Lecture Capture: Resources for Branches

Branches will no doubt be involved in discussing policies on lecture capture given the prospect of a significant amount of online teaching in 2020/21. 

We publish here a comprehensive guide to the issues produced by Ruth Ballardie of University of Greenwich UCU. These issues are crucial when negotiating lecture capture agreements – not least the clauses on access, usage and storage.

We also link below to some recording policies passed before Covid-19 which may be of use to branches in seeking to defend members from increased workloads and an abuse of their intellectual property. Branches will need to consider issues concerning, for example:

  • Sunset clauses for increased use of online delivery
  • Time-limited use of recordings
  • Consent for re-use
  • Prohibition of material where staff have been made redundant
  • Penalties for misuse.

When drafting policies, please be aware of GDPR rules which allow you to ask that:

1. Recordings can be deleted after a set period of time;

2. Recordings will not be stored by the university;

3. Recordings will not be used for purposes other then they are agreed and intended. This is to prevent ‘function creep’, for example in creating education packages and selling them on or using your recording for a research study.

Consent must be obtained for recording lectures from each worker, under the GDPR and so your Data Processing Officer should be directly in touch with each member of staff being asked to make recordings. 

The DPO asking for your consent can do this electronically, for example through an appropriate form you are asked to sig. If they’re not doing it, the university’s actions fall outside this data protection regulation. 

Ruth Ballardie’s notes on negotiating lecture capture

Sheffield lecture recording policy (2018)

Durham lecture capture policy (2018)

Warwick UCU recommendations on lecture capture (October 2019)

KCL UCU memo to members on online provision (16 March 2020)

UCU guidance on recording and filming lectures (May 2013)

JISC advice: Recording lectures – legal considerations (originally published in 2010 but updated in 2018)

“A transformative experience”: the marking boycott at Goldsmiths

Teaching staff on hourly paid Associate Lecturer contracts as well as some Fixed Term contract staff are holding an unofficial ‘wildcat’ marking boycott across three departments at Goldsmiths, University of London. This is the result of the Goldsmiths Senior Management team withholding new contracts for these groups of staff as the most significant of a raft of ‘cost saving’ measures in the light of falling student numbers due to Covid-19. If none of them were re-employed, this would mean the loss of 472 staff – that is almost 40% of the teaching staff. BSN interviewed two staff on fixed term contracts who have been involved in the dispute and asked them to explain why they are taking the action, how it has been organised and what the lessons are for members across the sector.

Teaching staff on Goldsmiths university have been involved in a marking boycott for about a month. Can you tell us what the dispute is about?

Well it is really about the proposed layoff of 472 casualised staff which the university didn’t even announce – they just put it in a document that was sent to the union UCU. And the university haven’t given us any figures on equalities issues about who is being laid off but we are seeing that in most departments most of the academics who are being faced with being laid off are black or people of colour and this is not being acknowledged by management.

The university isn’t even treating them as redundancies which is what they really are, because there is work to be done. These are courses that people have taught on and that have run for many years and management are not being open about that. They are not being honest that what looks like almost 40% of the academic staff are facing redundancies – that is staff who are on hourly paid contracts (Associate Lecturers or ALs) or people on temporary fixed term contracts. Those layoffs will mean either huge increases in workload for permanent staff or loads of courses being cut and they are not being honest about that either and they have not involved the union in negotiations over the redundancies.

Because of the time frame we weren’t able to have an official dispute so what happened is that the most precarious staff, the hourly paid AL staff, started a marking boycott which is happening now in three departments and about a month later we on fixed term contracts joined that boycott so we are not marking or moderating any work and it is already making a huge impact.

We are also running a media campaign online to raise awareness and to try to expose Goldsmiths’ hypocrisy of branding itself a radical and progressive institution but laying off in a very callous and heartless way, very vulnerable people in the middle of a recession and a pandemic.

We are already getting some concessions from the management who completely ignored the campaign to start with or delegitimised it by saying its not an official action organised by a recognised trade union. Well now they have agreed to meet with the union and the campaigners and the whole tone of management has now changed – they have started offering some contract extensions and renewals.

And questions of solidarity have come into this and have been at the forefront of the campaign, not only in terms of the ALs who got support from wider meetings – they were like the heroes of the CoronaContract meetings. When they said “we are on a marking boycott”, other people are then looking to them in leading the fight because they are actually doing something, they are risking something and putting themselves on the line and that should be supported. The fixed term contract staff wouldn’t have done what we’ve done if the AL staff hadn’t taken the action first – it made it easier for us to show solidarity and join those actions and that’s been crucial. They were setting an example and lots of people are thinking ‘well if they can do it there, we can do it here’.

That’s interesting because on of the reasons people don’t take unofficial action is because they think its illegal and they’ll get into terrible trouble.

What’s important to remember about this action is that it comes out of organising casualised workers for years at Goldsmiths, the campaign to get the cleaners in house, the campaign to get the security guards in house and also Goldsmiths Anti-racist Action (GARA) – some of the people who organised the ALs were very involved in giving support to that campaign, so there’s all these networks and solidarities built up over the years. And it has been people with the most to lose who have taken the action and they’ve been inspirational in terms of leading others and actually prompting permanent staff to take more decisive action. Its been a really good example of how one group of workers can really inspire another and also knowing we had support from our colleagues on permanent contracts has made it easier to act.

What can permanent staff do to support you and what can the wider trade union movement do?

One thing is spreading awareness, so last week we had a virtual picket line which was really successful where we had a couple of days of people retweeting our tweets using the hashtag #saveourjobs and we’re gonna do that again because we have a crunch meeting with senior management so we’d like the trade union movement to back us and help to amplify our voices and our cause as precarious workers.

I think permanent staff also need to be honest with themselves, that if they don’t fight these cuts and don’t help us fight these cuts then they are going to be the next in line. You know, its easier for people to think “oh there’s a financial crisis, someone’s gotta go here” but we all know that if the management can get away with these cuts there is going to be increased workload for permanent staff and there are probably going to be redundancies and there is going to be an attack on student provision. This is an attack on everyone and permanent staff have to fight this as if it is 472 redundancies because that it what it is.

Permanent staff need to stand up for themselves and their conditions because if they don’t fight these cuts that management are imposing, especially on casualised staff, their own working conditions are going to deteriorate and not just for individual universities but for the whole sector – higher education is undermined when academics are working all hours and in the evenings and weekends. In order to provide a quality education for our students we need to be in a situation where people are not stressed to the bone in terms of workload. We need to defend the sector and the educational values of the sector.

Has this dispute shed any light on HE or given your any reflections on the situation we are in?

What has happened to higher education in the last 10 years is that it’s become further casualised, and not just because universities are run on the labour of casualised staff but also conditions for permanent staff have become casualised in the sense that they are overworked and being expected to take on more and more work outside of teaching and research – you know, we are supposed to do more audit-based admin and recruitment and marketing and endless funding proposals. We are all expected to do all of this in addition to teaching and research and it’s become so based on metrics that educational quality has really suffered.

In the last 10 years marketisation has made education so instrumental where universities are run as businesses with a more managerial culture and where the decision on whether to open or close a course is not based on educational need but it has become a decision based on how much money they are going to bring in…You actually cannot run HE on a marketized system – there are important courses where you are not going to be able to make money – you just can’t. It has to be funded publicly.

I’ve been thinking of how vulnerable universities have been to the Covid crisis and that is a direct result of the changes to the funding system from 2010 onwards and the fact that they get very little income coming directly from government in the form of grants and more is coming in the form of student fees. So, there has been an incentive for universities to chase international students who pay huge fees and who now look unlikely to come to the UK next year. So the system is quite vulnerable to, yes extreme, but quite short-term shocks. Like Covid-19 is going to lead to a blip, but it will only be a temporary blip, but a significant one in student numbers. So when you are reliant on student numbers and student fees, on this market mechanism for finances, it makes higher education very vulnerable.

One of the other things that organising around this that has been made clear to me and has got me to reflect on is the level of really almost abusive employment relationships in universities. It is an extremely anxiety-producing and precarious sector where as a young academic you are having to constantly sell yourself, put yourself out there, go ‘above and beyond’ to please your supervisor or manager just so you can get that contract extension or contract renewal. And that can lead you to be docile and passive, but what we’ve seen is that people in that situation can also fight back and people are becoming much more confident themselves with talking to their own managers. It has been a transformative experience for a lot of people in terms of building their confidence and changing the way they see and relate to their managers and colleagues. 

You can find out more about anti-casualisation struggles at Goldsmiths here.

We’re not going to pay for your crisis – June bulletin

A PDF version of the bulletin is here. Follow these links:

Latest motions on ‘Four Fights’ offer and Covid-19 strategy

Several branches have today (Friday 22 May) voted to reject the employers’ offer in the ‘Four Fights’ dispute on pay and equalities and to revisit the situation in the autumn. Sheffield, KCL, UCL, Goldsmiths, Leeds, Queen Mary, Lancaster, Ulster and Strathclyde (that we know of) all decided that the offer was nowhere near sufficient but also that it wasn’t the right time to pursue a ballot in June. Both Goldsmiths and Queen Mary also called on the General Secretary to hold a “national meeting for members and representatives along the lines of the recent, highly successful mass meetings by the National Educators Union” with QM calling on HEC to “launch a national campaign in response to the mass redundancies threatened by university management”. We also link below to some important motions including one from Liverpool on a Joint Union Campus Campaign around Covid-19 (which adopts our manifesto) another from Strathclyde and finally Queen Mary’s great motion on a “Post Covid Settlement”.

Queen Mary UCU motions on USS and Four Fights

Goldsmiths UCU motion on USS and Four Fights

Strathclyde UCU motion on Four Fights

Strathclyde UCU motion calling for a national union strategy over COVID-19

Queen Mary emergency motion for a Post Covid Settlement

Liverpool UCU, Joint Campus Union Campaign (May 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a climate of uncertainty across the Higher Education sector. This crisis has highlighted the flaws in a marketised model of Higher Education that has emphasised revenue over the working and learning conditions of staff and students creating widespread precarity and inequality.

This Branch notes the work of the ‘The New Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance in COVID Times’ and believes such a manifesto can act as the basis for transforming universities into institutions that prioritise the interests of staff and students over profit and managerial vanity projects. 

This Branch believes that the response to this crisis does not have to include threats to jobs or an undermining of our working conditions. An alternative is possible.

Therefore this Branch resolves to launch a campaign with the campus unions of UNISON and UNITE to put an end to the failed experiment of marketisation and create a sustainable university. To do this, the joint unions will make the following demands:

  • Reiterate our claim that all fixed term contracts set to expire be renewed for a minimum of six months.
  • Reiterate that our members refused to take on work previously done by fixed-term and casualised colleagues if asked.
  • No redundancies, threats to jobs or changes to terms and conditions of employment.

To achieve this we demand the University:

  • Scraps capital development projects. Any resumption of such projects would need the collective agreement of the campus unions.
  • Develops plans and financial models drawing down on its unrestricted reserves before any consideration of job losses and erosion of terms and conditions of employment. These models should be shared transparently with the campus unions and all staff.
  • Put an end to gross pay inequality by introducing a maximum salary package for senior management of £100,000 per annum which would equate to roughly six times the amount of the lowest paid full time member of staff.
  • To campaign to roll out similar measures across the sector as a first step in moving towards a sustainable, de-marketised, system of higher education.

The New Assault on Universities: a Manifesto for Resistance in Covid Times

We published our manifesto for resistance in universities in early May and our 700 people have since signed it. Please find the full list of signatories here which we will update regularly. Meanwhile, we have had some very constructive comments about its content so please keep these coming (email hemanifesto@gmail.com). Most importantly, the manifesto is designed to be a guide for action: to develop policies and motions that will allow all those working and studying in Higher Education to oppose the impacts of marketisation and to defend jobs, conditions and programmes at such a critical time. Please organise a meeting of your union branch, professional association or student group and consider how best to start campaigning around these and other demands. We are urging everyone to develop a ‘CoronaCharter’ that expresses the key issues and objectives in your institution or group. Support the work of the Convention for Higher Education whose first event on 9 May had some 550 people registered as well as the various other campaigns – for example casualised staff resisting redundancies – that will be crucial to the defence and reform of our broken university system.

SIGNATORIES (as of 13 May 2020)

Sorry to anyone called TINA but there are alternatives to redundancies

by Bruce Baker, Newcastle UCU and NEC

University managers tell us we are in “unprecedented” times. They want to avoid redundancies (except at Roehampton, Sussex, and Nottingham), but they will have to do Bad Things to avoid doing Worse Things. Here are some thoughts, especially on getting and using financial information.

1. No one expects redundancies, like the Spanish Inquisition. Until about five minutes before the Section 188 notice arrives, expect to hear the phrase “no one is talking about redundancies”. Still, better to prepare, just in case.

2. Even if “no one is talking about [definite, costed, compulsory] redundancies”, many branches will be having the potential of redundancies used to push detrimental changes to contracts and working conditions. Treat changes backed by threat of redundancy as if they were redundancies.

3. There is a process for redundancy, and ACAS has helpfully explained best practice here. Familiarise yourself with it.

4. There are basic questions to ask. Without going through all the complexities, the key one is this: are these (threats of) redundancies being made on the basis of a business case or a financial case?

5. A business case means that the employer is no longer doing the same thing and doesn’t need the people who did that. A financial case means they are doing the same thing but can’t afford to keep the same number of staff. What we are facing now are financial cases.

6. At the first stage, employer should make a redundancy plan, in consultation with trade unions, which must include how to share information.

7. If a financial case is being made, then the union should request the financial data which underpins that in order to see if there are other options besides redundancies (or the Bad Thing which is better than redundancies, for that matter).

8. Chances are the management will attempt to fob you off with a document that the Finance Director put together to justify the Bad Thing. It will have numbers in it, which will be scary and will suggest that ‘There Is No Alternative’.

9. Do not accept this. Remember, numbers are only numbers, and it is the narrative they create which has power. A report like this, even if it contains numbers, is a narrative to support the Bad Thing. Get the actual numbers and write your own alternative narrative.

10.  Here are a series of questions our NorthernUCU official suggested that we at Newcastle UCU ask for, supplemented with a couple that DurhamUCU thought relevant. (Please suggest additional ones.)

  • What is the current operating surplus?
  • What are the University’s current liquid assets?
  • How much do they expect to lose in the current FY and from where?
  • What is the projected income for the next year, broken down, and what is the basis for these projections?
  • What are the equivalent projections for the two years beyond the next financial year?
  • What is the cost of the normal implementation of [REDACTED] for the current year?
  • How much has the normal implementation of [REDACTED] cost over the past three years?
  • How much is allocated to pensions in each of the next three years?
  • How much is allocated to depreciation of capital assets in each of the next three years, and how is that calculated?

11. When these questions are posed to management, keep the members informed as they might have further ideas. Also, find members with accountancy experience to help dig through what comes back and to insist on getting the full account, not just central books.

12. Check with members at every stage and publicise, publicise, publicise. This is money from the public purse and/or the pockets of students. There is a public interest in seeing that it is stewarded carefully & a public interest in the sustainability of universities.

13. What must be sustained is not the shiny buildings, not the international ventures, not the metrics, but the community of scholars, those whose work supports that scholarship, and those who learn from them. That is all. Reject TINA (sorry to anyone called “Tina”).

Picture from https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/4389/Protests-at-University-of-Gloucestershire-over-job-cull-row

THE NEW ASSAULT ON UNIVERSITIES: A MANIFESTO FOR RESISTANCE IN COVID TIMES

Sign the manifesto here

4 May 2020

Our higher education system was in crisis before the coronavirus emerged. It now risks collapse.

Before the pandemic, a quarter of all universities were already in deficit – the result of unregulated competition in the sector that was unleashed in order to construct a higher education market. This has led to increased instability, far higher levels of government and student debt following the trebling of fees and introduction of loans in 2012, and the emergence of a corporate mentality and market logic that puts higher education at odds with its status as a public good. As the Public Affairs Committee put it in 2018, the ‘Higher Education market [is] not working in interests of students or taxpayers’.

Universities have been effectively privatised – dependent on tuition fees and accommodation revenue and, increasingly, reliant on income from international students.

The UK comes bottom of OECD countries in relation to the proportion of publicspending as part of overall spending on tertiary education. Only 25% of its spending on higher education comes from the public purse, a mere 0.5% of GDP. Compare this to the US where 35% of spending on tertiary education comes from the government or 97% as in the case of Finland.

Covid-19 is going to intensify the problems that were already there. International – and possibly home – students are likely to sit out the year leading to a ‘black hole’ of at least £2.5 billion in the sector producing enormous operating deficits and heaping yet more stress on an already creaking system.

Yet much like the pandemic itself, we are not all in this together. Universities are ‘hoarding’ some £44 billion of reserves, with Oxford and Cambridge alone sitting on almost £21 billion of wealth, and the sector as a whole regularly runs a surplus over more than £1 billion. 

Management teams are now drawing up contingency plans and recovery packages and are set to announce mass redundancies, pay and recruitment freezes, promotion pauses and programme cuts. Again, as with the pandemic, the axe will not fall evenly with casualised workers, BME staff and women set to bear the greatest brunt of the cuts.

Many employers will attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to institutionalise a form of ‘shock higher education’ where online delivery becomes standard, where surveillance becomes routine, where precarity becomes acceptable, where the right to a pension becomes obsolete and where funding becomes ever more tied to employability. 

Our response has to be national and local, short-term and far-sighted, practical and visionary. We need a set of actions based around solidarity with the most vulnerable and a commitment that the burden should be borne by those most able to bear it: institutional reserves should be used; excessive salaries of vice-chancellors and senior staff cut dramatically; vanity capital expenditure projects suspended; marketing budgets and the use of consultants scaled right back; government intervention as described below.

We will need to resist the imposition of a ‘new normal’. In the immediate future, we need to collectivise the risk of redundancy by demanding that instead of job cuts, we have smaller classes; instead of sacking hourly-paid staff, we should make sure that excessive salaries are curbed and the money used for contract extensions for casualised staff; instead of scrapping research leave for the year, we should use this time to investigate the political, economic and cultural challenges posed by coronavirus.

Higher education is at the centre of the scientific and critical response to Covid-19. It is not just another industry like aviation and energy. Instead it needs a full bail-out and a massive increase in public funding. We have to reject a return to the ‘old normal’ of cut-throat competition, market logic, endless bureaucracy and rampant managerialism.

Thus we also need to build a radical new settlement for the period following Covid-19. The scale of this crisis provides an opportunity to undo the damage that the market has caused in the last decade: to restore free education accessible to all as a vital public good; to reintroduce incentives, like the Education Maintenance Allowance, for marginalised communities to study; to restructure higher education so that it is no longer dependent on casualised and zero-hours contracts; and to abolish the gender and race pay gaps that remain endemic throughout the sector.

Higher education is on the brink. This is a time for imagination, solidarity and resistance. 

THE MANIFESTO

DEMANDS ON GOVERNMENT

  • A full and immediate bailout of the higher education sector to compensate for revenue lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Immediate introduction of an institutional (not overall) cap on student recruitment for 2020/21 that is based on a fair distribution of students across the sector and that will protect more vulnerable universities.
  • Set a target to increase proportion of UK public expenditure devoted to higher education from 0.5% of GDP to at least 0.9%, the OECD average.
  • Restoration of maintenance grants and abolition of fees to be paid for through an increase in corporation tax and an increase to the top level of income tax.
  • Scrapping of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to be replaced by a new means of evaluating research based on the respect for the ability of individuals and groups to define their research aims and priorities.
  • Scrapping of the National Student Survey (NSS), Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and other examples of audit culture that perpetuate cultures of ‘customer satisfaction’ and quality control, to be replaced by forms of feedback that encourage meaningful reflection on teaching and learning.
  • An end to UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) monitoring of the attendance of international students and the scrapping of the Prevent programme.

DEMANDS ON UNIVERSITIES

  • Immediate salary reduction of vice-chancellors and senior management in order to provide continuing employment for fixed-term and hourly-paid workers to 2022.
  • To safeguard jobs as a matter of priority by drawing, where necessary, on reserves, loans, salary savings (as above) and cuts to non-essential budgets.
  • Full transparency in relation to financial data to allow for maximum, informed staff participation in recovery plans: open up your books.
  • No re-opening of campuses until it is fully safe to do so with evidence of plans for effective social distancing, extensive testing and contact tracing together with full provision of PPE.
  • Health and safety committee meetings to take place at least once a month – with minutes available to all – for a minimum of 12 months.
  • Urgent changes to governance structures to allow for staff and student participation in decision-making.
  • Agree to hold regular campus assemblies as part of the formal decision-making structure of the institution.
  • Commitment to devise strategic plans in meaningful consultation with campus unions; consultation cannot start afterthe plan has been generated.
  • Act as community hubs by offering fee waivers to people made unemployed by the Covid-19 crisis and devising new academic programmes that respond to specific community needs.
  • Immediate suspension of capital projects and outsourcing plans for a minimum of 12 months and a commitment to end all outsourcing of staff, including cleaners, security and catering workers, after the pandemic.
  • Insertion of ‘sunset clauses’ into all agreements for online delivery required by the Covid-19 crisis
  • Commitment by employers nationally to take steps to abolish gender and race pay gaps, to reduce workload, and to defend pension entitlements.
  • Salaries of vice-chancellors and senior managers to be subject to a nationally agreed scale with a fixed income differential of no more than ten. 
  • Pledge not to accept donations from individuals, companies or regimes that refuse to guarantee the rights of academics to teach and research without fear of any external intervention.

DEMANDS ON STAFF

  • Consideration of appropriate solidarity actions by senior staff, for example a voluntary solidarity levy ring fenced for continued employment of casualised staff members (dependent on senior management implementing actions listed above).
  • Permanent members of staff should agree not to cover work that was previously assigned to hourly-paid or fixed-term contract staff who are now being targeted for redundancy due to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Creation of joint campus coronavirus action groups (of staff representing all grades working collectively with students) to devise institution-specific ‘Corona Charters’ to protect working conditions and health and safety, support student campaigns for ‘no detriment’, and press for democratic governance arrangements.

Please sign the petition here or email hemanifesto@gmail.com if you want any more information.

Initial signatories: Des Freedman and Michael Bailey (editors. ‘The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance’), David Graeber (LSE), Natalie Fenton (Goldsmiths), Colin Leys (Goldsmiths), Lynne Segal (Birkbeck), Nick Stevenson (Nottingham), Feyzi Ismail (SOAS), John Pilger, Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London), Marian Carty (Goldsmiths), Paul Thompson (Essex), James Curran (Goldsmiths), Annie Goh (Central St Martins)

Stressed out & fed up: branch responses to Covid-19 home working

A number of branches have consulted their membership about their experiences of the transition to home working and online delivery in response to Covid-19. These surveys are designed to identify the key pressure points around increased workloads, lecture capture and health & safety issues and help branches in negotiations over changes to working practices. The survey have already yielded some unsettling results: almost half of City University respondents indicated that they had no office equipment of any kind at home; at Goldsmiths, 74% reported working beyond their normal hours; at Heriot Watt, 27% responded that they were working in ‘uncomfortable conditions’; at Edinburgh, casualised staff indicated that there was a ‘lack of clarity’ on contract renewals and extensions. We would encourage branches to use these surveys as models to consult with your members in order to strengthen your negotiating position.

Branch surveys

Goldsmiths pilot survey on stress and workload (20 April 2020)

Aberdeen UCU Covid-19 impact report (April 2020)

City University, Joint Union Homeworking Survey (20 April 2020)

Heriot Watt UCU report on working under lockdown and employee-driven responses to such practices (19 April 2020)

Photo by Elliott Brown from Wikimedia Commons

#ournewnormal: thoughts on tech software and managerial control

Phil Taylor, Professor of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Strathclyde and a member of the Strathclyde UCU committee writes for Branch Solidarity Network on how we need to resist the imposition of a new managerial norm in the light of Covid-19. Instead, staff and students need to unite to ensure that tech, software and contractual changes aren’t used to cut jobs and undermine teaching as part of our struggle for a ‘new normal’ after coronavirus.

I am no expert in Panopto, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and their intrinsic properties, However, I am deeply suspicious of all the software packages that are now being used to facilitate ‘remote teaching’ because the ownership and control resides with third parties and with the management whose interests are contrary to ours. They may well be courting us at the moment because they need us to meet the immediate demands of students; they may even be indulging in grand thank you gestures such as additional ‘rest days’. But they’re doing this while developing other agendas which are more concerned with students progressing to future years of their programmes and of course about keeping the income from PGTs. 

Meanwhile, senior management groups (the university equivalent of Cobras if you like) are engaging in mathematical modelling and projections for what a post Covid-19 HE would look like at their institutional level. Top of the list is of course saving money and that means primarily saving money on labour costs, the largest element of spending. We’ve already seen Sussex and others announce redundancies and Durham float the idea of a huge increase in online teaching, partly in response to the expected collapse in the ‘unregulated’ overseas postgraduate market, especially China and India.

It is within management’s projected conceptions of their ‘new normal’ that we have to consider how they will attempt to reshape HE in terms of labour and labour costs. Within this political-economic context, technologies of various kinds will be employed by senior management in order to pursue their financial imperatives. It is worth remembering that many HEIs also are in hock to money lenders for huge sums following the shiny buildings that have mushroomed around the campuses, towns and cities. These vanity projects have exposed many HEIs and this will be an added driver to their financial parsimony and cuts agendas. We need to be acutely aware of this ‘economic-realpolitik’as the bland ‘we’re all in it together, thank you for all your efforts’ propaganda continues.  We will face the harsh realities soon enough.

Here are some of the key things we need to watch out for.

1) A significant amount of online teaching is now being delivered by Zoom to remote students even though, as we discovered recently, that Zoom is compromised. 

2) We have to assume that what we upload on Moodle systems are now going to be a big battleground – what us old International Relations folk called a ‘frontier of control’. They will want to use and reuse our uploaded lectures slides, even more so now that we have added voice overs and podcasts. This is an intellectual property battleground over which we must be eternally vigilant. MOOCs are a real problem – potentially not that different to turkeys voting for Christmas. They will want to turn temporary exigencies into permanent fixtures.

3) Universities will claim that our online efforts have been a success and indeed they have been – but only because we are committed to the students. In reality, action short of strike action (ASOS) has de facto has been in abeyance since the lockdown despite the best efforts of some branches. A key argument for me is that these ‘successes’ have only happened because staff had previously established personal, face-to-face relationships with the student. So a few additional remote lectures only ‘work’ because they are based on the solid teaching foundations we had already created with in-person lectures, tutorials and supervisions. 

4) We, not managers, most of whom have never taught or if they have it was eons ago, need to be the guardians of pedagogical practice. We will have to struggle to maintain that over and over again as our managements attempt to impose top-down, ‘lean and mean’ consultant-led approaches. Keep an eye out for these vile snakeoil salespeople and beware talk of ‘continuous improvement’, ’creative synergies’ and ‘agile working’ (straight out of the lean handbooks) as they basically mean downsizing and increased exploitation. You might want to use FOI requests or SARs to shine a light on the role of these consultants. 

5) Administrative workers at all levels of the institution together with librarians and IT workers are also about to face a massive intensification of work pressures. Academic staff will need to work so closely with them and see them as equals in every sense. They will bear a big brunt of management’s attempt to cut costs. Once again, watch out for the role of organisations like Capita who are mysteriously brought in to advise as  IT consultants. 

6) In terms of our relationship to students, I hardly need to repeat what we have learned through our recent struggles over pay, equalities and pensions: that our fight is their fight, and vice-versa. Senior mangement’s version of the ‘new normal’ will surely be larger classes, beamed and streamed lectures, and recycling of our old lectures. We say openly to students that the tech is likely to devalue their learning if it accompanied by cuts in staffing and provision. We will need to fight together for ourversion of the ‘new normal’. If students en masse demand lectures and not technologically mediated and facilitated dumbed down bullet points, It can be a big weapon in our collective armoury. 

7) When it comes  to Panopto and ‘lecture capture’, it’s almost unbelievable that this derives from Bentham’s model for the 19th century surveillance prison. They don’t even understand the irony or perhaps they cynically do. There are live battles over this including at the University of Greenwich where resistance is underway and there is some tremendous work done by legal academics on intellectual property which we need to share collectively. 

At the moment – and faced with the huge pressures of life under coronavirus – it’s hard to find the time to be anything other than ‘reactive’. Somehow, we need to create the space  for us to develop and organise our version of the ‘new normal’as opposed to the very familiar one that managements are attempting to impose. Their versions generally won’t come in one big bang as it makes it easier it easier for the campus trade unions to campaign against them. Instead, it will be insidious and incremental. 

We need to share best practice, particularly in terms of local agreements that protect terms and conditions. Members at all levels of UCU are involved in negotiations on tech, remote working, modes of teaching, and new financial ‘realities’ and it’s vital that we collaborate with each other in these struggles. 

One important principle for our union work in this area is that there should be maximum transparency and openness, and no clandestine ‘partnership agreements’. All members need to be informed and involved as much as possible so that they can see that union organisation is our best defence. Our ‘new normal’ means no return to mental ill-health, overwork, casualised contracts and health and safety breaches. We need New Technology Agreements (NTAs) as part of wider collective agreements where tech and software implementation is subject to bargaining locally and nationally. The national union is crucial here in leading and disseminating information both about the issues and our struggles. 

We have an opportunity to recast the ‘new normal’ as, at least temporarily, managements need us to get them through really challenging times. In other sectors, the ‘magic money tree’ has been found to exist and we need to insist that higher education is also a social priority, especially should there be a significant rise in unemployment following the pandemic (which of course we need to resist). We need maximum unity between administrators, academics, IT staff, counsellors, cleaners, security staff, librarians, students, their families, and even future students. 

One last thought on technology. In my research on call centres over the last 25 years, I have encountered the worst of the deleterious effects of information and communication and have seen horrendous evidence of burnout and stress. Technology is used in universities now as a vicious form of performance management – take a look, for example, at Pure(owned by Elsevier) the ‘objective’ REF tool. We have allowed universities to take our creative labour and actually pay them to have it and then to use it back against us as a disciplinary tool that causes rampant mental ill-health. Our ‘new normal’ would cancel Pure and the like and abolish the REF and all its distortions and venal behaviours.

In winning the ‘new normal’, we will need to compile inventories of tech and the software that our institutions buy, licence and use. We need smart and critical tech people (of which there are many) to collaborate and help us understand their intrinsic properties, how they are being used against us in the name of efficiency and the ‘student experience’. Crucially, we need to learn how we counter them while still helping students to actually learn through high-quality education and not a dumbed-down education that comes at our – and the students’ – expense and at great pedagogical cost. 

Ultimately though what will really matter is for the union nationally to debate these issues and to decide on courses of action where we fight for #ournewnormal, not theirs.

Coronavirus is a trade union issue

Coronavirus is a trade union issue. That much is clear when we see how university staff are combining attempts to continue delivering teaching, research and support with measures to protect working conditions. This involves everything from demanding that staff working in ‘essential services’ are adequately clothed and compensated to defending the rights of casualised staff who are likely to bear the immediate brunt of the crisis; and from ensuring that temporary moves to online delivery are not ‘normalised’ to arguing that vice-chancellors should show goodwill to staff working flat-out to put modules and support services online by scrapping deductions for the recent strikes.

We have heard that some managements are using home working as an opportunity to play up the benefits of an improved ‘work-life balance’ and refusing demands to pay for basic essentials like ergonomic chairs and broadband. Some universities stand out and have offered concessions – from four-day weeks to rest days and from scrapping pay deductions to guaranteeing fixed-term contract extensions – but, by and large, these have not been delivered as a gift but won as a result of strong union organisation. Every branch needs urgently to table a list of demands in order to protect all those staff working flat out to keep their institutions running in incredibly challenging circumstances. Coronavirus activist groups, branch committees, health & safety committees, and staff-student coordinating groups need to be aware of what has been won and to demand the same for their own institutions. We need negotiated agreements on temporary changes to working conditions and new Memoranda of Understanding on online delivery. Please do send us your successes – branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com

Reduced working weeks and well-being days

Newcastle’s four day week
Strathclyde’s rest days

Exeter University’s rest days announcement (31 March)

Aberdeen University rest days announcement (25 March)

Temporary changes to working conditions

On Panopto, strike deductions, detriment – and other negotiations’ – excellent email to members from Leicester UCU (30 March)

Kings’ College London
Leeds UCU agenda for negotiation

Exeter UCU update on discussions with management, 27 March 2020

Fixed-term and hourly-paid staff

Read this whole thread and congrats to Sheffield UCU

#CoronaContract petition: Casualised staff demand universities guarantee two years work

Goldsmiths UCU list of issues concerning hourly-paid academic for negotiation (31 March)

UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee petition to support hourly-paid staff

Scrapping/postponing strike deductions

Huge congrats to UCL UCU
Newcastle UCU
Liverpool UCU
Southampton UCU
St Andrews
Birkbeck, University of London

Kings College London statement

Cardiff UCU petition against pay deductions

Queen Mary UCU petition against pay deductions

Durham UCU letter to the vice-chancellor on strike deductions (27 March)

Thompsons Solicitors: Briefing on Employers’ and Employees’ Responsibilities in the Wake of Coronavirus (17 March)

Durham University: Joint union statement on agency workers and workers on construction sites

Pausing of consultations during Covid-19 crisis

Goldsmiths senior management ‘pauses’ Evolving Goldsmiths programme (need password) (27 March 2020)

Portsmouth University suspends consultation on English Department cuts

Official union advice

UCU branch guidance: Bargaining to protect members during the Covid-19 crisis (30 March)

UCU guidance on working from home and teaching online (March 2020)

TUC advice: What are the rules if you’re temporarily laid off? (31 March)

UCU guidance: The Coronavirus job retention scheme (furloughed staff) (March 2020)

UCU guidance: Disability and the Coronavirus (March 2020)

UCU: Protecting precarious workers (31 March)

Databases on Covid-19 for HE sector

Positive policies by universities in response to the Covid-19 crisis (Sophie Smith)

Immediate proposals to universities and Department of Education (Andrew Chitty)

Sources on Covid-19 and UK Higher Education (Andrew Chitty)