Boycott Leicester

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Holly Smith (University College London)


Election address

I work at University College London as a Lecturer in Higher Education. I'm currently Joint Vice-President of UCL UCU. I've been an activist member of UCU since it formed in 2006, and previously in both AUT and NATFHE. I have served as Equality Rep twice and previously as Vice-President. I lead the MA in Higher Education Studies which gives me a good perspective on the HE sector, from positive changes such as the dramatic increase in participation, to the effects of privatisation and marketisation.

Marketisation has many detrimental effects, but rampant casualisation and threats to academic freedom concern me most. The desire of universities to be 'agile and responsive' to student choice is driving increasing casualisation with zero-hours contracts and outsourcing (eg Unitemps) enabling employers to avoid their obligations to workers, both academic and professional staff. The Fordist division of labour between teaching and research has led to traditional academic contracts becoming a minority, while both teaching-only and research-only staff are given second-class status on insecure and exploitative contracts. Casualisation intersects with equality issues; with women, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities most adversely affected.

UCU's 2017 report on academic freedom in the UK highlighted serious weaknesses, and positioning students as 'consumers' aggravates this. The 2019 Policy Exchange report on academic freedom describes the "chilling effect" on the lives of academics of attempts by students to shut down events and silence speakers. This is particularly evident when it comes to issues to do with Israel/Palestine and women's rights. Academic freedom is vital to all our work and means nothing if we cannot defend the rights of those we disagree with. I'm campaigning for UCU to defend academic freedom more robustly.

I have worked on both local and national UCU campaigns and supported members through personal casework. My proudest achievement is that after a long campaign, we had 79 hourly-paid staff moved onto fractional contracts at IOE. This campaign grew from my personal casework representing Teaching Fellows and PGTAs on hourly-paid contracts. This demonstrates how supporting individual UCU members is most effective when we collectively address our grievances.

I had not given much thought to the structures of UCU until the USS dispute highlighted the role of the NEC in making critical decisions about calling off industrial action. The USS dispute inspired many creative new grassroots initiatives, and membership in USS branches leapt. Members have become engaged as never before and this is an opportunity not to be missed. I welcome the work of the Democracy Commission, and I believe there are many challenges for UCU in making our union truly representative and accountable to members, and that's why I'm standing to represent rank-and-file members on the NEC.

Twitter @hollysmithhere

Last updated: 30 January 2020