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Modernising the Governance – Ballot information for UCU members

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Southampton UCU Branch Statement to Students about Strike Action

Branch officers recently met with the SUSU Vice President Education and Democracy, Emily Bastable, to discuss our upcoming strike action on 24, 25 and 30 November.  Emily confirmed that there would be an all student vote on the action that would run from Friday 11 November to Friday 18 November.  Southampton UCU provided a statement for students giving information about the UCU Rising campaign and why we are striking.  We do hope that the students at University of Southampton support the action, which already has the full support of the National Union of Students (SUSU are not affiliated to the NUS).


You may have heard that university staff across the nation will be taking strike action for three days on 24, 25 and 30 November. With great sadness and reluctance, UCU members at the University of Southampton will be participating, to fight for better working conditions. None of our members chose a career in higher education because of greed. Rather, whether lecturer, librarian, researcher, technician, administrator, or something else, we chose our professions because we are passionate about developing and sharing knowledge – both for the good of society and for the benefit of you, our students. Why, then, are we going on strike? We would like to explain our reasons for doing so.

Staff are taking action because of the relentless and continual erosion of our pay, conditions, and pensions, and because workloads have increased year after year, to a level that jeopardises our mental and physical wellbeing. We have reached a point where the quality of your education is being diluted, and where many staff are now financially insecure, and those who are not yet in that position face financial uncertainty in retirement.

  • Equality: Southampton has a mean gender pay gap of 19.9%. It does not report figures for ethnicity or disability pay gaps. This is totally unacceptable in 2022. Inequality is embedded in the sector by casualization, falling pay and pensions cuts.
  • Workloads: A recent UCU report reveals that university staff work on average and extra two working days each week. Many staff report suffering from depression and are considering resigning. Our local survey found that our members are struggling with crippling workloads that have only increased since the pandemic. Most recently, our complaints about the unbearable pressure being placed on staff during the summer assessment period have been ignored.
  • Casualization: At Southampton, around 41% of staff who provide teaching and academic support are casualized. Many of the staff that teach you or support your learning will not know if they have a job next academic year and may not even be entitled to sick pay. Staff turnover is high, expertise and experience are lost, and students suffer as a result.
  • Pay: Our pay has fallen in real terms by 25% since 2009. The latest pay offer we received was 3%, yet RPI in July 2022 was 12.3%, which means our pay has been cut again. A new lecturer’s starting salary today is about £6,000 less in real terms than it was in 2008. This is unsustainable. Let’s be clear: your fees are not going towards our wages, they are going towards senior leadership pay, shiny new buildings, consultancy fees and other vanity projects.
  • Pensions: Universities have forced through devastating cuts to our pensions. Staff are losing up to 35% of their pensions following a seriously flawed valuation that took place two years ago, which claimed that our pension fund had a deficit of £14.1bn. Yet the latest data (30 June 2022) suggests that there is actually a surplus of £1.8bn. Many staff now face financial insecurity in old age and the University admits that the cuts they supported will damage younger staff, women and part-time/casualized workers the most.

The leaders of some universities have claimed that fair workloads, conditions, equality, pay and pensions are unaffordable, but UCU has offered to explore alternative options for such institutions, on the condition that they open their books to our accountants so that their claims can be verified. The University of Southampton is clearly not in this position, as public accounts confirm its finances are healthy (e.g. surpluses of £18m in 2020-21, and £103m in 2019-20). Yet the leaders of this University have decided to support below inflation pay rises and the unjustified slashing of pensions, and have yet to take effective action on casualization and equality. These attacks on staff are also attacks on students, because our working conditions are your learning conditions, and we all deserve better.

How can you help? We ask that you support UCU members by voting in favour of supporting our strike action in SUSU’s All-Student Vote. SUSU will then be able to work with us to put pressure on the University to do all it can to resolve our disputes. We need your support to save higher education.

Thank you.

Southampton UCU, 11 November 2022


Exams marks release dates – continued concern from UCU members

We have today written to senior management about our continued concerns over the short timeframe between the assessment period and marks release dates at the end of this academic year.  This was an issue we raised previously at our UCU JNC meeting in February 2022 at which we were assured this matter would be investigated further.  Please see below for our email to Philip Wright, Senior Vice-President.


From: ucu <>
Sent: 11 November 2022 14:34
To: Phillip Wright <>
Cc: ucu <>; Luke Kelly <>; Vice President (Operations) <>; Anne-Marie Sitton <>; Graham Niblo <>; Denis Nicole <>; David Bretherton <>; Claire Le Foll <>; Mary Morrison <>; Moray McAulay <‘MMcAulay@UCU.ORG.UK’>; Roberta Head <>; Deborah Gill <>; Kieron Broadhead <>
Subject: Exams marks release dates


Dear Phillip

You may recall at the UCU JNC on 17 February 2022 that we submitted the attached paper raising our concerns about the increased workload imposed on staff due to the reduced time between the end of the assessment period and the marks release date.


There was a discussion at the JNC meeting and we understood that the University would seriously consider the impact not just on workload but the mental pressures on both academic and professional service staff.  Reasons provided by the University for change were the supergraduation, online options and timetabling.  We were led to believe that the University would, however, speak to relevant stakeholders and feedback UCU’s concerns.

We are therefore shocked to hear from members that again this year the time between end of assessments (9th June) and exam marks release date (29th June) is less than three weeks.  The likely marking deadline will be around the 15th June which will give less than a week for some staff to mark exams taken on the last day of the examination period. It is completely unreasonable of University management to expect staff to turnaround quality feedback and marking in such a short period of time. It is not realistic and physically feasible to do all the marking, along with other responsibilities in a 35 hour working week and you are asking staff to work evenings and weekends, which is unacceptable and has EDI implications (in particular for those with caring responsibilities). We believe this decision is in breach of the University’s H&S duties and will create unnecessary overwork and stress for a large number of staff.

We are asking the university management to:

  • Explain why, in spite of vigorous pushback from SUCU and staff more widely, regardless of the detrimental impact on academic and professional staff wellbeing, senior management have decided to impose an even tighter marking schedule.
  • Review the dates to allow adequate time for staff to assess and publish marks.

We look forward to receiving a prompt response so we can communicate accordingly with our members.

Kind regards

Southampton UCU


A SUCU member in IT explains to non-academics why strike has become the last resort 

There are several issues around the strike. The headline is that we’ve had below inflation pay increases for the decade before this year’s cost-of-living crisis. But there has been a significant increase in casualisation… it’s shocking that some university lecturers are now part of the “gig economy”. Admittedly, a few people do like that arrangement, but many don’t. Finally, many of us chose and stayed in this career for the excellent pension. My “final salary” pension was ended a few years back and my 20 years of contributions was converted to an annuity-on-retirement that will increase in line with inflation… unless inflation goes over a cap that is set via a mechanism I don’t understand. High inflation means that my 20 years of contributions are shrinking and I feel betrayed when the promise was that this was to be linked to my final salary. I know many people don’t have as good a pension, but I chose to remain at the uni through good times and bad and the pension promise was part of that decision… I didn’t realise that they could just decide to invalidate it.  

Last time there was a marking strike it resulted in a big win for the union, but this time it’s going to hit students who’ve had the worst experience of university of any cohort in decades due to the pandemic. They don’t deserve this, but our staff deserve not to have yet another year of below inflation pay increases.  

Personally, I don’t have many expenses so am not hurting but many of my co-workers have kids to raise and each year they are paid a little less (after inflation) and have a little less security at work. Something you may not have thought about is that, while IT people like me have other jobs we can go to, a lecturer has usually done a 3 year degree, a one year MSc or similar, a 3-4 year PhD, done 5 years or so as a “post doc”. That’s 13 years of training to get to be a basic lecturer… and it’s more complicated, as being a lecturer isn’t fungible to other topics. If you are an expert in, say, Roman era pottery, that means maybe you could lecturer in other topics on Roman archaeology or pottery archaeology but there’s less than 200 universities in the country which means maybe 100 jobs in the entire UK for the thing you’ve spent your life becoming competent in, so job hopping usually means moving around the country or even to another country (oops, Brexit screwed that, so tough luck). I’m writing this as I suspect we are not going to be treated kindly in the press and it’s good for people to understand a bit of the background. 

A common response to people unhappy with the career they followed is “if you don’t like it, leave”, but Academia is a job that needs to be done. These are the people teaching the advanced classes to the next generation and doing the research which makes our society wealthier and wiser.  

I don’t want to go on strike. I dislike doing a bad job, and I care about the work we do. I am lucky enough to have skills that could get me a job elsewhere and very modest outgoings. I’ll be voting for strike action because it’s not just about me, and I can afford to lose a few day’s pay even if not all union members can. Even if I couldn’t afford to go on strike, I’d still vote “yes” on the ballot because not doing so takes away the other union member’s right to withdraw their labour. So even if you can’t afford to go on strike every day, or at all, please vote “yes” to not deny other people that option. 

UCU HE dispute: UCU Rising – USS communication to Vice-Chancellor

As the UCU Rising ballot opens today, Southampton UCU branch officers have today written to the Vice-Chancellor asking him to reconsider the University’s stance on USS and for him to provide a formal response to six USS facts.  We will keep you updated of any response.


Email to: Vice Chancellor Mark E Smith

cc: Sarah Pook, Executive Director of Finance

6 September 2022

Dear Mark

As you know, UCU are once again balloting members on industrial action to fight back against unjustified cuts to USS pensions. Members at your university stand to lose up to 35% from their pensions due to cuts which were imposed based on a flawed valuation in March 2020 when markets were crashing. Newer members to the scheme, part-time staff, casualised staff and women all stand to lose the most. This is disgraceful, especially given that these staff are also the ones most likely to be squeezed by the cost-of-living crisis.

We are writing to request that you respond formally to the following six important facts on USS, which are listed below with evidence:

  1. Negligible deficit and lower future service costs: Even by USS’s highly contested valuation methodology, the USS June 2022 monitoring suggests the fund is now in surplus and requiring only 20.9-21.2% total contributions to continue to fund the current reduced level of benefits. Even without the April 2022 cuts the fund would remain in surplus and require total contributions in the low 30%s. A graph and spreadsheet show the June monitoring surplus with and without cuts. The results have been reproduced and verified independently by Michael Bromwich, Professor of Accounting and Financial Management Emeritus at LSE, who has estimated here, from the June monitoring, the increase to future service costs with restored pre-April 2022 benefits as an update to his article ‘Time for Agreement’.
  1. Many employers want to improve benefits as soon as possible. Through public statements alone, 32% of USS institutions (weighted by USS contributions) have already called for any upside to be prioritised to improving benefits, while 22% have already publicly called for this to be as soon as possible, for example through a change to the schedule of contributions based on an intermediate valuation in advance of a formal valuation.
  1. UUK can consult rapidly on unusual arrangements, and their aspiration for a ‘fast-track’ 2023 valuation is in opposition to earlier claims. UUK claim they want to ‘deliver positive changes for scheme members as quickly as possible’, but are not considering the option of an interim restoration of benefits, which is within the power of the JNC. Instead they expect to be able to ‘fast-track’ a 2023 valuation, in spite of having previously claimed that it would be extremely challenging to fast-track a 2022valuation when UCU called for one in January 2022. In addition in September 2021, UUK consulted on and endorsed a highly unusual change involving a complex dual schedule of contributions and expedited submission of the 2020 valuation. This consultation lasted only one week but resulted in a new schedule of contributions and recovery plan that delayed deficit recovery contributions. So a precedent has been set for rapid consultation on a proposal that includes delaying or changing the structure of deficit recovery contributions.
  1. USS is no longer nationally competitive. USS has now fallen so far behind public sector pensions that the value of the pension it provides is well below half the value of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
  2. UUK consistently underestimated the level of cuts. UUK seriously and repeatedly underestimated the level of cuts through consultations as demonstrated in ‘The distribution of loss to future USS pensions due to the UUK cuts of April 2022’ which analyses the cuts using only the UUK Heat map and the USS modeller.
  1. UUK consultations are viewed as flawed. The UUK consultation process was widely and credibly viewed to be biased against UCU’s proposals that would have prevented the cuts. Sam Marsh and Mike Otsuka have written repeatedly on this, for example here on UUK’s escalating misrepresentation of UCU’s proposals (Pt II), here on the delay in consulting, and here on the double standards applied to UCU and UUK proposals.

As you can see, the evidence shows that the situation has changed enormously over the past two years. We believe that vice chancellors have a duty to reconsider their position in the light of that and to restore benefits while a new valuation is carried out. We understand that the UUK annual conference is taking place 7-8th September in Leicester, and we hope that you will use this information to inform your responses during any discussions on USS which takes place. This branch would like to be able to say that our vice chancellor, as an influential leader in UUK, led the way in ensuring that staff at this university were protected in their retirement and not left to face financial hardship in retirement.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee


University fails to move on exams release dates

UCU presented the following paper at the UCU Joint Negotiating Committee meeting with senior management on 17 February 2022 complaining about the ridiculously short turnaround time for this year’s marks:

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At the subsequent UCU JNC on 19 May, we were informed by Philip Wright, Senior Vice-President (Academic), that the dates would not be moved because they would impact on Super Graduation.

We would like to remind members that we are currently taking part in Action Short of a Strike.  At Southampton, MyHR calculates a working week at 35 hours and part time staff are pro rata also based on this. While most contracts do not stipulate a maximum number of hours, the Working Time Directive says you should never work more than 48 hours (unless you have chosen to opt out). If you cannot get your marking done in 35 hours, you are overloaded. If you need more time to complete your marking to the high standards our students expect, then you should tell your line manager and ask them to release you from other duties. The refusal of management to listen to requests from staff to address the marking deadlines is indicative of their lack of interest in staff welfare and their assumption that they can exploit our goodwill.

We are saying that our goodwill has run out.

Work your hours, then go home. Make ASOS count.



Senior Vice-President (Academic)

Reasons to vote YES in the HE ballots – USS

Some staff have sent emails to the VC urging him to rethink his position on USS in the light of new evidence that the perceived deficit on which the current UUK proposals are based has all but disappeared. They received a standard response email from the Finance Director, Sarah Pook, and shared it with us. We wanted to investigate some of the assertions made in this email and consulted pensions expert, Mike Otsuka, from LSE. He has provided us with these helpful comments which challenge many of her key points and suggest that UoS is doubling down in its defence of a fundamentally flawed position adopted by UUK.

Sarah Pook: ‘In the spirit of ensuring that everyone has awareness of all views to ensure the widest possible understanding of the situation, I thought it would be helpful to make you aware of the response and clarification given by Universities UK, on behalf of USS employers, to the latest UCU comments relating to the USS Trustee’s latest monthly monitoring report of the pension scheme:

The USS Trustee has a legal duty to conclude the 2020 valuation, and has determined the contributions payable by both employers and members under the 2020 valuation. These contributions are set out in the schedule of contributions and are legally payable until superseded at a future valuation’.

Mike Otsuka: The bold bit of this statement is false: “These contributions are set out in the schedule of contributions and are legally payable until superseded at a future valuation.” Even in the absence of a new valuation, USS could issue a new recovery plan and schedule of contributions, which reflects the current, improved funding level of the scheme as indicated by the monitoring of the 2020 valuation. Moreover, even in the absence of a new valuation, JNC could revoke the UUK cuts and replace them with a higher level of benefits, costed in a similar way.

Sarah Pook: ‘It is good news to see an indicative improvement in the funding position, but this is monthly monitoring and not a full actuarial valuation which requires a full process including revised covenant assessment, and statutory consultations to be concluded amongst other processes; as we know this takes considerable time to conduct.’

Mike Otsuka: The above is true. Nevertheless, it would be possible, while awaiting the results of a full actuarial valuation with more reasonable (less excessively conservative – aka ‘prudent’) underlying assumptions than the 2020 valuation – to revise the recovery plan and schedule of contributions to reflect the improved funding position of the 2020 valuation.

Sarah Pook: ‘USS made clear last week at the Joint Negotiating Committee that without the latest reforms we would not have seen such an improvement in the funding position, which remains very volatile month-to-month’.

Mike Otsuka: As Mark Taylor-Batty notes: “The growth of assets to circa £90bn, the fundamental aspect of the improved position, has nothing to do with the UUK proposal. The health of the scheme adds credibility and urgency to the UCU proposals.”

Sarah Pook: ‘The USS Trustee has made clear that without the reforms escalating contributions would be payable by both members and employers – and this would not change until a new valuation was concluded’.

Mike Otsuka: This is false. Even before a new valuation is concluded, it would be possible to cap the escalation in contributions, as spelled out by the third of UCU’s three proposals. See here for further explanation of how such a cap could be realised.

Sarah Pook: ‘Indeed, if the reforms were not made the USS Trustee’s February 2022 monitoring points to a future service rate of 40.7%, plus a deficit of £6.3bn to be addressed which requires further deficit contributions of between 4% and 6.2%’.

Mike Otsuka: Here your VC is running together two very different items under the heading of ‘reforms’: (i) UUK’s swingeing cuts to future accrual, and (ii) their commitment to repair the damage to the covenant caused by the exit of one of their members (Trinity College Cambridge) by such means as a 20 year commitment of all other employers not to exit the scheme. The figures quoted above are based on the assumption that employers fail to repair this damage but instead offer only minimal covenant support. Under UCU’s proposals, current benefits would be underpinned by these measures to repair the damage to the covenant – i.e., they would be underpinned by the same level of covenant support as employers are extending to their own cuts to benefits. With such comparable covenant support, USS has indicated that, as of 28th February, the cost of future service would be 38% (not 40.7%), the deficit would be £3.6bn (not £6.3bn), and required deficit recovery contributions would be as low as 0.9% (not 4%), where this lower rate would be achieved by means of reasonable assumptions regarding length of recovery plan and assumptions regarding returns on asset investment.

In short, this is further evidence that our employer is refusing to engage with UCU even when the situation has changed and even when UCU’s proposals represent the best option for securing benefits for members and protecting the long-term health of the scheme.

The only way for us to get any leverage to push back against these savage cuts to our pensions is to refuse to accept them.

Vote YES to Strike Action and YES to ASOS on USS.

Reasons to Vote YES and YES from a local member

A local active member shared with the branch some of the comments they received while talking to colleagues about the ballot. Here are some responses to things they’ve heard:

  1. “I can’t find my ballot paper”

You can check at MyUCU where your ballot paper was sent.  Sadly, if you haven’t received it already it is too late to request a replacement so have a hunt around at home/in your pigeonhole to check it’s not under a pile of other papers.  Send it in the post by 6 April to ensure safe arrival. 

  1. “I’m not sure if I’m eligible to vote”

Do any of the following apply to you?

  • You’ve retired
  • You’ve become unemployed
  • You’ve left the branch
  • You’re on long term leave (including maternity leave, sick leave, sabbatical)
  • You’re employed by a third party
  • You’re head of the institution
  • You hold an emeritus or honorary position

If they do then it’s really important that you tell Amanda ( by 5 April so that you can be excluded from the ballot, otherwise the threshold will be artificially high

  1. “I can’t be doing with paper forms, if the UCU wants my vote they should organise online ballots”

They’d love to but the government won’t let them. The anti-union legislation currently in force requires postal ballots despite (or more likely because) of them being cumbersome and expensive

  1. “I’m abstaining so there’s no point in posting my ballot”

You couldn’t be more wrong! Every abstention received counts towards the turn-out threshold. Leaving your ballot unposted means your colleagues’ votes are ignored and allows our management to claim that we don’t care about pensions, workloads, casualisation or pay gaps. It’s happened twice, please don’t let it happen again.

  1. “I joined the Union because it helps members, not because I wanted to go on strike”

So did I, and without its help I wouldn’t be in Higher Education today. But the Union can only help its members if it’s also prepared to take action to defend their interests. Management have made it abundantly clear that the only limiting factor to what they’re prepared to do to us is what we’re prepared to tolerate.

  1. “I don’t like UCU’s approach to campaigns”

Get involved, let them know. If you don’t want a strike, vote against it. But don’t throw your vote away, and all your colleagues’ votes with it.

  1. “There’s no point taking action, it never works”

A common misperception, that VCs would love you to believe. Industrial action in HE/FE is highly effective, see here, here and here for just a few recent examples.

  1. “The changes to USS are a necessary response to current economic conditions and they’re in our best interests”

You’re welcome to your opinion, but if that’s the case why have UUK been hiring consultants who specialise in breaking pension schemes since long before these conditions were present, and why have VCs (including ours) been misleading staff about the negotiations?

  1. “These issues don’t affect me personally so why should I take action?”

Because that’s what a union is.


Why academic related professional staff should vote YES in the HE ballots

The University of Southampton comprises over 6,000 staff. Over 2,000 are academic-related professional staff (ARPS). We work across 17 distinct professional services: responsible for student and education services, libraries and the arts, widening participation and social mobility, global recruitment and admissions, residences, iSolutions, and the list goes on. ARPS are fundamental to the running of the university. Whilst our collective voice in UCU may be smaller in relation to our academic colleagues, we are affected by many of the same issues, we are of equal importance when it comes to challenging issues of our pensions, pay, workloads, casualisation and equality, and it is imperative that ARPS make it clear that we will not stand for the erosion of our pay and conditions.

Many ARPS will be affected by the ongoing USS pensions dispute, and indeed, many of us have taken strike action on this issue previously at Southampton in 2018, 2019 and 2020. On 31st March 2022, UCU issued a call for VCs across the UK to demand UUK revoke the cuts to the pensions after the health of USS finances were revealed. The changes due from 1st April see staff who pay into USS lose up to 35% of their pensions when they get to retirement. If you haven’t already, you can use the UCU modeller to see how you could be affected by these cuts.

Along with our pensions, pay has been eroded consistently since 2009, with a recent report by UCU showing that pay is down by 25.5% in real terms. ARPS are already in a position where there is no consistency with academic colleagues in regards to a framework for pay and promotion. Relatedly, the national picture on pay inequality is bleak. The pay gap between Black and white staff is 17%. The disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 15.1%. An earlier blog in this series pointed to the pervasive gender pay gap at the University of Southampton. The erosion of pay is closely linked to increased casualisation. There are approximately 15k ARPS employed on temporary contracts. The issue of casualisation HE is not exclusive to our academic colleagues. Across the University of Southampton, professional services have undergone or are undergoing restructures, and there are departments still reeling from loss of staff after the latest rounds of voluntary severance in 2020. This has seen temporary posts and uncertain secondments proliferate, putting strain on teams, and adding to workloads where staff turnover is high and gaps in teams aren’t being properly resourced. For an institution that has just unveiled a new strategy that states a commitment to put its people at the ‘heart’, presiding over sustained cuts to our material conditions at a time when the cost of living is the highest it has been in decades is contemptuous.

Voting to take strike action is hard. It can be particularly difficult when you are one of only a small handful of colleagues in a team – or sometimes the only one – who are members of UCU. However, visibility of ARPS on the picket line is key to growing our numbers at the branch and making that collective voice stronger. Without ARPS, universities would cease to run. Academics would suffer, students would suffer, and the wider community would suffer. We need to stand unified with our academic colleagues, recognising that the issues outlined in the ballot affect us all.


Reasons to vote YES in the HE ballots – Gender Pay Gap


University comms recently announced it was one of only 20 Universities to receive an Athena SWAN Silver award for their commitment to gender equality. This news will have stirred up mixed-feelings for many of our members. Of course, as an exec, we want to recognise the work (and good-will) that was integral to getting this award. We know that many of our brilliant members play key roles in equality work across the institution. Yet many of our members will see this announcement and feel frustrated, questioning how this supposed commitment to gender equality has failed to have an impact on their daily working lives – if we’re one of the few Silver awards, then what must other institutions be like? Others will be sceptical; the previous Athena SWAN award contained a significant number of actions that were never actioned. Our institution over-promised and under-delivered. Meanwhile, our significant gender pay gap remains pretty much the same, last reported in 2019 as 20.4%.


Many people we have spoken to are shocked by the gender pay gap figure for the University of Southampton, and the fact the institution is above the national average for HE. Some people have even presumed that it must be that University management simply doesn’t realise that the figures are so bad (and now that they do know, they will surely tackle it). Yet this trust in senior management to put things right is misguided. After some initial progress, our pay gap has plateaued. Your UCU officers take part in the annual equal pay review, where we’ve seen year upon year of monitoring without any meaningful action taking place. One previous internal equal pay report from the University even had the audacity to suggest that we weren’t making any progress closing the gender pay gap because we have “exhausted female talent pools for promotion” (Equal Pay Review 2017 p.13). Or to put it another way, the pay gap exists because there’s not enough ‘female talent’ at our institution to promote.





Year after year the gender pay gap remains at around 20%. Yet this is unsurprising given that management still fails to fully value the contributions that female staff disproportionately make to our institution (care work, collegiality, holding things together—often at the expense of our own career trajectories). The gender pay gap is about structural failures, but often it is treated as if it is solely cultural, an issue that it can be fixed by EDI training and learning about unconscious bias. Other fixes for the gender pay gap position women as the problem: they need to learn how to interview better, be more assertive, apply for promotions or increments. Yet the gender pay gap is not about women not knowing how to ‘sell themselves’ at interview, or about them not understanding what is needed to move quickly through the pay spine. The gender pay gap is more than this. It is a result of structural and policy failures.


One such failure is our institution’s policies around maternity and parental leave. Women with children are the most likely to see their carer progression stalled, because institutional support in this area is insufficient. Your local branch has been in discussions about maternity / parental leave for a significant number of years. We’ve heard many promises yet seen little action. Progress is so slow that it feels like work on this has ground to a standstill. Yet, week after week, your local branch handles case work dealing with the fallout from these policy failures: women who are at breaking point, anxious, undervalued, struggling with no automatic cover for their work while they are on maternity. UCU want our University management team to guarantee a central automatic fund to cover maternity – a simple scheme that many other institutions already have in place.


There’s also the significant issue of a lack of support for those returning to work after maternity. In part, the lack of clear cover for maternity means many people return and have to play catch-up with the work they have missed. Spiralling workloads, hiring freezes, and the pandemic all compound to make returning after maternity increasingly difficult, with many returners struggling to stay afloat. Other institutions offer periods of study leave on return from maternity, so staff can reboot their research, or specific training for line managers on how to support returners. We offer nothing. University management have failed to provide central financial support to help make some of the material changes that would actively support women’s careers.


The pandemic has highlighted how pressing these issues are, as women have become even more disproportionately burdened by care work and school closures. Parents of young children are at breaking point. The impact the pandemic will have on women’s career progression at our institution will be stark. Years of inaction on this from University management needs to end. We need to see action rather than words. Your local branch wants management not just to monitor pay gaps every year, but to set a clear target as to when these gaps will be eradicated, and a meaningful action plan to get us there. We need a plan that involves actual financial commitment and policy changes, not just performative words proudly pronouncing institutional commitment to gender equality.


The gender pay gap is a key part of the four fights dispute on which you are currently being balloted. If you want your local branch to have a strong hand to negotiate on this issue, then vote yes for strike action, and yes for action short of strike. A mandate for strike action is vital, on both a national and local level, for negotiating on these issues.