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UCU Northern Ireland

UCU represents members in further and higher education across Northern Ireland. We also represent staff in a number of training organizations.


•  EMA retained
•  Higher Education Strategy
•  FE pay cap continues
•  North West College - review of Industrial Relations

Post-school education and training in the region are issues devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and its executive. Funding is provided via the Department of Employment and Learning which receives an allocation from the executive out of the UK Treasury grant.
UCU in Northern Ireland engages with the Department of Employment and Learning at all levels up to and including the minister. We seek to influence policy in relation to post school education through lobbying politicians and making submissions directly to government.

We maintain strong links with the assembly's Employment and Learning Committee.

DefendEMA : Northern Ireland Defend EMA campaign
UCU Northern Ireland supports the DefendEMA campaign

On this page:

UCU Northern Ireland contacts:


EMA retained

UCU Northern Ireland and the National Union of Students/Union of Students of Ireland have successfully lobbied for the retention of Educational Maintenance Allowances  - the scheme has been revised but still retains payments which will benefit around 25,000 students in Northern Ireland In summary from the beginning of academic year 2013/2014, eligible 16-19 year old students in full-time education will qualify for:

  • a £30 weekly payment if the family income for a single student is less than £20,500 or £22,500 when there are two or more students
  • a biannual bonus award of £200 payable in two payments of £100 - one at the end of the first term and the other at the end of the second or third term.

Higher Education Strategy

The Department of Employment and Learning is shaping policies to deliver on its Higher Education Strategy and Widening participation agenda. An Implementation Committee will oversee the work of 20 subject specific Project Groups which will tackle policy development across a wide range of areas such as reviewing the HE funding model, the cap on full-time student places, governance and accountability etc. UCU is represented on the Implementation Committee and most of the project teams.

Pay cap continues for FE

Lecturers in Further Education, unlike those elsewhere in the UK, have been subjected to government pay policy for almost 10 years. This came about as a result of a decision made by direct rule ministers during the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2007 the current Northern Ireland Executive placed lecturers under civil service pay rules which has resulted in zero increases in pay for the past 2 years. Despite extensive lobbying of politicians and Ministers there is no sign that position is likely to change in the near future.

North West College - review of Industrial Relations

In October 2012 the Minister of Employment and Learning appointed independent HR consultant Harry McConnell to review industrial relations at the college following years of attacks on UCU officers and lecturers conditions by senior management at the college. The situation at the college had been the subject of much media coverage and was regularly talked about in the Assembly. In 2011 the branch voted to take industrial action which rumbled on for over a year. Senior managers at the college had also taken over key positions as employers representatives and brought the same anti-UCU attributes to regional meetings. McConnell was asked to look also at the implications for wider collective bargaining arrangements across the sector.

McConnell's report was published in February 2013. It revealed a catalogue of issues which had created a climate of fear at the college. The report can be accessed in full here:  (.pdf) file type icon Review of Industrial Relations at North West Regional College, Feb 13 (.pdf) [2.6Mb]

UCU is currently working with the governing body to implement all of the 31 recommendations stated in the report. An action plan has been developed which is designed to tackle the climate of fear and restore better industrial relations. The governing body has sidelined the director and other senior managers from implementing the recommendations and removed them from their positions in regional bargaining arrangements. The minister's office is monitoring developments and will report to the assembly. His department has also written to Colleges Northern Ireland asking the employers collectively to review the working of the Lecturers Negotiating Committee.

Higher Education

Northern Ireland has five dedicated HE institutions. These are:

  • The Queen's University of Belfast: contact QUB UCU
  • University of Ulster: contact Ulster UCU
  • St Mary's University College: contact: SMUC
  • Stranmillis University College: contact Stranmillis UCU 
  • Open University: contact: Alan Carr 

All HE institutions are part of UCEA and are part of UK negotiating machinery for the determination of pay. Each institution has its own locally negotiated conditions of service.

Most academic and related staff at Queens, UU and OU are members of the University Superannuation Scheme for pension purposes. Lecturers at St.Mary's and Stranmillis for the most part are members of the Northern Ireland Teachers' Pension Scheme.

Some 15% of higher education in Northern Ireland is also delivered through the six further education colleges.

Key information for HE members in Northern Ireland:

Further Education

Northern Ireland has six further education colleges which are area based. These are:

  • Belfast Metropolitan College: contact BMC UCU 
  • Southern Regional College: contact SRC UCU 
  • South Eastern Regional College: contact SERC UCU 
  • South West College: contact SWC UCU 
  • Northern Regional College: contact NRC UCU 
  • North West Regional College: contact NWRC UCU

All colleges are part of the Colleges' Employers Forum and Colleges NI. The pay and conditions of service for lecturing staff are determined centrally at the Lecturers Negotiating Committee. A separate bargaining forum determines the pay and conditions of service of directors and deputies.

Political work

Government Consultation

Government consults widely in Northern Ireland on proposed policy initiatives and legislation. UCU makes comment in respect of education policy. Recent comments include:

Political contacts

The Minister for Employment and Learning is appointed under the Assembly's rules and is a member of the Northern Ireland Executive. The current minister is an Assembly Member for the Alliance Party, Dr Stephen Farry.

The Department is scrutinized by the Assembly's Employment and Learning Committee. The current membership of the committee is:

Committee members:

Jim Allister (TUV) - jim.allister@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
Sammy Douglas (DUP) - sammy.douglas@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
Phil Flanagan (SF) - phil.flanagan@mla,niassembly.gov.uk
David Hilditch (DUP) - david.hilditch@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
Chris Lyttle (Alliance) - chris.lyttle@mla,niassembly.gov.uk
Fra McCann (SF) - fra.mccann@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
Bronwyn McGahan (SF) - Bronwyn.mcgahan@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
Pat Ramsay (SDLP) - pat.ramsay@mla,niassembly.gov.uk

Committee Clerk: Cathie White

Room 416, Parliament Buildings,
Belfast,BT4 3XX

Tel: (028) 9052 1448
Email: cel@niassembly.gov.uk

Details of Committee work can be accessed here, which includes minutes, listen again facility, forward work programme, press releases, research papers, inquiries and events.

Northern Ireland Assembly Weekly Written Answers: you can review weekly written answers from the Minister for Employment and Learning here.

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