Taking action in higher education


UCU equality banner


UCU has put equality at the heart of its activities on behalf of its members.

Many UCU branches have equality officers who can assist you if you have any concerns on an equality-related issue. Otherwise your UCU departmental rep or other branch officer will be able to help. To find out if there is an equality officer at your branch and how to contact them ask your departmental rep or branch secretary/president. If you don't know how to contact any local UCU representative contact your regional office. The local contact finder will give you details of the relevant branch officer for your institution.

Trans inclusion

New UCU's position on trans inclusion

This document presents UCU's position on trans inclusion. The position is based on policy made at UCU annual congresses and explores key concepts which inform the position such as intersectionality and academic freedom:

UCU's position on Trans inclusion [164kb]
UCU's position on Trans inclusion [69kb]

UCU supports trans workers' rights and, as champions of equality, we welcome the increased visibility and empowerment of transgendered and non-binary people in our society. It is our responsibility to promote equality and ensure the provisions of the Equality Act are implemented and adhered to by our members and in the sectors where we organise. This is also written into our rules. Our rules commit us to ending all forms of discrimination, bigotry and stereotyping.

UCU has a long history of enabling members to self-identify whether that is being black, disabled, LGBT+ or women. At UCU's annual congress and further and higher education conferences, policy on gender identity has been developed over many years.

UCU supports the right of all women (including trans women) to safe spaces and the continuation of monitoring that can help identify discrimination against women, men and those who identify as non-binary. UCU also supports a social, rather than a medical, model of gender recognition that will help challenge repressive gender stereotypes in the workplace and in society.

The fight for women's rights is far from won. For too many women, sexual harassment and domestic violence is a daily reality, alongside unequal pay and other forms of discrimination at work, including maternity pay and leave. UCU will continue to campaign hard to protect the rights of working women.

UCU is aware that the debate around gender identity has in some quarters become bitterly divisive. Our strength is to bring members together and to build bridges rooted in our values of equality. UCU opposes any violence, intimidation, bullying or disrespect towards any group that faces discrimination, and from whichever quarter. Trans people, including students and staff in tertiary education, face physical and verbal abuse, prejudice and discrimination, marginalisation and misrepresentation. UCU is fully committed to providing practical support and policy guidance for reps and trans members in challenging discrimination and harassment.

Diary date UCU equality - important calendar dates

  • Equality Conference will be held 21 - 23 November 2019 at Aston University, Birmingham.
  • Holocaust Memorial Day is observed annually on 27 January. It is the day every year that we commemorate the memories of the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda. For further information about HMD, visit: https://www.ucu.org.uk/hmd

  • Day of action against racism - The day of action for 2020 is to be confirmed. Materials and ideas for branches to use for the DoA will be disseminated nearer the date with a view to encouraging branches to host their own events and provide feedback to be shared where possible. No central event to be hosted by UCU on the day as the focus will be on branch activity.

Latest Equality News

This edition covers a brief outline of various topics including:

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Trans inclusion
  3. Disability parliamentary campaign
  4. Ethnicity pay reporting
  5. Dates for diary

Equality briefing 2019 [136kb]  Equality briefing 2019 [179kb]

Dying to work logo : This link opens in a new window Dying to work

Many people get a serious illness at some time during their working lives, often returning back following a period off work for treatment and to recuperate. However, for many people, the situation is different if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Currently, a person diagnosed with a terminal illness is not classified as having a protected characteristic and therefore may have limited legal protection against employers dismissing them due to an illness.

The TUC's 'dying to work' campaign is calling for additional employment protection for terminally ill workers and to implement a terminal illness policy which would ensure that all employees would not risk losing their job along with the financial security of their families after receiving a terminal diagnosis. In addition, the campaign is calling for terminal illness to be made a 'protected characteristic'.  

Read our briefing paper on the campaign here [651kb]

You can order campaign packs by emailing contact@dyingtowork.co.uk

Challenging far right activity - Who are Generation Identity?

Written by UCU activists for Stand up to Racism, this insightful report is vital reading for everyone on the dangers of far right activity on university and college campuses.

Challenging the rise of the far right [694kb]
Challenging the rise of the far right [1mb]

Mental health

Members who may need mental health support or advice will face their own unique challenges and many may need little or no changes to their working environment.  However, understanding their needs and being able to advise and support members is paramount to ensuring that the stigma, stereotypes and discrimination associated with mental health are addressed.

Branches are encouraged to work with campus unions (where possible) to adopt the Mental Health Charter which has been endorsed by the Disabled Members' Standing Committee.  The charter is a visible demonstration of our continued commitment to provide mental health support to members and reps in the workplace.

Branches are also reminded of UCU resources and training courses on supporting members and reps including:

  • guidance, briefing and toolkits documents
  • One in Four - a briefing on mental health at work
  • supporting members with mental health conditions and issues
  • mental health awareness training - www.ucu.org.uk/training
  • advice for reps - members who have feelings of despair

Education Support provides free confidential 24/7 counselling and independent advice for UCU members. Telephone 08000 562 561 or visit their website at www.educationsupport.org.uk.

Mental Health Charter - providing for a healthy workplace [401kb]
Mental Health Charter final Oct 2018 [311kb]
World Mental Health Day 2018 [324kb]

Toolkit - a strategic approach to gender-based violence prevention in Scottish higher education institutions

The University of Strathclyde has produced a toolkit, 'Equally Safe in Higher Education', with support from the Scottish government. This valuable and practical collection of university specific materials provides a free resource for all universities to utilise and apply to their own institutions. It encourages and embeds a strategic approach for the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women and girls.

The toolkit (which has been developed by UCU members amongst others), plus other resources, is now available here.

Equality and participation unit

UCU has a national team of staff with expertise and involvement in the whole equality agenda. They implement the policies and priorities determined by members through the democratic lay structures'.

  • Paul Cottrell - National Head of Equality, Legal and Participation
  • Seth Atkin - Equality Support Official with specialism for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality and age equality
  • Charlotte Nielsen - Equality Support Official with specialism for gender
  • Chris Nicholas - Equality Support Official with specialism for race and religion or belief
  • Sharon Russell - Equality Support Official with specialism for disability
  • Swati Patel - Administrator

If you have a general equality query, or to join one of our equality network mailing lists (LGBT, disabled members, women & black members) contact eqadmin@ucu.org.uk

If you think you might be interested in becoming a UCU equality officer you can find out more about what is involved on the Equality reps page.

About UCU's equality work

There are advice leaflets for members on various types of discrimination, bullying and harassment in the getting support section of this website.

Resources and guidance for UCU equality officers and activists can be found at  
Equality advice and guidance
Equality research and policy
Getting involved in events
Equality Events

If you have a general equality query, contact eqadmin@ucu.org.uk

UCU has negotiated national equality agreements in both HE and FE (see pay and conditions section) which branches/LAs strive to get implemented locally. The National Equality and Participation Unit (see above) supports branches/LAs and regional offices on equality issues and work to influence government policy on equality.

The union provides many opportunities for members to become involved in our equality work. UCU organises events specifically for black, disabled, LGBT and women members. We also have email lists for each of these groups which you can join by emailing eqadmin@ucu.org.uk.

Helping out at a local level is a great way to promote equality at your workplace - you don't necessarily need to become an equality officer, just an offer to circulate newsletters or put up posters for example will be appreciated. See How do I get involved? for more information. If you do think you might be interested in becoming a UCU equality officer you can find out more about what is involved on the Equality reps page.

UCU policy on equality is determined democratically by our members,

While our prime concern is to fight for greater equality at work, we also strive to campaign against injustices members face in other areas of their lives, whether on grounds of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or belief, age or any other aspect of identity which can lead to discrimination.


If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment at work see the Equality advice and guidance for advice on getting support.

If you have a problem and need your union's help, your first step should always be to contact your local branch.

Our dealing with problems page offers some basic advice on resolving problems at work. Please be aware that time limits can apply, so please don't delay if you need to raise an issue.

A woman's place is in the union Getting involved in equality

The UCU equality conference is held each year in November/December. The current format is for the conference to include four separate sessions for black members; disabled members, LGBT members and women members. During those sessions, the conference will elect members to the four national equality standing committees. These are:

  • Black Members Standing Committee (BMSC)
  • Disabled Members Standing Committee (DMSC)
  • LGBT Members Standing Committee (LGBTMSC)
  • Women Members Standing Committee (WMSC)

There are 12 members of the BMSC, DMSC and LGBTMSC and 15 members of the WMSC.

The main objectives of each committee is to advise and make recommendations to the National Executive Committee of the union on issues specific to the members whom they represent.

For example:

  • the BMSC is advising the NEC on actions and initiatives that will ensure Black members are visible in all aspects of the union's work including establishing regional networks
  • the DMSC has advised the NEC on reasonable adjustments at work for disabled workers
  • the LGBTMSC has advised the NEC on the issues for LGBT staff working abroad
  • the WMSC is advising the NEC on the impact of sexual harassment at work.

The committees also plan the agenda for their conference every year and also participate in the TUC national equality conferences. The committees can also put motions to UCU Congress and the sector conferences which ensures the issues facing equality groups are visible in our core campaigns and policies. Members of the committees are also encouraged to participate in their branches and regions so equality knowledge and expertise is shared across the union.

To be on the committees you must self-identify as belonging to that equality group. For example, to be on the DMSC, you must self-identify as a disabled worker. All levels of experience of being active in the union are welcome as the committees provide support and guidance to all members, working together collectively.

To find out more, please contact a member of the Equality and Participation team who would be happy to speak to you. Please email: eqadmin@ucu.org.uk

The annual young members' conference is open to any member aged 35 or under. The conference does not have decision making powers and is non-resolutionary but aims to bring younger members together and showcase campaign work and resources available. For further information contact campaigns@ucu.org.uk

Find further information on our work for young members here.

UCU via its regional structure has been establishing regional retired members' branches.

National Executive Committee

Women members

There are a minimum number of NEC seats that must be filled by women. The total number of seats a geographical constituency has on the NEC depends on its size, but of these at least one quarter to one third must be filled by women. This quota also applies to the UK-elected HE and FE seats. Of the eleven equality seats on the NEC elected directly by all members, three of these seats are for representatives of women in HE, and two for women in FE.

LGBT members

There are eleven equality seats on the NEC, two of which are for representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, one from further education and one from higher education.

Black members

Of the eleven equality seats on the NEC, two are for representatives of black members, one of which must be a woman.

Disabled members

Of the eleven equality seats on the NEC, two of these are for representatives of disabled members. One must be from further education and one must be from higher education.

Last updated: 4 December 2019