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:


Pay, Workload and Next Steps: After the AGM

The result of the Bristol UCU e-ballot was fairly conclusive. Of those who voted, roughly 2/3 voted to accept the pay offer, 1/3 voted to reject – 62% to accept; 38% to reject.

On this basis, and following the Bristol UCU AGM, Bristol UCU delegates have a clear message to send to those decision-makers within UCU who will determine our next steps. With UCU Congress on the horizon, the pressing decision there will to be to hold an all-member ballot or to act on the feedback from branch delegates.

It is worth noting that the headline figure on pay is not the entirety of the pay offer.

Workload and casualisation are two other key components of the pay offer. On both of these issues there is not much to sing the praises of. Workload continues to be an issue, but our employers do not wish to negotiate it nationally.

Addressing casualisation remains elusive. The only commitment in the the pay offer is ‘to wait for the outcome of the joint working group that already is considering fixed term and variable hours contracts. There is no commitment to reduce the use of casualised contracts.

The decision to accept the pay offer, to take our medicine and move on does not reflect broad contentment amongst staff. More, it reflects the strategic impasse which UCU finds itself in. Members are clearly unhappy on a range of issues but not sufficiently angry enough on the specific issue of a pay percentage to take the kind of industrial action that would make a difference. The concept of victory remains elusive in UCU. The 2006 success, where campus unions secured a multi-year catch-up pay increase, seems a long time ago.

While settling for the pay deal may be said to reflect a general defeatism or indeed is a proxy for general staff contentment, other indicators would suggest staff at Bristol and beyond are increasingly discontented with their workplace.

A result less celebrated from the most recent 2015 University of Bristol Staff Survey shows only 29% of respondents were ‘confident that my ideas and suggestions are heard by decision makers’ (p. 15). Compare this result with the recent Guardian national university staff survey which found ‘two-thirds of those surveyed said they had less than an hour’s contact time with senior management on a weekly basis. While half said they were happy with the level, 40% wanted more access’.

On the positive side, there does seem a willingness from members locally to start exploring other issues for national (and local) actions. UCU needs to think creatively about the issues associated with casualisation – the shift away from security to precarity in academic and academic-related employment – and the manifest injustice of Higher Education workload. In the case of the latter, the ever increasing burden of task and responsibilities placed on staff, without the commensurate reward of time or money, is something that university managements refuse to take seriously. If the first step is acknowledging you a problem, universities are nowhere near the road to recovery.

Workload is an issue that Bristol UCU has invested in a great deal recently, even if the fruits of the labour remain somewhat hidden. Branch reps continue to advocate and help plan Workload Models across the University and take up individual cases on the basis of our University of Bristol Workload Agreement. Members may remember our Survey which we formally tabled with University management next year,

This, though, has had limited effect. Despite a lot of talk, the University as an institution consider workload an intractable quandary. As expansive and investment-heavy as our new Strategy is, as a driver for change, workload is conveniently sidelined.

This is why Bristol UCU is committed to ramping up the pressure on Bristol to take workload seriously. We plan, again, to raise UCU’s concerns with workload with Bristol management. We will be demanding an institutional approach, the recognition of the issue and set of concrete actions .


A View On Stern: A Bristol UCU Take

The Stern Review – a review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) by Lord Nicholas Stern at the behest of Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science – cannot easily be caricatured. Yes, the Review is fairly unambiguous – ‘to deliver quality-related research funding we need a REF’ (p. 7) – but one needs to look closely. As pointed out by SOAS Senior Lecturer Brenna Bhandar, ‘though broadly in favour of it, [the Review] includes some important criticisms’ of the REF. Indeed, it can hardly be cast as yet another piece of government-sponsored policyspeak: according to Bhander it stands in ‘distinct contrast to the government’s recent White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’.  Stern speaks of, for example, academic ‘career choices, progression and morale’ (p. 19). – the academic as potentially adversely affected worker makes a welcome return to HE discourse.

Reflecting this nuance, UCU members in Bristol (and no doubt beyond) have mixed feelings about the Sterne Review. Many welcome much of the Review; more critical comment has largely focused on specific aspects of the Review, notably the question of portability.

In the Review, Stern suggests stopping portability; that is, stopping academics taking their research output (their book or articles) with them if they move to a different university. ‘Outputs should be submitted only by the institution where the output was demonstrably generated’ (p. 21). Stern’s non-portability stance is designed to address REF ‘gaming’ –employment of academics with attractive outputs on short-term contracts, hardly indicative of research-as-process.

Diversity of views amongst Bristol UCU members reflects broader differences about the REF itself. In principle, many retain deep misgivings about the REF. This is, though, tempered by a concern that a reformed REF is the only realistically available option in the current HE marketplace.

This speaks to a wider strategic and tactical dilemma for the REF-sceptical, the UCU’s default position for many years. Should one support another improved REF-type exercise in 2020 – the main conclusion of the Review; that is, reform the flawed nature of the exercise (coincidence standing in for causation; dubious data such as citation data). Or is something more fundamental required from a UCU perspective? Should REF- scepticism reflect more UCU’s long-standing principled objection to the REF itself?


Many Bristol UCU members are sympathetic to Stern’s proposed reduction in the average number of outputs per fulltime equivalent academic post, and the suggested flexibility over the number of outputs submitted by a given individual (p. 19-20). This could improve the exercise’s sensitivity to the differing circumstances of individuals, and potentially provide a less-stigmatising means of addressing issues around fractional working, caring responsibilities, and disability.

At Bristol there is widespread support for Stern’s proposal of a genuinely inclusive REF exercise that reduces games playing by universities as regards the selection of REF-able staff, along with the concomitant stresses upon individuals, and the conflicts that have resulted in some institutions over this.

The very process of ‘selecting’ individuals for submission has clearly led within the sector as a whole to instances of discrimination. As ever, the goal of eliminating such games-playing and selectivity is challenging, given the tendency of universities to seek the ‘best’ REF submission possible not necessarily the most ‘accurate’ or ‘holistic’. Concerns around selection centre on whether certain staff will be moved on to teaching-only contracts as the census date approaches, moving them out out the REF’s beady eye, given the Review’s suggestion that all research-active, research-employed staff would be entered into the REF (p. 19).

Inter-Disciplinary Submissions

Stern recognises difficulties in assessing truly inter-disciplinary work: disciplinary ‘silos’ are replicated by the REF’s Unit of Assessment (UoA) panel structure [webpage] for instance (p. 15).  Repeated iterations of the REF, its research activity predecessors such as the Research Assessment Exercise and Research Selectivity Exercise have said similar things, and this problem clearly remains.

At this point, it would make more sense to see this as a fundamental shortfall of a UoA-based REF-style exercise, rather than as something that will – finally! – be solved.

Concentration of Funding

UCU as a union has long noted and criticised the ever increasing concentration of funding in a small number of institutions. In the case of Bristol UCU members, it needs acknowledging that the University of Bristol is an institution that benefits from this, and members here are not unaware of that.

As a matter of public policy, however, many Bristol UCU members would continue to support a more pluralist and equitable approach to allocating funding. Strikingly, perhaps because it does not obviously fall within his terms of references, Stern says little about how funding should be related to scoring, except in the very interesting Appendix c, point 13 on international comparisons (p. 49). Point 13 makes clear just how unusual the UK is in the degree of concentration (…one of the few countries…), and shows how this flows from an approach whereby funding rises exponentially not linearly as scoring goes upward.


Many UCU members in Bristol remain opposed to the use of impact in a REF-style exercise, with some exceptions. The sections of the Review on impact contain some of the weakest arguments of what is generally – whether one agrees with its various proposals or not – a thoughtful and serious piece of work (pp. 16-17; 21-23). The ‘benefits’ of the impact agenda are asserted rather than established, and the very considerable cost [£55 million!] is glossed over. The claim – no doubt made by some universities – that the costs of impact will diminish in its second iteration is dubious. Many universities – including Bristol – that see themselves as having under-performed in impact in the REF are likely to invest heavily in buyouts, consultancy, and support for impact case studies authors. Competition will be fierce; all universities will seek to provide further evidence – including expensively generated evidence – of the ‘impact’ of research. It seems more likely that costs will rise from their already high levels than that they will fall.

That said, some of the proposed changes on impact have the potential to improve aspects of this component. It makes sense to consider a body of work, rather than to insist on tight connections between particular outputs and impact. Stern is ‘clear that impact case studies should be based on research of demonstrable quality – over a period of time (which could be quite long)’ (p. 49). The scope to consider impact on teaching is welcome (p. 17), though more might have been done here. UCU has made this point previously, but the exclusion of teaching from notions of impact – not to mention ‘public engagement’ – has always been problematic. Given that work is already well in train on potential impact case studies, these changes will of course have costs in terms of refocusing existing projects. Previously, there has been much discussion in universities of the official distinction between ‘impact’ and ‘public engagement’ – the Stern Review renders those (often lengthy) discussions obsolete!

The reduction in the minimum number of impact case studies required is worthwhile (p. 22). Stern recognises a problem UCU has previously identified, namely the tendency of the impact component to lead to increased selectivity in terms of the number of individuals submitted, and attempts to respond to this. It is, though, worth noting that impact was always presented as inclusive: in practice, it had the opposite effect.


As UCU has noted, there has been some discussion of the proposed loss of portability of outputs. Some early career academics in particular have expressed concerns about this. At Bristol there is a variety of views on this question. Concern is partly a principled objection to the idea that an academic’s work somehow ‘belongs’ to the institution, rather than to the individual academic. There is also significant concern amongst ECRs about the potential impact on job prospects, and the uncertainty created by the change in system.

My personal view is that the demise of portability would be a net good. A strong track record in research is bound to recommend a candidate, whether previously published outputs are portable or not. The focus on existing outputs in early career appointments has not made it easy for colleagues in teaching fellowships to compete against those with research fellowships. It is at senior, not early career, level that portability has driven the market, and the yields of this have been captured by the few not the many, and have distorted the REF.


Again, UCU members are not united here. Most members I have spoken to at Bristol – certainly in arts, humanities and social sciences – are sceptical about metrics, but some in science differ.

My own view would be relief that the Review has not gone further down the direction of increased reliance on metrics. Stern only notes ‘[d]ata and metrics are increasingly used by HEIs and funders to manage and assess research’ (p. 29). Certainly, in my own discipline of History, the very citation data itself is unreliable, leaving aside the question of what, if anything, it is supposed to tell us. Most obviously, researchers working in less populated fields can do superb work that generates fewer citations than that of similarly able researchers working in more densely populated parts of a subject. UCU should support the position of many learned societies and other professional bodies of seeking to minimise use of metrics.

Strengths of the Review

Stern recognises a number of the problems with the operation of the REF. It does seem more connected to the lived experience of academic life than some of its predecessors. There is some good analysis of gaming (pp. 28-32), and selectivity (pp. 32-35). The section on encouraging focus on ‘big problems’ (p.14) is suggestive, though that kind of language fits better with the way research proceeds in some areas than in others. It is good that there is some more explicit recognition of the need to treat part-time workers equitably (p.16), and at least some attention to the idea that (certainly in some subject areas) teaching and research are jointly-produced (p. 17).

Methodology and Production of the Report

It is noteworthy that the Stern Review panel –including Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, Professor Julia King, Past President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Professor Sir John Tooke, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, immunologist and Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge University, Professor Anton Muscatelli, economist, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Glasgow University, and Professor Linda Colley – met only 4 times over 6 months. Given its composition, no doubt scheduling difficulties were acute. Even allowing for non face-to-face communication, this does raise questions about the degree of ownership of the Report on the part of the panel as a whole. The composition of the panel is also striking: Oxford and Cambridge are highly atypical UK universities yet a fairly small panel included a representative from each.

It is regrettable that the panel included no early, or mid-career, members: UCU should surely argue that future panels should better represent those who usually bear the greatest burden in combining teaching and research, and are closer to the day to day experience of the majority of UCU members working in higher education.

Lastly, the money spent on external consultants does not appear good value: I see nothing here that civil servants couldn’t have done, as well, or better. I suspect that it is now thought to be the case that the input of highly paid external consultants is essential for ministers to take a review seriously.


While views amongst UCU members at Bristol on the Stern Review differ, a common view – shared by the author – is that – leaving aside fundamental misgivings about the very existence of the REF – the Stern Review is better than some of its predecessors, and that parts of it have the potential to make REF less of a burden on the HE community.

                                                         James Thompson

Bristol UCU Vice President




UCU EU Referendum Emergency Motion

This motion was passed by UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday, 1st July. For information, NEC is UCU’s National Executive Committee and UUK is Universities UK:

HEC very strongly welcomes the motion passed by NEC and recognises the need for some HE specific campaigning.

HEC resolves to ask the General Secretary to contact UUK to arrange a meeting urgently to discuss common interests related to the outcome of the vote.

This should include:
1. Joint public statements opposing racism and welcoming EU and international students and staff and their very valuable contribution to UK education, research and the economy.
2. Agreement for joint work between UUK and UCU on supporting current staff and students from EU and pressurising relevant Westminster government departments for them to be given indefinite leave to remain.
3. Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure that EU staff and students will continue to be welcome, have easy access to the UK and not be charged increased fees.
4. Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure by appropriate mechanisms that UK staff and students (where appropriate) are still able to participate in EU research programme and exchanges on the same basis as currently.
5. Agreement for joint work between UUK and UCU on repealing restrictive conditions on international staff and students from outside the EU and introducing a more welcoming climate with regards to repeat of points based immigration requirements, reduction in fees and easier entry requirements.

HEC further resolves to:
1. Contact branches to contact their principals and VC to ask them to agree to work jointly with UCU on supporting current EU staff and students, ensuring (by appropriate means) that they are given indefinite leave to remain, and that EU staff and students will continue to be welcome in the future without increased fees or other negative conditions.
2. Produce a branch briefing to support the above.
3. Encourage branches to actively involve migrants and refugees in action round pay, gender pay gap and anti-casualisation campaign – both from our own membership and from appropriate organisations e.g. as speakers at events.



Suggested draft letter to be included in branch briefing.

Dear Principal/Vice Chancellor/Provost etc

We are writing with some urgency following the EU referendum result.

The result places [institution] staff who are current EU citizens but who do not currently have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK in a specifically vulnerable position.

Some staff have told us they have begun looking for work elsewhere in the EU. Others may find themselves having to apply for the right to continue working while in [institution] employment. We risk a brain drain while the City faces a capital flight.

The current position [1] is extremely unclear. Government has made no guarantees that, once two years are up and negotiations concluded, current EU citizens residing in the UK will be permitted to stay. However, during the campaign, both official Leave campaigns [2] pledged that such citizens would “automatically” be given this right, i.e. be given ILR.

This uncertainty helps no-one.

We believe it is time to demand that the Government agrees to the up-front commitment made by the ‘Leave’ campaigns and protects EU citizens living and working in the UK.

We are writing to invite you to support a joint public statement, from [institution] and its trade unions, to that effect.

For politicians, there are good grounds for acceding to this call. The UK can ill-afford to lose EU workers. Processing three million individual ILR applications is not feasible in the timescale available. Making this pledge would reduce the threat of a reciprocal deportation of 1.3 million British people from Europe. Finally, in the current febrile atmosphere, it would represent a clear line against those who would wish to blame migration for economic ills.

We are open to discussing the wording of a joint statement. For example, it could be extended to include demands for guarantees regarding the position of EU students and EU research funding.

However, the most immediate call, and the one that would address the fears of EU staff, would be an up-front guarantee from Government that they would be granted ILR within the next two years, independent of the outcome of any exit negotiations.

A Student Officer Speaks…

Educational staff strikes are a strange one for students’ unions. Many aren’t quite sure what to do… Do we condemn the strike action for negatively affecting students? Or do we support the strike action in the interests of the students? To me the answer to that question is quite simple… But let me continue

Students’ union officers across the country have all sorts of different Facebook groups and mailing lists for contacting each other for support and for sharing thoughts and ideas. In the run up to this strike, there has been a lot of officers across the country asking for tips in these fora on how to write a statement against the strike action, how to put pressure on UCU to minimise the action and some even writing joint statements with their institutions against this action. Many see the strikes as anti-student.

However, I am pleased to say that these appeals have been met with strong counterfire from those officers who support the action taking place today and who understand that the effect on students from these strikes is the only leverage that staff have left.

Yes, we are students’ unions and yes, strike action can have a negative effect on students – that is the point … but I can think of a few things that have a much deeper, a much more long-term and a much more systematic, harmful and worrying effect on students:

Staff facing continuous and incessant real terms pay reductions

A 12.6% pay gap between men and women

Staff on increasingly precarious contracts, with over 21,000 staff on zero hours contracts in the UK.

Without a staff team who feel valued, get rewarded for the work that they do and who aren’t paid less according to their gender, students will have teachers who are disenfranchised, unengaged and alienated from the sector that they have often dedicated their life’s work to. If this government and Universities are serious about improving the student experience, this certainly is not the way to go about it.

We at Bristol SU are proud to stand in solidarity with those who are striking today. Not just because it is the ethical thing to do… but also because it is within our students’ interests. To not see that supporting the action is within students’ interests is short-sighted and ignores the big picture.

We are currently experiencing one of the most militant and vicious acts of marketisation and privatisation that the UK Higher Education sector has ever faced. The government’s recent White Paper paves the way for increases in fees, the opening up of the sector to private providers and an even more increased focus on neoliberal competition.

And some of the only people that seem to be standing up against these attacks on the sector are the Unions and it is becoming increasingly important that we stand together. Unions are under attack. The government’s trade union bill shows this and the recent media smear of our NUS leadership shows this. It is so important that we realise our commonality in the face of these threats, that we come together in solidarity and that we be loud about it. We need to be loud, we need to be big and we need to be angry.

Against cuts

Against casualisation

And against marketisation

We call on UCEA to go back to the negotiating table, to listen to UCU’s demands and to stop taking universities most valuable assets for granted.

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:

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.

Pay: cut / cut / squeeze / ballot


Many QMUL staff will be shocked to receive a paycut in their April payslip.

Pay Cut

Starting from 1st April, the Government has abolished the 1.4% NI rebate given to those who’d contracting out of the State Pension in favour of a work place pension.  So for everyone with a USS or SAUL pension, that amounts to roughly an additional £23 deductions to your pay.  More details are here and here.

Pay Cut

And from 1st April, USS have closed their Final Salary and old CRB pension schemes.  All staff with a USS pension are now forced into the ‘USS Retirement Income Builder’ scheme – with an 8% increase in employee contributions.  More details are here.

Pay Squeeze

In real terms, university pay has fallen by 14.5% since 2009.  For QMUL and other London universties, that decrease is nearer to 17% .  In response, the university employers (UCEA) are currently…

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