General Meeting report

As you will be aware, we held a General Meeting for the branch on Wednesday 23 September. For those who couldn’t make it, there is a summary below, including key reports back to members and questions raised, as well as the vital motion that was passed during the meeting. Full minutes will be circulated to members in due course.

Notes from UCU meeting 23 September 2020, 13:00-14:30, held via Zoom Continue reading “General Meeting report”

RHUL-UCU Says Goodbye And Thank You

A strong and effective Branch is dependent on the efforts of members willing to act as Branch Committee members, case workers and management committee observers. While we usually see some movement of colleagues in and out of these positions, this year we are losing two stalwart trade union activists to whom we wish to say thank you, good bye and good luck in your new ventures.

Professor Mandy Merck, of Media Arts, has been the UCU observer of College Council for two years, which requires a willingness to sacrifice hours to sit through interminable Council meetings as a non-participant. Her succinct reports kept the Branch informed of proposals and discussions, which is a vital part of our governance function.  She was also a vociferous champion of admin staff under severe pressure during “school-ification”. Mandy will continue to research and her next book will be a study of  the social satire film Downsizing (Alexander Payne, 2017), which is all about environmental issues. In conjunction with this we hear she is planning a research bid on film satire, which would include the topic as an area of potential PhD research.

We also say goodbye to equalities champion and activist extraordinaire Professor Clare Bradley of the Health Psychology Research Unit. Clare’s research focuses on the development of well-being outcome measures, used for patients undergoing treatment for diseases such as HIV, diabetes and Parkinson’s. These surveys are now used in over 120 languages, with the central well-being survey known as the “WHO (Bradley) well-being questionnaire”. Over just the last ten years Clare has brought in £1.6 million in research funding to the College – surely making her one of our most successful academics at RHUL. Professor Bradley, who is an alumna of Bedford College,  has made a significant contribution to the wider life of the College: she has been a member of our Branch Committee for many years, focusing in particular on equalities issues, and she has supported innumerable colleagues in difficulty through trade union case work; she also served two terms as an elected member of College Council and one term as an elected member of Academic Board. Clare and her entire team are leaving the College to become an independent research body based in Egham.

We say a big “thank you” to these dynamic and impressive women.

It seems a difficult year for staff turnover: more colleagues seem to be taking early retirement, and of course our precarious colleagues were sacrificed as part of the College’s COVID-19 response. Let’s hope the A Level debacle sees most, if not all, of them rehired. As we lose precious activists such as Clare  and Mandy, it is vital that we add new activists to the team. It is a difficult time in HE, and in society more generally, so there will be a lot of work for the Branch in 2020-21. If you think you might be able to get involved, in any way, get in touch at the Branch email: rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee

Report from the Branch Meeting

Thanks to everyone who came to Wednesday’s branch meeting, where we had a lot of ground to cover! This blog post summarises the key points raised.

The Disputes And Strike Action 

We are still facing the same issues we were when we went on strike in November and December 2019; that strike was well supported by members and students. Some gains have been made nationally: on pensions, questions have been raised about the management of the USS, and UUK are consulting their members about whether universities would be willing to pay additional contributions to maintain the value of the pension (which would mean they were more invested in sustainable decisions for the long-term than if UCU members picked up the tab).  On the Four Fights, although employers have agreed to set up a national framework to tackle the gender pay and casualization, they still take the position that details would need to be thrashed out locally. It was noted that the employers have been saying that they would tackle the gender pay gap for 10 years, but we have yet to see meaningful improvement. There has also been no movement on offering a pay increase anywhere near the rate of inflation. Since the branch meeting, UCU have released a helpful infographic summarising what they are asking for at the national level.

Continue reading “Report from the Branch Meeting”

Happy New Year to our UCU members

The local branch Committee wishes to offer members our Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year.

It has been a tumultuous year.  When Universities UK sought to end our defined benefits pensions, we mounted extremely effective industrial action and UUK had to backtrack.  But be in no doubt – they may well be back.  We await the second Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report, which will interrogate the tests used to analyse the strength of the fund.

Our pay and equalities claim this year made demands on the gender pay gap, workloads and reducing casualisation along with a call for a “catch up and keep up” wage rise. It was disappointing if not surprising that many Branches did not meet the 50% Tory turnout threshold.  These are serious issues which threaten this profession. This is why the Higher Education Congress voted to hold an aggregated ballot for  industrial action, which means we need to hit a 50% turnout nationally. This will allow all Branches to be involved in any industrial action that follows.  It is vital that you vote in this ballot, whichever position you take.  This is both to ensure your democratic right to vote and be heard, but also to ensure all members’ democratic right to have the vote count, whichever way it goes.

Government anti-union legislation means that, unless if we obtain 50% turnout, we cannot take industrial action.  So, while every member should respect every other member’s right to vote whichever way they want, it isn’t fair to not vote at all and let the action fall by default.

Universities – including this College – are already declaring impending ‘doom and gloom’.  This is ironic because the 2012 changes in financing led to a 50% increase in the per student resource.  Over the sector as a whole, there was a 20% increase in per student educational expenditures.  The share of academic salaries has fallen to about 30%, so where did the money go?

We have not yet analysed the specific figures for this College, but will engage in this forensic accounting early in the New Year.  We know that Senior Management is declaring financial austerity in terms of academic posts.  We think that this is short-termism at its worst.  There is a REF in 2021, with a census date for new staff of 2020.  In the past, the College has made available a Strategic Investment Fund to finance new posts to strengthen our case for the REF.  We need to do this urgently now.  This should finance, in our view, about 100 new academic research-led teaching posts.  This number would restore our student-staff ratio to more acceptable levels, and lead to massive improvements in our teaching programme, as well as in our likely REF scores.

Even under the old rules (where each member of staff normally needed to list 4 outputs), removing staff was not the way to achieve top outcomes.  Under the new rules (where each member of staff needs only 1 output to be included, with 2.5 outputs on average per staff member), this is even more the case.  This is not the time to contemplate voluntary or involuntary redundancies.  It is the time to hire, hire, and hire.

It follows from that urgency and necessary prioritisation that administrative shifts – such as the move to Schools – should not be a focus at the moment.  That would be the case even if the academic and education case, or even a cost-savings case, for the move to Schools was absolutely convincing.  We still await hearing much of any case at all. The associated changes to College governance also remain opaque.

This College, along with other universities, seems to have overspent on building programmes.  These cannot be undone, and we will simply have to pay the high financing, maintenance, depreciation and staffing costs.  It may be too late to follow the student advice that the best use of the Bedford Library is not as second-rate office accommodation, but as a first-rate, purpose built Library!  But the whole programme should now be frozen while careful attention is paid to efficient use of our funds going forward.  The College needs to be efficient and focussed upon our product, which is international class research and teaching.  The rest is secondary.

This College has shockingly instituted zero-hours contracts for some of its teaching staff.  This allows in principle for a contracted teacher to just call in and not do a scheduled lecture.  This is the sort of distraction that we don’t need and don’t want – it is stressful for staff and students. Our local campaigns this year are on reducing casualisation and on measuring and acting, when required, on onerous workloads. But we need your help. An active Branch requires active members, so getting in touch next year if you can help in any way. As ever you can get in touch with the Branch via our email: rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

With best wishes for a relaxing break,

Your RHUL Branch Committee