All posts by ucuoffice

The VC says he’s had a difficult week…University of Bristol UCU President Writes

Dear all

Following Senate on Monday James Thompson wrote to the Vice Chancellor asking him to make a strong public statement in support of the current negotiations and asked whether he would support the new UCU proposals. You can read his response. Sadly, we are no further forward. Epigram have also just published a longer article from the VC entitled “Between a rock and a hard place/ Collegiality in challenging times” – in this he says he’s had a difficult week.

In both articles he speaks of UUK as if they were a third-party over which he has no influence. I’m sorry Professor Brady but, if you recall, your influence began in your response to the UUK consultation when you (along with 16 Oxbridge colleges) rejected the USS trustees’ original proposals for the valuation, called for an end to defined benefit pensions and asked for no increase in employer contributions.

In the Epigram article he also states … I struggle to understand how two sides, both equally passionate about higher education, can be so far apart in their valuations and interpretations. Vice-Chancellor, I really don’t think it’s that difficult to understand: the valuation methodology is flawed and UUK stacked the deck when collating its responses. UCU’s new proposals are clear: we want a return to the original (September) valuation proposals and both sides sharing the cost.

We demand that you, as our leader, revise Bristol’s position to support that. If, Vice-Chancellor, you are not willing to do so, then you must explain to your staff why and provide the evidence and analysis to prove that these reforms are necessary.

You will probably also be aware that messages are going out to all students and taught postgraduates which talk about action to ameliorate the impact of our action – our action is already having a massive impact.

I promise this will be my last message this week as we all deserve a snow day tomorrow, however, just a few actions if you haven’t done so please write to the Vice-Chancellor calling for him to change his position, but before you do you must read a truly exceptional letter from John McTague to provide inspiration.

Please report all impact – lots coming through already – thank you.

Complete the staff survey. As you’ll be aware, the Senior team decided last week to bury bad news and not promote this – clearly our voice only matters when we have good things to say. We all had an individual link from so dig it out of your mail-box and complete it.

Briefly in other news ….

Remember the extension to the teaching day proposal? They snuck in an additional meeting of Senate in for this afternoon to discuss this. Luckily it’s been cancelled due to snow and we (UCU) will be talking to them next week before Senate meets again.

Review of promotion and progression – another cancelled meeting for tomorrow but we, and our Regional Officer, will be meeting with HR to arm-wrestle over the recommendations in the Senate paper – currently there is quite a difference of opinion over what we should be negotiating on and what we will merely be consulted on.

Finally a reminder of events for next week’s action – it is vital to stay strong. As a national negotiator said at today’s national briefing “Foot off the pedal, you get sweet FA”.

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

Enjoy the snow!

With best wishes



USS As It Concerns The Casualised – Letter to Professor Brady, University of Bristol Vice Chancellor

Dear Professor Brady,

I am currently on strike, although I don’t receive a pension from the university. My part-time, hourly paid teaching contract doesn’t even include sick pay, and the amount allocated for preparation and marking is so low that the majority of the work that I do is unpaid.

I am one of hundreds of casualised staff at the university employed on a precarious contract. I am aware that if I speak out about this I risk losing this contract all together, but there are now much bigger things at stake than whether or not the university decides to offer me a few hours teaching next year.

I have spent the past eight years living on £6-£12,000 pounds a year and accruing large tuition fee debts in the hope that after obtaining my doctorate I will stand a chance of being employed on a full time, permanent contract by a higher education institution in the UK. I understand that as someone who has only recently completed a PhD, it is likely that I will be employed on low paid, fixed-term contracts for the next few years. This means that by the time that I get a permanent job in academia I will be in my early thirties, and it is highly likely that I will have been unable to put a single penny towards my pension. Not to mention the fact that I will also be unable to afford to buy a house, have a child, or even splash out on a pornstar martini.

Until recently, I accepted this as part and parcel of a system that would eventually reward me with a fair and stable remuneration during my working life and in old age. But if you insist on removing the defined benefits scheme and replace it with defined contributions, the next generation of lecturers such as myself will be left with no choice but to look for work elsewhere.

This is because there will no longer be the prospect of financial security for those of us who have already lived on so little for so long in order to do the job we love. Without a fair pension, it is simply not worth the decade or more of poverty that all of us must endure while obtaining the qualifications and experience necessary for a permanent position in academia.

I am telling you this because I believe that you have a responsibility to ensure that the university survives beyond your term as vice chancellor. When hiring new lecturers, Bristol University must ensure that it employs the best and brightest candidates, not the richest. Given all that I, and so many others like myself, have risked to get this far, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you remove the financial risk placed on us by defined contributions.

Yours sincerely
Rachel Murray

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.

USS Letter to Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire

Dear Thangham,

It was really good to meet you prior to the General Election. Once again, congratulations on your reelection. At that meeting, the academic and academic-related staff pension scheme – USS – was a topic of conversation. As you have probably seen, this is now very much a live issue, with UCU currently balloting over our employers’ proposals to cut our pensions.

It is an issue that affects a majority of University of Bristol staff, many of whom are also Bristol West constituents.

We are writing to ask for your support in lobbying University of Bristol, and the HEC sector in general over these proposed changes, in short, a shift from a Defined Benefit (DB) to Defined Contribution USS.

We note the current Early Day Motion ‘Defending Academic Pensions’ that states ‘… all staff working in universities should have access to a secure and decent pension; notes with concern the proposal by Universities UK to close the defined benefit portion of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to all future service…and calls on the Government to review the current situation and urge Universities UK to work with University and College Union to find a better solution which ensures that USS remains competitive compared with pensions offered to other education staff and those in other professional occupations’.

We also note shadow education secretary Angela Rayner’s welcome recent intervention.

Would you be willing to back Bristol UCU in its call to retain DB for University of Bristol staff as well as joining us in questioning the assumptions that erroneously frame this debate?

The Bristol UCU branch officer team is happy to discuss this further.


Bristol UCU Branch Officer Team

Celia Hollingworth

Everyone who was active in the AUT/UCU at Bristol University knew Celia, it would be hard not to have been familiar with her presence at meetings and demonstrations, she could always be counted on to be the first to turn up at a picket line, first to speak out at meetings, clearly articulating her views and her totally committed socialist opinions, never wavering in her dedication to a cause, the cause, in which she believed so passionately, and to which she adhered when many others fell away.

No doubt some members, who only knew her from her public pronouncements, found her views tiresome in their predictability but others, especially her departmental colleagues, knew of her tireless and extraordinarily kind support to anyone who found themselves in difficulty at work. She understood how some work cultures could oppress those who found themselves sidelined or marginalised at work, and in many cases worked to help her colleagues maintain their positions and could succeed in preventing unfair dismissals when that was threatened. When, despite her best efforts, staff were forced to resign, or in worst cases, be dismissed, she remained at their side, a friend and comforter. She could be ferociously angry with anyone in positions of authority, including union officers, but she never lost patience with her ‘cases’, seeking to help and empathise.

During the period in which I was active in the union, including my two terms as President, Celia never put herself forward for election to the committee, or any office, I suspect she would have found holding office a betrayal of her principles, though this was never stated. The nature of her death has horrified all her knew her, it is difficult not to read it as more suited to a Greek tragedy, than the post-retirement activities of someone who had developed a passion for Greece and its history. May she rest in peace.

Liz Bird, Past President, Bristol UCU


Your Pensions Under Attack. Stand with UCU. Vote YES to defend our benefits.


Bristol UCU met on Monday with the university’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Kerse, to discuss our pensions. Employers are responding this week to a consultation from USS following the recent valuation of the scheme.

USS’s trustees say that a further 6.6% increase in contributions is required in order to maintain existing pension benefits at their current level. UCU’s national position is clear: we do not think that there is a need for increased contribution or a reduction in benefits.

Bristol UCU noted the fundamental soundness of the scheme, given its strong cash flows and significant investments. We continue to challenge the methodological assumptions underpinning the declared deficit. We stressed the importance of pensions to members as hard-earned deferred pay, and made clear our determination to defend a viable pension scheme, that was jointly created by employers and employees through our union. Bristol UCU also reiterated its opposition to any drive towards transforming USS to a wholly Defined Contribution scheme.

We formally requested that the university’s response to the current employer consultation be shared with all USS members at Bristol.

There is no doubt that our pensions are under threat. You can read more about the problems with USS’s approach to valuation here:

Colleagues from Leeds have also produced an excellent summary ‘USS pensions – is there really a big hole in the finances?’:

Please note: Pauline Collins, who chairs the UCU Superannuation Working Group, and is at the centre of the negotiations, will be coming on October 12 to speak to Bristol UCU members. We will be in touch with further details.

This is a critical moment and UCU’s elected negotiators now need your help as they fight to defend your pension. Please do take your opportunity to vote in the consultative e-ballot on willingness to take industrial action to defend pensions.

Very Sad News – Celia Hollingworth

A short statement to Bristol UCU members:

Dear Members,

Many of you will have read the awful news of the death of Celia Hollingworth. Celia worked for many years in IT at Bristol, and was a longstanding UCU representative. Lots of members have already been in contact with branch officers to express their sense of loss, and to share memories of Celia’s huge contribution to the life of our branch.

Celia was a tireless advocate for Bristol UCU, an extraordinarily hard-working case worker who supported many members in difficulty, and, more generally, a stalwart of our branch. Her energy, determination, and willingness to put others above herself, was an inspiration to many of us.

Branch officers will be liaising with Celia’s colleagues in IT as to how best to commemorate her great service and to celebrate her life.
Once we have further details, we will pass them on.

Our thoughts are with her family, and her workmates.

Best wishes,

Tracey, James, Jamie, Stephen and Suzy

Framing the Discussion on Academic Progression at Bristol

Bristol UCU are concerned about the terms of debate around Pathway 1, especially progression from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer.

In the case of Pathways 2 and 3, the current institutional turn to taking these pathways more seriously is to be welcomed. In the case of Pathway 1, though, what seems to be missing from the debate is the HE National Framework Agreement and its incorporation at Bristol.

Academic progression in its current form at Bristol is not simply a cosy University of Bristol arrangement. It is the translation of the HE sector-wide collective agreement at Bristol, negotiated with local campus trade unions in the early 2000s.

In short, it is Bristol’s version of a bargain struck between HE leadership and HE academic staff: staff get a incremental pay rise per year of service and management get a degree of performance management and a cap i.e the top of the pay scale.

As Bristol UCU contributions to the Review process have made clear, ‘the evidence is overwhelming that our staff routinely and comfortably meet the expectations delineated for progression from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer’. And when it does come to individual cases where progression is deferred or delayed, Bristol UCU would question whether it is the clear-cut decision it is portrayed as.

As for the ‘myth’ that progression is something possible to ghost through: ‘contrary to those, for example, who may consider progression ‘too easy’ between Lecturer and Senior Lecturer, Grade K to Grade L, we believe that progression is a rigorous process – a skim through the HR pages on ‘Academic Progression Procedure’ confirms this. Only those unaware of the easily accessible Guidance for Managers would consider the Progression Procedure vague or lax’.

Brighton Rocks: Bristol UCU Congress Report 2017

What were the headlines emerging from UCU’s Annual Congress last week? What were the issues that vexed University of Bristol UCU delegation in sunny Brighton? Your Bristol UCU Newsflash respondent reports.

From a HE perspective, the big decision was whether to accept the national negotiators’ recommendation to run a consultative national ballot of members on the pay offer: should UCU accept or reject the final pay offer made by our employers?

If the outcome of the vote is to accept, then UCU will formally agree with the offer; if it is to reject, UCU will trigger a dispute, with a formal industrial action ballot to follow.

Congress voted in favour of the national negotiators’ recommendation with the exception of its suggestion to hold the ballot this week – instead, a new, non-General Election clashing time, will be proposed.

The other news as regards UCU efforts to boost pay, reduce workloads and the casualisation of contracts is the creation of a new UCU Commission to discuss our future industrial strategy. This was proposed by Sally Hunt in her General Secretary speech, following her re-election as General Secretary this year. The Commission will ‘look at the pros and cons of all different forms of industrial action’

As for other issues, members may remember the Bristol UCU consultative ballot we ran before Congress, asking for members’ take on Congress motions.

On the proposal to hold a special sector HE conference in the Autumn – a chance for all HE branch delegates to discuss UCU pay policy – HE Conference voted to hold one. Amendments to dilute the motion fell.

On the proposal to look into a merger with other educational trade unions, Congress voted to explore a merger – 143 votes to 129. Bristol UCU delegates voted against this motion.

On the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, Congress instructed UCU to carry out a range of measures. These include requesting Sally Hunt to write to VCs urging them to protect staff from malicious accusations and circulating a detailed press statement on UCU’s criticism of the IHRA definition to members.

As for the issue of REF and portability, HE Conference decided to remit, or refer the matter for further consultation. While there were concerns that the removal of portability would hurt early career staff, many spoke up for the end of institutional game playing at the senior end of the research scale. Conference did vote to protect intellectual property and early-career positive discrimination.

On the issue of subscriptions, the outcome was to accept a review of subscription bands as a matter of urgency. Bristol UCU delegates were minded to vote against amendments which diluted the motions, but following the carrying of the previous motion to endorse subscription rates for 2017/18, delegates were left with little choice but to vote for the amendments.

For more information, please consult the full report of Congress business: