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UCU Scotland President's Address

President's Address to UCU Scotland Congress 2013

Welcome to the 7th Annual Congress of UCU Scotland. Thank you all for coming today to represent your Branch or local association and a particular warm welcome to those who are here for the first time. I do hope the Congress brings you all together and of course a warm welcome to all our guests.

First I must thank all the UCU Scotland staff for all work they have done in the last two years I have been President and for setting up and running the Scottish Congress. The UCU Scotland office has had to deal with a very large workload of personal cases as well as the large amount of political work it has undertaken in the last two years.

There are still many challenges we have to face as a Union. Casualisation, Equality, Probationary periods, points based immigration, stress, pensions and of course the REF. At the moment the two I hear most about are Workloads and Job Security. These are some of the problems you deal with everyday and the Union is based on the tremendous work you do.

Personal cases will and will always be the backbone of the Union and we must always remember the major purpose of UCU is to protect and promote the professional interests of our members individually and collectively, and to regulate their conditions of employment to safeguard their interests. I have to say I am really pleased to see the motion from Aberdeen on support for branch caseworkers and casework co-ordinators.

Having seen the benefits of Joint Union meetings at a university level I have enjoyed working with both NUS and EIS on a Scottish level and attending the STUC HE/FE forums with Unison and Unite. Together we have influenced policy and there is no better example of that than the review of higher education governance.

These are difficult times for Unions and our Union has not been immune to the problems of a falling membership and although less effected than other areas of the UK, recruitment of new staff will need to be a priority in the next couple of years.

I am also on the council for Recourse the 24/7 Helpline for UK HE staff of which our own Angela is Chair I hope you will try and publicise Recourse around your Institutions and remember Recourse is a Charity.

Political work

Widening Access is in the Scottish post-16 bill and is something I personally welcome as it will start to open avenues into HE for pupils from poorer backgrounds something I really believe in and something I think will make a big difference to those individuals and to the areas they come from. We have supported initiatives by the funding councils to broaden recruitment but we have campaigned to ensure that they are helped to obtain degrees and employment. This vital role in widening access is performed by dedicated staff yet they have not been consulted as the SFC and university managers negotiated outcome agreements. These agreements, which are to become statutory, will only produce results, if staff are fully involved in drafting the agreements.

We continue to work with NUS on such matters and today I am happy to announce we will sign up to Unlock Scotland's Potential, the campaign to widen access.

Another area where our campaigning has had success in over the governance of our universities with the Minister commissioning and then accepting nearly all the recommendations of a governance review. I therefore expect the vast majority if not all of the Von Prondzynski report into the Governance of our Universities to be enacted over the next few years. The Chairs of Court are to publish a code of practice for Courts arising from this review soon and the way they attempted to sideline Staff and Students was a classical example of why we need the Von Prondzynski report fully implemented. The Chairs setup a Steering group who then asked two retired University Secretaries to go around asking for evidence. When we asked to meet the steering group this was refused and no minutes were taken during the institutional meetings with the Secretaries. A typical and classic example of why we need the new Governance report.

The management groups running Universities at the moment seem to see their primary job as maximising income and minimising costs and do seem to be less interested in the educational aspects of Universities. This is something which I hope the full implementation of the Governance report will help us challenge in the future.

I always say that University is not the Principal's or the senior officers, it is not the Government officials or the Ministers it is as much our University as anyone else's and as the Staff we should have a far greater say in the way they are run.

The referendum on Independence in 2014 will not I hope diminish our world class universities irrespective of the result and the debate this afternoon is our contribution to look at the effect of constitutional reform. HE is Scotland has always been devolved and should always look to build on its own traditions.

I have been reading Roger Brown's book about the marketisation of the UK Higher Education System. He claims the changes to funding in 2010/11 are the greatest change ever to the Higher Education system but here in Scotland without fees we have a wee chance to forge and create a different system which will not be as elitist as the one down south and more in keeping with the Scottish tradition that Education is for all.

I would just like to finish with a thank you to all the Scottish Officers and to Dave the next President and all those who have just been elected my best wishes. It has been a privilege to represent you over the last two very busy and rewarding years.

Last updated: 27 March 2014