Branch updates

News in brief from SUCU Committee.

October 2019 Newsletter

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Welcome back to a new school year! In this bulletin, you can find updates on the pay and pensions disputes, the Climate Strike, support for international students and scholars, the Equality Groups conference, earlier deadlines for module and programme changes and more.  But first, please mark your calendars for next Tuesday, October 8, when  UCU General Secretary Jo Grady will be returning to Sheffield for a visit on as part of her national speaking tour! She will be giving a talk from 5:30-7:30 pm in Diamond LT4. Please register to attend here and follow the event Facebook page for any updates here.  

October General Meeting

Our first membership meeting of the new school year will be Thursday, October 17 from 1-2  pm in Firth Court.  

Updates on Pay and Pensions Disputes

We held a briefing at the end of September for all staff on the disputes over USS and pay and equalities.  With a sharp step up in USS rates due in October and the methodology for the next valuation currently being formed, our branch president and national USS negotiator Sam Marsh explained how crucial the next few months are to the future of the scheme and why we must take a stand now. You can watch his short presentation here. Our branch VP and national pay negotiator Robyn Orfitelli demonstrated how below inflation pay rises interact with precarity and unequal promotion pathways to create generational pay inequality, and how a strong ballot result can help us fight back. You can watch her short presentation here.  For further information, please see the poster below. Our next organising committee meeting will be Thursday, October 3 from 1:00-2:00 in Hicks F28. All members are welcome to attend.  We will also be holding a special Ballot Day event from 1-3 on October 8, the same day as Jo Grady’s visit (see information above) in the Council Chamber of the Octagon. Please bring your ballots to post and stay for some pizza. For those who are able to stick around, we will be doing GTVO activities after lunch. Please help us get the vote out! If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact Communications Officer Katy Fox-Hodess: katy.fox-hodess@sheffield.ac.uk.  

Report back from Climate Strike 

A big thank you to everyone that participated in the Climate Strike on September 20. We had  a fantastic turn out from UCU Sheffield. We were part of the largest action against climate change ever to have taken place, and got to hear from a couple of youth strikers themselves! Importantly, we also demonstrated that there is strong support amongst staff for urgent action on climate change. If you are interested in getting involved with future organising on this issue, please contact UCU Sheffield Climate Strike working group coordinator George Coiley at ggcoiley1@sheffield.ac.uk.  

Get Involved with UCU in the New School Year (Even on a Busy Schedule. . .)

You don’t have to be a branch rep or officer to be involved with UCU! 2000 members contributing just 15 minutes per week to UCU is 500 hours per week of union support, which makes a huge difference in our local and national activism! We've designed three posters (below) showing 8 ways you can get involved in Sheffield UCU: one if you have 15 minutes a week to spare, one if you have an hour in a week, and one if you want to get a bit more involved (although still not with a huge time commitment). Print out one (or more) of these posters to help you stay involved even during the busy term time!  And remember, right now, the number one way you can help UCU is to send in your ballot papers!   

Unis Resist Border Controls

Sheffield branch has been active on issues related to migrant members for some time, including working collaboratively with Unis Resist Border Controls in the #LetAhmedStay campaign. URBC have brought another awful case to our attention - you can read about Adriana Ortega-Zeifert’s situation here. We have sent a message of solidarity and a donation to Adriana’s legal fund on behalf of the branch, but encourage all Sheffield members to also do what they can to support. Details of how you can do so can be found here.   

Stop the Repression in Egypt - No More Academic Collusion with the Dictatorship

According to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, more than 2000 people, including prominent academics, have been arrested since 20 September, in response to peaceful protests criticising current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. We are alarmed that Boris Johnson believes that the UK can make "positive progress in our bilateral relationship" with the Egyptian regime in such circumstances. We are also deeply concerned that once again, UK universities are showing their willingness to put potential revenue from student fees before commitment to human rights and academic freedoms, by pursuing partnerships with private educational firms running "branch campuses" or offering UK degrees in Egypt. Please consider adding your name to the public statement calling on UK universities operating in or planning to open for business in Egypt to suspend these projects until the human rights situation improves enough to ensure that academic freedoms are protected and calling on the regime to release political prisoners, respect human rights and protect freedom of expression.  

UCU Equality Groups Conference

UCU's various Equality Groups will gather in Birmingham in November for their annual meetings. These cover the four areas of disabled members, black members, LGBT+ members and women members. People who are active (or wish to be more active) in any equality work of our union and identify with any of these categories are welcome to sign up to attend these conferences. More details here. Last year's Congress also created a migrant members committee, which will meet in a stand-alone conference in early 2020 - we'll update you on how you can be involved in that conference closer to the date. As a branch, we also have the right to move motions and nominate a candidate for election to each of the various standing committees mentioned above. If you have a particular policy area you would like to move a motion about, or are interested in serving on one of these UK-wide committees, please get in contact with our E&D Officer, Mark Pendleton at m.pendleton@sheffield.ac.uk  

Update on Earlier Deadlines for Module and Programme Changes 

We've been hearing from members who are extremely worried about the sudden announcement that the deadlines for making changes to modules and programmes for 2020/21 have been moved forward this year, from late January to late November. These earlier deadlines are already driving up academic and professional services staff workloads during the first months of the academic year, which for many of us are already some of the busiest in the calendar.  Staff are dismayed at the short notice they've been given, with the announcement coming just a couple of weeks before the start of the new semester. Not only that, the move threatens to derail carefully laid PLA plans in many departments, where colleagues have been working hard to plan curriculum changes for 2020/21, as dictated by the university's PLA strategy. The earlier deadlines are linked to delivering the new student system, and SUCU is concerned that the university is driving forward two contradictory initiatives - the Student Lifecycle Project and PLA - with little thought to their coherence or their impact on staff workloads and wellbeing.  The earlier deadlines will also make it hard for departments to respond to student feedback on learning and teaching. Once the November deadline passes improvements to teaching can only be made for September 2021, which may leave staff delivering courses that they know need to be improved but can't do anything about. With the university's increasing and unwelcome reliance on metrics, including for learning and teaching (in ACP and the module evaluation process, for example), we're worried about the impact this will have on student satisfaction, course evaluation, and promotion cases for teaching staff. With the HE Pay and Equality ballot open, now's the time to take a stand against escalating workloads and stress levels, and the complacency of HE senior leadership towards the detrimental impact of their decisions on staff.   

Have Your Say on the University's Vision and Strategic Plan

At this crucial turning point in the sector, we encourage all members to engage with the new VC's vision for the University. What priorities, objectives and strategies would you like to see at Sheffield over the coming years?  Read the Vision Green Paper here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.862239!/file/vision-green-paper.pdf  Register to attend a feedback session here: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/staff/vision-green-paper/sessions or feedback via email: our-vision@sheffield.ac.uk  

Summer 2019 Newsletter

Published on

  It’s been a busy summer for Sheffield UCU as we’ve worked to settle a claim facing a large number of casualised members and have campaigned on career pathways for academic and professional staff. But it will be an even busier autumn as prepare for the possibility of a new round of industrial action and support this month’s Youth Strike 4 Climate! In this summer's edition of the newsletter, you can learn about all of this and more.   

Pay and Pensions Dispute

Beginning this month on September 9, our national union will be balloting for industrial action on both our pay and pensions disputes. Deadlock at the last meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee resulted in the independent chair once again siding with employers on how to divide up increased costs arising from the 2018 valuation. The latest valuation, a response to the report of the Joint Expert Panel, has landed on significantly higher rates than those proposed by the panel, with member contributions rising to 9.6% of salary this October, then 11% in October 2021. The first step up will cost members hundreds of pounds more per year than the pre-strike rate of 8%. By October 2021, many will be paying over £1,000 more for the same benefits. With no sign of USS listening to anyone but themselves, and employers allowing them to ignore the findings of the JEP, we are once again forced to resort to strike action to defend the future of the scheme. For further information and updates on pensions negotiations, please follow Sheffield UCU president and national pensions negotiator Sam Marsh on Twitter. Unfortunately, the employers have been unwilling to make substantial revisions to their offer on pay. The final offer they have presented does not substantially address a number of the priorities UCU members have identified, including reducing equalities pay gaps and taking adequate steps to remedy the workload-related health crisis and reliance on precarious labour that we see across the sector. In addition, the employers have proposed allowing institutions with ‘extenuating circumstances’ to delay pay increases for 11 months with no backdating! For further information and updates on pay negotiations, please follow Sheffield UCU Vice President and national pay negotiator Robyn Orfitelli on Twitter. In order to prepare for the possibility of industrial action later this term and to recruit new members, Sheffield UCU has formed an organising committee that has begun to meet over the summer. All members are welcome to participate -- the more the merrier! We will be holding an organising training on Wednesday, September 11 from 2-3 in B19, 301 Glossop Road. If you are not able to attend but would like to get involved, please email branch Communications Officer Katy Fox-Hodess at katy.fox-hodess@sheffield.ac.uk.  

Local SUCU news

September 20 Climate Strike

For the past year, young people around the world have demonstrated leadership on the climate crisis. At Sheffield UCU, we’re organising to show solidarity to the Sheffield Youth Strikers on their next international Earth Day, as they have asked that 10,000 Sheffield workers show support. We will meet at the Students Union at 12.00 and hold a short rally for those who can't take a longer lunch break.  For those that are able to take more time out, we will walk down to join the students in the town centre, returning to campus by 13.30. We've written to Prof. Koen Lamberts asking that he not impose any sanctions on any staff participating, and that he join us in person. Updates to come shortly, but for now please talk to your colleagues about the event and sign up for updates here. If you have ideas about how to encourage or enable more people to attend, or have any questions, please email George ggcoiley1@sheffield.ac.uk.  

Casualisation Claim

In March 2017, we filed a claim with the university around casualised teaching, demanding the university take action to improve pay and conditions for precariously employed GTAs. That built on several years of action by our branch and resulted in extended negotiations with management. The principles underpinning our claim can be found here. While casualisation remains a major problem across the sector, and here at Sheffield, we have made significant progress locally, with the university agreeing that all scheduled teaching will be delivered by staff engaged on employment contracts.  This saw the creation of a new Graduate Teaching Assistant contract which saw GTAs (usually Postgraduate Research Students who teach) move from casual worker agreements (zero hour contracts) to more secure contracts of employment. These won GTAs the right to holiday pay, sick pay and maternity pay as well as access to the USS pension scheme. The new contract was agreed at Grade 6. In recognition that much GTA teaching requires more advanced skills, including design of teaching, we entered into further negotiations with HR this summer, which resulted in the creation of a new Grade 7 contract for Graduate Teaching Associates. This sets an exciting precedent for GTAs across the university to fight for pay at Grade 7 - a potential pay increase of £2.76 an hour for those currently on grade 6. Please get in touch with anti-casualisation officers Eda Yazici (eyazici1@sheffield.ac.uk) and Steffan Blayney (s.blayney@sheffield.ac.uk) if you want to fight for improvements in pay in your department!  These developments also largely address our claim in 2017 and we have agreed to settle that particular claim. We won’t be taking our eyes off the ball though, with casualisation rolling into our regular set of negotiations with management.  

Career Pathways Survey

Many thanks to everyone who completed the online survey on promotions, which was sent out to all Sheffield UCU members early this month. We had over three hundred responses from both academic and professional staff, painting a clear picture of members’ views of the short-comings of the current promotions pathways. Please find the full summary of the survey results here: UCU Promotions Pathway Survey.   

Vacant VP Position

Expressions of interest are sought for one of our two Vice President positions. Our outgoing VP Emma Nagouse is leaving soon to take up a national role for UCU.  The VP position involves working closely with the President, and chairing Branch and SUCU Committee meetings in their absence. If you are interested please contact our Branch Administrator Jane Rodger (j.rodger@sheffield.ac.uk).

June 2019 USS Update

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Want to contribute to the ongoing UCU campaign over USS, but don't have very much time? Here is a short to do list:

    1. Read this email to catch yourself up on the latest news, or if you prefer an auditory version, watch this talk given by our branch president Sam Marsh yesterday at the Open University.
    2. Sign this petition, which calls for Trinity College, Cambridge, to reverse their decision to withdraw from the USS scheme (more details on this below).
    3. (A larger time commitment item): We are in need of a new Pensions Officer and a new member of the University's USS Working Group to replace Jo Grady, the new General Secretary of UCU. Please email us if you are interested.

A new USS ballot

At the end of May, UCU's Higher Education conference (which was held on the second day of Congress 2019) voted overwhelmingly to ramp up preparations for an industrial action ballot over USS to begin in September. And as of 7 June, employers have been served a letter inviting them to take steps to avoid a re-ignition of the dispute.

Why has UCU decided to ballot? When the Joint Expert Panel's first report dropped in September, there was hope from all sides that it had the potential to end the dispute. Adopting its recommendations would mean a shift in philosophy from USS and rate increases low enough to negotiate over. Both UCU and Universities UK backed the JEP report, the latter with the strikes still fresh in the mind and eager to put the dispute to bed. The issue, as was always likely to be the case, has been with USS' response.

A USS timeline from September 2018-now

The first side-step by USS was their proposal for a new, 2018 valuation as a way to incorporate the issues raised by the JEP. This would not replace the 2017 one, but instead follow close on its heels and intercept the large contribution increases that were a consequence of the original valuation. Support for this approach was secured from the employers, and the Joint Negotiating Committee were shown information that if the JEP's recommendations were applied in full to the 2018 valuation, it would mean that the deficit would vanish and that contributions would fall (although no guarantees were made as to what the final figures would be).

As soon as agreement to proceed with a 2018 valuation was sealed, the USS executive team contacted the board and recommended dropping two of the three key proposals from the JEP report, while the only one that remained would be inextricably tied to 'contingent contributions' from employers. The justification for USS's rejection of the JEP's recommendations was that adopting them would send the 'discount rate' above the internal benchmarks the regulator uses to judge a valuation's prudence. Yet these internal benchmarks don't exist! The regulator has made this explicit via a cryptic stab at USS in its annual DB funding report. It is possible - indeed likely - that this was not the first that USS had heard of this issue from TPR. If true, USS' public statements to the contrary are all the more disingenuous.

This leads to where we are now: USS has rejected both the JEP report and the overwhelming evidence that their methodology is flawed, and is still relying on Test 1. Nothing has changed in their mindset or approach. Based on this, they insist the correct contribution rate is 33.7% of pay, an increase of 7.7% since before the dispute. There are attempts by USS to mask the situation by offering two other 'options', but these options are either highly unpalatable (trigger contributions which are more likely than not to set off) or disingenuous (even in the eyes of the regulator).

The University of Sheffield has published its response: it is not prepared to play the game and pick an option. This is not surprising. Employers and members alike both look on aghast at the mess that has developed for no clear reason. Added to this, Prof Jane Hutton, one of three UCU-nominated trustees, has recused herself from the board under "considerable pressure" after whistleblowing to the regulator on the obstruction she faced obtaining data on the valuation. This has now led to over 1,000 academics signing a petition to call for an inquiry into the scheme. There are serious issues here that need proper answers, and we suspect that we will continue to hear more about USS governance in the days to come.

The Academics for Pensions Justice group are preparing a legal challenge to USS to add to the mix. Their work now has the support of UCU, due to the motion sent to conference by Sheffield UCU, and given more teeth by an excellent amendment from Leeds UCU.

A further wrinkle in all of this is that Trinity College has announced their intention to leave the USS pension scheme, despite themselves acknowledging that it is a healthy scheme that poses essentially no risk to their endowment. While Trinity's withdrawal does not put the scheme at immediate risk, we are very aware of the possibility that USS will use it as a rationale for further changes or attacks on our pensions. Additionally, we view this action by the Trinity College Council and Fellows as a betrayal of the collective HE community, which fundamentally relies on cross-institutional collaboration in all areas of education, including our working conditions and benefits. It is not too late for Trinity College to reverse this decision, and we are in support of this petition that calls for Trinity to do so, and for staff to withdraw their discretionary labour from the College in the meantime.

What now?

So, to return to the initial question: why a ballot? Because this dispute is far from over. Employers are losing faith in how things are being handled by USS yet failing to publicly call out the problems, propping up a malign administration in the process and allowing money to be siphoned out of the sector. Failing to push back now will lead to USS tightening their grip, making it easier for them to shrug off the second report of the JEP. Employers will almost certainly start planning for ways to mitigate a 2020 valuation which shows more of the same. We will face big problems in the future.

What is at stake is the same as ever: the future of the DB scheme. It is tragic that we're heading back towards a ballot for strike action. But employers know what they need to do to avert it: call out the disastrous internal governance of USS and make sure that there is a major change of direction, or, failing that, pick up the tab for the contribution increases.

We will try our best to keep you informed of developments as they occur, as the situation is currently fast-moving and uncertain.

May Branch News: UCU democracy in action

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Several of our members have asked us to start our branch newsletters with a short ‘to do list’ of ways you can still be involved in UCU this month if you don’t have very much time. Here is the inaugural list.

    1. Come to our action group on the Academic Careers Pathways (ACP) on 29 May, 1-2pm, in Hicks F24
    3. The library at the Oxford Language Centre is under threat of closure, under a set of circumstances that are extremely concerning. Sign this change.org petition to support Oxford UCU’s campaign to save the library, or signal boost the campaign via social media. (This is just one of many important online campaigns going on. See our twitter account for more you can support!)
    4. Read branch news (today), our USS update (coming soon), and our Congress delegates’ report (coming soon).

These lists will vary from month to month, but the one item which will be on every list is to take 15 minutes to read branch news, and our other email or blog updates. In a week when you are incredibly busy, the best way you can support UCU is to keep up with what is going on, so that in the weeks when you have more time, you’ll feel more prepared to get involved.

National UCU News

GS Election

Voting has ended for the election of UCU’s next General Secretary, and the results will be out tomorrow, so keep your eyes open for the famous Friday email. We will also be covering the result on social media. Our thanks to everyone who voted!

Congress 2019

UCU's annual Congress begins this Saturday. Congress is the primary policy-making body for UCU, and there are a large number of important motions and rule changes being discussed over the course of the long weekend, which are all detailed in the full agenda.

Sheffield is sending five branch delegates this year: Sam Marsh, Emma Nagouse, Robyn Orfitelli, Jo Grady, and Mark Pendleton. In addition, Jess Meacham is attending on behalf of the Academic Related Professional Services (ARPS) member committee, and Sam Morecroft is going as a Yorkshire-Humber regional observer.

One of the most important items on the Congress agenda is the interim report of the Democracy Commission, and their recommendations for increasing accountability and transparency in UCU. Here is our brief summary of the Democracy Commission and their important work.

We will be providing sporadic updates throughout the weekend on the Democracy Commission recommendations, the two motions Sheffield has sent to Congress, and other motions that we believe are of special interest to Sheffield UCU. We will also be circulating a delegates report after Congress is over. But if you want live updates throughout the weekend, we recommend following the @ucu twitter account or the hashtag #ucu2019.

USS Update

So much has happened with USS over the past 10 days that we will be devoting a separate email to update you very soon. In the meantime, we recommend all members read this exposé by Josephine Cumbo.

Local SUCU News

#LetAhmedStay

University of Sheffield PhD student and UCU member Ahmed Sedeeq has won his case against the Home Office and has been granted humanitarian protection for five years. We want to thank everyone who fought for Ahmed to be allowed to stay, but especially Unis Resist Border Controls, who started the Let Ahmed Stay campaign, and have campaigned tirelessly for him for over a year. Ahmed also appreciated the strong showing of support UCU members provided. Ahmed’s case is just one of many caused by the Home Office’s Hostile Environment policies, but we will keeping standing together to push back until these xenophobic, racist procedures are eliminated.

Metrics and the ACP

We are concerned and disappointed that this university continues to embed metrics into almost every aspect of our jobs, the most recent example of which is the newly introduced Academic Careers Pathways (ACP). As the ACP is being rolled out across faculties, we are hearing worrying reports of the way it is being interpreted and employed, and we are calling an action group to discuss how we might respond as a branch on 29 May, 1-2pm, in Hicks F24. If you are concerned about the ACP, please attend! We anticipate that the actions that come out of this meeting will work nicely in tandem with those arising from the very well attended metrics action group that was held on 1 May.

Working Group: Developing collaborations with Palestine

Arising out of a motion from out 7 March GM, we are holding a Palestine working group on 7 June at 3:30pm, in Coffee Revolution in the Student Union. We will be working towards developing collaborations and ultimately a document of our intentions to take to management.

Upcoming events

Our AGM will be on Thursday 6th June, at 1pm in the Council Room in Firth Court. Please put the date in your diaries! The AGM covers a range of important business, including annual reports from branch officers, and the election of a new branch committee. We will also be updating you on the outcomes of our negotiations with management on our local USS grievance, and asking for your feedback on how to proceed. AGM Agenda

Don’t miss our end of the year party on 14 June from 6pm in the Showroom Cinema! All Sheffield UCU members and friends of Sheffield UCU are invited. There will be food, a private bar, and a dance floor. Please book your ticket asap so we can order appropriate catering.

March Branch News: A new round of pay negotiations

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Wondering what the latest news is on a particular campaign or issue? All of our monthly branch newsletters are archived online, or you can search our archived blog posts for more detailed reporting on specific campaigns.

Upcoming meetings

    3 April: Action Group focusing on developing civil society links with Palestine and setting up a local group in support. This action group arose out of a motion which was passed unanimously at our last branch General Meeting. Please come along! 1-2pm in Hicks F24

National UCU News

USS update

As of 15 March, the Joint Expert Panel closed submissions for its second phase, which will focus on the governance of USS. We know that an extensive set of submissions was sent in, including this clear and detailed submission from Felicity Callard (Birkbeck, UoL) and Nick Hardy (University of Birmingham), and we expect the JEP’s second report, when it comes out, to be extremely informative.

Members may also be interested in reading the University of Sheffield’s official response to the UUK consultation on USS, which was based on the hard work of our local USS working group, and released earlier this month.

The response makes it clear that our current predicament is due to the recalcitrance of USS, and is in line with similar sentiments expressed publicly by several other universities, including Oxford. It now remains to be seen whether the transparency deficit shown by Bill Galvin and the USS trustee will continue. The trustee board met yesterday to finalise the 2018 valuation. We may not know anything immediately, but there is a Joint Negotiating Committee meeting scheduled for next Wednesday, and we expect to hear more then, if not before.

Pay Negotiations

This week, the 5 HE trade unions that are part of new JNCHES submitted our 2019-2020 joint claim, to which the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has responded:

    "The employers open the negotiations, on behalf of the participating universities, with an initial envelope for discussion of 1.3% across all the elements of the pay claim."

We are floored by the utter disrespect shown by not only this pay offer, which would represent yet another real terms pay cut, but also by the employer once again ignoring our requests to seriously address pay inequality, casualisation, and the sector workload crisis. As the VC of this university, and a board member of UCEA, we expect Prof Koen Lamberts to stand against the continued degradation of pay and working conditions in HE by speaking out against this insulting offer. To this end, we have written the attached letter.

In the letter, we say: "Staff morale and goodwill is dangerously low and falling." This is an understatement. The 2018 Staff Staff survey saw a decline in ratings on 74% of questions, with the largest declines coming from questions about university leadership. There are departments in which staff confidence regarding the direction of the university, and satisfaction with the level of respect shown to staff by leadership have dropped into the teens. We are at a crisis point, and if our employer wants to avoid irreparable harm, they need to reverse years of damaging policies.

This month, HESA have released financial data for 2015-2018 into the public domain. The employer has repeatedly claimed that our pay cuts are due to 'times being tough', while simultaneously diverting funds to new, expensive building projects, and initiatives that benefit the highest levels of management.

We will be scrutinising this data, and those claims, quite closely.

Strike Solidarity

This month Further Education colleges across the country were striking over pay, including locally at Bradford. Conditions in FE have been eroded even harder than those in HE over the last decade, and we stand in solidarity with UCU members who are taking action.

Even closer to home, teachers at Bradfield School were on strike on Wednesday over proposed redundancies and cuts. We know that our members include parents of students at Bradfield, and we send our support to all teachers, pupils and parents affected by the proposed changes. The picket was lively and well-attended.

National Elections

Thanks to all of you who came along to our VP hustings event in February, or who tweeted or emailed questions to the candidates. Vicky Blake of Leeds UCU was elected VP, which means she will serve a four year term on the UCU presidential team. We were also delighted that Jo Grady, our pensions officer, was elected to the NEC, along with many other excellent branch activists. You can view the full results of the elections here.

You'll be aware that Sally Hunt resigned her position as General Secretary at the end of February on the grounds of ill health, and that an election process will be underway shortly to replace her. We wish Sally all the best for the future, and will be in touch again about the General Secretary election once nominations for the position have closed on 8 April.

Congress

UCU's annual meeting will be held in Harrogate at the end of May, and the first report of the Congress Business Committee (i.e. an initial order of business) has been published - you can read it here. Sheffield is as usual sending a full complement of branch delegates, who were elected at our last General Meeting following an all-member call for nominations. Our proposed rule change and both of our motions, which were voted on at our last GM, have been ordered onto the Congress agenda. (The minutes and motions from our March GM are available here).

If you get a chance, please have a look at the motions that we're expecting to debate at Congress and let us have any feedback or thoughts on any of them. We would be very happy to devote an action group or part of our upcoming 9 May GM to discussion of Congress motions.

Democracy Commission

The interim report of the Democracy Commission will be taken to Congress, and the order of business in the above section contains some important rule changes that will be voted on there. The Democracy Commission has worked hard this year to propose changes to UCU's structures that will increase accountability, transparency and the voice of rank and file members within the union, and we'll be holding a branch meeting shortly to discuss this and any other ideas you might have for how we can continue to work to improve things - both at national and local levels.

Local SUCU News

Get involved: UCU Rep 1 training

Interested in learning more about UCU, campaigning, and how to put your trade union rights to work in your department? UCU offers an excellent series of training courses for branch activists and reps who want to become more involved in UCU’s work, which are covered in your membership fee, and also include reimbursement for travel and childcare costs. The introductory Rep 1 training course scheduled regularly throughout the year, and there is an upcoming session in Leeds from 8-10 May, which still has places available. If you plan to register for the course, please contact us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk to let us know; as a member of UCU, you have a statutory right to time off to engage in protected union activities, including training, and we are happy to support you in securing your statutory right to time off.

USS Grievance Update

We have now met four times with members of HR and the University Executive Board, and have a fifth meeting planned, to discuss our local grievance on USS. This was passed at an extraordinary branch meeting via a member-led motion. As a reminder, the demands of this grievance are:

    A one-time pay award to all members who participated in the 2018 USS strike, to come from the existing University of Sheffield financial surplus.
    Renewal of management’s commitment to use the strike pay deductions to support students as agreed by representatives of UCU, the SU, and UEB in June 2018, and complete transparency over how this money has been spent.
    An apology from the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

We are pleased to report that the University has agreed to our second demand, and has made a spreadsheet outlining the use of strike pay deductions publicly available. We are continuing to negotiate with the University regarding our other demands, and will be able to update you soon.

REF: EGM, Action Group, and Code of Practice consultation

On 8 February we held an Emergency General Meeting on REF 2021, following the announcement that universities will be allowed to submit to the REF research ‘outputs’ produced by staff who have been made redundant. The meeting included a very thoughtful and detailed discussion of output portability, impact case studies, the misuse of internal stocktake exercises, and a growing sense that any version of the REF, however organised, is not fit for purpose. The EGM also unanimously passed a motion on REF portability.

As we reported at last week’s Action Group on REF, members of the branch committee were also invited to a consultation earlier this month on the University’s draft Code of Practice for REF 2021. The Code of Practice sets out how the University will identify individuals and ‘outputs’ for submission to the REF. We were glad finally to be consulted on the development of the draft code, and we pressed for the University to undertake institution-wide consultation on this important document. We are pleased that the University has today published its draft code on its website, and is soliciting feedback from individual members of staff, as well as from departments, faculties, and committees. We strongly encourage members to send feedback on the draft code to ref@sheffield.ac.uk by the deadline of 1 May 2019. If you would like to do so, please also cc ucu@sheffield.ac.uk when sending feedback, so that we can identify areas of concern to raise in our next meeting with the University on this issue.

We are pleased that the Code states that the University will not submit the ‘outputs’ of former staff who were made redundant whilst holding permanent contracts, or were part way into a fixed-term contract. We are very disappointed, however, that the University has flatly rejected our request - passed unanimously at our EGM in February - that ‘outputs’ produced by any former member of staff should not be submitted without the consent of the former staff member.

We have also proposed that the University incorporate two ‘no detriment’ clauses into the code:

    "The scores assigned to individual outputs in the course of REF stocktakes and the final output selection process will not be used by the University as a measure of research performance of an individual member of staff, will not lead to any contractual changes, and will not be regarded as material to the University’s probation, promotion, or hiring procedures."

and

    "Submission or non-submission of staff on 'research-only' contracts will not be used by the University as a measure of research performance of an individual member of staff, will not lead to any contractual changes, and will not be regarded as material to the University’s probation, promotion, or hiring procedures."

The University expressed some openness to these proposals, and is currently considering the wording we have proposed. You may wish to comment on this in your feedback to ref@sheffield.ac.uk.

Upcoming Events

May Day

An early date for your diary - Sheffield will be hosting May Day events for the first time in many years this year. On Saturday 4th May, please come down to Devonshire Green for a march and rally at 1pm, with speakers including Len McCluskey of Unite. The rally will be followed by events at Dina on Cambridge Street, with a panel debate on 'economics for the many' with speakers including Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey and New Statesman economic commentator Grace Blakeley, and food and music stretching into the evening. We're really pleased to be supporting this event and will be there with the branch banner - it would be great to see lots of our members out supporting and celebrating Sheffield's labour movement and working class history.

LGBT+ Research Conference

UCU's LGBT+ research conference will be held at the University of Manchester on Friday 17 May. Find out more, and register online here.

Annual General Meeting

Our AGM will be on Thursday 6th June, at 1pm in the Council Room in Firth Court. Please put the date in your diaries! The AGM covers a range of important business, including elections of the branch committee and branch officers for next year, an annual report from the treasurer, and updates on important aspects of branch work.

If you're interested in being on the branch committee, holding an officer position, or otherwise getting more involved in the branch, please get in touch - we'll be sending out information about the nomination processes nearer the time of the AGM but are always happy to talk informally about it too.