is air-borne contamination being taken into consideration and how is it mitigated?

Test 5: Protection for those most vulnerable to COVID-19

Not met: The UCU’s national position is that “Staff who are themselves more vulnerable to Covid-19, and staff who live with people at heightened risk, must not be required to work on campus.” Throughout the summer, Southampton UCU has raised concerns with senior management about clinically extremely vulnerable staff, vulnerable staff and staff who are living with or caring for vulnerable people. These discussions are ongoing. Senior management continue to reassure us that the health and wellbeing of staff and students is their main priority, but we have received reports  of vulnerable staff and staff living with vulnerable people whose requests to work from home have been declined or are still to be decided. We have advised members in this position to ask the University to reconsider or respond to their requests; unless and until we hear that all such requests have been granted, we cannot state that Test 5 has been met. Further, we reiterate that we cannot support the University’s current policy of requiring vulnerable staff who feel unable to return to campus to take unpaid leave in cases where the University has decided that they cannot work from home. We call on the University to grant staff in this position paid disability leave.  We are also concerned that the University has declined flexible working agreements for parents/carers who have faced considerable challenges finding childcare during the pandemic.

In addition to the five tests not being met in full, we have registered serious concerns regarding the safe return to on-campus working.  These are addressed in the joint trade union health and safety letter which was sent to the Chief Operating Officer on Monday 7th September and is published on the SUCU blog. We are happy to work with senior management to seek solutions to these issues, but time is now extremely tight, and unless sufficient progress is made in reducing the risks on campus, we do not feel able to recommend these plans to our members.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

 

 

EGM motion – Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

The motion below was passed by a quorate Extraordinary General Meeting of UCU members held on 15 September 2020

Motion 3Return to campus and in-person teaching plans 

Southampton UCU do not believe that the University’s return to campus plans in their current form are clear and comprehensive enough to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus to a safe level.  

This branch notes: 

  • The University’s position that all students must receive some in-person teaching. 
  • The recent British Medical Journal and Independent SAGE reports highlighting the high risk of in-person teaching. 
  • The University is not yet committed to making use of all the control methods set out in the Government guidance of 10 September [link], such as the segmentation of students and ventilation requirements. 
  • UCU’s 5 tests for safe returns to on-campus working in HE.  
  • That cases of Covid-19 in the UK are rising at a substantial rate, particularly amongst those aged 17-20. 
  • That students will mix when they are off campus. They have jobs, use public transport and may live in HMOs. Their circumstances increase the likelihood of transmission on campus, particularly if they are asymptomatic. 
  • The joint letter from Unite, Unison and UCU Health and Safety reps (7/09/20) noting that we have been excluded from the high-level decision-making forums such as Active Campus and stating that they have not been adequately consulted on Health and Safety issues, particularly in relation to in-person teaching. 

This branch believes: 

  • Bringing students back prematurely poses a significant risk to staff, students, their families and the wider Southampton community. 
  • That control measures put in place by the university are insufficient, particularly as we do not know what degree of adherence students will demonstrate, nor what the University will do in the event of non-compliance.  
  •  That there is no way to make in-person teaching completely safe within a shared breathing space. Moreover, for many courses there is limited direct educational value in the style of teaching necessitated by maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.  
  • That clinically extremely vulnerable staff and those caring for vulnerable people have not received adequate advice, reassurance and protections, despite the University stating that the health and safety of staff and students is its main priority. Furthermore, poor communication around the return to campus plans have added to workloads and increased stress and mental health problems.   

This branch calls on management to: 

  • Ensure that all staff members with health vulnerabilities (or household members with vulnerabilities) are permitted to teach and work remotely for the duration of the pandemic without detriment. 
  • Agree that no staff member should be compelled to return to campus until the 5 tests set by UCU’s expert panel are met 
  • As advised by the Independent SAGE report, online teaching must be the default until these 5 tests are met. 
  • Make the wearing of masks on campus mandatory in all enclosed spaces (with standard health exemptions). 
  • Take all steps available within the law to ensure a comprehensive  testing regime that covers all staff and students (with standard health exemptions) following the BMJ’s recommendations of 01/09/2020 https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3365 
  • Publish its procedure and timeline for collecting and reporting confirmed cases amongst staff and students, including contact tracing for positive cases 
  • Publish its contingency plans listing what trigger points for University and community transmission the University has identified, and what responses these will activate on campus. Restate and uphold its commitment to fully consult trade union Health and Safety representatives on all its Covid-19 contingency planning. 

This branch resolves to:  

  • Publish resources to inform members’ decision-making regarding the safety of return to campus.  
  • Support members if they use their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. 
  • Launch a campaign, in collaboration with other TUs and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of our community is prioritised over financial interests. 
  • Refuse to endorse the return to campus plans until these issues are addressed.  

Proposer: Lucy Watson 

Seconder: Claire Le Foll 

Motion passed

 

 

 

COVID-19: Health and Safety correspondence with University management

This week Health and Safety officers from UCU, Unison and Unite wrote to the COO informing him of their concerns around the return to campus plans. Your exec have also written to the COO asking senior management to address these and other unresolved issues urgently. You can read the correspondence below. We will update members on developments when we can.

 

 

 

SUCU Requests for information: Active Campus and University Finances

Over the past month SUCU has been asking for trade union representation on the high-level decision-making group ‘Active Campus’. The knowledge and expertise of TU H&S reps are invaluable and can help direct senior leaders in their discussions about how to open up our campuses safely. Our H&S officer, Adam Dunn, wrote to the Chief Operating Officer on 21st July to request, once again, for representation:

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SUCU received the following response from Richard Middleton on the 23rd July: 

“Dear Adam

Thank you for your letter of 21 July seeking representation of a UCU Health and Safety representative on the Active Campus Group, and in turn seeking representatives from the other trades unions.

This is a group of Executive Directors in Professional Services – my direct reports – meeting as a group of senior managers to make plans for the operation of the campus from September onwards, ensuring that we meet our obligations to students and fulfilling our managerial roles.   In doing so we are naturally utilising the experience of University staff working in Professional Services.  It is not a group to which I would invite trade union representation.

As you will know, I and the HR team and Health and Safety Director have been meeting regularly, mostly weekly, with representatives of all the campus trades unions for several months and I have committed to keeping those regular meetings informed of how plans for the Autumn term are developing.  I believe that regular discussion has been working well and is consistent with our mutual commitments to improving relationships.

Trades union representatives participated in the development of guidance and protocols for returning to work during May and June.  Those groups were very successful and I am grateful for the trades union contributions and the positive spirit with which that work was undertaken.  It was a good example of our cooperation.

The University consults with trades unions consistently on health and safety and of course most comprehensively at the Health and Safety Consultative Committee.  I am confident also that there are good daily working relationships between University staff, especially those working in health and safety, and the trades union health and safety representatives.

With best wishes,

Richard”

In a recent meeting, the COO agreed to share with SUCU officers a precis of the discussions which are taking place on Active Campus. While this development is welcome, we do not feel that this is equivalent to having TU reps actually present for these discussions.

SUCU has also been asking for more detailed financial information to be shared with the executive committee in order that we can be fully informed about the University’s financial situation. We are asking to see concrete evidence that there is a case for the ‘cost savings’ measures the Vice Chancellor has informed us might be required. On the 21st July we emailed the Chief Operating Officer again about this:

Dear Richard,

We are holding an EGM tomorrow to discuss UCU’s national Fund the Future campaign and we will be discussing the VC’s recent email. I am writing to follow-up on a request made at JJNC 25th June to provide full financial disclosure so that unions have a complete understanding of the parameters of the university’s financial decision-making. The actions state that this was fulfilled on the 8th July but in the finances meetings we have attended since then we have pressed for more detail. Specifically, SUCU would like data on the following:

  • The full overall budget for 2020/21 and predicted scenarios (not just the summary that has been submitted to Council for approval)
  • A breakdown of the projected loss to income, making it clear how much of this drop in income is offset by originals plans to run a surplus.
  • Full figures on the cash reserves the University has which may be able to absorb any projected losses.
  • Full figures on any liquid assets the University has which could be turned to into cash if needed.
  • What percentage of offsetting measures are being levied against staff costs, and have the University fully considered making cuts elsewhere?
  • What budget for capital expenditure is planned for 2020/21? Is this work essential?

We would also like answers to the following questions:  

  • Are management worried about breaching agreements made with lenders about how to run the institution? Do we have any covenants that stipulate that the institution should meet a certain level of business performance each year?
  • Has management considered how the proposed cuts will affect the ability of our institution to bounce back in future years? Have management modelled any changes to future income?
  • Has management researched the government business loans scheme to see whether the university if eligible for this support? 

More detailed information is essential if we are to contribute fully to discussions around cost-savings. We urge you to share this crucial financial information with us as soon as possible.

Many thanks,

Lucy Watson (SUCU President)”

On 23rd July, we received this reply:

“Dear Lucy

Thank you for your email.  I regret that I was not able to reply within the day of your request, but of course I want to respond before we meet this afternoon for our regular discussion.  I will address each of your questions in turn

1.       Full overall budget for 2020/21.  There isn’t yet a full budget for 2020/21 because of the uncertainty about our income for 2020/21. We expect to take a final budget to Council in November.  This will likely still retain a level of uncertainty because of the January international PGT intake.  We don’t have “predicted scenarios” – we model scenarios following the same sort of approach at IFS and London economics. The VC’s email of 1 July gave the headlines of this scenario work.

2.       Breakdown of projected loss to income.  The baseline budget is an internal planning document worked up according to our strategic plan which is to deliver a surplus each year to generate cash for investment.  In the VC’s email he referred to a drop of £70m in income, in a moderate to severe scenario.  We think it is prudent to prepare plans consistent with that figure; but, as I say in the first point, we also expect that to change as we gain more information about actual enrolments.

3.       Full figures of cash reserves – are available in 2018/19 financial statements, which are published and those have not changed materially.  The extent to which these “may be able to absorb any losses” depends on their intended use – capital investment remains a strategic priority.

4.       Liquid assets – this information is also available in the financial statements, represented by cash and investments.

5.       Offsetting measures levied against staff costs – We are looking at offsetting potential losses against non-staff and staff costs as well as cash.  Until we understand the actual impacts of student recruitment and the length of the challenge we have not yet got firm plans yet on any specific percentage in each of those areas.  We are as you know maintaining very strict controls on non-pay spend and are holding down recruitment and replacement of staff.  As we have shared with you, we hope to achieve further reductions in staff spend through voluntary measures if at all possible. 

6.       We also have not currently set a budget for capital for next year, again we are awaiting November.  Nevertheless planning for capital investments, especially in the estate, continues, consistent with the University’s strategy.

As the VC said in his email:

“This loss of income would need to be mitigated in three ways: through significant reductions in our planned operating expenditure by maintaining the same level of rigorous control and scrutiny as we have done since March, including scaling back our planned capital expenditure; through reducing our staff costs – our single largest investment; and through careful use of our cash reserves. Our intention will be to use a balance of all three in order to maintain our prospects for recovery, which is likely to take more than a single year.

“I know there is a considerable appetite for information and detail. I want to be open with you about what we are doing, and why. The levels of uncertainty are immense, and I know that is frustrating for all of us. However I am confident that our approach is sensible, and that we will ensure we regularly test our assumptions against what turns out to be reality and adapt our planning accordingly, and that we will neither take action before we need to, nor leave it too late to take action.”

In response to your final three bulleted questions:

We do have covenants on borrowing which we are monitoring and modelling.  We are looking at longer term impacts and the VC email makes clear the high-level principles we are using to govern our decision making. We are exploring actively all the options Government is making available and assessing their benefit to our long-term sustainability.  

Best wishes

Richard”

SUCU will continue to press for more information on the current and projected financial situation at the University so that we can better represent all staff in our discussions with senior management.

 

Correspondence with University management re postponement of sabbatical leave and promotions 2020-21

RESPONSE RECEIVED FROM THE CHIEF OPEATING OFFICER, RICHARD MIDDLETON, ON 25 JUNE 2020

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your email of 18th June 2020.  Please accept this as a joint response from both Alex and I.  As you will recall we commented on and explained the urgency of the decision made at the University executive concerning sabbaticals and promotions when we met at our regular weekly meeting.  We acknowledged that the announcement of the decision did not match the spirit and intent of the joint statement we are drafting.  I still hope and expect that we – University and trades unions – can sign the joint statement very soon.  I will take each of your numbered points in order:

  1. I can confirm that the changes (to both sabbaticals and promotions) that were  announced last week relate to 2020/2021;
  2. I can not predict what actions will be required in a year’s time to sustain the University’s financial position.  I can confirm that a decision about sabbaticals and promotions in 2021/22 has not at this stage been taken and that interrupting sabbaticals or promotions in 2021/22 would require a new decision.  The University will want to consider when it is appropriate to re-introduce both sabbaticals and promotions within the overall framework of the finances and economy of the University;
  3. In respect of sabbaticals, the possible impact on research expectations and outputs is acknowledged.  Deans will provide advice to line managers and staff affected within the faculties who had been relying on sabbatical leave  to deliver their objectives and outputs in 2020/2021;
  4. There were not formal prior EIAs in respect of this decision concerning suspension of sabbaticals and promotions, which would have involved consideration of the equality impact status quo in respect of sabbaticals and promotions arrangements.  EIAs can not be done retrospectively. We will consider equality issues in implementing the decisions; and we will review EIAs on other cost saving plans we may have in the future.

More broadly, you will be aware that a separate meeting with the Trades Unions has been set up and diarised by HR for early July to consider the University’s projections of probable income in 2020-21 and to discuss possible mitigations.  I asked trades unions at the recent weekly meeting to bring proposals for mitigation to the meeting so that we can fully understand our options.

Best wishes

Richard 

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer (Interim)

—————————-

LETTER SENT TO THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, RICHARD MIDDLETON, AND ALEX NEILL ON 18 JUNE 2020

Dear Richard, dear Alex

We have been attending the regular TU/COO meetings with you both, as it is at least a means of regularly discussing COVID-19 related items of interest to our members.  I had assumed this meant that there would be a degree of transparency regarding decisions which would impact UCU members and enable some advance discussion of the implications and possible alternatives.

Our members are, understandably, utterly appalled to read in the 17th June UEB blog (now followed up in letters from Deans) that sabbaticals and promotion rounds for 2020-21 have been postponed. We do recognise that COVID-19 poses many threats and the University needs to retain a degree of flexibility to allow for a possible resurgence in cases. However, it is very unfortunate that these latest drastic measures were not raised with UCU in advance of the announcement of these decisions with time for proper discussion. Giving us forewarning (of a few hours) is not consultation, and barely allows us to assess the situation.  

At our TU/ COO meeting last week on 10th June we raised the question of sabbaticals, as there had been reports of postponement by some members. I sought clarification and asked at a minimum that if this decision were to be taken that there would be a corresponding reduction in research output expectation. I also asked for confirmation that this was only for 2020/2021. You indicated you would need to seek the input of UEB, but then went straight to announcement.  

The additional decision to suspend the promotion round for 2020/2021 came completely out of the blue and will be a severe motivational blow to staff, particularly those who have also lost their sabbaticals. 

We would like to have constructive discussion and are confident that exploring a range of options may have enabled a fairer and more nuanced set of solutions to be developed and considered. After a long period in which many staff have made great sacrifices on behalf of the University (and will continue to do so), we wish to register our strongest possible objection to your course of action, and to your failure to consult with or even inform us as the recognised TU for affected staff before taking this action. 

In order to reassure members we would like to make the following requests: 

  1. Please confirm that these changes (to both sabbaticals and promotions) are for 2020/2021 only;
  2. Please confirm that sabbaticals and promotion rounds will return as normal in 2021/2022;
  3. Please confirm that research expectations will be adjusted accordingly for those staff who had been relying on sabbatical leave in 2020/2021;
  4. Please share with us the Equality Impact Assessments relating to both decisions (sabbaticals and promotions) that have been carried out for all grades of staff.

Last year, we signed a partnership charter which committed all parties to treating each other with respect and consideration, and to be transparent in communications and behaviour. I know that the current VC was very supportive of this initiative so I have copied him in here, to remind you all that we are prepared to uphold our side of the charter and ask you do to the same. And in addition to the specific requests above, and in the light of the partnership charter, we would welcome the opportunity for a full and open discussion about University finances to engage more effectively with the reasons for these decisions.

We will be sharing this email with our members later this week.

Regards

Mary Morrison

President

On behalf of Southampton UCU

UCU support for #BlackLivesMatter

In recent weeks, peaceful protests have taken place around the world calling for justice and equality following the brutal murder of George Floyd. Here in the UK people have taken to the streets in their thousands in all major cities under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’. The parallels between the murder of an African American man by law enforcement in the US and our violent colonial past and racist present are clear. In Bristol, protests culminated in a statue of Edward Colston, which had long been a controversial landmark and the subject of numerous petitions, being pulled down and thrown in the river. Britain’s colonial history is being taught via these acts of resistance and there is a sense that something different is happening. 

There is hope that honest and difficult conversations about racism in the UK are happening at last. On social media, people have been calling for recognition of the UK’s own record of police brutality (Christopher Alder (1998), Sean Rigg (2008) and Mark Duggan (2011)). Black people account for 3% of the population, but 8% of deaths in custody. Articles in major newspapers by black public intellectuals, politicians and activists have called out the hypocrisy of claiming that the UK’s racism is more ‘subtle’ and less violent. Although many people have voiced concerns about protesting during a pandemic, the connections between Black Lives Matter and the current health crisis are also being brought to the fore. BAME people in the UK are dying in far greater numbers from Covid-19, not because of genetics but because of socio-economic inequalities and racism. These same inequalities were brought home by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which saw its 3rd anniversary this week – 72 deaths and still no prosecutions

For our part, universities around the country are showing their support for Black Lives Matter through public statements, hashtags and even by illuminating their buildings. But the suspicion remains that such expressions of solidarity are often nothing more than window dressing, and form part of a broader strategy within UK higher education where universities speak of ‘promoting diversity’ whilst failing to challenge the systemic racism that is embedded into the very heart of our institutions. The fact remains that across UK Higher Education institutions fewer than 1% of professors are black, and there are even fewer black female professors. Additionally, the race attainment gap in education continues throughout higher education. 

Student groups have being drawing our attention to racism in universities through campaigns such as #RhodesMustFall. Students at Manchester University painted over Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, which adorned the newly refurbished Students’ Union, with Maya Angelou’s ‘I Rise’.  At Southampton, the Black Students Solidarity Network have called upon senior management to do more to address systemic racism and have written their own anti-racism charter for student clubs and societies. We are grateful to the Black Students Solidarity Network for supporting SUCU’s recent industrial action. They saw that two of the ‘four fights’ which called on universities to end casualisation and pay inequality were explicitly linked to systemic racism and the disproportionate number of BAME staff who are on casual contracts. During the action, the Disputes Committee and the Black Students Solidarity Network organised a teach out with SOAS in support of their #preventingprevent programme. We are aware that as a branch we need to better support BAME staff and students and fight against institutional racism in our university and HE more broadly. To this end SUCU pledges to support our colleagues in Shine BME Staff Network in furthering their anti-racism work, including their commitment to the Race Equality Charter. We also support the Black Students Solidarity Network in their initiatives to end discrimination at the University of Southampton. 

This branch reiterates UCU’s stand against racism. We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but we do so whilst recognising that so much work still so urgently needs to be done.  We stand in solidarity against everyday acts of racism, microaggressions and harassment that black staff and students face across UK Higher Education institutions, including our own. We stand in solidarity with movements seeking to resist hostile environment policies on our campuses. We stand in solidarity with the disproportionate number of black workers at our institution who are paid only slightly above the living wage. All our members have a role to play in eradicating racism. Messages of solidarity are not enough. We need to do so much more.

DONATE:

We encourage our members to donate to the UK Black Lives Matter fundraiser: 

https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unknown&utm_campaign=comms_h4hk+ukblm-fund

LEARN:

We encourage members to learn about anti-racism work already being done:

https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/

https://www.runnymedetrust.org/

https://www.ucu.org.uk/action-against-workplace-racism

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/diversity/how_we_support_diversity/harassment_contacts.page

FOLLOW:

Members who want to learn more can follow these social media campaigns:

#BlackintheIvory

#decolonizethecurriculum

#BlackLivesMatter

COVID-19 Communications with the University

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UCU trustee, national officer and NEC elections – ballot now open

Members should have received their ballot material for the election of some of UCU’s national officers and national executive committee positions, including the Vice President, Trustees, and members of the National Executive Committee. These are very important roles in our Union; however, the turnout in these elections is typically very low. We thus strongly encourage you to take part to this democratic process of our Union. We have reported below a brief description of the function of each elected position, and a list of candidates for each position (CLICK on a candidate’s name to open their election statement). The ballot is conducted on a single transferable vote (STV) basis; you should thus rank candidates in order of preference by placing a number next to each candidate’s name. Your ballot papers should arrive by February 10th; do not hesitate to email us at ucu@soton.ac.uk for additional information.

Note that not all regions or sectors have candidates being elected this time round.  This is because periods of office for some positions are staggered.

 

VICE PRESIDENT

This is one of the most important and influential elected roles in the Union. The Vice President (VP) is elected annually, in alternating years from Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE), but always by the whole membership. Once elected, the VP serves four years: the first as VP, the second as President-Elect, the third as President, and fourth as Immediate Past President. They are strongly involved in UCU’s decision making. For instance, they are members of the pay negotiating teams for their sector, along with various other sub-committees, and they chair their Sector Committee/Conference for two years.

Candidates (1 seat available):
Margot Hill (Croydon College)
Janet Farrar (The Manchester College)

TRUSTEES

The trustees have oversight of the union’s property and funds. They may attend meetings of Congress, the National Executive Committee, and finance committees.

Candidates (3 seats available):

David Limb (North West Regional College)
Martin Ralph (University of Liverpool)
Mike Barton (London retired members’ branch)
Dr Angela Roger (University of Dundee)
Angie McConnell (Open University)

NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Members of the national executive committee (NEC) of UCU, include HE and FE members, some of whom are elected regionally, some on a UK-wide basis, plus equality seats and officers of the union. The NEC is responsible for conducting the Union’s business between Congress meetings, and interprets/implements policies decided by Congress. The NEC comprises a number of sub-committees which cover specific areas of work: higher education committee, further education committee, strategy and finance committee, education committee, recruiting, organising and campaigning committee, and equality committee. The higher education committee (HEC) in particular makes key decisions about the conduct of industrial ballots and disputes involving HE institutions.

Candidates (these are divided in categories):

Northern Ireland HE (1 seat available)
Philip McGowan (Queen’s University Belfast)
Linda Moore (Ulster University)

North East HE (3 seats available)
Ariane Bogain (Northumbria University)
Bruce E. Baker (Newcastle University)
Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds)
Dr Steve Lui (Dr Sun Chong Lui) (University of Huddersfield)
Joan Harvey (Newcastle University)
Dr Edward Yates (University of Sheffield)
Matilda Fitzmaurice (Durham University)

North East FE (1 seat available)
Rachel Minshull (Leeds City College)
Saleem Rashid (Sheffield College)

London and the East HE (4 seats available, to include at least one woman)
Roddy Slorach (Imperial College London)
Holly Smith (University College London)[woman]
Annie Goh (UAL Central Saint Martins)[woman]
Sarah Brown (Anglia Ruskin University)[woman]
Dr Stan Papoulias (King’s College London)
Professor Paul Anderson (Queen Mary University of London)
Dr Claire Marris (City, University of London)[woman]

Midlands HE (1 seat available) (casual vacancy)
David Harvie (University of Leicester)
Alan Barker (University of Nottingham)
Dr Teresa Forde (University of Derby)

UK-elected members HE (5 seats available; to include at least one post-92, one academic related)
Ann Swinney (University of Dundee)
Mark Abel (University of Brighton)[post-92]
Chloé Vitry (Lancaster University)
Dr Adam Ozanne (University of Manchester)
Shereen Benjamin (University of Edinburgh)
Michael McKrell (University of Central Lancashire)[post-92]
Jo McNeill (University of Liverpool)[academic related]
Ann Gow (University of Glasgow)
Sunil Banga (Lancaster University)
Dr Mark Pendleton (University of Sheffield)
Mike Finn (University of Exeter)
Dr Leon Rocha (University of Lincoln)[post-92]
Julie Hearn (Lancaster University)
Jamie Melrose (University of Bristol)
Dr Chris O’Donnell (University of the West of Scotland) [post-92]
Sarah King (University of Sussex)[academic related]
Michael Carley (University of Bath)

UK-elected members HE (casual vacancy) (1 seat available)
Chloé Vitry (Lancaster University)
Dr Mark Pendleton (University of Sheffield)
Sunil Banga (Lancaster University)

UK-elected members FE (3 seats available; to include at least one ACE and one woman)
Lauren Mura (Blackburn College)
Saleem Rashid (Sheffield College)
Richard McEwan (New City College Tower Hamlets [Poplar])

UK-elected members FE (casual vacancy) (1 seat available)
Nina Doran (City of Liverpool College)
Kevin Lynch (Sunderland College)

Representatives of women members for Higher education (3 seats available)
Rhiannon Lockley (Birmingham City University)
Dr Joanne Edge (University of Manchester)
Marian Mayer (Bournemouth University)
Pura Ariza (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol)
Dr Rhian Elinor Keyse (University of Exeter)
Julie Wilkinson (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Dr Joanna de Groot (University of York)
Dr Renee Prendergast (Queen’s University Belfast)

Please note that some NEC positions were uncontested, and have not been reported in the list above. You can find the names of candidates who have been already elected (as uncontested) HERE.

UCU meets V-C to discuss current strikes

Officers from Southampton UCU met on the morning of 8 January with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith and Anne-Marie Sitton, Executive Director of Human Resources to hand over our petition (of 1242 signatures), asking for a proper settlement on the current pension and pay disputes. During a 45-minute meeting we discussed a range of issues relating to the ongoing industrial action, including casualisation/precarity, workload, and the Joint Independent Panel (JEP) reports. From SUCU’s perspective, the meeting was positive and productive. The VC and Exec Director of HR indicated willingness to consider a range of options for tackling casualisation and excessive workloads, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the VC that you as members had communicated to him on the picket lines that these issues need to be a priority. Both were open to address staff concerns. They are open to exploring ways of replacing future fixed-term contracts of more than two years with permanent contracts (triggering redundancy when the funding ends) and turning zero-hours contracts into permanent contracts with annualised hours, reviewed annually.

While we were not able to cover all aspects of the dispute within the time available, we took the opportunity to ask for the VC’s views on the JEP 1 and 2 reports. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof. Smith indicated general agreement with the main recommendations of JEP 2, as well as recognising the importance to UCU and to the sustainability of the scheme of keeping individual members’ contributions to affordable levels. He has also agreed to take the issue of the University’s position on JEP 2 to University Executive Board very soon once an analysis and paper could be prepared. SUCU hopes that this will lead to a public statement of commitment to its aims on the part of the University. We also hope that the VC will take the concrete ideas discussed at the meeting to inform national discussions, in his capacity as chair of UCEA.

SUCU looks forward to further constructive engagements with Senior Managers to help turn these positive aspirations into concrete actions.

 

Campaigns Officer Dr Claire Le Foll hands SUCU’s petition for action on pay and pensions to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mark E. Smith.

 

 

You can read more about the HE disputes on USS here and Pay & Working conditions here , and via the UCU Twitter account.