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Student Evaluations of Teaching and Academic Career Pathways

University management has been consulting on the development of its Academic Career Pathways for some time. The new promotion pathways came into effect from the start of the 2018-19 academic year, and will be used for promotions for the first time in 2019.

Sheffield UCU has been broadly in favour of changes to academic promotion criteria and procedures that increase transparency around the expectations at each grade, that provide clear pathways for those on teaching-specialist and research-specialist contracts, and that ensure that there are ways for colleagues to move between different pathways.

However, when the detailed expectations for performance at each level were released last summer, we were surprised and disappointed that the University had prioritised student evaluations as the primary (and required) means of evidencing high quality teaching.

There is extensive evidence that student evaluations do not measure teaching quality, and that they are biased on the basis of personal characteristics of the instructor – including gender and race. The feedback we received from members about the inclusion of this metric in the new career pathways was overwhelmingly negative. We therefore presented a briefing paper to members of the University’s senior management, briefly outlining the extensive academic research on these issues, and identifying the implications of that research for the formulation and implementation of student evaluations, and for the use of student evaluations in employment decisions such as promotion. You can access the latest version of our briefing paper, compiled by SUCU committee member Simon Stevens, here: ‘Academic Career Pathways and Student Evaluations of Teaching.’

As a university, we argued, Sheffield should adopt policies that are evidence- and research-based and that reflect international best practice. In assessing teaching quality for the purpose of promotion, the University should not require the use of a metric that is known to be flawed. And the University should adopt policies that promote good teaching, rather than policies – such as prioritising of student ratings in promotion decisions – that have a negative impact on teaching quality.

We are pleased that, as a result of the meeting at which we discussed our briefing paper with representatives of senior management, the University has agreed to remove the primacy of student evaluations from the Academic Career Pathways. In the revised expectations document, ‘consistently excellent student feedback’ is now listed only as one of a number of possible (and not required) forms of evidence that staff could choose to use to demonstrate that they have met the teaching criteria for promotion.

We understand that the University will be reviewing its formulation and implementation of student evaluations later this year, and we hope that that the University will take this opportunity to implement our other recommendations on this issue, especially regarding the kinds of questions in student evaluation questionnaires that invite biased responses.

We have also been concerned to hear from members that this semester the University has implemented a new policy that requires module leads to produce a plan of action if any question in the student evaluations of their module receives a ‘satisfaction score’ of less than 75%. We share the deep concern that many members have expressed about this policy, which creates an additional, punitive burden for staff on the basis of a metric that does not measure teaching quality. This additional workload burden is more likely to fall on those against whom student evaluations are known to be biased, including female instructors and BAME instructors. And, as we argue in our briefing paper, policies that prioritise student evaluation ratings in this way have a negative impact on teaching quality: instructors are incentivised to devote their attention and energy to approaches that correlate with improved student ratings but that are unrelated to (and may even have a negative impact upon) improved student learning.

We are surprised that the University has agreed to alter the academic career pathways criteria in light of the evidence on the limitations and biases of student evaluations of teaching, and yet has simultaneously implemented a burdensome new policy that ignores those limitations and biases. We hope this policy will be quickly abandoned.

We will continue to work on this issue, and will be convening an action group on the University’s use of student evaluations and other metrics on Wednesday 1 May, 1-2pm in Hicks F30: please come along to discuss our branch response to these issues.

Workload in HE: The broken reality

This post was anonymously written by a member of Sheffield UCU.

cw: topics related to mental health, self harm

I am an academic with a research/teaching contract, which is generally taken to be 40-40-20: 40% research, 40% teaching, 20% administrative work and service. If we factor in my 0.1 FTE buyout (which can be for things like residency outside of the university, an external partnership, senior admin roles, etc), and apply this to a 35 hour work week, then we end up with the following target breakdown of my week:

12.6 hours teaching, 12.6 hours research, 6.3 hours admin.

The reality is very different.

I am the convenor for 2 different UG modules this term, plus I teach on an MA module, which amounts to 8 hours of contact time per week, plus 4 hours of prep. That, for the record, is only because I’ve taught these modules before; it would be much more if any of the three were new. If I add in my 2 office hours (which are always full), an average 1.5 hours answering questions on discussion boards and in emails, and 2.5 hours marking or moderating per week, we are already at…17.5 hours. Now, add in personal tutee crises that can’t be handled within my office hours, which my calendar suggests amount to 0.5 hours per week on average, and an average of 1.5 hours of UG, MA, and PhD supervision per week, we’re at 20.5 hours.

Did I mention that this is my light teaching term? Last term I convened 3 UG modules.

I have two admin roles in my department, and must attend regular meetings of the entire department, various departmental subgroups, and one-to-one planning meetings related to admin. Plus Open Days, which everyone ends up on the rota for. All of this adds up to 7.5 average hours a week. This is actually far lower than my admin hours were last year; I negotiated my workload down by essentially refusing to continue with one of my previous roles.

At this point, my week is at 28 hours, which is pretty far off from the target breakdown, but at least I have 3.5 whole hours remaining for research, right? Wrong. Because now we need to consider all of the things that aren’t “workloaded”, and yet are either required for promotion, to allow your discipline to function, or required by university management to satisfy some type of independently mandated metric: Service.

Peer review. National organisation membership. Journal editorship. Research centre membership/organisation. Working groups. Letters of reference. Online fire-safety/GDPR/out of hours training. Impact training. Impact case studies. Emails about the REF. REF internal audits. It’s hard to measure these things, so I’ve been conservative, but I would estimate that local/national service plus training plus imposed workload for REF adds up to 5.5 hours per week. None of which is workloaded. All of which is, in some way or another, required.

In the end, I have negative 2 hours per working week to conduct my world leading, 4* research during the teaching term. Under-performing in research can lead someone to not pass probation, to be placed under informal performance review measures, or even to be pressured to leave under a voluntary (or not) Staff Release Scheme. And yet: negative 2 hours.

What do I choose to do? It’s a Catch-22 with repercussions for my students, my career, my family, and my health. Do I cut back on the amount of time I’m prepping for classes, not respond to my students’ questions, or not respond to a personal tutee in the midst of a serious medical crisis? Do I shortchange my research and accept the implications for promotion? Or do I work in the evenings and on weekends, which has repercussions for my family, my physical health, my mental health, and ultimately, my productivity — it’s not just unethical to have workloads this high, research on high functioning workplaces has repeatedly demonstrated that it is counterproductive.

I should say two other things about the numbers I put above. First, they will be different for every member of staff. I have a high number of contact hours, but a manageable number of students to supervise — I know staff with PhD students in the double digits, which leads to an equally overwhelming schedule. Second, those numbers represent me operating at peak efficiency. In addition to lacking any time to conduct research (let alone to write it up), they don’t include time for me to read new papers in my field, write grant applications, meet with potential research collaborators, compare pedagogy with colleagues, and — and this is a big and — there is absolutely no space for me to be unwell. If I get ill, the delicately balanced house of cards will fall.

Now look around you at the casualised staff who — on top of this — have to apply for jobs, and worry about their financial security.

When staff talk to each other about workload, we admit that we employ a combination of many “triage strategies” to survive. First, most of us try to cut back on admin and service, but meetings make up the bulk of those hours, and they are hard to avoid. We next turn to teaching prep — it doesn’t feel good to do this, but it might add an hour or so per week. The next strategies are more painful. We have to decide which student emails to reply to, and some go entirely unanswered. We have to decide between getting enough sleep, or finishing our marking on time. The already high amount of emotional labour in our day to day jobs becomes overwhelming when faced with a constant flow of these decisions.

Underpinning all of this is guilt. The drip, drip, drip of Who am I letting down this week? wears on you, it keeps you from sleeping or wakes you up in the middle of the night, it causes you to choose the option of working tonight, tomorrow, and maybe Saturday — just for a couple of hours — so that you don’t feel quite as guilty. This week.

There is a cost that comes with these hours, and these choices, and the guilt; and that cost grows each year, until the word burnout starts to loom on the horizon. Until we see our friends and colleagues engage in self-harm and unhealthy or self-sabotaging coping strategies: Ignoring problems, self-blame, misdirected anger, high levels of worry, isolating oneself, working longer hours, or alcohol, substance, or food abuse. One in three early career researchers face serious mental health problems.

The worst thing is that we all know we shouldn’t feel guilty, but we do anyway. This cost isn’t of our own making — it has been imposed on us by a government bent on turning HE into a marketised parody of itself, where education is no longer the goal, and students are measured by their financial value to the university.

I don’t have a neat and tidy solution to the problem of workload; it’s a systemic one, requiring structural shifts in the sector, and in government. But one things is very clear: There aren’t enough staff to do the fundamental work of a university. When University management prioritises expensive capital projects over staff, they place all of us at risk. When they refuse to use accurate workload models (or any at all), and when they participate in expensive, ill-advised “efficiency” metrics like restructures, they exacerbate this risk.

Unless we push back, nothing will change. Universities UK has made it very clear they feel no duty of care for their employees, and have no intention of changing their marketised “vision” for HE, despite it being very clear how this vision is harming their staff and students. So we need to be so loud that we make them hear us. I have voted Yes and Yes in UCU’s ongoing Equalities and Pay ballot because a healthy workload isn’t a perk, it’s a right we have to fight for.

However busy you are, however overwhelming your workload is, please take the time to post your ballot today, to give UCU negotiators the best chance fight back for all of us, and to say as loudly as possible that we cannot go on like this — we deserve more.

If you are very worried, stressed, anxious or if you just don’t feel like yourself anymore, you can make contact with your usual GP, who can refer you to support services or you can access the NHS Sheffield Helpline for Mental Health Issues at 0808 801 0440. Without registering, you can work independently on a growing number of excellent online sites for example NHS Moodzone, Mental Health Foundation and Mind. iPad Apps like Unstuck and NHS self-help suite may also prove useful to manage symptoms. If you or someone else is in immediate risk of serious harm or injury, you should call the emergency services by dialing 999.

Strike Against Casualisation part II

This post is a follow up to Steffan Blayney’s post, which starkly documented the current reliance on casual contracts in HE, the damage it is causing to the sector, and how the current ballot represents a chance to take a stand for our colleagues on precarious contracts.

In this post, we want to focus on the personal cost of casualisation. We’ve collected anonymised testimony from members and from a local survey on precarity we conducted in 2016. Also, a reminder: UCU is holding its annual meeting for staff on casual contracts; please get in touch with us if you want to get more involved in anti-cas campaigning at a local or national level.

These stories put a human face on the numbers. Over half of all academic staff in the UK are on insecure contracts, and while we do not have concrete numbers on how many professional services staff are in similar positions, the number is rising. In aggregate, this figure is sobering, but we must remember that the real toll that these contracts take is at a personal level.

If you have not yet submitted your ballot for Fair Work and Fair Pay, please do. Whatever your personal feelings on strike action, however you choose to vote, please DO vote — it is only by passing the anti-TU 50% threshold that we, as a union, have the opportunity to take this action for our colleagues, friends, and family members being impacted by casualisation.

Being in precarious, short-term employment has wide-ranging implications I would not have imagined prior to embarking on my current role. I now consider myself lucky that soon after finishing my doctorate I stumbled upon a job I stayed in for more than three years. My actions and experiences in my previous, more stable role provide a good juxtaposition to what I am dealing with now; I will take these issues in turn.

First, due to the short-term nature of my contract I do not feel I belong: since week 5 of my employment I have been applying for the next role. This means that I cannot emotionally commit to the place I would normally want to give all my attention. I do feel that I am keeping a distance from my students too; I cannot have them rely on me too much for support, as I am likely to be leaving at the end of the academic year. I would like to do a good job, as I know I owe it to my students now. However, making substantive changes, innovating, planning for the next academic year are well beyond the scope of my role.

I am not putting much effort into developing institutional connections either, although it would be in my nature to contribute – if I had more stability and long-term reason to do so. Previously I was involved in institutional learning and teaching initiatives, and outreach efforts; however, not in my current post. I keep my contact with colleagues to the minimum, avoid meetings if I can, and do not take on additional responsibilities. I am also aware the degree to which I am being instrumental in my decision-making; not embarking on the dissemination activities from my research as they do not hold currency in my current role or in getting a new one.

Second, I am acutely aware of the aspects of my career I cannot currently develop. For instance, for any future promotion I would need to show I could supervise research students – to which on a one-year contract I cannot commit to. More pressing is applying for grants: as my contract would not cover the duration of fellowships, I am often excluded at the institutional stage. This is of course compounded by the fact that on a (supposedly) research and teaching contract I was lumped with several modules with little support and practically no guidance.

Third, the continuous uncertainty is taking a toll on my personal life too. I cannot predict where the next job will find me: apparently, it is normal to expect early career researchers to move across the country every year or two. I find it hard to plan in multiple different ways: settling somewhere or having a family seem distant thoughts.

I am of course aware that precarity along with the regime of performance indicators is to control; with management dangling a potential future contract (do not think of anything fancy, it is another short-term one to plug teaching gaps), any vocal critique of the institutional system could be working against me. In short, I am not the citizen of my university I would like to be, and this is a direct result of my contractual situation. With this, I also recognise that I am more fortunate than friends and colleagues on shorter or zero hours contracts, with even higher teaching loads, and those who already gave up on academia due to the uncertainties of it.

Last summer I was working as a ‘GTA’ (in theory – I actually earned my PhD 3 years ago), teaching one course. I then picked up a full-time admin job at the University of Sheffield. It was decided that I could deliver my teaching in the lunch breaks of my admin job. Obviously I did my best at both jobs. There was no acknowledgement from HR that I had any cause for complaint. I have basically quit academia now. Everyone who I ever mention these experiences to is shocked. I think overall it has had a profound effect on my self-worth. It has trained me to think that my labour is worth very little.

During the time that I was working full time for the university doing admin and teaching in my lunch breaks, it obviously had a negative impact on my effectiveness. It was challenging to switch between these unrelated roles without any break, and it was upsetting that there was never any acknowledgement from senior colleagues that what was happening wasn’t really appropriate.

The work at the Uni makes me feel rather stupid at times – like a shift worker or like a child minder – I don’t feel valued except by one lecturer. I feel a completely replaceable – just there to fill the space with no real interest in what I might have to offer – my skill set and experience not valued. anyone will do in the end if they are cheap enough and got enough qualifications (that have little financial value in the end). The relationship doesn’t do much for my self-esteem – it does not feel like something that is building towards a career – no progression – no recognition of experience over years. Very poor. Better when the lecturer actually clearly shows you respect … I still consider myself the equal to the dept. staff – I am a researcher with knowledge and experience but demonstrating is not important – seminar work is undervalued and underfunded. The dept pretends to have global significance with many students from across the world – but they are being short changed to suit a reduced financial set up. Students short changed, debate restricted. Not impressed, I’ll stop this year. THE PAY IS JUST SIMPLY NOT HIGH ENOUGH AND YOU STAY ON THE SAME PAY REGARDLESS OF EXPERIENCE.

At the Uni – makes little difference – I get the library card which is useful. I don’t feel valued for who I am or what I offer – except in one module I do feel valued and wanted – but being valued is does not lead to a difference in payscale. This issue makes me feel mean and humiliated as if asking for more pay was greedy and below me. It is horrible. Demeaning. It contradicts the very ethos that the department installs in students.

I currently teach up up to 2 days per week, juggled with supervising a masters student and completing my final year of PhD. I am unpaid as I only was funded for 3 years so have to take on this teaching to try to earn some money. It is extremely stressful juggling these tasks and I still do not earn enough to cover my living expenses. I do not have fixed or regular teaching so I am always stressed about the following months. When I first joined as a PhD student I was in the process of recovering from mental health issues and I feel like the stresses of this year are not healthy to have.

I can not focus on my own PhD as much as I would like or supervise my student as fully as I would like.

Strike Against Casualisation

Our thanks to SUCU member Steffan Blayney for writing this post on the scandalous reliance on casual labour in Higher Education and its importance in our current ballot.

Have you experienced casualisation while working in HE? UCU is currently conducting a national survey on insecure contracts. We are also collecting anonymous stories to putting together a collection of local stories of how casualisation has impacted the University of Sheffield. If you are intersted in being part of it, please contact us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.

Strike Against Casualisation

The current ballot is not simply about pay. Like all industrial disputes, it is a claim about the nature of our work, and the relative expectations and responsibilities of workers and management, and like all disputes in our sector it is in the last instance an argument over the nature and purpose of education. As well as specific demands over pay, tackling the gender pay gap, and reducing workload, the current claim seeks to tackle the accelerating problems of casualisation and precarity in higher education.

The national picture

Currently, UCU estimates that over half of all academic staff in the UK are now employed on some form of insecure contract. These might include PhD students who teach during their studies, external or ‘visiting’ lecturers, or the large numbers of academics who depend on short fixed-term or hourly-paid contracts for their living.

In professional services roles, we see similar insecure contracts, plus attempts at cost-cutting restructures, redundancies and consequent increasing workloads in failed attempts of ‘doing more for less’. Students are also faced with zero hours on campus, where they are routinely employed by their own university and by for-profit subsidiaries, often below the living wage foundation rate, whilst being squeezed by lifetime of debt, cuts to grants and bursaries and unaffordable rent. Casualisation is an attack on the HE sector and to the very communities it’s supposed to support.

This accelerating expansion of these conditions hits those of us at the bottom of the academic career ladder hardest. ‘Junior’ staff, from graduate teaching assistants to lecturers, are far more likely to lack job security than their more senior colleagues. Fixed-term contracts are now overwhelmingly the norm for early-career academics, who increasingly find ourselves facing the prospect of regular upheaval, moving from place to place, year on year, to chase a series of low-paid, short-term posts.

For many of us, even the limited reprise of a 9-month contract is starting to look attractive in the face of the alternative, as universities’ increasing reliance on forms of casual employment leaves larger numbers of teaching and research staff on zero-hours contracts or ‘worker’ arrangements, with lower pay, fewer rights and no guarantee of work from week to week.

Two fifths (41%) of staff on casual contracts work 30 hours or less a week and nearly a third (30%) earn less than £1000 a month. Moreover, these amounts are subject to wide variation with staff often unable to predict how much they will earn from month to month. A 2015 report by UCU found that a significant number of academics on precarious contracts struggled to get by. 21% said they struggled to pay for food, 35% struggled to keep up with rent or mortgage repayments, while 42% struggled to pay household bills.

UCU is calling on universities nationwide to commit to a new industrial-level action plan to create greater security of employment for all employees. We want to see institutions commit to ending zero-hours contracts and exploitative ‘worker’ arrangements, transfer hourly-paid teaching staff to fractional contracts, and commit to open-ended contracts for greater numbers of research staff.

Casualisation at Sheffield

The impact of precarity at Sheffield is difficult to gauge, with the University being one of 36 higher education institutions to completely ignore a 2018 Freedom of Information request from UCU on the amount of teaching currently carried out by hourly-paid staff.

From the information available, however, it seems that the situation at Sheffield in many ways reflects the national picture. Last year, our UCU branch won an important victory, by negotiating for a commitment from management to move casual teaching staff onto employment contracts. This is a welcome and positive shift in policy, but has been implemented slowly by management: as of the time of writing, casual worker agreements are still in use in some departments, and the employers are still excluding some teaching from this commitment.

Clearly, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to combat creeping casualisation at our institution. For example, while the University claims it ‘doesn’t employ staff on zero hours contracts’, Sheffield maintains a ‘Registration Agreement for Casual Work’ which leaves large numbers of staff with no guarantee of work, reduced benefits, and limited employment rights.

Across the whole university, only 35% of total academic staff are on insecure contracts. Below the level of professors and senior academics however, the figures are far more worrying. 77.5% of research assistants and teaching assistants are on fixed-term contracts, higher than the national average. 72.5% of lecturers, research fellows and teaching fellows also lack permanent contracts (again higher than average). This compares to figures of only 17% of senior lecturers/fellows, just 3.2% of professors and precisely 0% of heads of departments.

The point of these comparisons is not to divide one set of academics against another, but to draw attention to the deterioration of working conditions across the sector under the current regime of mercenary, ends-focused and profit-driven higher education. In this important sense, the ongoing battle to protect our pensions and the renewed fight against casualisation are two fronts in the same conflict.

The case against casualisation

Where casual arrangements become widespread, employers seek to get something for nothing. Hourly-paid teaching contracts routinely fail to allow enough time for preparation, marking, emails or meetings with students. As a result, unpaid hours become a regular feature of casualised work. Early-career academics are oftenforced to work between different institutions or commute long distances, without being reimbursed for the time or cost of travel. The increasing use of fixed-term teaching contracts of 9 months duration mean that academics are often left without any source of income over the summer.

The passion and enthusiasm of university staff for our work – the lifeblood of any educational institution – has become a resource for employers to ruthlessly exploit. The very qualities on which universities trade – our commitment to our students, our desire to produce outstanding research – have become the conditions of our exploitation, with many of us feeling forced into accepting unfair terms of employment – effectively working for free – simply to remain in higher education.

Of course, this extra labour is not distributed evenly, with the burden of precarious work falling predominantly on younger members of staff, and disproportionately on women, staff with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities. The extensive use of insecure contracts in higher education is incompatible with a commitment to diversity.

The stresses of insecure employment also take their toll on our health, wellbeing and home-life. A 2018 Times Higher Education survey found that keeping a balance between work and relationships was most difficult for research students and early-career academics, with just 5% of doctoral students and 3% of postdoctoral researchers reporting no impact. These groups reported that they would find it difficult to imagine starting a family in their current conditions of work. Early-career researchers were twice as likely as professors to consider leaving the profession, while only 8% would recommend a career in higher education to their children.

Finally, it must be stressed that casualisation and precarity threaten the very purpose of the university, the quality of teaching and research, and the meaning of higher education. Overworked and underpaid teaching staff, hired by the hour and inadequately compensated for their labour, cannot be expected to teach to their best ability. Nevertheless, UCU estimates that up to 40% of undergraduate teaching is currently delivered in exactly this way. Research staff constantly moving from contract to contract, always on the lookout for their next job, likewise can’t be expected to produce the standards of work their ability and training has made them capable of. UCU surveys suggest that a third of researchers are forced to spend 25% of their contracted time working towards their next appointment.

Where academic employment is insecure, universities (now overwhelmingly driven by market forces) are able to cut ‘unprofitable’ courses, reduce departments to a skeleton permanent staff, or dispose of them entirely, regardless of their merit or educational value. It is only by fighting casualisation in our own institutions – ensuring stability and security for all our colleagues – that we can defend the integrity of our workplaces, reverse the trend of marketisation and reassert the value of education as an intrinsic public good.

HESC on Equal pay and USS: Delegates’ report

On 7 November, UCU held an HE Special Sector Conference, with the morning focused on the pay equality dispute, and the afternoon on USS.

If you aren’t sure how UCU democractic structures work, you may find it useful to read Rachel Cohen’s (City University) piece in USS briefs before reading on.

Pay and Equalities

There were 9 motions considered in the morning session, but the majority of the time was devoted to thoughtful and intense debate over motions 1, 2, 3, and 5, and a how best to move forward with the pay and equalities dispute.

The results of our Autumn ballot on pay showed incredible support for industrial action, with a national aggregate of 68.9% YES votes for strike action. Even more importantly, the percentage of members voting for strike action were consistently high across the sector. It isn’t just a few branches that wish to strike against casualisation, unsustainable workloads, and pay inequalities, it’s nearly every one of the 147 branches that were balloted.

Given this, the great majority of the delegates agreed that, without the unreasonable 50% turnout required by anti-trade union law, we would likely be on strike right now, and that therefore we must reballot on pay. Casualisation, workload, gender inequality, and generational inequality in pay are issues that are impact every single one of us.

The main debate centered around the form this reballot should take. Sheffield delegates argued on behalf of Motion 5 (passed at our EGM on the 29th of October), which calls for an aggregated re-ballot, because we believe this gives UCU the absolute best chance of beating the 50% threshold in this dispute. 8 out of 147 HE branches surpassed the threshold, but we achieved an aggregate turnout of 42%. We believe that it is better to work collectively to turn out votes from an additional 8% members in one national campaign than to conduct separate campaigns at 139 separate institutions with differing levels of resources and local activism. It is crucial to prioritise national bargaining on pay equality to support our national pay bargaining machinery. It is crucial to take collective industrial action, rather than leaving behind branches who do not make the cutoff.

As a result of this discussion, motion 5 was passed by the HESC, and in early Spring 2019, UCU will be conducting a national aggregated re-ballot on this dispute.

Important motions were also passed calling for UCU to push back against anti-trade union law (Motion 4), to coordinate with other trade unions to develop multi-year pay and equality claims (Motion 6), and to expand the National Dispute Committee to include the pay and equality dispute (Motion 8): see the full set of decisions here.


The afternoon session switched focus to USS, and started with a notable address from the Chair of the National Dispute Committee, making it clear that while things have progressed a long way there are many aspects that are far from certain and will require our attention.

The main session consisted of healthy debate over substantial motions setting out the potential path of the dispute over the next few months. Sheffield’s motion (Motion 13) calling for the 2017 valuation to be abandoned, and for negotiations to continue based on March 2018 data was passed (and USS have now announced a 2018 valuation, although still plan to push through their 2017 cost-sharing as well).

Elsewhere, it was clear that conference would have no patience with any moves to water-down the JEP proposals (Motion 1), and that employers should pay for any cost increases resulting from this dispute (Motion E1). Motions setting out the stall for a JEP Phase 2 to start as soon as possible, and another reiterating the call for the resignation of USS’s Chief Executive, also passed. There was also time to address the issue of USS’s poor ethical record with a motion which passed unanimously (Motion 17).

Though the conference was well attended, it did fall just short of a quorum, arguably due to rules on quoracy which did not adequately reflect the absence of post-92 delegates. The motions passed do not immediately become union policy, and instead are advisory on the Higher Education Committee. We very much hope, and have every right to expect, that the HEC respects the view of the conference in forming its position.

Jo Grady
Sam Marsh
Robyn Orfitelli
Mark Pendleton

HESC delegates November 2018