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In the news 8 November 2019

Sixty universities to be hit with eight days of strikes this month

Sixty UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU announced this week. The union's higher education committee has set out the timetable for the action, which will also see members begin action short of a strike on 25 November.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action. The action will affect over one million students.

Writing for the Guardian, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Although these are separate disputes, they speak to a common theme. Over the past decade, the treatment of higher education staff has taken a turn for the worse, and they have witnessed declines in their pay, pensions and working conditions.'


Deal agreed to end long-running dispute at Bradford College

A long-running dispute at Bradford College has ended after the college agreed to end compulsory job losses, move hourly-paid staff on to permanent contracts and award all staff an extra five days' annual leave.

Tes reported that UCU members had taken 10 days of strike action between November 2018 and July 2019 and that the deal would mean security and improved pay for staff on hourly-paid contracts, as well as more holidays and end fears over of compulsory redundancies.

Speaking to the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: 'This deal at Bradford College improves the job security, status and pay for staff at the college. Insecure contracts are a blight on the sector and bad for both staff and students. Nobody ever wants to take strike action, but these improvements are a testament to members' determination to fight for a fairer deal.'


Strikes cancelled at eleventh hour after new deal at Nottingham College

Strikes scheduled to start on Tuesday at Nottingham College were suspended after UCU members met on Monday to consider a new offer from the college. They were due to walk out for 14 days this month, but decided to suspend the action for two weeks so they can consider the latest deal.

FE Week reported that the new offer includes a guarantee that the college will re-instate the pay of any staff who suffered a loss as a result of the introduction of the new pay arrangements in July. The college has also promised there will be a maximum limit of 24 hours teaching a week, after it originally proposed no limit. 

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'We are pleased the college appears to finally recognise the need to work with its staff and not against them. Our members have demonstrated that they will not be taken for fools and are prepared to take strike action to defend their jobs. The ball is now firmly in the college's court and it needs to deliver on its promises.'


Five strike days announced at Coventry University in appraisals row

Coventry University will be hit with five days of strike action and a marking boycott unless it responds urgently to staff concerns about its controversial appraisal process, UCU announced on Wednesday.

The Coventry Observer said UCU members will walk out on Thursday 21, Tuesday 26 and Friday 29 November, followed by a two-day strike on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 December. They will also begin action short of a strike on Thursday 5 December that will see them boycotting the university's appraisal system and refusing to undertake any marking or assessment of students' work.

The dispute centres on the university's use of a controversial appraisal system, which the union says forces staff to jump through unnecessary hoops to achieve the annual incremental pay award that is standard at other institutions. UCU said the system has created unnecessary paperwork for already overworked staff and is even worse than its predecessor which left academic staff at Coventry among the worst paid in the West Midlands.

Speaking to the Coventry Telegraph, UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'Coventry University has preyed on the goodwill of staff for too long. If the university wants to avoid significant disruption to students in the run up to Christmas, it needs to scrap the current system and work with us to agree a fairer approach to appraisals that would see staff receive pay increases along similar lines to other UK universities.'


Cardiff UCU members use Ken Loach film to highlight problems of casualisation

UCU members at Cardiff University have used Ken Loach's film Sorry We Missed You to highlight precarious employment. The film follows a delivery driver struggling to support his family and the consequences of zero-hours contracts.

The local branch, which is taking strike action later this month as part of the pensions and pay & working conditions strikes, has been campaigning for the work of postgraduate students who teach or demonstrate at the university to be recognised as employment.

Cardiff University postgraduate student Grace Krause told the BBC she hoped the film would "make people realise how messed up things are". She said that people are often broken by casualisation as the financial insecurity means they don't know when their next pay cheque will come in. She said: 'People lose a lot of confidence. They think they don't deserve any better and don't believe things could be any better. That is worth fighting.'


UCU urging students to register to vote in general election

A "worrying" number of UK universities are still not doing enough to help ensure that students can vote in the general election, reported Times Higher Education this week. The magazine said that a survey it conducted with Vote For Your Future suggests that thousands of students will not be registered to vote in the December poll unless they take steps themselves to get on the electoral roll before a deadline of 26 November.

Speaking to the Guardian, Jo Grady said: 'It's great that some lecturers have taken the initiative and devoted a few minutes of their lessons to reminding students how to get registered, and we would encourage others who can to do the same.' While the Independent picked out some of the things universities are doing to encourage students to vote from free drinks and doughnuts to goat petting.

UCU is working with the National Union of Students to urge all universities and colleges to encourage students to vote. As well as encouraging more staff to speak directly to students, we are asking vice-chancellors and principals to commit to contacting all students explaining how to register to vote and to provide better information on campus. You can contact your institution head via the voter pledge website and urge them to do more.

Last updated: 8 November 2019