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Staff must be at heart of education policy, Sally Hunt will say in annual address

1 June 2016 | last updated: 31 May 2016

If the government is serious about providing high quality education across the board it needs to put educators at the heart of the system rather than ignoring their views, a union leader will say today.

Speaking at the UCU's annual congress, general secretary Sally Hunt will attack the high levels of insecure contracts in colleges and universities, and tell universities that every penny they pocketed last week from lecturers taking two days of strike action must be donated to their student hardship funds.

Her wide-ranging address will also reveal plans for an autumn demonstration in defence of education with the National Union of Students (NUS).

Speaking in Liverpool on the opening day of UCU's event, Sally Hunt will say: 'Governments who really want to improve quality in the lecture theatre, or who really want to strengthen our research base, should place staff at the centre of policy, not at its periphery.  

'That is why I have argued loudly in recent months that the issue of quality in our universities is primarily a matter of the conditions under which our teaching staff are employed. Why? Because a teacher's working conditions are the same conditions that a student learns in.

'When you don't have an office, or proper time to mark papers, and when you spend every waking hour looking for your next research job, that really matters. I have met many incredible teachers who happen to be on casual contracts.

'The tragedy is that their achievements are all in spite of rather than because of the system. Only if the voices of practitioners are heard, will we win the argument for a better education system.'

Speaking about UCU's relationship with students, and calling on university vice-chancellors and principals to donate the money they docked from striking university staff last week to student hardship funds, Sally Hunt will say:

'Vice-chancellors and principals are so busy defending their own exorbitant pay that they have forgotten that universities and colleges are nothing without students and staff. Not so long ago, most institutions would give money docked from striking staff to their student hardship funds, these days it is far less likely.

'I would like to take a moment to thank students up and down the country for their support last week.  And to let them know that this fight is their fight. And that we will support them when they defend education.

'Therefore, today I am calling on all vice-chancellors and principals to do the right thing and commit every penny they took from our members for striking last week to their student hardship funds. And as our students have given us terrific backing over the past year, it is time for us to return the compliment.

'That is why I am pleased to announce that arising from discussions with the National Union of Students, UCU and NUS are to begin planning together for a national demonstration to defend education in the autumn.'

Copies of the speech are available from the press office.