All out for USS

It's not too late! Universities UK can still commit to meaningful negotiations over pensions and end the strike action.

In the news: 6 October

Members vote for strike action at University of Manchester

UCU members at the University of Manchester this week voted overwhelmingly to strike in a row over 140 job losses. Strike action will take place on Monday 23 October and Tuesday 24 October, and staff will also begin working to rule from Thursday 25 October. Of those who voted, 87% backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike.

Speaking to the BBC, UCU regional official Martyn Moss suggested that the university lacked rationale for the redundancies and said "staff are not confident that the process will be fairly and consistently implemented."

The Guardian also reported that the ballot result reflected the strength of feeling among members and that the university had been "plunged into crisis because of a management strategy that bypassed the professionals who work in the affected areas."

 

Staff to strike at University of Leeds over dismissal policy changes

Industrial action at the University of Leeds was also announced this week in protest against changes to the university's dismissal policy.

The strike, which will take place from Wednesday 11 to Friday 13 October, follows the university's decision to amend its employment statute. The university wants to introduce a new catch-all power which would allow employees to be dismissed for 'some other substantial reason', which UCU has dubbed a 'sackers' charter'.

Leeds UCU president Vicky Blake told the BBC that the strikes were a last resort, but said the university needed to "urgently reconsider these damaging changes". Speaking to ITV she said the changes were a serious threat to members' job security. In the Yorkshire Evening Post, she warned the change "could enable the university to sack people for all sorts of dubious reasons and may restrict staff from pursuing new ideas or controversial topics within their daily work."

 

Student loan freeze announced at Tory conference

At a Conservative Party conference light on policy proposals, the government announced measures aimed at students following the recent debate around tuition fees and loans. Tuition fees will now be capped indefinitely at £9,250 and the repayment threshold will rise from £21,000 to £25,000. A review of higher education funding was also confirmed by the Prime Minister in her final speech, despite repeated attempts by the universities minister Jo Johnson to downplay the prospect throughout the conference.

Responding to the announcement, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt described the proposals as 'sticking plasters on an inherently broken system' saying, "Only through the abolition of tuition fees, fully funded by a fairer tax system, can we create a genuinely fair system which provides access to education for potential students of all backgrounds. The proposals mean that students still bear significant debts while business contributes little to the supply of graduates on which it relies."

UCU held two fringe meetings at the conference to push for improvements and investment in further and higher education.

 

Calls for academic freedom safeguards on World Teachers' Day

Thursday was World Teachers' Day and to mark the occasion UCU wrote to universities minister Jo Johnson asking him to improve protections for academic freedom in higher education.

In the letter, Sally Hunt also asked the minister to ensure the UK complies fully with the 1997 UNESCO recommendation on the status of higher education teaching personnel, which sets out a number of key elements considered crucial to academic freedom. These include ensuring academic staff are involved in university governance, and providing secure, long-term employment for teaching staff. The letter also pointed to UCU research suggesting that UK protections are weaker than those in other EU nations.

 

 Bournemouth vice-chancellor pay brings university into disrepute

The vice-chancellor of Bournemouth, John Vinney, was this week accused of bringing the university into disrepute in a letter that called for his salary to be frozen, after it was revealed that his remuneration has increased by 53% in five years.

Speaking to the Bournemouth Echo, UCU branch chair Crispin Farbrother, who wrote the letter to the board of governors, said "UCU members at Bournemouth share the anger felt by students and their parents at the massive and unjustified increases to the pay of the vice-chancellor and his senior management team. These pay rises are bringing Bournemouth University into disrepute; they are damaging staff and student moral, and they are raising concerns about the governance of the university."

 

Universities consider cut to pension schemes

The ongoing row over USS pensions was covered in further detail by the Financial Times this week, with suggestions that universities are considering cuts to retirement benefits and shifting university employee pensions into riskier retirement funds.

UCU national pensions official, Christine Haswell, told the paper that UCU does not believe that the scheme requires drastic cuts. She added, "We are asking members, should changes be proposed, are they willing to take action to defend their pensions. Members are expressing strong and deep concerns about their pensions and why costs aren't being brought under control."

Last updated: 6 October 2017