All out for USS

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

Rachel Cohen (City, University of London)

woman

Election address

I am Senior Lecturer and Head of Sociology at City, University of London. I previously worked at Surrey and at Warwick. My research focuses on the social experience of work.

Union service:

2005-AUT/UCU member
 UCU Left
2006-2010Warwick UCU Executive
2010-2013Surrey UCU Executive
 Branch Secretary 2011-12
 SE Region HE Chair 2011-2012
2013-City UCU Executive
 London Region
2015-NEC member

Strong trade unions make a huge positive difference to members and to society. We face a government determined to impose market logic on HE, measure value for money on the basis of 'outcomes' and bring in private providers. Therefore, a strong, united and active union, offering a compelling alternative vision of education, is essential.

Excellence / Performance management

REF and TEF formally identify 'excellence', but are used to reproduce the influence and power of elite institutions (and particular disciplines) while identifying and encouraging market failure.

Meanwhile the uncertainties of Brexit have exacerbated the vulnerability of international staff, and provided university managers with an additional rationale for 'de-risking'.

Within our institutions, the search for excellence has intensified the use of punitive performance management. We each face an increasing number and variety of targets. Since no-one can fully and consistently meet every target, we are all made vulnerable. 

UCU needs to develop campaigns that celebrate the social value of education and contest the reduction of our sector to crude metrics. Simultaneously, we must resist the relentless pressure of increasing workloads.

Equality

Our students are increasingly diverse, but HE staff do not yet reflect that diversity. Women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled colleagues are under-represented in positions of power and pay inequalities persist. UCU can lead the way in campaigning for equality.

That means consistently challenging the sexual harassment and bullying present in universities. For instance, by supporting our most vulnerable members, including casualised employees and PhD students.

A member-led union

UCU will better represent us all if we develop ways of working that are inclusive. Our members are uniquely rich in skills, including accountants, artists, industrial relations and educational specialists among others. As an NEC member I will seek to incorporate members' diverse skills and creativity in our campaigns.

Pensions / Industrial action

We all recognise that poorly coordinated national action saps the strength of local branches and the activists who take part or have to 'sell' it. Conversely, well organised national campaigns build strength and membership. As an NEC member I have argued for more clearly planned and communicated action.

Currently USS members are fighting to save our pensions and for a sector that values staff. We need action that is strategic and coordinated if we are to convince members and employers that we are fighting to win.

Last updated: 1 February 2018