October Branch News: Saturday open days, pensions and more!

Come to our Branch Meeting and help us discuss the big issues!
Branch Meeting, Thursday 19 October, 1-2pm, Council Room, Firth Court

October Branch News

Widespread anger bubbles up over Saturday open days, the lecture capture roll-out falls short of our full support, and pensions are becoming a major headache for the sector.

The decision to shift University open days to Saturdays was announced before the summer, but most have only recently found out what it will mean for them. We are aware of widespread anger over the imposition of a decision made without any meaningful consultation or clear justification and against the wishes of a number of departmental admissions teams. Lab-based subjects in particular have big concerns over how they can show the university at its best when there is no activity to present. Members are showing significant opposition to the University’s attempts to break our ‘contract by conduct’ of not coming into work on Saturdays. For the university to demand that we do against the backdrop of relentless pay erosion and increasing demands elsewhere is unforgivable, and has potential to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. We will be debating a motion on this issue at our October branch meeting and would welcome thoughts from members by email or through departmental contacts.

The widespread roll out of the University’s lecture capture technology continues to fall short of having our full support. While the policy is now very close to what we asked for, one major sticking point remains: that the final decision on whether a lecturer can opt-out resides not with the lecturer but with the head of department. Please do contact us urgently if you have been over-ruled on a request to opt-out, as we need evidence on how this policy is working in practice. A little on the late side, we have now issued guidance to members on your rights and how to use the technology sensibly. We also urge all to look out for red-lights every time you enter a lecture theatre or finish any teaching: one firm press of the light will stop the recording of private conversations.

The USS pension scheme is becoming a prominent issue for all in pre-92 universities. The current valuation, which even the regulator describes as ‘very complex’, shows a best estimate large (£8bn) surplus. Factoring in a required safety-buffer for prudence puts the fund in a break-even position. It is only when investment plans are changed, due to the innocuously named Test 1, that problems arise. The wranglings over the valuation are making national headlines and we are doing everything we can to force all behind-the-scenes activity into public. As a last resort, the union has the option of strike action, and we strongly urge members to make it clear that they are prepared to take this action if it is necessary and appropriate.

A recent post on a security services webpage, which appeared to shift responsibility for sexual assault onto the victim, was swiftly removed following outrage from students and staff. We have received an apology from security services for this ‘administrative error’, but we have not received a response to our question over the training that is in place to make sure these views have no place at the University. We hope to make progress on this, and will keep members informed.

Finally, you may have received a request to participate in the University’s ‘Top 100’ survey. While we remain deeply sceptical about the meaningfulness of a survey that excludes the University’s casually employed staff, we do encourage members to fill it in, and to do so as honestly as possible, warts and all. View it as catharsis.

Sheffield UCU Committee

Leeds and Manchester on strike!

Leeds University UCU are involved in a stand-off, with an attempt by the university to add ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’ to their list of reasons for dismissal.

Staff at Leeds have been working to contract and today are on their third of three consecutive days of strike action. Solidarity and external exposure will help them to win this dispute. With this being a UCU dispute of national significance, please take a few minutes to:

  • Email their Vice Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, to protest. You could let him know that SOSR to dismiss staff has no place in a University and that Leeds Uni has managed well without it to date. If you are a Leeds alumnus please mention this.
  • Sign their petition and circulate to everyone you know.

In Manchester, staff will strike later this month after they overwhelmingly backed industrial action to protect a planned 140 job losses. A massive majority of members who voted (87%) backed industrial action. Strike action has been planned for Monday 23 October and Tuesday 24 October, and staff will then begin working to rule from Wednesday 25 October.

Professorial pay increases: fair and transparent?

We have expressed concern that heads of department now have the final say over whether professorial staff may be considered for an incremental pay increase. Professors no longer have the right to put themselves forward for consideration, or to challenge the head’s decision. The head has no obligation to provide any written justification for their decision, making it impossible even to use the grievance procedure to challenge cases of perceived victimisation or discrimination. The University insists all heads should have had ongoing discussions with professorial staff about their decision throughout the year, but we are already aware this often does not take place and that relationships between heads and professors vary significantly across the institution.

If you are concerned that procedures are being flouted or about unfair treatment in this area please let us know and help us bring some fairness and accountability to this rather arbitrary process.

Interesting reading

Dates for the diary

  • Thu 19 October, 13:00-14:00, General Meeting, Council Room, Firth Court
  • Thu 23 Nov, 13:00-14:00, Departmental Contacts Meeting, Chancellors Room, Firth Court
  • Wed 29 Nov, 13:00-14:00, General Meeting, Council Room, Firth Court