Build your Branch with UCU training

Build your branch with UCU Training

Today we’re pleased to feature a guest blog from UCU’s Training Officer Karen Brooks, on how training can help build your branch:


With more and more bargaining taking place at local level, it’s more important than ever that branches have plenty of reps with the training necessary to deal with their employers. Whether you are a new or more experienced UCU rep, our training programme will give you all the skills, information and support you need to get the most out of the role, both for your members, and yourself. UCU takes its activist training programme extremely seriously and every effort is made to ensure all our materials reflect the scope and depth of knowledge our reps require.

The UCU programme begins with introductory courses that are designed to equip newer reps with the necessary competence and confidence to deal with the challenges and opportunities that the role presents. The introductory courses cover the essentials of UCU’s structure, facility time, branch organising and campaigning along with practical advice and tips from experienced professionals. These courses are also open to more experienced reps who perhaps have not completed training in the past, or who would like to update their skills. We would normally recommend that reps update their skills every five years in order to keep abreast of current legislation and practice.

Further to the introductory courses UCU offers reps a continuation programme for those who have completed the initial reps courses. This training presents a chance for reps to take a more in-depth study of specific roles within the branch, such as health and safety, representing members, and negotiation.  These courses allow reps to gain a more comprehensive understanding of legislation surrounding each area, collective approaches to bargaining, representing individual members, and how branches build strength through effective negotiating.

UCU also run courses designed to add to a branches toolkit of knowledge and expertise. These courses deal with specific issues such as‘ ‘Media and Political lobbying’, tackling organisational stress’ ‘Pensions’ and ‘redundancy’.

As far as possible all UCU courses are delivered on a regional basis. This not only decreases the need for reps to travel long distances, but also allows for the development of local support networks. Often UCU regional staff attend local courses, giving you the opportunity to chat over branch issues with officials who understand your particular employer.

All UCU core courses (stage 1 and 2) are taught by qualified and very experienced TUC tutors who are able to offer practical solutions to workplace issues. In addition our courses are structured in a manner which promotes a collaborative approach and allow reps to share experiences.

All elected UCU reps are entitled via legislation to ‘reasonable’ time off for training. The UCU training department encourages all reps to assert this right; to this end you will find further information on the training pages of the UCU website

UCU is keen to attract activists from our equality strands (black, women, disabled and LGBT) and we welcome applicants who self-identify in one of these areas. Our wish is to increase participation from all groups in order that we reflect the diversity of our membership.

I hope the above information has given you a brief overview of our Activist Education Programme and I look forward to seeing you on a UCU training course in the future.

You can find out all about the UCU Reps Training programme and see what courses are running in your region, at our website.

Karen Brooks, UCU Training Officer

Getting involved in your branch

Not everyone can be, or wants to be, a union rep but we DO need people in each area to pass information, discuss issues with their colleagues, put up posters or pass on information to colleagues. Each branch is constantly exploring ways in which more members can be drawn into playing a role, however small.

Getting Involved in Your UCU Branch

Model branch rules are available on the UCU website ( ) but in general, branches try to ensure that they have a core of officers as per below:

  • chair/president
  • secretary
  • membership secretary
  • equality officer
  • health and safety reps
  • departmental reps
  • caseworkers

Every branch needs to consider its own specific circumstances and may decide to have further positions, but the suggested job description for the above are usually as follows:

Chair / President

In Further Education (FE) the role is normally referred to as “Branch Chair”, in Higher Education (HE) it is most often “President” but the job is the same.  The chair/president will chair all general meetings and all committee meetings of the branch / local association (LA) and perform such other duties as are laid upon the chair/president by any rule or are decided upon by the committee. In accordance with normal practice, the chair/president may, between meetings of the committee, take any action on behalf of the committee which is both urgent and necessary. Such chair’s action must be reported for approval to the next committee meeting.


The duties of the secretary are to call general and committee meetings of the branch/LA; to ensure that minutes of those meetings are kept; to organise membership communications as the committee deems necessary; to arrange notification of local election and ballot results to all members; and to perform such other duties as are laid on the secretary by any rule or are decided by the committee. In the absence of the secretary, the secretary’s duties will be performed by another officer as the committee decides.


The treasurer will have custody of the funds of the branch/LA and authority to make payments from them in accordance with the rules as the need arises. The treasurer’s duties will be to keep the books of the branch/LA; to present the accounts of the branch/LA for auditing as necessary; to present these audited accounts to a general meeting of the branch/LA; to publish them to all members of the branch/LA and to submit a copy to the treasurer of UCU.

Membership and Recruitment Secretaries

The recruitment secretary will be responsible for setting recruitment targets, planning, coordinating and reporting back on recruitment. The membership secretary should ensure that central membership records are accurately recorded for the UCU members with their branch/LA to enable statutory and rule requirements of membership recording to be met. Although these two roles are often combined it is often better to have dedicated recruitment and membership officers.

Equality Officer

The equality officer will:

  • have knowledge of and commitment to relevant equality issues and be willing to undertake training according to the needs of UCU, monitor the implementation of equality policies within the institution, and, where appropriate, encourage and support local negotiations on equality matters
  • monitor the volume and nature of personal casework which involves equality issues to ensure that the branch/LA has appropriate mechanisms in place for handling such cases
  • where appropriate, provide information, encouragement and support to members about equality issues
  • ensure that UCU’s national annual meetings, and any other relevant events and opportunities for women, black members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members and disabled members are publicised locally, that members from all groups are encouraged and enabled to participate, and that the branch/LA maximises the opportunities for recruitment and organisation amongst all groups.

Health and Safety Representatives

Health and safety reps are unique in having a detailed basic statutory framework of functions and rights outlined for them, which derive from the fact that their trade union is formally recognised by the employer. These rights and functions are supported by a number of absolute (i.e. unqualified) duties on the employer, including:

  • a duty to allow safety reps time off, with pay during working hours to undertake their functions
  • a duty to allow safety reps time off (as above) to undergo training in their functions approved by UCU or the TUC
  • a duty to provide such facilities and assistance as the reps reasonably require to help them
  • undertake their functions (note: the ‘reasonableness’ test relates to the rep’s needs, NOT to restrict what the employer has to provide)
  • a duty to consult in good time with safety reps on a range of matters.

Departmental Reps

Departmental reps fill an organising role within the branch,  talking and listening to members’ and non-members’ views; finding out their problems and concerns; identifying areas with low levels of membership or membership involvement; educating and informing members on issues of importance to them; encouraging members to get involved.


Caseworkers provide individual support and advocacy with the everyday problems which arise in the workplace. These may range to advice on college policy to  representing UCU members in matters of disciplinary and grievance (where members have a legal right to representation).

Getting involved without being a rep

A strong union branch is democratic and follows the wishes of its members. It follows, then that the more people who are involved the better. It is also a key tenet of the trade union movement that Equality is central to everything we do. We therefore seek that officers and reps within a branch are representative of the diversity of the membership in terms of gender, ethnicity etc..

Lots more information on being a UCU rep can be found here: