And We’re Off

alloutforuss_bannerMonday 26 Feb will be our first date of 14 days strike action.  Members should all be receiving updates by email.  If you are not, please contact us

Members who have volunteered for picket line duty should have all received instructions.  Again, if you haven’t, please contact us

The national UCU website has live coverage on the Strike Live! page.

Further information on the strike can be found on the main Strike for USS pages

Check the website calendar for details of events planned for strike days.  Some events are in place and others will follow, so please check back.

Please send photos from picket lines and other strike events to or tweet to @ucuedinburgh with hashtag #strikeforuss


Oxford’s and Cambridge’s role in the demise of USS

We recommend Mike Otsuka’s recent article on USS.

To be more precise: what follows is an account of the role of these two universities, and their constituent colleges, in the demise of USS as a multi-employer scheme that promises a decent, defined benefit (DB) pension to its members. In the past, this promise has been generous and affordable, owing to the risk pooling across 68 well-established UK universities that the last-man-standing mutuality of the scheme makes possible. It is clear, however, that Oxford and Cambridge now want out of such a DB scheme.

Read more

UCU Day of Action Against Workplace Racism: Decolonising Education (rescheduled)

Tuesday 8 May, 16-17, in 50 George Square, Project Room 1.06.

This event was initially planned as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) national day of action against workplace racism in February, but had to be postponed due to the snowstorm. While the snow stopped us then, we are going ahead with the event now – because antiracism matters not just one day a year!

In this event on the theme of Decolonising Education we will discuss how to organise for a truly inclusive education. We have four fantastic panellists lined up, who will share their experiences and lead discussion:

Radhika Govinda, Lecturer in Sociology (University of Edinburgh)
Diljeet Bhachu, PhD researcher in Music (University of Edinburgh)
Diva Mukherji, co-founder of LiberatEd and EUSA VP Education (Edinburgh University Student Association)
Rianna Walcott, PhD researcher in English Literature (King’s College) and co-founder of Project Myopia

The event will consist of introductions by the panelists on what decolonising education means for them, and then we will open up discussion to other participants.

Everyone is welcome – students, staff, members and not-yet-members of the union – so please join us! Tuesday 8 May, 16-17, in 50 George Square, Project Room 1.06.

More information about UCU’s antiracist work and the February day of action is available here:

Facebook event here:

Principal’s Pay Hits the Headlines

As UCU members prepare to take strike action to defend our pensions, the large salary and benefits package being awarded to incoming Principal and Vice Chancellor, Peter Mathieson, has hit the headlines of a number of newspapers.

Neil Hanna
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Incoming Principal, Peter Mathieson (image courtesy of The Student)

James Delaney in The Scotsman on 1st Febrary reported:

Edinburgh University principal to get 33% pay hike

Professor Peter Mathieson will take home over £85,000 more than his predecessor as part of a whopping £410,000 welcome package, with benefits including a ‘grace-and-favour’ five-bedroom house in the centre of the capital.

In addition to a basic salary of £342,000 – up from the £257,000 paid to Timothy O’Shea, who stepped down in September – Mr Mathieson will receive £42,000 “in lieu of pension contributions,” as well as a further £26,000 in relocation costs.

The announcement comes less than three weeks before staff at over 60 UK universities, including Edinburgh, prepare for industrial action in a row over pensions.

In The Times, Daniel Sanderson reported on the same day

The new principal of the University of Edinburgh has become the highest-paid figure in Scottish higher education after agreeing a salary package worth almost £400,000 a year.

Peter Mathieson, who begins work this week after moving from Hong Kong University, will be paid a basic salary of £342,000, £85,000 more than his predecessor. He will also receive about £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions, the university will cover one-off relocation costs of £26,000 and he will live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.

He has defended the package offered by the university’s remuneration committee. Professor Mathieson also outlined plans to improve the student experience by making greater use of technology and signalled his determination to widen access to more students from poorer backgrounds.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the University and College Union, said: “It is galling for ordinary staff to see the spiralling pay and perks of university principals when university leaders say there is no money for staff pay and pensions. People feel betrayed.”

In a follow-up article the following day, Sanderson looked at this in a broader context.

University principals have been accused of “feathering their own nests” by opting out of pension schemes and instead negotiating large top-ups to their salaries.

About a third of principals at Scottish universities have stopped paying into the higher education pension scheme. Rather than foregoing contributions from their employer, however, they are receiving tens of thousands of pounds extra in their pay packets.

Staff representatives said the practice was unfair as workers on low or average salaries had no entitlement to top-up payments if they chose to leave the pension scheme. The issue is particularly sensitive as university staff are preparing to strike over efforts to impose less generous pension terms.

Jim McDonald, principal of Strathclyde University, received £54,000 in lieu of pension contributions last year, in addition to his £299,000 salary, according to annual accounts.

Peter Mathieson, of Edinburgh University, this week became the highest paid vice-chancellor in Scotland after accepting an annual package worth almost £400,000, which includes £42,000 instead of pension contributions.

Paying into the university scheme can prove inefficient from a tax perspective if pension pots hit a £1 million limit. Although staff can continue to pay into the scheme, contributions above £1 million are taxed, so some high earners request a salary top-up instead.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the University and College Union, said that principals should accept the same pension arrangements as their staff, and that refusing to do so was “poor leadership”. She said the situation showed there was “one rule for a few at the top and one for everybody else”.

The union has announced a wave of strike action, starting this month, over efforts to change the pension scheme that would mean staff no longer have a guaranteed level of retirement income.

Ms Senior added: “Staff in universities do not have the option of requesting extra money to best suit their private pension or tax arrangements. Principals feathering their own nests while backing changes to slash staff pensions is one of the reasons staff are so angry.”

Principals at Queen Margaret, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh Napier and Dundee universities also receive salary top-ups instead of pension contributions. The option is open to all high earners at universities who hit the £1 million limit. Pay of senior figures in education is under fresh scrutiny since Professor Mathieson’s salary was agreed on. His basic salary of £342,000 is £85,000 higher than his predecessor.

The university has defended the contract by pointing to Edinburgh’s annual income of almost £1 billion and saying it represents a pay cut for Professor Mathieson, compared with his previous role at the University of Hong Kong.

Luke Humberstone, the president of NUS Scotland, said: “At a time when the poorest higher education students are taking on the greatest debt just to get by, it beggars belief that any university principal would be handed this supersize salary. Our universities are educational charities which receive over a billion pounds of public money.”

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said pay was decided by university remuneration committees. She added: “This would include the decision to offer an alternative to pension contributions, if and when this no longer becomes an effective way for someone to save for retirement. Staff and student voices can be heard in remuneration committees and will be consulted with.”

Principal top-ups Scottish university principals’ salary top-ups in lieu of pension contributions Jim McDonald £54,000 Strathclyde University Peter Mathieson £42,000 University of Edinburgh Pamela Gillies £36,000 Glasgow Caledonian Pete Downes £32,000 University of Dundee Andrea Nolan £30,000 Edinburgh Napier Petra Wend £8,000* Queen Margaret University *opted out of scheme mid-way through year

Meanwhile, The Student conducted an interview with Mathieson, where he defended his award.

On principle couldn’t you have said no to the salary?

I could’ve done I guess, but I was already taking a substantial pay cut.

The article also revealed that:

There are 21 members of Edinburgh university staff are earning over £200,000 a year while a survey conducted by The Student found that one in seven of your postgraduate tutors earn less than £500 a month.

It would seem that the issue is not one of available funds but of priorities.

Strike – Local News


Strike dates

Week one – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
(Note that we’re not striking during the week beginning February 19th because it’s the Festival of Creative Learning, and a reading week in some colleges.)

Week two – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Week three – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Week four – Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March (two days)

We realise that this will be a difficult time for both staff and students. UCU national HQ are currently discussing the use of the union’s hardship fund, taking into specific consideration the conditions of casualised staff.

Further Information to Follow

We will send out more information shortly, and UCU UK will be releasing FAQ and information for students. It is important to note that we have widespread support from students, from NUS on a national level and EUSA on a local level.

Strike Committee

The branch have set up a strike committee – please email if you would like to join this planning group. You can also help in the run-up to industrial action by talking to your colleagues about the issues, and if they are eligible (professional services staff from Grade 6 upwards, academic staff, and postgraduates) encourage them to join UCU and take part in the fight to protect all our pension rights.

National updates

For updates, keep an eye on:

Strike – message from Sally Hunt

Members should have received the following useful email from Sally, answering a number of recurring questions about the upcoming strike.

I wanted to share the four questions I am asked most about the upcoming strikes.

1. What should I tell my students?

UCU has produced a video for members to share with students. If you do not want to write your own message you could write something like:

Dear student,
UCU is taking strike action later this month due to proposed cuts in our pensions. This is a last resort for myself and my colleagues but with universities refusing to negotiate with us we feel we have little choice. This video explains the issues behind the strike.

If you prefer you could download a letter to share with students.

2. Do I have to tell management that I intend to strike?

No. UCU provides all the information to your employer that is legally required. If you let your employer know in advance that you are taking action they will be able to minimise the disruption caused. If asked you should respond: my union has advised me that I am not required to let you know my intentions prior to the start of any industrial action.

3. Will the union financially support staff taking action?

UCU is very aware that strikes place a big financial burden on all members. That is why they are a last resort. However we will be providing strike pay in order to ease that burden as much as we can and we will look to prioritise help for those most in need. We will announce details of strike pay tomorrow once our elected officers have discussed the matter.

4. How can we get negotiations back on track?

Having spoken to many employers this past week I have no doubt that they are split. Glasgow yesterday became the latest institution to call for ‘further discussions at national level’. Meanwhile the NUS has called for the involvement of ACAS to resolve the dispute. I am happy to agree to both pleas, but the employers currently are not.

Without substantial disruption from the strikes, I think the hardliners will continue to hold sway. We are doing everything we can to persuade the employers to resume talks but it will be your action that is key to what happens next in my view.

I will issue a longer FAQ document which answers more of your questions over the next couple of working days so please send me any queries you want addressed.

Thank you once again for your support.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary