All 7 entries tagged Ucu

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November 08, 2011

University Pension Disputes / Soft Science, Hard Facts, Power Narratives

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Just saw this link to the latest on the USS pensions valuation. The title there is acutely misleading; the word "reveals" and "valuation" leading me, as intended, to believe that there is an actual gap of £2.9bn in the scheme, rather than a predicted gap.

I had an interesting chat in July with a lecturer from the Accountancy Dept. here at Warwick. I was surprised to hear that they had a module called, 'Accounting in Context', which teaches critical perspectives in the field. I thought only the Arts used that kind of woolly thinking, but it turned out, to my naive surprise, Accounting is an equally interpretive discipline. They even have a journal called Critical Perspectives on Accounting.

So when a particular team of actuaries drum up a set of "assumptions", a reader can't automatically assume that they're operating with the employees' best interests at heart. In fact, the current dispute over pensions is entirely a battle of narratives over the state of play of the USS pension fund.

And, given the stacking of power, and the USS board, in favour of the employers, the only thing in the employees' favour is their right to withold labour. And then it comes down to a battle for dominance of one narrative over another. This article, then, relies on people's assumption of accountancy and financing as being a kind of 'hard subject', with concrete numeric outcomes, and so on.

Yet, as we all know, the concept of forecasting is an inexact science. The modern soothsayer is fond of using graphs in place of animal bones, spreadsheets in place of the crystal ball. The science underlying these approaches are the same - reading clouds, reading markets, reading habits. Behind it all, is an attempt to understand and predict human nature: the brief, whimsical burst of years we spread across the planet and leave behind in a sear of smoking footprints.

March 10, 2010

Sussex Protests Halted by anti–democratic VC

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News coming in about the protests at Sussex University against job cuts.

BBC News (the only online national media outlet to report on the situation so far, by the look of things)

The Stop the Cuts blog - the unions' and students' side of events. Video of riot police presence here.

Sociaist Worker

The most disturbing part of this situation is the High Court Injunction attained by the VC, Mike Farthing, which prevents further occupational protests from taking place, even if they are peaceful - a curtailment on democratic union activity that sounds utterly anti-democratic. Why should one man have the right to prevent the protests of a group of people whose livelihoods and education are at threat?

And this letter just circulated by the UCU, from an academic at Sussex, calling for signatories against the VC's suspension of six students - again, without call for any kind of committee or other democratic process. Does Farthing think he has some kind of martial law authority over the university to protect it from a crisis caused by the government's cuts?

Please sign the petition - this isn't simply about problems caused by the recession, this is about the right to speak out in defence of higher education standards.

Dear all,

I expect few of you will have heard that 6 students have been suspended by
the VC (acting alone) for participating in the occupation of Sussex House
last Wednesday (5 March)

These students are now probibited from coming onto campus (and obviously
too to participate in lectures and submit any examination work etc.)

There is a petition asking their reinstatement.

Signatories can add a comment and these can be very interesting, so please
do not shy from doing this if you feel you have something to say.

The VC has also got an injunction from the High Court preventing any
student protest on campus (which is not specifically authorised).

The students have responed by calling on students to come on Library Square
to have their individual picture taken with a placard saying 'I too
participated in the occupation of 5 March'. They say they have already more
than 100 people who have had their picture taken.

I feel the bypassing of normal procedure if there was ground for
disciplinary action (which so far has certainly not publicly surfaced) is
extremely worrying, looking like a rather poor and in that case
counterproductive) attempt by the VC to resort to the most undemocratic and
alienating means to stifle protest.

Although the police have not been viciously brutal, there was an extremely
heavy police presence on campus which relying witnesses say was completely
disproportionate and though spray was not used, it was apparently

While there already was a 'Stop the Cuts' campaign at Sussex (116 posts are
at risk with management refusing to contemplate the 'Unique Solution'
offered by the Union which would involve voluntary fractionalization of
contracts), it looks like we now also need to have a campaign to defend the
right to protest.

February 18, 2010

Things can only get better…

Writing about web page

From the UCU's latest campaigns update:

UCU warns of job losses as record number of students apply to university

Job cuts in higher education hit the front page of the Guardian this week as UCU warned on Monday that 15,000 jobs were at risk across higher education if punitive government funding cuts went ahead. The union said that the government had to understand that widespread cuts would mean serious consequences. Monday was also the day it was revealed record numbers of people had applied to university, which prompted UCU to warn that a whole generation could have their dreams shattered. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “You cannot make savage funding cuts without serious consequences, despite Lord Mandelson’s insulting efforts to sell the cuts as an opportunity. The government is abandoning a generation who, instead of benefiting from education, will find themselves on the dole alongside sacked teaching staff.” You can read the Guardian piece here:
For the union’s press releases, click here and here: The story was also picked up by the Telegraph:

Higher fees a lazy option says UCU as Mandelson goes on the attack

UCU said yesterday that a report advocating higher fees from the think tank Policy Exchange spectacularly failed to add anything to the debate on funding higher education. Later in the day Lord Mandelson did very little to further his case in the debate by accusing universities of being set in aspic. Sally Hunt accused Policy Exchange of writing a report simply to justify fees and called on Lord Mandelson to listen to academics instead of rudely dismissing them. You can read more here: and here: The story featured in the Independent: and the Times:

February 08, 2010

UCU petition against coming redundancies

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Higher Education is looking fairly grim at the moment. Talking with some colleagues, I'm getting a sense there never was a golden age of employment, it's just one endless struggle. I don't like thinking like that, I prefer to keep imagining forwards. At the same time, the current cumulative budget cuts at Warwick (with science departments ringfenced, as I understand it, so other faculties, like Humanities, are bearing the burden), have been added to by further govt. cuts. Hooray for Lord Peter Mandelson.

This means redundancies, which means either a worse staff:student ratio, or reduced intakes. Which means a drop in income. Which means tuition fee increases are pretty much inevitable, whoever you talk to. Which will look, on paper, like more money for less opportunities. Hence resistance from five unions.

Not that anyone really batted an eyelid when New Labour turned students into customers back in 1998. At the time, while I was working part time in local government, I heard reports that there was an internal 'fail percentage' for tuition fees.

The figures were word of mouth, but from what I remember being told, if 13% of students had refused to pay tuition fees, the government might have scrapped the scheme, or tried alternatives; only about 5-6% paid. These figures are probably wildly wrong, but the point remains: if students refuse to pay fees, the system will fail and a new system will have to be established.

That's just the kind of change management I like thinking about. Not exactly tabula rasa, but enough slate-wiping to mean the next layer on the palimpsest will look somewhat better, at least for a while.

February 02, 2010

UCU Early Careers Survey Results in

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The results of the survey from last term are in. Currently the PDF is reading a 'broken' or 'damaged', which may be my computer,or a sign of the system's flaws pervading deep into digital corruption.

One of the things the respondents told us that they wanted was a chance for members at the start of their careers to share experiences, provide support and networking opportunities, and an opportunity to meet with other younger union members.  Members also reported a need for training in a number of key areas.

Sounds like a singles club, don't it?

November 16, 2009

Warwick Anti–Casualisation Campaign

Writing about web page

More info on the WACC here (pronounced: 'whack').

I like the title of this campaign. It makes me think there are a group of bookish, bespectacled hospitallers running around in white robes with red crosses on, trying to heal all the poor Post-Graduate Teaching staff who have been bludgeoned to the ground by evil, contract-wielding Human Resource infidels. (I've been playing Assassin's Creed, in anticipation of AC2's release next week, so that stuff is in my head. No religious significance at all to the analogy.) That's just a fiction in my head, of course and bears no real fact within it, though a creative writer might spot some 'emotional truth'.

The important bit:

Warwick's UCU is undertaking a survey of casual staff across all departments, whether they're unionised or not. It doesn't matter if you aren't a member, the point here is that there are some angels in UCU want to make the situation better for everyone employed by the university on a casual basis - hourly paid, fixed term contract, fixed term attached to project funding, etc. If you're not a permanent member of staff, the outcome of this campaign should benefit you.

They need more information, which is why they're asking you to fill in a survey for them. I just did it, in five minutes - they said it would take ten, so I'm now using the other five to blog about it.

Some background:

At a UCU meeting last academic year, it became clear that Warwick's HR Department don't keep records of all the contracts they issue, by department. They couldn't (or wouldn't?) provide information on how, say, contracts for hourly paid staff in the Sociology Department compared to contracts provided to staff on employed on a similar basis in any other deparment - such as English of Medical Depts.

However, at the meeting, it very quickly became clear that there's a massive disparity in the terms offered to staff in different depatments, not only in this university, but across the country. Also that the University Sector is second only to the Hotels & Catering Sector in employing staff on a casual basis. This used to be a whopping 60% or so, I think, but has come down due to the Harmonisation Campaign, to about 40%, I think, possibly better in other universities.

What this means is nearly half of the 5500 staff employed at Warwick don't have job security, and are potentially exploited in their contracts with absolutely no way of defending themselves legally. I stress potentially - I know I'm paid a third of the salary I should be on, given the teaching load and responsibilities I carry, but other, more reputable (or, less disreputable?) people might be overpaid - who knows? If HR don't keep clear track of the kind of casual contracts they're dishing out, the potential for exploitation is great; and if HR doesn't keep track, it's up to the Union to find out as much as they possibly can and do something about it.

I'm talking from personal experience here. I've been employed on a casual basis for, um... 7 years? Yes, since the 2002-3 Academic Year, first as a part-time tutor, then as an Honorary Teaching Fellow. Not as long as some I know, mind. And I've had it fairly cushy too, in some regards. But it's important to see the scope and scale of inequality across departments, in order to create fair harmonisation rules for casual staff contracts.

So go on, if you haven't already, please do fill in the survey. At the very least, it'll satisfy my curiosity when they publish the analysis.

October 23, 2009

UCU Petition: HEFCE wants to fund commercial research!

Writing about web page

Just had an email from Warwick's UCU. Apparently HEFCE wants to target a quarter of its funding at research that demonstrates commercial market value. Yuh, and I'm a poet, and as David Morley is so fond of saying, "Poetry is the opposite of money." Wonder where that puts literary criticism about poetry?

This from Sally Hunt, General Secretary for UCU:


Please join the six UK Nobel Laureates and many other leading academics who have already signed UCU's statement opposing proposals from HEFCE to change funding criteria. 

To sign click:

If implemented, the proposals would mean that 25% of future research funding would be allocated according to its ‘economic and social impact’. 

HEFCE has put these proposals out to consultation and the deadline for submissions is 16 December.

The UCU believes that these ‘impact’ proposals represent an attack on the knowledge process and constitute a threat to the existence of basic research activity in the UK. 

Our statement calls on HEFCE to withdraw these proposals. We intend to submit this statement to the funding council and to publish the list of names.

It is already abundantly clear that these proposals do not have the support of the academic community. 

We need every member to sign this statement and to then pass on the link to colleagues to ensure that the voice of the profession is heard.

Please add your name to the list here and circulate this link among your colleagues:


And this from the introduction to the petition:

The latest proposal by the higher education funding councils is for 25% of the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) to be assessed according to 'economic and social impact'. As academics, researchers and higher education professionals we believe that it is counterproductive to make funding for the best research conditional on its perceived economic and social benefits.

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