Notes from the UCU General Meeting, 27th February 2019

We will be circulating the minutes of our most recent general meeting to all members very shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a selection of highlights.

Personal Development Review – “Appraisal” in old money

Officially the Branch’s position on the PDR proposals remains that we suggest members use the agreed 2016 appraisal form, with associated guidelines. We also stand by our call for members to boycott the consultation process on PDR, as it bypassed meaningful campus trade union involvement. At our October meeting with senior management they agreed to work with us to change the PDF guidelines, in particular to ensure a PDR could never be the sole trigger for starting capability proceedings. This work is as yet incomplete.

Ballot outcome

We were re-balloted about action over casualisation, gender gap, pay, and workload – UCU thought a national ballot meant that less engaged branches could be carried by more engaged branches. With only a 40% turnout, this probably means that the 2018 pay claim is now over. We will not be taking any action over pay and equalities. National advice is now for local branches to pursue campaigns on the issues raised on the ballot. Last year’s pensions dispute is far from over.

Pensions Update

We suspended our industrial action over the threat to defined benefit pensions when a joint expert panel (JEP) was agreed by employers and UCU. The JEP initial report looked at the previous valuation (the one about a large deficit), which USS and UUK argued meant we couldn’t have a defined benefit pension. The creation and membership of the JEP was endorsed by employers and UCU, and both sides were hopeful of a long term resolution. The first two recommendations have now been rejected by Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). It is difficult to foresee a positive outcome from the second stage of the JEP’s work, without more pressure from institutions, so our pensions are still potentially under threat. We will be writing as a branch to ask the Principal of Royal Holloway to use his influence, with other employers, to encourage USS to accept the recommendations of JEP, which indicate a defined pension is feasible with lower contribution increases than those currently planned. Continue reading “Notes from the UCU General Meeting, 27th February 2019”

A Representation From RHSU About Exam Papers

At the start of the Easter vacation, representatives of RHUL-UCU met with Katie Normington to reaffirm our commitment to Action Short of A Strike, in the face of repeated pressure from Heads of Department demanding extra Moodle materials, office hours during the vacation and exam paper revisions. The Vice Principal pledged to contact HoDs again and remind them that these demands are provocative and not sanctioned centrally.

A representative of Royal Holloway Students’ Union (RHSU) was also present, and restated their support for our industrial action in defence of decent pensions. However, RHSU has come under a great deal of pressure from students who have unprecedented exam anxiety this year. The RHSU representative made a specific plea about exam papers, given that many students now fear sitting down to exam papers they cannot answer due to lost lectures. RHSU asked if our members might consider whether they needed to edit out any exam questions, to reflect lost teaching time.

This presents a quandary – a university is not the same as a school; some students may have explored concepts scheduled for lectures affected by the strike by using reading lists and/or Moodle materials. For these students editing papers may reduce their choice, so there is no objective way to determine whether editing exam papers will be beneficial or detrimental. We also reminded both the Vice Principal and the RHSU representative that our members are committed to ASoS (which has only been suspended as of today – Monday 16th April) and so would not be able to commit to this additional work. Even now that ASoS has been suspended, many colleagues may have recognised just how much unpaid work they were contributing, which may make them reluctant to attempt to catch up on all their incomplete tasks. However, when we indicated three weeks ago that staff always have an over-abundance of work, the VP suggested members wanting to cut exam questions could prioritise this over other activities.

We explained that we were in no position to formally request our members revisit their exam papers, but that we would pass on this limited request by RHSU. So, for the avoidance of doubt, RHSU have requested that our members consider whether they can make a gesture of support for our students by removing questions from their exam papers that require material that was not delivered last term.

The Vice Principal assured us there would be no penalties for members who did not feel able to do this.