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Future of the profession: Standard Free membership FAQs

1 April 2022

As part of UCU's drive to support education workers at the start of their careers we are offering free membership for up to 12 months to some further and higher education staff.


Standard Free membership* applies to staff in one of the following categories:

  • in higher education: enrolled PhD students who are also contracted to teach at the higher education institution at which they are registered for their PhD studies. Standard Free membership is not designed for existing staff who subsequently register for a PhD where they work
  • in further education: staff who are directly responsible for delivering teaching and assessing students, but who are employed on inferior terms and lower pay than colleagues on the college's lecturer contract of employment.

The union's Standard Free membership offer is valid for twelve months from joining.

Why is UCU doing this?

An increasing proportion of teaching and related work is being undertaken by these groups yet their employment is often characterised by poor job security, unfair working practices, diminished professional status and much lower membership of UCU than other more established staff groups.

What benefits does Standard Free membership entitle me to?

Members who qualify as described above, are entitled to all the benefits of full membership.

Why is the union restricting Standard Free membership to these categories?

UCU wants to build a strong trade union culture across the whole of the sector, and we recognise that there are problems such as widespread casualisation and other unfair working practices in all grades. However, these categories are the fastest increasing parts of the HE and FE workforce and they are - by and large - younger than those in other more established areas. We are therefore making a substantial, long term investment in the future of the profession.

I am not in either of these categories. How much will it cost me to join UCU?

UCU believes that the cost of membership should be as low as possible so that all those who need the union can benefit. You can receive a personalised quote here.

I am a PhD student who undertakes paid research in addition to study. Do I qualify for Standard Free membership?

Yes, because you have an employment relationship with your university.

I am a PhD student who does not teach. Do I qualify for Standard Free membership?

No, because you do not have an employment relationship with your university. However, you do have the option of Student or Postgraduate Researcher membership of UCU.

I am an existing member of staff who is also doing a PhD in my spare time. Do I qualify for Standard Free membership?

No. Free membership in higher education is for PhD students who are then employed to teach.

I am a trainee teacher in further education. Do I qualify for Standard Free membership?

No. If you are employed directly by your FE institution, you should pay at the appropriate subscription for your earnings. If you are not salaried you may be eligible for UCU student membership.

It is great that UCU is investing in new groups of staff, but what else is UCU doing to support the future of the profession?

UCU's 'future of the profession' plan has three aims:

  1. promote the creation of good jobs and rewarding careers for staff throughout the sector, and particularly those at the start of their careers
  2. negotiate local agreements which improve the conditions of 'low security' staff
  3. provide advice, support and training to staff, and especially early career staff on how to build their careers.

I am in one of the categories who qualify for Standard Free membership, but am already a paying UCU member. Do I qualify for free membership?

Yes. You can transfer to free membership online at My UCU.

What happens if my circumstances change?

UCU will contact you periodically to verify that you are still in one of the categories which qualify for free membership. However, given the substantial investment the union is making in you, we hope that members will use My UCU to update their details promptly should their circumstances change in the meantime. Failure to keep your details up to date may mean we are not able to offer you support should you need it.

Under what circumstances will I become ineligible for Standard Free membership?

You may become ineligible for free membership:

  • if you leave the higher or further education sector
  • if your job changes. In higher education, this means that you secure a permanent or fixed term contract of at least one year's duration. In further education, this means that you secure a permanent or fixed term contract of at least one year's duration on your employer's main teaching pay spine.

What happens when my period of Standard Free membership ends?

UCU will notify you to transfer to the appropriate subscription band based upon your earnings. You will need to supply your bank details so we can make the deductions every month. This can be done online using My UCU. We hope that by then you will see the value of being a union member and will continue in UCU - the largest specialist union in further and higher education.

I am an established member of staff. Why should I subsidise Standard Free membership for other people?

Many permanent staff are very concerned about the low security employment models used to prop up universities and colleges, particularly in terms of their impact upon early career staff who are faced with an 'apprenticeship' of a series of casual posts before they can even be considered for a permanent position. In short, 'low security' has become the norm for the majority of those in the first ten years of their employment.

*Standard Free membership includes access to all the benefits of full membership and is provided for a maximum of one year from registration as a Standard Free member. Standard Free membership is provided on the basis that you inform UCU promptly if your circumstances change during this period and you secure a job in HE of one year or more contract duration and in FE if you are appointed to the teaching staff.

Last updated: 12 February 2024