UCU Scotland Congress 2019

Resolutions of the 13th UCU Scotland Congress.

29 March 2019, Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel, Clydebank

1. Job losses/workload/work-related stress

Congress notes the cuts in higher education institutions.  As well as supporting branches opposing job losses, congress recognises that when principals announce cuts and jobs are lost the workload does not diminish for the remaining staff who are simply required to do more.  Increasing workload from job losses, combined with rising student expectation driven by the commodification of HE, and a 24-hour work culture driven by technology, mean that incidences of work-related stress and an accompanying impact on mental health are all too common for university staff.  Congress notes the findings of UCU's most recent survey of members showing that that members work the equivalent of two days for free each week.  Congress recognises the unacceptability of this situation and calls on the UCU Scotland executive to lobby the Scottish government to direct higher education institutions to address the issue of workload and work related stress. 

2. Mental health wellbeing at higher education institutions (HEI)

UCUS believe that staff and students should be able to work and study in a safe environment. UCUS believe that the views of staff on mental health well-being at each HEI should be represented by TU's at a forum where issues around mental health well-being can be raised in a safe non-judgemental way.

UCUS Congress notes that a motion was passed at Congress last year on safety/well-being at work. Congress request an update from UCUS executive to be sent to all branches on where we are and how many HEI's have responded to the request.

Congress further notes that mental-wellbeing strategies are classified as a priority area for SFC outcome agreements in terms of student welfare. What about staff welfare?

UCUS Congress further asks that UCUS executive to write to the Scottish government asking for SFC action plan on workloads to reduce the impact on the mental health of staff.

3. Casualisation

Congress recognises the prevalence of insecure contracts in Scottish HE with 53% of academics on some form of an insecure contract. Congress notes the inclusion of a call for national action on casualisation being part of the 2018/19 pay claim. Congress notes that behind each of the numbers relating to casualisation is an individual struggling to get on with their lives, noting that UCU research from 2015 found that 42% of higher education staff on atypical contracts reported struggling to pay household bills and a fifth had said they'd struggled to pay for food.  Congress calls on the UCU Scotland executive to continue campaigning against casualisation and to work towards nationally agreed action to end precarious work in higher education.

4. End the abuses of casualised contracts

Congress welcomes the progress made through the hard work of activists and deplores the ways that institutions are trying to circumvent legislation and/or their own policies.

Congress reaffirms that the focus of improving policy and obtaining fractional contracts must not be at the expense of job loss by casualised staff.

Congress instructs UCUS to obtain data and details and/or case studies including:

  1. institutional anti-casualisation policies
  2. staff who legally should have received a permanent/open-ended contract but are still on casualised contracts
  3. staff who have a mixture of permanent/open-ended and casualised contracts
  4. casualised staff who have lost their jobs as a result of policy changes.

And to:

  1. name and shame the worst employers
  2. publicise good practice, including through case studies
  3. campaign for improved collective agreements, including through tribunal cases, where appropriate.

5. No REF submissions for redundant staff

Conference is concerned that the ability to include staff who have been made redundant in submissions to the REF increases vulnerability of staff and the risk of casualisation. Some Universities have agreed polices to protect staff.

Conference instructs UCUS to campaign for:

  1. employing institutions, possibly through UCEA, to agree not to return submissions of compulsorily redundant staff
  2. call on UCUS to name and shame institutions abusing the REF process and to highlight good practice.

6. Lessons from QMU dispute

Congress welcomes the achievements of QMU UCU branch on their recent action. The high turn-out in the ballot, robust support for industrial action, strong strike and picket undoubtedly contributed to the final resolution. Congress notes that the branch also welcomed the crucial role of support from UCU Scotland officials.

However, congress also notes that, whilst showing an inspiring amount of hard work it also revealed areas where the union needs to learn from the experience and develop. The efforts of the branch did not succeed in achieving the objective of the ballot: to avoid 'cuts to the Staffing Budget and Compulsory Redundancies'.

Congress commits UCU Scotland to learning from this experience and committing resources to:

  • increasing the union's ability to campaign against staffing cuts whether achieved through compulsory or voluntary schemes
  • more effectively combat the effects of the anti-trade union legislation without leaving the union legally vulnerable
  • supporting activists to put forward economic alternatives to staff cuts.

7. Student sit-ins/student occupations at Scottish HEIs

Congress notes:

  • the support and solidarity given to the 2018 pensions dispute by many students
  • solidarity between staff and students is a key aspect of successful UCU campaigning
  • as a form of peaceful protest, the sit-in tactic has a proud heritage in civil and workers' rights campaigns
  • the ugly scenes at University of Aberdeen on 14 March 2018
  • staff and students should be able to participate safely in peaceful protest.

Congress calls on the UCUS executive to develop and publicise guidance to inform the development of institutional-level policies in relation to student sit-ins, both on strike and non-strike days, helping safeguard UCU members and representatives who may:

  • wish to participate in peaceful protest and solidarity demonstrations organised by student protestors
  • be requested to provide assistance to student protestors, particularly in relation to their welfare
  • be requested to mediate at meetings involving senior management and student protestors.

9. Support for whistleblowers

Congress notes:

  • whistleblowers play an important role in society, speaking up against wrongdoing
  • the UK government produced whistleblowing guidance and code of practice for employers
  • the charity 'Protect' provides free and confidential advice on whistleblowing and continue to campaign for further amendment and improvements to the whistleblowing framework
  • within the UK government's list of prescribed bodies, it is unclear who a Scottish HEI whistleblower can utilise (if any): the Scottish Funding Council are not a prescribed body, and Audit Scotland state they can only act in relation to public bodies they audit.

Congress calls on the UCU Scotland executive to:

  • campaign for a prescribed body to be identified for whistleblowing in Scottish HEIs
  • collate and review the whistleblowing policies at Scottish HEIs
  • develop a model policy for Scottish HEIs in line with guidance and best practice
  • support branches to implement the policy.

10. Fair and equitable exit arrangements

Congress notes that at the University of Aberdeen:

  • the new principal succeeded Professor Sir Diamond on 1 August 2018
  • Professor Sir Diamond intimated his intention to retire in August 2017 and it was agreed that he would remain in office until his successor was appointed and in post
  • Professor Sir Diamond received payment of £282,000 in respect of the 12 month notice period
  • a further £139,000 payment was made to another senior post holder for 'loss of office'.

Congress also notes:

  • the joint report by the Scottish Funding Council and Robert Gordon University, which seeks to identify potential improvements in policies and processes relating to senior-level settlements

Congress calls on the UCUS executive to:

  • lobby the Scottish Government to ensure the recommendations of the joint report are implemented across all Scottish HEIs
  • campaign for an end to excessive exit payments for senior post holders.

11. Open and transparent access to court papers

Congress notes:

  • whereas good governance at the institutional level is underpinned by sector-wide principles and standards, which are set out in the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance (2017 edition);
  • Scottish HEIs vary in the level of openness and transparency with which they permit staff access to court papers and minutes.

Congress calls on the UCU Scotland executive to:

  • review the confidentiality arrangements for court papers and minutes within Scottish HEIs and identify examples of good practice
  • develop a model policy for the sharing of court papers and minutes with all staff, to include guidance on minimal redaction, wherever possible ensuring trade union representatives have access to all paperwork
  • support branches to implement the policy.

13. Higher education governance

Congress notes:

that the Scottish Higher Education Governance Act's requirements that Chairs (Senior Lay Members) of governing bodies be elected, is now being implemented at two Universities, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Congress calls on:

executive to ensure ongoing and efficient, intra-institutional exchange of information and discussion among UCU Scotland colleagues about how such elections are conducted, with the aim of achieving the greatest possible degree of democratic consistency at Scotland's different 'autonomous public institutions' and optimising the chances of effective candidates with progressive and intelligently critical qualifications being elected.

14. An Alternative Vision for Higher Education

Congress notes the importance of trade unions proactively making the case for a higher education sector which is not based solely on a financially driven business model.

Drawing from examples such as the 'Gold Paper' produced by Goldsmiths UCU and students, and alternative university models such as that described by Coventry UCU, and seen in the 'Reclaim the University' movement, Congress asks the Scottish executive to examine the feasibility of producing and disseminating alternative strategies for universities and higher education in Scotland, which can be promoted at a local level.

15. Towards a cooperative university

This congress welcomes the 'Manifesto of Ideas and Influence: Towards a Cooperative University' published by Queen Margaret University UCU branch during their dispute over cuts and redundancies.

Congress notes that the Scottish government's Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Richard Lochhead) also welcomed Towards a Cooperative University as a contribution towards the future of the higher education sector in Scotland, and that he 'agree(s) with many of the sentiments in the document' noting that 'The Scottish government will always be constructive and look for new ideas in relation to the culture of our universities'.

Congress recommends further discussion within UCU Scotland and UCU branches on more cooperative and collegiate forms of university governance, and uses the opportunity of the minister's words to press for further governance reform in the sector.

16. EU/international: students and immigration

Congress notes that 29 March is scheduled to be the day the UK leaves the EU and notes with alarm the effect on the 4,500 EU nationals and 22,400 students in Scottish HE. 

Congress also notes that many report feeling unwelcome and that this has been exacerbated by their right to remain being unclear.  While staff employed in universities are now able to participate in the pilot settlement scheme congress notes that currently only a minority of institutions are covering the cost of applying for settled status.  Congress also notes that the cost of applying for settled status is many times more for international staff from non EU countries.

Congress calls on the UCU Scotland executive to exert pressure on employers to meet the cost of settlement fees. Congress also calls for the executive to continue to call on the UK government to re-introduce a post-study work visa for students.

17. Supporting international students threatened with deportation for fee shortfalls

Congress reaffirms policy on free education and against exorbitant fees to international students.

Congress condemns exclusion from education and deportation of international students unable to pay the full fees.

Congress instructs UCUS executive to work with NUS Scotland and local student unions to:

  1. obtain data on the numbers of international students excluded and deported/voluntarily repatriated due to fee short falls
  2. draw up an agreement to be negotiated with universities to prevent the exclusion and deportation of international students on grounds of fees.

Congress calls on branches to negotiate the implementation of this policy.

Congress instructs the UCUS executive to put pressure on Scottish government and SFC to support international students and prevent exclusion and deporting on grounds of fees, including by:

  1. making funding available to cover fee shortfalls
  2. putting pressure on universities to sign agreements not to exclude students with fee shortfalls.

19. UCU Scotland and social media

Congress notes the growing importance of social media, for many union members, in organising and campaigning.

In the light of this, Congress asks the Scottish executive to ensure that our blog and web presence are regularly updated, and where possible, of the highest standard in terms of accessibility, and appeal to members and all stakeholders in higher education in Scotland.

To this end Congress asks the Scottish executive to ensure adequate resourcing and training is provided to those tasked with producing our online presence.

20. Making the best use of our policies

Congress notes the consistently positive work of UCU Scotland in constructing our congress policies, and applying them in policy statements and in our day-to-day work.

Congress believes it would be useful to promote our policies, and policy statements (or positions produced as submitted evidence to the Scottish government, Universities Scotland and others) more widely.

To this end Congress asks the Scottish Executive to discuss how to best to promulgate our policies, and where thought useful, make them available to branches and members in an attractive and useful format.

21. UCUS webpages

Congress notes:

  • the apparent cessation since the 2013 UCU Scotland Congress of the practice of lodging all Congress papers on the UCU Scotland webpages, first in favour of a short paragraph providing an overview, and now not even that, meaning:
    • that there is no record of the proceedings of the UCU Scotland policy-making body readily available to members, and
    • that it is difficult to track the longer-term progress of policy decisions.

Congress instructs:

Executive to resume the pre-2013 practice, and to fill the gaps in the online archive, as soon as possible.

22. Intergenerational crisis

Congress notes:

  1. the publication in April 2018 of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice report, whose major recommendation was the establishment of a Citizens' Wealth Fund designed to pay all 25 year-olds a one-off dividend of £10,000 in 2030
  2. the May 2018 report of the Intergenerational Commission, chaired by David Willetts, whose proposals include a National Insurance levy on those above retirement age, and a £10,000 'citizen's inheritance' for young adults
  3. both reports emphasise an intergenerational crisis, but are in danger of repeating the canard that profligate pensioners living in luxury have 'stolen' the rightful inheritance of the younger generation, rather than identifying successive government neoliberal policies, the deeply flawed Universal Credit system, and the underfunding of education at all levels as primary causes of injustice.

Congress urges:

Executive to look closely and critically at both of these reports with a view to impressing upon the Scottish government the need to address the problems they raise.

23. Wider debate on pensions

Congress notes:

  1. that the viability of pension funds, the erosion of benefits, and the potential impact upon members, are generating legitimate concerns among retired members, along with those soon to retire,
  2. RMBs can only submit motions to the main Congress,
  3. motions about pensions are directed to the sector conferences,
  4. retired members are not able to bring concerns about pensions to the main democratic fora of UCU.

Congress urges:

  1. UCU to review its democratic procedural mechanisms with a view to permit and promote a wider more democratic debate in relation to pensions and other legitimate interests and concerns that affect the livelihood of retired members, and
  2. Scottish delegates to UCU's UK congress to support SRMB proposals to review how pensions motions are dealt with at UK congress, and ensure democratic procedures are adopted to enable representatives of RMBs to participate in debates about pensions.

24. Gender based violence

Congress notes and welcomes the work of UCU, NUS, the Scottish government and higher education institutions promoting action against gender based violence in HE and the work of Strathclyde University's Equally Safe in HE initiative in developing a toolkit.  Congress also welcomes the rolling out of signposting information on gender based violence to every member of staff in higher education.  Congress notes that, sadly, that incidences of gender based violence in higher education institutions remain all too high, and that there are continuing reports of misogynistic behaviour on campuses and amongst student groups.  Congress believes that the current initiatives in higher education are timely and positive but that progress must be maintained and therefore calls on the UCU Scotland executive to seek further opportunities to work co-operatively across the sector to tackle gender based violence.

25. Stand Up To Racism

UCUS notes:

  1. Stephen Yaxley Lennon and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance use of anti-Muslim racism, anti-Semitism and fascist ideas in creating a mass movement
  2. the success of Stand Up To Racism in countering racism is centred on the success of the idea of unity in action against racism. With Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott playing a major part in creating this unity.

UCUS believes:

  1. the fight against anti-Semitism is part of the anti-racist movement
  2. solidarity and unity in practice is the best opportunity to both defeat fascist ideas and discuss other areas where we may disagree with one another.

26. COMPOSITE: Trans Inclusivity in the trade union movement

Congress notes:

With recent proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, discriminatory comments and behaviour against trans people have increased in the UK, including within trade unions. UCU upholds the rights of all workers to be safe at work, and follows the Equality Act 2010 protecting individuals transitioning to another gender. UCU policy (UK Congress 2018) supports changes to the GRA to improve the lives of trans members.

Congress believes:

  • it is the right of all workers, no matter their gender identity, to be safe and respected at work.

Congress calls on UCUS to:

  • send the TransEdu (www.trans.ac.uk) 2018 report and resources (e.g. developing a trans policy) to branches, and guidance on trans inclusivity at work (e.g. the STUC LGBT guide) to members
  • take steps to ensure that UCU communications do not - e.g. by discriminatory comments - infringe on the right of trans members to be safe and respected at work.

L1. Scottish Teachers' Pension Scheme changes

Congress notes with concern the announcement from the University of the West of Scotland that it is looking to cut jobs due to funding challenges, and that a key driver in this decision is the increase in employer pension contributions to the Scottish Teachers' Pension Scheme.

Congress notes the treasury decision which will lead to significant increases in employer pensions contributions taking effect in 2019.

Congress notes the SPPA decision to delay the pensions increases from April to September 2019, to allow Scotland to benefit from funding consequentials.

Congress calls on the Scotland executive to:

  • lobby government for funding to cover these increasing pensions costs
  • oppose job cuts in universities and support all UCU branches facing redundancies
  • ask members to write to their MPs and MSPs on the matter
  • make clear to employers that they should not seek to balance the books by cutting jobs, attacking contracts or other detriment.
Last updated: 10 May 2019