6.30pm Wednesday 30 September
Mike Wayne, Brunel UCU
Marian Mayer, Bournemouth UCU
Milly Williamson, Goldsmiths UCU
Sandy Nicholl, SOAS Unison
Northumbria UCU Activist (tbc)
Anthony O’Hanlan, Liverpool UCU
Glasgow University student (tbc)
Chaired by Feyzi Ismail, SOAS UCU
Staff and students are facing the twin scandal of lockdowns in university accommodations and sustained pressure to deliver face-to-face teaching despite widespread warnings from leading scientists. What can we do to support students in their demands for safe campuses and free education and how can university staff organise to resist the pressure from employers determined to raise revenue whatever the risks?
Anglia Ruskin is the first branch we know of to declare an official dispute over health and safety in relation to face to face teaching in the light of the spike in Covid-19 transmission. “UCU is unconvinced by claims made by the University that it is safe, responsible or necessary to resume on-site activity.” The notice highlights the importance for both staff and students of calling for urgent action to support the national UCU call to shift the majority of teaching and support online. “Our decision to declare a dispute has not been made lightly, but there is far too much at stake. It is a matter of life and death.” We have provided a selection of motions and statement that branches may want to adapt as they meet in the coming weeks. We must now allow the employers to put revenue before the safety of staff and students.
Anglia Ruskin notice of official dispute, 8 September
Hertfordshire UCU, original motions passed on 9 September
Motion 1: Protecting UH staff and students from Covid-19 in Semester A
This Branch notes:
- UCU’s decision to call on “the government and universities to switch to fully online teaching as the default for the duration of next term” in order to “prevent a situation that could see universities becoming the care homes of a second wave of covid-19” (Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, email to members of 29.8.20);
- UCU’s advice that “A number of UCU branches have already called on their employer to withdraw as much face-to-face teaching and other activities as possible and we are now encouraging all branches to push their employer to take this approach” (Jo Grady email as above);
- The report of the Independent SAGE group of experts, led by Sir David King, the former Scientific Adviser to the government, advising universities against resuming face-to-face teaching because risks of infection are too high; and
- The following risk factors: (a) the high rates of infection among the young who are typically asymptomatic if infected; (b) the rising UK-wide infection rates; (c) the country-wide risks of infection as one million students travel to campuses and occupy halls of residence; (d) the enhanced health risks of infection to older staff and BAME staff and students, and their families; and (e) the evidence from the United States where 60 universities and colleges in 36 states have so far reported Covid-19 outbreaks.
This Branch believes:
- That it is not currently safe for staff and students to resume face-to-face teaching in Semester A for the reasons stated above; and
- That teaching in Semester A should therefore be restricted to online learning (except where there are compelling pedagogical reasons to the contrary, such as practical work, assuming rigorous health and safety standards).
This Branch therefore resolves:
- To call on UH management to adopt a default position in favour of online learning; and
- To call on UH management to abandon plans for face-to-face teaching in Semester A (except where there are compelling pedagogical reasons to the contrary, such as practical work, assuming rigorous health and safety standards).
Motion 2: Protecting UH staff and students from Covid-19 in Semester A if face-to-face teaching proceeds
This Branch notes:
- That notwithstanding UCU’s call for universities to switch to fully online teaching as the default position for the duration of Semester A, UH management may nevertheless decide to proceed with the planned return to campus, halls of residence and face-to-face teaching;
- That in this event there are no plans for the regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students at UH;
- That in this event there is also a lack of information about any contingency plans UH management may have should there be an outbreak of Covid-19; and
- That management is presently determined to individualise issues of face-to-face teaching arising from the Covid-19 crisis by maintaining that they can be resolved on a case by case basis at individual staff member meetings with line managers.
This Branch believes:
- That if face-to-face teaching nevertheless proceeds:
(a) there must be regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students for Covid-19; and
(b) any contingency plans UH management may have in the event of an outbreak must be published;
- That further if face-to-face teaching proceeds:
(a) it is unacceptable for face-to-face teaching issues to be determined on a case by case basis at individual staff member meetings with line managers, as currently maintained by UH management; and
(b) that instead no staff member should be required to undertake face-to-face teaching in Semester A if they express the wish not to do so.
This Branch therefore resolves:
- That in the event face-to-face teaching proceeds, to call on UH management:
(a) to arrange without delay the regular mandatory testing and tracing of staff and students for Covid-19;
(b) to publish without delay any contingency plans in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19; and
(c) to agree that no-one will be required to undertake face-to-face teaching in Semester A if they express the wish not to do so.
Imperial UCU (motion passed 9 September)
This meeting notes:
1. the call by our GS and iSage for all teaching to be held online
2. UCU’s five tests
3. pressures on all staff for face-to-face teaching
4. that iSage/WHO believe social distancing, test, track and islate and PPE are central in controlling pandemics
5. a potential second wave
This meeting requests
The HESC encourages branaches to campaign, negotiate and pressure management and governments for agreements on:
1. no face-to-face teaching and student support in 2020/21 other than where there are no other options, e.g. practical work
2. all on-line teaching to be accessible
3. provision of ICT and safe quiet study spaces for all students as required
4. support and training for staff in online teaching
5. no staff, casualised or permanent, to risk losing jobs if they do not teach face-to-face
6. additional government funding to cover shortfalls and additional costs.
Sheffield Hallam UCU, motion passed 9 September
In line with Independent Sage recommendations, UCU supports a default position that all HE teaching provision should be through online/remote means except where this is practically impossible (e.g. for laboratory-based teaching and courses with practical elements such as performing arts, sciences, and some arts courses). Where face-to-face teaching is unavoidable measures should be in place to create Covid-safe university settings through the measures set out in the Independent SAGE report and summarised (in UCU’s position statement).
Bournemouth UCU exec, passed 9 September
No return to unsafe workplaces; no face-to-face teaching unless educationally necessary.
Bournemouth University UCU notes:
1. GS’s call for all universities to teach online in Term 1 at least.
2. UCU’s five tests.
3. Official figures record 43,000 deaths from Coronavirus. Excess deaths are at least 60,000.
4. Government calls for a return to workplaces.
5. Independent SAGE, SAGE and WHO believe social distancing, test, track and isolate and the use of PPE are central to controlling pandemics.
Bournemouth University UCU believes:
1. The GS’s call on universities and colleges is correct.
2. UCU’s five tests have not been met.
3. The Government’s call to return to offices is motivated by business concerns not public safety.
4. The likelihood of a second wave is increasingly likely.
Bournemouth University UCU resolves:
1. To call on members to refuse to teach face-to-face and to work remotely until UCU’s tests have been met. Exceptions for face-to-face teaching are where absolutely necessary, i.e. for lessons which strictly require students to be present, such as lab and studio work.
2. To call on UCU to organise a series of sector-based “No return to unsafe workplace” online meetings.
Manchester UCU, passed 9 September
Sussex campus unions statement on campus reopening, 8 September
Manchester Metropolitan UCU motion, passed 9 September:
Exeter UCU motion, passed at AGM 16 September
Covid-19 area research map (Imperial College) – very useful for identifying transmissions in your area
Independent SAGE response to Sage “Principles for Managing Covid-19 Transmission Associated with Higher Education, 9 September
Warwick and Coventry UCU statement: public health in the community, 11 September
A PDF version of this bulletin can be found here.
Jobs and conditions are currently being threatened at universities across the UK. It’s vital that no branch is left alone to fight and that we are thinking of ways of offering solidarity to any branch that is in dispute or set to take action and that each branch action is seen as a dispute of national significance. Branches will be facing huge challenges to ensure health & safety procedures are in place for the start of term and to resist the attempts by management to increase workload and shed staff as a response to Covid-19 pressures. This will require not just a response at the top of the union but branches supporting each other when they’re fighting back. Here are just some of the ballots, redundancy programmes and other actions that we are aware of. And people tell us that university staff are supposed to have long summers…Please email email@example.com to tell us what’s going on in your branch and make sure you tweet these branches with your solidarity messages.
A consultative ballot over compulsory redundancies now taking place.
The branch is now in dispute over compulsory redundancies in the ICT Department and taking part in a consultative ballot.
Both Unison and UCU members are due to ballot over substantial job cuts. As of 5 August, SOAS UNISON has received a Section 188 notice putting 88 staff in Professional Services at risk of compulsory redundancy.
The branch is formally in dispute over lack of equalities impact assessments in relation to the non-renewal of Associate Lecturer and FTC contract posts, cancellation of promotions and suspension of research leave.
There are potential large-scale redundancies at Reading where management has threatened to fire and then re-hire staff on inferior contracts. The UCU branch is currently in negotiations with management.
UCU has organised a “Defend all Jobs” campaign (in association with Unison and Unite) to oppose non-renewal of over 500 fixed-term jobs.
University of East London (@uelucu)
UEL has proposed severe staffing cuts across the entire university that will include academics, technical team staff and professional service staff. There are currently 367 members of staff with job uncertainty. Sign the petition HERE.
The UCU branch has voted (61.7% to 38.3%) to accept management’s proposals on savings.
Management have launched a Section 188 consultation on redundancies which involves the possibility of dismissal and re-hiring. There was a very large branch meeting on 30 July to discuss a response with other campus unions.
The branch is currently engaged in a vote of no confidence over a whole range of issues. Staff have also been informed that the ‘normal’ working day now extends to 10pm Monday to Friday and until 2pm on Saturdays.
Heriot Watt (@UCU_HWUBranch)
Despite widespread community opposition, the University is going ahead with job cuts in English Literature programmes. For more information, read this article.
The UCU Solidarity Movement has called a day of action to coincide with the release of A Level results on 13 August and is asking UCU branches and regions to organise physically distanced protests at universities where members are under attack. In London, local branches will protest outside SOAS (WC1H 0XG) at 12.30pm.
Anthony O’Hanlon, the President of Liverpool UCU, explains why campus unions at Liverpool have come together to campaign for a 1:6 pay ratio that will help redistribute funds from senior management to casualised staff. He argues that a wider challenge to the logic of marketisation is necessary if we are to transfer higher education for the benefit of all staff and students.
Between May and 31 July 2020, 606 fixed term contracts will expire at the University of Liverpool. The financial impact of the current crisis will impact universities in differing ways and on different scales but the current approach from employers in response to the challenges they face is uniform: to cut casualised staff and propose a wide range of schemes that erode terms and conditions which are presented as a financial necessity.
UCU branches across the Higher Education sector are currently fighting to save the precarious jobs which our employers actively created to be dispensable for these purposes. Sustained industrial action has been taken in the fight back against precariously employment but due to the impact of COVID we are now in a position where we are fighting simply to preserve the status quo of maintaining the carousel of casualisation by demanding temporary contracts are renewed.
The intransigent position currently taken by our employer to refuse to collectively consult with the campus trade unions shines greater light on an exploitative business model. Depressing and disingenuous claims of ‘business as usual’ show a sector that is much more committed to a marketisation agenda than it is protecting colleagues during a global pandemic.
This doomed, marketised model cannot continue and it is up to UCU branches with their sister campus unions to present radical alternatives and bring about a university that acts in the interests of staff and students.
At the University of Liverpool, the UCU, UNISON and UNITE branches have presented a number of demands as part of a ‘Defend All Jobs’ campaign.
One of the key demands as part of this is the introduction of a 1:6 pay ratio. This would result in a maximum wage at Liverpool of £100,000 per year for all core funded staff. Various institutions, including Liverpool have spoken about their Vice Chancellor taking a voluntary reduction in pay in light of the crisis – a 50% reduction would still see a salary of over £200,000 in this particular instance. It is important to make clear that this is not simply about VC pay as shocking as it is. Within each institution there is likely to be a year-on-year increase of incredibly well paid management.
Opposition to this policy has centred on the financial threat the University faces. The University responded to our campaign demands in a communication to all staff by claiming that the cost to extend all expired and expiring contracts would be around £2.5m. The saving identified by our Branch if this ratio is introduced? Roughly £3.5m, leaving a cool million in change. It does not take an economist to realise this is a cost effective step to protect jobs and the local economy. It may also go some way to balancing out the top heavy managerialism in universities. A recent staff survey at the university found perceptions of senior management is in dire need of improvement.
Spurious claims of such a policy being an attack on workers’ rights have also been put forward by a tiny number of those who fall into this category of earners. It is highly unlikely any future E.P. Thompsons will seek to rescue the poor Pro Vice Chancellor from the enormous condescension of posterity. This is a redistributive move which would still see all of the staff in this category sitting comfortably within the top 5% of earners in the UK while going some way toward addressing pay inequality.
Implementing such a policy in isolationwill not solve the crisis institutions face and the campus unions at Liverpool are under no illusion of this but it is an immediate step which can be taken to ensure colleagues are not thrown on to the scrapheap during a pandemic.
A comprehensive alternative to the marketised model which puts an end to vanity projects, excessive spending on capital developments and an obsession with perpetual growth of student intake numbers, such as the Manifesto for Resistance in COVID Times need to be further engaged with and developed for all of those who wish to transform the Higher Education sector.
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.
Warwick UCU recommendations on lecture capture (October 2019)
KCL UCU memo to members on online provision (16 March 2020)
JISC advice: Recording lectures – legal considerations (originally published in 2010 but updated in 2018)
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.
A PDF version of the bulletin is here. Follow these links:
- CoronaContract petition
- Convention for Higher Education statement: A New Future for Higher Education
- BSN: Manifesto for resistance in universities
- UCU Solidarity statement: Defend Higher Education; Fight for Jobs
- UCU: Fund the Future
- Save our Unis petition
- Crisis Justice Manchester: Towards a Better Normal
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.