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Live online Q&A Session with Jo Grady Friday 22 November 1-2

Dear colleague,

In a week’s time, 60 higher education institutions begin eight days of strike action. I am hosting a live online Q&A session to answer your questions ahead of the strikes, on Friday 22 November from 1pm-2pm. Links to watch and submit questions will be available on the day on UCU’s website and Facebook page.

Where are our employers?

We have reached out to employers to make clear that we are open to constructive talks, but so far they seem happy to cause a rerun of last year’s destructive action in pre-92 institutions. The sad fact is that the further removed our senior managers get from ordinary staff, the worse they are at listening to us. They do not seem to appreciate that the union is just as serious about these nationwide disputes as we were about the last one.

However, there are signs that one or two employers are realising they need to change their approach. Anthony Forster, vice-chancellor of Essex University, signalled in the last few days that his institution might be willing to pay more for USS pensions to prevent staff from having to leave the scheme. This is a start, but it won’t be nearly enough on its own. In order to get a meaningful breakthrough in either dispute, we need vice-chancellors to use their influence to force a U-turn by the bodies that represent them: UCEA for the pay & equality dispute, and Universities UK for USS.

New info on taking industrial action

The best way to make that happen is to be ready to follow through on our threat of strike action and make it as effective as possible. UCU has published extensive guidance for staff on your rights when taking strike action and action short of a strike, information for students, and a specific list of FAQs for migrant staff and students. Please click through to our new strike action web page to read it.

As in the past, we win by withdrawing our labour, getting on those picket lines, and showing everyone that we are on the right side of each dispute.

We are also issuing a series of videos produced in collaboration with the NUS, aimed at explaining the action and why it matters to students. To view the first one please click here. I know that many UCU branches are already planning teach-outs with student societies about the action and a host of related issues.

These strikes are an important opportunity to articulate the value of the work we do to our students and to the wider world – let’s make sure we take it.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Strikes on the cards after colleges refuse to prioritise staff

11 November 2019

Colleges are facing potential disruption in the new year after the University and College Union (UCU) accused employers of a “breach of faith” over pay and said it would consult members over strike action.

The union met with the Association of Colleges today (Monday) and said a 1% pay offer was “derisory”, after the employer body had previously acknowledged that staff deserved more and campaigned alongside the UCU in calling for additional funding.

The government announced an extra £400million of funding for colleges in August and UCU said it was time for colleges to prioritise staff. The union said the 1% offer would only widen the pay gap – currently £7,000 a year – between school and college teachers after school teachers were awarded a 3.5% rise.

The union said staff couldn’t afford to wait any longer for a decent pay rise, with many already struggling to pay rent and forced to use food banks. UCU said other colleges had worked with the union to deliver better deals for staff prior to the extra funding, including Capital City College Group who agreed a 5% pay deal for staff and Lambeth College who agreed a deal worth over 3% in pay with improvements to holidays, sick pay and teaching hours. A deal at Hugh Baird College earlier in the year saw staff receive a pay rise of up to 6% plus five days’ extra annual leave.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: ‘Colleges have repeatedly used a lack of government funding as an excuse to hold down staff pay, whilst acknowledging they deserve more. To offer 1% after joint campaigning and the recent funding announcement is a breach of faith that will rightly anger staff and leaves us with no option but to consult over strike action.  It sends a clear signal to staff that they are not being prioritised which threatens key relationships at precisely the time when the sector needs to work together.

‘Staff have borne the brunt of cuts in recent years and closing the £7,000 pay gap between school and college teachers must be a priority. The time to act on pay is now. Staff struggling to pay rent and using food banks can’t afford to wait any longer. Plenty of colleges have demonstrated how to deliver better deals for staff even before the extra funding was announced, so this derisory 1% offer is simply inexcusable.’

UCU announces eight days of strikes starting this month at 60 universities

5 November 2019

Sixty UK universities* will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU announced today.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.’

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

UCU members back strikes over both pensions and pay and conditions

UCU members back strikes over both pensions and pay and conditions

UCU members working in UK universities have backed strike action in ballots over both pensions and pay and working conditions. UCU said the overwhelming mandate for strikes was a serious indictment on the state of higher education and that if universities failed to respond to the sector’s problems then strike action, affecting around a million students, would be inevitable.

Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on a turnout of 53%. In the ballot on pay, casualisation, equality and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action on a turnout of 49%. The union’s higher education committee is meeting today to consider the results and next steps.

Ahead of the results, the Guardian ran a feature looking at the many reasons staff were being balloted. Today, the paper described staff as  disillusioned and angry, while the Telegraph reminded readers that the strike ballots are live for six months. Speaking to the Independent, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It is incredibly frustrating that we had to ballot members again, but universities only have themselves to blame after failing to address falling real-terms pay and for refusing to deal with casualisation, workloads and the rising cost of USS pensions.’

Universities must do more to stamp out racial harassment says UCU

23 October 2019 | last updated: 24 October 2019

Responding to a damning report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which warns that ‘racial harassment is a common occurrence for many students and staff in British universities’, UCU said universities must do more to stamp out racial harassment.

The report warns there is a reluctance to acknowledge the prevalence of racial harassment within British universities and that some institutions would put their reputation above tackling the problem.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘There must be a zero-tolerance approach to racial harassment in and around our universities. Universities have to recognise the scale of the problem and take serious steps to deal with it, and to support those who come forward or are affected by it.

‘We agree with the EHRC that there needs to be a proactive duty on universities to protect staff from harassment and an improved reporting process for staff and students”.

Jo Grady UCU GS in Cambridge and Norwich on 28 Oct

Jo Grady UCU General Secretary Speaking Tour

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, has spent most of September and will spend most of October touring branches in all of the regions and nations of UCU.  She will be concluding her tour by visiting two institutions in our region – UEA and Cambridge – on Monday 28 October.

Jo will be speaking on a number of topics including the disputes in Higher Education over USS and Pay as well as more generally about her plans for the Union. She would also very much like to hear what members from all sectors in the union have to say and listen to any concerns that they may have. This is a really fantastic opportunity to hear from the General Secretary and get to meet her and let her know your views.

There is no need to register for these meetings although it would be useful if you could let us know if you are planning on attending so that we can be clear about possible numbers.

Venue Details: 

1pm UEA Lecture Theatre LT3, UEA Campus, Norwich NR4 7TJ

Find map details here . Parking at UEA is always busy. Details on the University website for parking can be found here. Details for the Norwich Park and Ride can be found here


5pm Lecture Room 3, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, Cambridge, CB2 1RX

Find map details here . Parking in Cambridge is both difficult and expensive. If you are travelling by car then please check out the Cambridge Park and Ride Site here

We look forward to seeing you on the day

Lydia Richards, Eastern and Home Counties Regional Official

Higher education staff make the sector what it is. Vote now to be rewarded for your hard work

Dear colleague,

By the standards which our employers like to use university staff have achieved great things in the decade since the financial crisis. The sector’s income has increased by over £11 billion. Universities’ reserves have almost tripled. As we learnt only last week, more than 50% of young people now attend university.

We, the staff, have made those things possible. But over the same period the proportion of university spending on staff has dropped. The OECD has found that UK universities’ spending on staff as a proportion of income is 6 percentage points lower than the EU average. Our pay has repeatedly been cut relative to inflation, and our wages would need to increase substantially to return to the value they had at the time of the financial crisis. Even by employers’ own calculations, we have lost out to the tune of about 17% over the last decade.

Quite simply, our vice-chancellors no longer accept that we deserve to be rewarded for creating the world-class sector which they like to boast about.

What are we asking for?

Given how poorly we are being rewarded our claims in the current higher education pay dispute are modest. Every year UCU and other campus unions lodge a detailed claim to our employers covering job security, equality, workload, and pay. This year we are asking for:

  • a pay increase of RPI plus 3% (a total of 5.6% as at August 2019) or a minimum of £3,349
  • action to close the gender pay gap
  • work on closing the ethnicity pay gap based on an intersectional analysis of inequalities relating to race, gender, and other protected characteristics
  • adoption of the stress management standards (or equivalent) approach to workload management in universities.

Tackling casualisation, improving our job security

One of the most detailed parts of our claim concerns casualisation. We are asking employers to agree to a framework for ending precarious employment, including:

  • a commitment to end zero-hours contracts
  • moving hourly-paid staff to fractional contracts
  • a UK-wide review of the use of hourly paid lecturers in post-92s
  • an action plan to improve job security for researchers
  • proper contracts and guaranteed hours for postgraduate teaching assistants.

This is not an opportunistic raid on universities’ bank accounts. We are just asking to be valued properly for our hard work. In many areas of this claim we are not demanding immediate action; we are simply demanding that employers get round the table with us and come up with a plan to start addressing some of the problems that make our lives and our work much harder than they need to be.

Vote today

UCU has attended multiple negotiation meetings with employers over the past few months. They have offered us a pay ‘increase’ of 1.8%, which is well below the RPI index of inflation. On job security, equality, and workload they have essentially refused to negotiate.

Those of us who went on strike over USS last year will remember how effective our action was in getting an improved offer out of employers. The larger the mandate you give your union by voting in this strike ballot, the more likely it is that employers will make us an offer before any action has to happen. And don’t forget: if we do have to go on strike again, we are doing more than ever to support you through UCU’s fighting fund.

Finally, if you have lost or still not received your ballot papers please make sure that your membership information is up to date using My UCU, and request your replacement ballot paper here.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

UCEA report shows that value of uni staff pay has plummeted (7 Oct 2019)

Value of university staff pay has plummeted in last decade, employers’ OWN research reveals

4 October 2019

Pay for university staff has plummeted in real-terms in the last decade, according to a report released by universities’ representatives.

The findings, from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), show that the pay of staff has dropped by around 17% in real-terms since 2009.

The University and College Union (UCU) said it was shocked and disappointed that UCEA has tried to spin the findings to suggest pay has not fallen so sharply. In its presentation of the data, UCEA has chosen to show findings only from 2013 and cherry picked the information used to calculate the figures.

However, table 8 of the report shows that pay has actually dropped by around 17% since 2009 when using the retail price index (RPI). Last month, Chancellor Sajid Javid rejected a call to stop using RPI, saying to do so risked damaging the economy and the public finances.

The union says that staff pay has actually fallen by around 20% in the last decade as pay awards in higher education have resulted in a cumulative increase of 11%. In the same time period, the RPI index has increased by 31.8%.  Meaning staff in higher education have seen the value of their pay decline by 20.8% since 2009.

The union’s analysis looked at the cumulative impact of the overall pay awards each year versus inflation, while the UCEA analysis looked at certain spine points. UCU said whichever method was preferred, staff pay had dropped by a minimum of 17% since 2009.

UCU members at 147 universities are currently being balloted for strike action over pay and workloads. UCU members at 69 institutions are also being balloted for action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘At last the employers have revealed the full extent of the reduction in the value of university staff pay. We believe the true decline over the past decade is over 20%, but whichever way you look at it staff pay has plummeted. Universities need to immediately take steps to reverse the decade of decline.

‘It is quite remarkable that the employers have tried to spin a different story when the figures are available in their own report. UCU members currently being balloted for strike action over declining pay will be shocked and disappointed that universities could make such misleading claims. Cherry picking a later starting date and the information used to work out the figures cannot alter the fact that staff pay has declined.’

NUS stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with UCU in fight for fair pay and pensions

30 September 2019 | last updated: 1 October 2019

The National Union of Students (NUS) and UCU have issued a joint statement saying students stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with staff in the ongoing disputes over pay and pensions.

The statement outlines the shared commitment of both organisations to defending education, and calls on students to organise solidarity action in support of UCU members fighting attacks on pay and pensions.

The statement also asks students to contact their institution to raise concerns about the impact potential disruption may have on their studies, and put pressure on university employers to address the concerns of staff.

UCU has pledged to work closely with NUS to explain to students why the current ballots are taking place and commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve the disputes.

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action when UCU members lost 14 days’ pay to defend their pensions. The union is also calling for action on pay, gender pay, casualised contracts and unsustainable workloads.

Sixty-nine institutions are being balloted in the row over Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions, while 147 institutions are being balloted at the same time as part of a dispute over pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. Ballots opened on Monday 9 September and will close on Wednesday 30 October. The union’s higher education committee will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘UCU and NUS have a shared commitment to defending education and we are proud of our joint work in striving for a better deal for staff and students. Staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions which is why it’s vital that we stand up against attacks on pay, pensions, workload and job insecurity. We welcome the support of NUS as we fight for the future of our universities.’

NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim said: ‘Staff are the cornerstone of higher education and should be properly rewarded. NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with UCU in the fight for fair pay and pensions, and decent working conditions.’

Full UCU and NUS statement on pay and pensions ballots


Global Climate Strike roundup Sep 2019

ARU Chelmsford reps

On 20 September 2019 UCU staff and members of branches across the Eastern and Home Counties region took part in events as part of the Global Climate Strike. Successful events were held at, amongst other branches, ARU, University of Essex, Cambridge University, and Writtle. Please continue to let us know about any other events.



UCU strongly supports the efforts of the school strikers and successfully submitted a motion to the TUC conference calling for unions to take action on 20 September. The UCU motion can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10181/30-minute-solidarity-climate-stoppage

Cambridge support

Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said:

“This [motion] signifies real support for the efforts of the school strikers and is a chance for workers to show we are behind them.”

More pictures from across UCU can be seen at https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10289/Climate-shutdown

More information on UCU’s initiatives on climate change can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/environment

University of Essex event

If you are interested in learning more or in getting involved in future activities and events then please get in touch!