Report from NEC November 2020

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Adult Education Parliamentary Lobby
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at UCU Parliamentary Lobby

Report from NEC November 2020

The UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 13th November with England in a second lockdown and the devolved nations continuing with their own approach to restrictions as covid cases multiplied across the UK. UCU has documented over 45,000 cases in UK universities and colleges since September, an under-estimate due to the inadequate reporting from universities and colleges. The NEC consisted of three main items; the General Secretary’s Report, a Report on an Interim UCU Congress and motions from members.

General Secretary’s Report

Unsurprisingly, the General Secretary’s report focused extensively on the union’s response to the covid crisis. UCU has received significant positive media coverage to our demand for on-line by default. It is clear that universities and colleges have lobbied extensively governments to dilute attempts to limit face-to-face provision. FoI requests in Scotland showed specifically that Universities Scotland were instrumental to diluting guidance allowing universities to force students back into halls of residence in September.

The success of the Heriot Watt dispute, a potential White Paper on the re-nationalisation of FE in England, the success of forcing the devolved administration in the north of Ireland to back-off from cuts to pay and conditions of staff and in Wales UCU has won protection for guidance for vulnerable staff all formed the content of industrial reports.

UCU has written to Gavin Williamson MP highlighting our opposition to his demand that universities should adopt the IHRA definition on anti-Semitism. UCU’s policy is to support the defence of Palestinian rights and a rejection that anti-Zionism should be conflated with anti-semitism.

Interim UCU Congress

As is known the interim Congress scheduled for a fortnight ago, which many were delegates to, did not take place because UCU HQ had decided to commission its own software to run the three-day online event.  The software turned out to be deficient and delegates were informed of the Congress cancellation on the morning it was due to take place.  There was much disgruntlement, not least as delegates had rearranged classes and other work to attend.  Many delegates were bemused at the decision to commission bespoke software as they have been using suitable platforms for their own teaching and large branch meetings. The decision to commission software was not taken by NEC, nor was NEC consulted. The development had taken up a lot of time for HQ staff.

NEC agreed that the two days of Congress will be in different weeks and are likely to be in week beginning 14 December. Interim Sectors Conferences are likely to be January and will be one day each, FESC will probably be on a weekend as delegates in FE (and it should be said many in HE) cannot get time off on week days without advance planning. HQ had been planning to use Microsoft Teams for these Conferences with voting on reports taking place prior to the conferences and voting on motions post-event.  However, a motion was passed agreeing to make plans to use Zoom as the platform for Congress, Conferences and NEC.

Motions from Member: A democratic deficit

The NEC meets only four times a year and increasing amounts of important business are being timed out.  It is generally NEC members’ motions from which are lost, as they are put at the end of the agenda (unless found to fit with an earlier item).  However, they generally cover very important and urgent issues which cannot be left until the next meeting.

Only five out of sixteen motions were discussed and voted on and one on solidarity with a branch in dispute was withdrawn as the branch had won.  These were two motions about rescheduling interim Congress, an emergency motion on defending postgraduate researchers during Covid and a motion supporting a branch in dispute. Shockingly a solidarity motion of support for a disabled Black man, Osime Brown, facing deportation was remitted in a vote 24 for  23 against. For UCU NEC not to back an anti-deportation campaign goes against UCU policy and has rightly been widely criticised. UCU Left voted to oppose remission and would have voted for the motion if given an opportunity.

The ten motions that were timed out included four on responses to immediate issues, mainly Covid, one on UCU accountability, one on environmental issues (particularly important in view of the current climate crisis), one on UCU accountability, two on solidarity with campaigns outside UCU (an important role of trade unions) and two on responding to the USS pre-92 pension crisis.  The USS motions could not be heard by HEC as they covered a legal challenge and were deemed to be NEC business.

The NEC used to receive more reports from officials.  It is not clear whether fewer reports are being produced or are just not being discussed at NEC. Two recent important issues provide examples of the weaknesses of this limitation on NEC’s scrutiny. The decision to commission a new platform for interim Congress and to action the levy are examples of issues not put on the NEC agenda before they are implemented and have resulted in criticism from members.

There is clearly a need to change the way the online NEC is run to ensure that business is not timed out and both motions from members and other important issues can be discussed fully. NEC members should not end up frustrated and feeling that NEC is turning into a rubber stamping exercise.

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