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In the news: 27 September

UCU fights for pensions, pay and working conditions

Jo Grady told Observer readers this week how the current ballots in higher education were a fight for pensions, better working conditions and more secure contracts for senior and junior staff. Responding to an article which appeared the previous week which called for a greater focus from the union on the plight of casualised staff, the UCU general secretary said: 'Our members value their pensions and are prepared to defend them, but we will stand up just as strongly for those in the sector who are overworked or victims of an employment model built on insecure work.' She went on to outline that some of the key issues being called for in the current campaign are reductions in both workload and the use of zero-hours contracts.


Nottingham strike enters third week

As staff at Nottingham College began their third consecutive week of strike action, local MP Alex Norris emphasised his support for UCU members "working under intolerable pressures" and called on the college to get back to the negotiating table. Speaking to the Nottingham Post, branch secretary Rob Peutrell told the Post: 'One of the biggest problems is the huge loss of trust among teachers at the college. The college can now see the anger and frustration. We are hopeful we can get back round the table to resolve matters very soon.'

UCU's head of further education, Andrew Harden, hit back at the college CEO John van de Laarschot who said that striking staff should think about their students, saying: 'No-one can seriously believe staff who have been forced to sign new contracts under the threat of dismissal are happy with it- the imposed contracts harm the interests of students as well as staff. Our members are deeply committed to their students and never take strike action lightly, but the imposed contracts will harm the interests of students as well as staff. In particular, removing workload protections will threaten the ability of staff to deliver high-quality education, as well as the ability of the college to attract and retain staff in the future.'

In another show of support for staff at Nottingham College, a petition set up by a former student calling for fairer contracts topped 2000 signatures this week. The petition praises staff for creating 'one of the most supportive learning environments in Nottinghamshire' but describes how staff have been 'forced to either accept a new unfair contract or face losing their jobs'. Jo Grady told Tes that the petition highlighted the level of anger about the situation "not just among affected staff but also among students and the community."


Welsh UCU members outline their fight for the future of higher education

In a powerful report published today, Voice Wales has shone a spotlight on issues facing staff at Cardiff University that will ring true with members across the whole of the UK. Members from UCU's Cardiff branch spoke in detail of the problems around staff redundancies, falling pay, rising workloads, cuts to pensions and the danger of marketisation in education.

Describing last year's changes to USS pensions as 'the straw that broke the camel's back' journalism lecturer at Cardiff Andy Williams said, 'For many UCU members it would simply have meant they would've been living in pension poverty. And you know, we fought long and hard as workers and trade unionists throughout the 20th century to secure the right to a retirement.'


Vice-chancellors encouraged to consider the environmental impact of expenses spending

Speaking to the Telegraph this week, Jo Grady called on vice-chancellors to consider their impact on the environment in the week following global climate protests. In an article which juxtaposed the University of Sheffield's pledge to introduce sustainability issues into the curriculum with the spending of the previous vice chancellor on first-class air travel, Jo said that the: 'largesse of vice-chancellors sends a damaging message about their priorities'. She added: 'As the need for urgent action on climate change becomes ever clearer, it is increasingly important that university leaders also consider the environmental sustainability of their decisions when it comes to travel and expenditure.'

Speaking to The Tab in Sheffield, Jo went on to say, 'The lack of self-awareness from university leaders when it comes to their own spending continues to be a concern for the sector, especially at a time when staff are balloting to protect their pay and pensions.'


Labour conference talks up lifelong learning

At an eventful conference dominated by Brexit and the decision of the Supreme Court, Labour did manage to cover a variety of education issues, including a call to abolish Ofsted and bring private schools into the state sector. There was also a pledge to reduce the average working week to 32 hours.

UCU held to two fringes at Labour party conference looking at both Labour's plans for lifelong learning and wider visions for further and higher education. Jo Grady and UCU president Douglas Chalmers were joined on panels by MPs and sector colleagues to discuss a wide range of issues. Speaking to FE News after a UCU fringe held jointly with NEON on lifelong learning, Dr Graeme Atherton said, 'We have to think broadly about what we think learning is. We know that adult learning is fundamentally also about economic progression, it's also about social progression. It's about the benefits to communities, individuals, those who possibly want to see greater benefits and progression in their lives.'

Last updated: 27 September 2019