Monthly Archives: February 2018

Looking Us In The Eye – Letter to Professor Brady, University of Bristol Vice Chancellor

Dear Professor Brady,

Firstly I would like to thank you for inviting some of our students and a UCU representative to speak at Senate on Monday, which seemed to me to be an important step towards resolving the current dispute. In the report I have seen of that exchange, you said that UCU needed to come up with a proposal that addressed the long term needs of the USS pensions scheme.

Yesterday (27th February), you will be aware, they did so (…/Further-talks-agreed-in-universiti…). It did seem to me – though of course the report may not be fully reliable, and you were speaking extempore – that in your response you underplayed the influence that you can have on this dispute as a representative of a very large employer that was one of the minority (42%) that refused to accept the level of risk proposed by USS last September. UUK, of course, are supposed to represent the views of the employers, so you and other VCs can determine their position.

Other VCs, you will also be aware, have started to do this (see the quotations at the bottom of the UCU proposals linked above). I am sure you are familiar with the numerous and strident critiques of the current USS valuation, which point out that it is founded on the vanishingly unlikely scenario that 60-odd pre-92 institutions go bust overnight, that the assumptions about life expectancy and wage growth behind it are way out of line with current trends and reasonable expectations, that many of the responses to the consultation were not the ‘authorised’ view of the institution in question, and that the number of Oxford and Cambridge colleges responding is likely to have skewed the results. (See, for instance, Prof. Mike Otsuka’s series of blogs here – – and this fuller version of a letter sent to the Financial Times by leading economists and statisticians

With all this in mind, I would like to ask of you the following: that you either make a public statement that the University of Bristol has reconsidered and is willing to accept the level of risk proposed in the September 2017 consultation, or that you make a public statement *clearly* explaining to USS members inside and outside the institution why the University of Bristol is not prepared to accept this level of risk.

What we need in this dispute now is absolute clarity, which has hitherto been in short supply. If the University’s position is that it seeks to de-risk to remove pension obligations from the books so that it can access more favourable borrowing rates for its capital projects, for instance, then we would all appreciate it if you looked us in the eye (metaphorically or otherwise) and said so. I’m not sure that would be an institution I would be happy working for any longer, but we would all know where we stood, and that would be an important starting point.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

John McTague
Lecturer in English (Restoration and Eighteenth Century)


Bloomin’ freezing but we chanted their socks off – Keep Going Everyone

Dear all,

Another brilliant day on Monday, despite the freezing weather – thank you so much for continuing to support the action. We are already seeing impressive results, but we must keep going. Plans for next week are further down including a reminder that you are working to contract – so please keep reading!

Following yesterday’s announcement that UUK have agreed to meet with ACAS, we have received some queries as to whether we should be returning to work. The following message has been sent to us from UCU HQ this morning:

The action has to stay on. As soon as we stop, the employers will lose any incentive to engage. We do not have meaningful negotiations – all we have is a (welcome) willingness to attend arbitration and a general commitment to make progress.

It is really critical as we go into ACAS that members support the negotiators who have asked members to keep the action going.

Sally Hunt’s message last night contained brilliant new proposals from the UCU negotiators, combining thoughts from expert UCU academics and vice-chancellors, as well as the national negotiating team. UUK have agreed to meet ACAS, and we have increasing confidence that a deal can be struck if our resolve and commitment stay strong. But, be clear, strike action and action short of a strike continues.

You will also have seen the quotes in Sally’s message from many vice-chancellors. Hugh Brady’s call on Friday to return to negotiations was very welcome, but not strong enough. We now need our Vice-Chancellor to actually listen to our concerns (including concerns of many Heads of School and other senior staff), show leadership and come out publicly in support of the continuation of a decent defined benefit scheme.

Yesterday morning the Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow stood on the picket lines with his staff and made a joint statement with Glasgow UCU. In contrast, on Monday, our senior team went in the back door to the Wills building.

Our UCU Senate members, however, went in the front door with a petition signed by 1500 people asking the VC to call for negotiations without preconditions. Following a noisy student occupation inside the building and our chanting outside, two students and our own Vice-President, James Thompson, were allowed to speak briefly to Senate.

In response Hugh Brady said that “the only essential precondition is that it is a viable solution” – no argument with that. Now, Hugh Brady – join your fellow Vice-Chancellors and make that public.

So please continue to write to the VC asking for negotiations which retain a decent defined benefit scheme. Our sample text is available here, but do please adapt.

Please report all impact that the strike action and action short of a strike is having, so cancelled classes, events, meetings, submissions delayed/missed, purchase orders not raised, marking not done, admissions not processed. Anything and everything. We will collate these and send them to the Vice-Chancellor on a regular basis so keep sending reports in whenever you have something to tell us.

Our local hardship fund now live. Details on how to donate are available from the Bristol UCU Website.

Students continue to support our action. At last night’s Annual Members meeting the Students Union overwhelmingly passed a prioritised motion to support our action. The students’ constant support, presence and enthusiasm during this campaign is critical to our success and so valued. Join the student/staff solidarity group to give your support back.

Media coverage – great coverage by the Bristol Post on Monday and an excellent article from one of our own rally speakers, Rowan Tomlinson. Richard Harris writes in iNews. Brilliant placards and more on our Bristol UCU Facebook page. See also fabulous strike day photos from Julian Eastoe (see further links at the end of the message).

Forthcoming action

Thursday 1 March onwards – return to work – working to contract

This Thursday will be your first day back at work. You are working to contract, so 35 hours per week maximum for grades I and below, 48 hours per week max for J and above. DON’T DO MORE. Prioritise your work as you see fit unless you are told to do otherwise: however, do not refuse a reasonable request unless it is to reschedule a class or to cover for others.

NEW – Monday 5 March

8.00 am – 10.00 am – picketing in all locations
10.00 am – rally at Senate House followed by march to Wills Building

Wednesday 7 March – UCAS Post offer day

8.30 am – picket outside of the Wills Building. Registration and all central events will take place inside Wills from 9.00 am
8.00 am – School of Humanities picket for Head of School interviews
12.00 noon onwards – picketing the academic schools which have not cancelled (locations TBA)

Thursday 8 March – International Women’s day

8.00 am – School of Humanities picket for Head of School interviews (all welcome)
12.00 noon – International Women’s day event at Woodlands Church, Woodland Road

Confirmed speakers include:
Joanna de Groot (national president of UCU),
Prof. Josie McLellan (UoB, History),
Prof. Havi Carel (UoB, Philosophy & University EDI Champion)
Dr Susan Newman (UWE)
Dr Maud Perrier (UoB, Acting Director of the Gender Research Centre)

See our Gender Pay claim motion for information. Other activities on the 8th include an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Choir and a Gender Research Centre cake and book sale.

Monday 12 March – our final week

8.00 am – 10.30 am – picketing in all locations
10.30 am – rally at Senate House followed by march to Wills Building

Don’t forget our local web pages – your first call for FAQs and resources. Please only contact if you really can’t help yourself – we are still drowning in emails!

We will win this battle, so stay strong.

With best wishes


ps If you would like copies of the photos we have taken, there are two ways to do that

1. to view on flickr

2. to download files for keeps/distribution/printing





There are no copyright issues, and you are free to use any of these as you see fit.