Taking action in higher education

Future of the profession: free membership FAQs

As part of UCU's drive to support education workers at the start of their careers, from 1 October 2017 we are offering free membership to some further and higher staff.

How to join as a FREE member?

JOIN ONLINE TODAY
Choose 'standard full membership' to activate the free membership offer option.

Or you can join by phone on:
0333 207 0719**

As part of UCU's drive to support education workers at the start of their careers, from 1 October 2017 we are offering free membership to some further and higher staff.

Free membership* applies to staff in the following categories:

  • enrolled postgraduate students contracted to teach in UK higher education institutions
  • staff working in further education not on lecturing contracts but part of the teaching and assessing team such as instructor, assessor, trainer (except in prisons) or coach.
  • staff working in prison education as Learning Support Practitioners (LSPs) or Assisted Learning Support staff (ALSs).

Who qualifies for free membership and from what date?

UCU is offering free membership for up to four years in two categories of staff.

Why is UCU doing this?

An increasing proportion of teaching and related work is being undertaken by these two 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 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 free membership to these two 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 two 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 two 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.

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:

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

Yes.

What happens if my circumstances change?

UCU will contact you each year for up to four years to verify that you are still in one of the two categories which qualify for free membership. However, given the substantial investment the union is making in you, we hope that members will use our website 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 free membership?

You may become ineligible for free membership:

What happens when my period of free membership ends?

UCU will transfer you to the appropriate subscription band based upon your earnings. At that point, we will need your bank details so we can make the deductions every week. 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 a PhD student who does not teach. Do I qualify for free membership?

No, because you do not have an employment relationship with your university. However, you will be able to become a student member of UCU.

I think I qualify for free membership but my job title is not listed above, what should I do?

There are many ways of describing the staff who are covered by free membership.

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

I work in prison education - do I qualify for free membership?

Learning Support Practitioners (LSPs) and Assisted Learning Support staff (ALSs) are eligible for the free membership. Trainers in prison education do not qualify as they carry out a different role to FE trainers.

How can I let colleagues know about the free offer?

You can find a selection of posters here:

I am an established member of staff. Why should I subsidise 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.

If your question isn't answered, please contact Matt Waddup.


*Free membership includes access to all the benefits of full membership and is provided for a maximum of four years from registration. Free membership is provided on the basis that you inform UCU promptly when your circumstances change 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.

**Lines open 9.15am-4.45pm Mon-Fri. Calls are charged at standard rates; if you have inclusive call minutes or an allowance calls to this number are usually included (please check with your provider).

Last updated: 7 January 2020