Report from UCU Higher Education Committee – 6th October 2012

1. Defend Christine Vie

UCU has launched a national petition in defence of Christine Vie. Christine is a former NEC member and local UCU officer at Manchester Metropolitan University. Christine was made redundant in July this year, following a restructuring exercise in the department of Combined Honours and Communication Studies. Christine was the only member of this department not to be found a job in the restructuring and redeployment exercise. This gives rise to serious concerns about victimisation on grounds of trade union activity. The petition can be found here. Please get as many members to sign as possible.  HYPERLINK “” The HEC agreed to send a message of support to Christine and to Manchester Metropolitan University UCU branch. The branch has declared a dispute over the issue. UCU needs to defend Christine actively and to defend all union officers who may be at risk of redundancy in restructuring exercises. The ability to defend activists is vital to UCU’s effectiveness as a trade union.

2. Bournemouth

After a prolonged debate considering the local and national implications of the situation, the Committee adopted a motion on the defence of the UCU at Bournemouth University. The University management has in effect set aside the National Framework Agreement by inventing locally determined job descriptions and has imposed a University-wide structure that imposes semesterisation and worsens workloads (in defiance of the judgement of senior managers and the professoriate in an institution-wide investigation. Further, a Student Charter has been imposed that commits staff, inter alia, to e-mail responses to all students. Overseas recruitment is being privatised via the use of for-profit operations, and an Equality Policy imposed that attempts, inter alia, to shift the burden of legal responsibility for the discharge of the employer’s Equality Duty from the institution to individual staff. In all cases, the University either declined to negotiate the terms with the UCU branch, or simply met with representatives to ‘listen to their concerns’. Thus, while formally declaring no intention to derecognise the UCU, the University is engaged in a marginalisation of the union that constitutes a de facto derecognition. The HEC agreed that the branch would receive full national backing, and that, unless the situation improved, then the UCU would draw on ‘a similar range of measures’ that have been used successfully elsewhere to ensure the continuation of trade union bargaining with the employer.

3. London Met

There was a good discussion concerning the critical issues facing London Met staff and students following the revocation by the UK Border Agency of its Tier-4 HTS licence to recruit international students. There was substantial praise for the excellent local campaign initiated by the local branch in concert with local Unison and the Students Union, supported by UCU nationally. Thanks were also recorded for the many UCU branches that participated in the solidarity actions on 14 September. Such determined campaigning has resulted in the High Court decision to grant a full Judicial Review, and a partial amnesty for London Met’s existing international students. However, there are still some 500 plus international students who currently cannot complete their courses at London Met, and the estimated lost revenue to the institution as a result of revocation stands at between £20M-£30 million. This now puts the very survival of London Met – as a community-based public university, in significant jeopardy. As such, the local branch have launched the following petition demands on the Home Secretary –
In addition both UCU and Unison branches have written to the Chair of London Met’s Board of Governors to demand a guarantee of 1) no compulsory redundancies this academic year; 2) no moves to privatisation, including via outsourcing or shared-service initiatives. Failure to receive such a commitment will initiate the registering of a formal dispute between the unions and management and the initiating of all necessary appropriate action (including industrial) to defend the interests of all staff and students.

4. Motion on discrimination against overseas students

HEC passed nem con a motion opposing discriminatory behaviour towards non-EU students and supporting UCU members who took legal industrial action. In some HE institutions, the monitoring of attendance of non-EU students has been carried out in a highly discriminatory way and in some instances our members have been ordered by management to carry out attendance monitoring in a discriminatory way that is possibly illegal and certainly immoral. Best practice in the sector has shown that that there is no need for these overtly discriminatory practices and HEC resolved to inform all HE members of sector best practice and to support to the full all legal industrial action taken by members in pursuit of equal treatment for all their students. In connection with the question of legal industrial action, HEC also resolved to ask its legal officers to investigate if this selection of non-EU students for attendance monitoring is legal and if it contravenes equality legislation. In discussion, it was noted that the current advice on the UCU website regarding ‘Points Based Immigration’ was probably a little out of date as a result of current developments and that the equalities aspect referred to above needed to be incorporated into advice. While there was no opposition to the general approach of the motion, some members of HEC had misgivings about the idea of industrial action; the majority, however, recognised that industrial action in the last resort was the only way to discipline management over this important issue. HEC was reminded that Congress policy from 2009 was still in place, namely advice to members not to comply with recording the presence of overseas students beyond the normal register for all students as UCU members had not been trained as immigration control officers, and could not be required to confirm identities for visa purposes.

5. Pay ballot

The HEC reaffirmed the need for a substantial endorsement of industrial action in the ballot that closes on Wednesday 10 October.  All the other HE staff unions, including  UNISON,  UNITE, GMB  and EIS, have rejected the employers  offer  and  are either conducting  ballots  for industrial action,  or in the case with UNISON, have completed their ballot. The  pay claim  consists of a ‘catch up’  demand that addresses  the fact that HE staff have suffered a  real  pay cut over  the last three years as well as proposals to rectify the gender pay gap,  remedy the  lack of assimilation of part time hour lectures in the pay scale as prescribed by the Pay Framework Agreement, and provide fair  leave arrangements  for  disabled staff. The HE negotiators, in tandem with the HE officers (President and Vice Presidents), will meet at the end of the week  to  decide on whether to authorise industrial action.  The key factors in determining their decision will be turnout, the margin of Yes and No votes, and the  need for  joint action with other unions.

6. Performance management

The results from a UCU survey on the nature and impact of appraisal and  performance management schemes were reported (see also THE 4-10 October).  The survey response rate was 10 per cent. The twin stressors of workload pressures and unreasonable performance expectations were highlighted. The imposition of targets in relation to research is widespread, usually with reference to the REF but also in relation to research income generation and often combined with a requirement to meet student satisfaction targets or expectations in relation to teaching.  The results can be linked to the findings of the 2012 UCU occupational stress survey.  Members’ concerns included imposed objectives, denial of incremental progression, transfer to inferior terms and conditions, transfer to a different career pathway, redundancy.  Unreasonable expectations of the REF and the lack of consideration of workloads were important to respondents. The findings confirm what most of us know already and can be used to inform policy and campaigning work and as well as more specific work around REF.

7. Pensions

HEC agreed that the overwhelming opinion of the last HESC (USS), whilst suspending industrial action once again in order to resume negotiations, was to reduce the gap between the CRB scheme for new entrants to the USS scheme and the Final Salary scheme, this also being in the interests of those in the Final Salary Scheme.

8.  Professorial project

A report reiterated the findings of a report regarding the position of women and BME staff among the UK professoriate. Women make up nearly half of non-professorial academic staff in UK HEIs and only 20 per cent of the professoriate; for BME academic staff, the corresponding figures are 13 per cent and 7.3 per cent. In addition, there were gaps in pay. UCU policy established at the June conference by an overwhelming vote was in favour of nationally agreed public pay scales for professors, this being by far the best way of establishing equal pay for equal work. In practice this is being implemented by employers by a pay banding approach, which while not the pay grading approach recommended by the UCU, is still an improvement on current practice. However, the findings showed that women are disproportionately under-represented in applications for professorial posts and for BME staff there was a significant drop in the proportion of staff from application to appointment. Useful guidance for branches is provided to start to address these inequalities.

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