Monthly Archives: May 2016

Why is Bristol UCU on strike? #fairpayinhe

Why are Bristol UCU members on strike today?

A difficult decision I know for many.

We are on strike today because we’ve had our pay cut whilst being asked to do more and more for less and less, because we’ve had a real terms cut in pay of around 14.5% since 2009.

We are on strike today because of the widespread use of casual contracts at this and all our universities.

When it comes to university teachers, researchers and all manner of university staff who keep this place going on a day-to-day basis: university managements don’t want to sit down with their staff and their unions, and seriously, collectively negotiate a reduction in staff employed on precarious, insecure casual contracts.

We want proper, decent employment for ourselves and our colleagues as a rule.

54% of all academic on insecure contracts according to the latest data; 56% of teaching-focused staff are on atypical casual contracts here at Bristol: we want universities to address this.

These numbers are too damn high.

Our casework here at Bristol UCU, by the way, can testify to a number of brilliant researchers and teachers living from contract to contract, all because universities today know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We are on strike today because of the scandal that female staff are being paid less for the same work as their male colleagues. UCU again wants to negotiate, wants to close the pay gap by 2020, wants to address the structural reality that there is, on average, a difference in pay between male and female staff of just over £6,000 a year.

We are on strike because of our students. Our local student union officers say it best: “staff are being asked to do more for less and this is having a negative effect on all our education”.

Nationally the National Union of Students is clear: investing in staff, tackling the inequality and insecurity that blight our universities, is the way forward. Staff, as well as students, are the most important assets universities have. Paying educators fairly improves all of our education: lecturers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions!

We are on strike today because we are reasonable. Universities have the lucre, the dosh, the money for fair pay in HE.

Vice Chancellor pay is booming. Universities’ case reserves are over £20 billion; the University of Bristol has a surplus of over £30 million.

Why is VC’s pay shooting up – an average annual increase of 6.1% of hundreds of thousands – and HE staff get offered 1.1% as way of a final offer. It’s not right; it’s not fair and devalues the much feted student experience when staff that provide that experience get a cut in pay.

Finally we are on strike because united we bargain, divided we beg.

Higher Education is living through interesting times: TEF, the attack on student unions, the abstract, flawed, frankly anti-intellectual ways we measure the quality of teaching and research, the Prevent Duty, the restructuring of our professional service staff.

Together, as a union and as a branch, if we’re serious about making a difference, about making our University better, we need to stand together and unite – staff and students.

Our pay, all the issues just mentioned and more: if we are going to achieve anything collectively, we must work together to make it happen.

It isn’t going to happen unfortunately via our current HE leadership left to their own devices, whether senior or of a more middling variety. It isn’t going to happen unfortunately through simply tweeting the latest Times Higher article, or bitterly complaining in 2s or 3s around the kettle following the latest depressing School meeting – although it helps!

It’s going to be through actions like this.

So, I conclude by saying: let’s come together, let’s work together and embrace the challenges, problems and possibilities that entails.

Let’s win fair pay for staff in HE.

Thank you!

Bristol UCU Strike, 25th and 26th May

Bristol UCU Strike Newsflash

1) Industrial Action – Tomorrow & 26th May

We hope to see as many of you as possible at our picket lines tomorrow starting from 8.30 am – please come to Senate House in the first instance (unless you’ve agreed otherwise with your local rep). All pickets should then assemble at 10 am outside Senate House for a March to the Wills Memorial Building.

Speakers include Harriet Bradley (UCU National Executive Committee), Laura Ho (Bristol Students Union) and Jez Longden (National Union of Teachers)

On the 26th, please let us know what you doing instead of working. A picture would be great! Either tweet #fairpayinhe or email your picture or comments to

Remember to set up an out-of-office message for tomorrow and Thursday:

Please note I am on strike today as part of the UCU industrial action in support of fair pay in higher education. You can find out more about the dispute here:

2) Student Support

Bristol Student Union Officers have written a statement of solidarity:

UCU has also produced material for students:

Click to access ucuheaction2016_studentleaflet.pdf

3) Working to Contract & External Examining

We have quite a few questions regarding working to contract, what that means for open days, external examiner resignation and signing out marking.

Working to contract means a 35 hour week for full-time staff.

As far as this affects Saturday working (and in particular the up-coming Saturday Open Day), HR have confirmed that they consider it a reasonable request to be asked to work on Saturday as long as you negotiate time off in lieu so that you keep to your 35 hours.

External examiners should resign their position subject to any notice period. They should not to accept or otherwise agree the offer of new external examiner posts until the dispute has been resolved.

Signing out and returning of marking: after much toing and froing, it is now branch officers and reps understanding that normal arrangements will stand and staff will not be asked formally to confirm that they will return work by the already notified deadline. If you feel you are being up under undue pressure to complete your marking please contact for support.

Don’t forget to set up an out-of-office message. For example:

Please note I am ‘working to contract’ as part of the UCU industrial action in support of fair pay in higher education. This may mean it takes longer for me to respond to emails. You can find out more about the dispute here:
Please also consult our strike FAQs:

4) Local Strike Day

As part of the campaign, we’ve been asked as branch to select an appropriate date to take to local industrial action. This action would correspond with exams boards, open days or graduation for maximum impact.

At Bristol UCU Exec today, we decided to ballot the branch members. This was done for several reasons:

  • to determine which events we would like to boycott
  • to let members know this is a decision that is being actively considered
  • to gauge the appetite for taking local action.

The ballot will be launched this Friday and emailed to all members.

See you tomorrow

Should the University of Bristol Retain “No Questions Asked” Lecture Capture Opt Out?

By a large majority in a recent e-ballot (78.6%), Bristol UCU has voted for a no questions opt out when it comes to their lecturers beings recorded. If the lecturer wants to opt out, they can.

Here are some of their comments.

One Bristol UCU member writes:

Lecturers need to be treated as professionals who are able to make this decision for themselves in the circumstances of their own teaching.


Lecture capture fundamentally changes the student-lecturer relationship. It is pedagogically detrimental, for it discourages students from attending and engaging with the lecture event.

In a similar vein:

I believe lecture capture / recording changes the nature of the lecture as a mode of teaching and learning in ultimately a negative way for both students and lecturer. I believe the lecturer should be able to opt out easily if he / she does not feel it is suitable for his / her course.

There were concerns around IP:

Intellectual property rights. If lectures are uploaded in future and distributed freely online, what would a teaching fellow – for instance – have to offer a future employer?

One member shares their experience:

I’ve copied here the text I give to students explaining why I don’t use Mediasite on my first year unit, in case it is useful. I think maintaining the opt out is very important. Also worth noting is that, out of 100 student evaluation forms, only 4 asked for recordings to be available.

“I have opted out of using this facility on UNIT, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in my experience lecture recording has a significant negative impact on lecture attendance and, for the reasons outlined above, as well as the importance of things like collective experience, I think lecture attendance is very important. Secondly, there are pedagogic concerns about making recordings available to students; students are more likely to over-focus on the lecture, replaying them to memorise the ‘right’ answers, when they would better develop their intellectual abilities by spending that time reading additional material. By freezing a lecture in time, a lecture becomes less like a conversation and more like a book, only a less good book than actual books. Remember that lectures are the starting point of your learning, not the final destination. For these reasons, I will not be making lecture recordings available.”

Other members were not as critical:

Lecture capture has been shown time-and-time again to be of educational benefit; we should encourage evidence-based best practice and enforce it where necessary.

I think the lecture capture is pedagogically very valuable. I respect the right of lecturers to opt out for pedagogical or personal reasons, but I do think these should undergo some scrutiny. I’m wary of knee-jerk conservatism.

This is a vital resource for disabled students, so there always needs to be a dialogue when opt out is requested. But it is far better for all if we become more inclusive across the board and not just for one set of students.

People should stop this luddite nonsense



Until recently I was a union member in quite an unthinking way…

A Bristol UCU member writes:

Until recently I was a union member in quite an unthinking way. My Dad worked for a union all his life, and drilled into me his principle that ‘you insure your car, your home, so why not the most important thing of all – your job?’. When I started working I joined the union automatically. I had a vague sense that I had a generous maternity provision, and that, within the sector, my salary was higher than others – but I became truly aware of the value of having a strong, active union when my department was subject to a restructure and I became part of a redundancy pool.

During that time, I leant heavily on the union for counsel, comfort and knowhow. It meant having someone to attend meetings with, who understood the law, could offer sound advice, and make practical suggestions. I had the feeling that a range of different avenues were being pursued: some of which might never have occurred to me. When you’re going through redundancy selection, it is reassuring to know that everything is being done properly and fairly, and to feel that you’re not alone. At Bristol, we’re lucky enough to have a healthy recognition agreement with our employer; it seems madness not to make the most of it.

After that time, I decided to become a rep; I felt very motivated to return the support and encouragement that I had received, and to give back to others something that had made such a difference to me.