Motion to Congress

Passed at an Emergency General Meeting today, the following motion will go to UCU Scotland Congress on Friday.

This branch notes:

  1. That the evidence base for the proposed cuts to USS has been widely discredited and has been rejected by a majority of University leaders;
  2. The strength of the opposition to the proposed settlement (12/3/2018) across the UK.

This branch believes that it is illogical as well as detrimental to members to pursue changes to USS in the absence of a credible evidence base.

This branch calls on UCU Scotland to:

  1. Support branches in working with students and mobilising for escalation of the dispute, including further strike action;
  2. Work with national leadership to demand retention of the USS status quo pending a further valuation in which members can have confidence;
  3. Work with MSPs to use their influence with university leaders to bring UUK back to the negotiating table; and,
  4. Seek out and pursue fund-raising opportunities to support the Fighting Fund/local hardship funds
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Emergency General Meeting, 21 March

You will have received an email (in your work account) about tomorrow’s Emergency General Meeting.  Further details below.

Thank you all again for you wonderful support of the USS action: we hope to see as many of you as possible tomorrow to discuss the below:

  1. Update (and action-short-of-a-strike)
  2. UCU Scotland Congress – Motion (text below)
  3. UCU UK Congress – Manchester, 30th May-1st June
  4. Elections for Officers/Committee
  5. AOB
Motion
Proposer: Shereen Benjamin
Seconder: Sophia Woodman
 
This branch notes:
 
1) That the evidence base for the proposed cuts to USS has been widely discredited and has been rejected by a majority of University leaders;
2) The strength of the opposition to the proposed settlement (12/3/2018) across the UK.
 
This branch believes that it is illogical as well as detrimental to members to pursue changes to USS in the absence of a credible evidence base. 
 
This branch calls on UCU Scotland to:
 
1) Support branches in mobilising for escalation of the dispute, including further strike action and an assessment boycott; 
2) Work with national leadership to demand retention of the USS status quo pending a further valuation in which members can have confidence; 
3) Work with MSPs to use their influence with university leaders to bring UUK back to the negotiating table; and,
4) Seek out and pursue fund-raising opportunities to support the Fighting Fund/local hardship funds. 

A Personal Letter to Students

The following has been written by an academic member in a personal capacity.

Dear Students,

I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently: whether you stand, torn and unsure about what to do, outside a picket line, or walk straight through, head down and headphones on. I have been wondering how hollow it may sound to say that your striking lecturers care about you, especially with your assessments coming up.

You may think that we’re just being self-interested. Don’t we realise the kind of chronically precarious, frightening, debt-laden world which lies ahead of you? Don’t we realise what it means to strike now, as you prepare for your dissertations or important exams -perhaps even your finals?

Honestly, yes we do, and it’s tearing us in two. At the same time, we can’t stand by and passively accept what is happening to our universities. This isn’t just about our pensions. The people you see on the picket lines now are the same ones who marched against raising your tuition fees, who fight against cuts to your support services, who put time and energy into widening participation schemes.  

But none of that quite cuts to the core of what we mean when we say we love our students, we love our university, and we think both are being damaged. So I wanted to write to you and try to explain. To do that means I risk you thinking me ridiculous, or becoming the focus of your anger. But I have been asking an awful lot of you lately, so it seems only fair that I try to explain.

Here goes: I am striking because I was an undergraduate student at Edinburgh University too, over twenty years ago.  My generation didn’t just get our tuition fees paid; we got a maintenance grant too, if our families weren’t well off. I was one of those students. I remember unpacking in Pollock Halls and thinking: I am so lucky. This is my room now; this is my life; here it starts. And start it did – I ran shows at the Bedlam theatre; learned to wipe the floor with the opposition in a debate; lobbied for better support for disabled students as EUSA’s Equal Opportunities officer. Life exploded with colour and possibility.

The supporting cast for this transformation were my lecturers. There was Lee Spinks, who could hold forth on Keats with such swagger and charisma that a hall of 400 students (mostly) forgot their hangovers. Olga Taxidou, whose hawkish intelligence and passionate intensity made me think that maybe I should give Brecht another go after all.  Kindly, grandmotherly Karina Williams, who ws visibly in love with all things eighteenth century. The loud, funny Aussie, Steve Cramer, who knew me well enough to spot when I was seriously ill with depression, before I even understood what that was: Steve, who walked me to the counsellor’s office and sat quietly beside me until I could get help.

Finally, there was Faith Pullin: who lectured me in nineteenth and twentieth century women’s writing, as well as feminist theory. This was revolutionary because I had read only two novels by women in my entire life. I was 21 and in my third year as an English Lit student, but my experience was that producing great literature was something men did. Taking those courses was like walking from a silent hall into a loud, raucous party, where women across the ages were laughing, arguing, falling in love, singing:  Jean Rhys, Virginia Wolf, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, bell hooks. I read everything I could get my hands on.

I know Faith had to fight to get those courses included in the English Literature syllabus. Managers felt that there might be enough student interest in such ‘minority subjects’ to justify her time and energy.  It wasn’t, they said, ‘efficient’. In some ways, the managers had a point: there were only eight of us on the feminist theory course. But it was of so much value to those of us who took it. You see, Faith had this rare and beautiful gift of enabling others to speak. So we sat in her office on the 6th floor of DHT throughout a hot summer term and we just talked.

We talked about our bodies and our minds; we talked about the limitations and constraints we experienced; others’ expectations of us. We talked about our mothers and their lives, about our grandmothers and their lives; about how we hoped that our lives might be different. We talked about fear, hurt, rage and the dream that our generation might be able to change the status quo. Often when the seminar had finished we drifted onto the Meadows and just kept reading and talking, until the light faded.

It was that education which gave me the courage to work as a journalist on the top news programmes in the world; to investigate shady organisations which tried their best to intimidate me; to try and give voice to those who are silenced and exploited. To say I was a ‘satisfied consumer’ of my educational experience is to totally miss the point. My university education changed me in ways which have resonated throughout my whole life. That’s the point.

I don’t know what your transformation would be – it’s likely to be totally different to mine. But I came back to universities after other careers precisely because I want to help you to have that opportunity: to enable you to reimagine who you are, and what your life will be about, in conversation with those whose work you read, and those you meet along the way. That’s the heart of it for me:  I want to be able to pass on to you this wonderful, precious thing that I was given – a higher education worth the name.

But I can’t hope to create that kind of learning environment for you if my classes become so large I don’t know your name, let alone who you are. I can’t do it if I am stressed and run down by a long hours culture which leaves little time for my home life, including my partner, child and elderly parents. I can’t do it if I am not given a secure job and am left anxious about never being good enough, never having done enough. I can’t do it if I have to run consultancies or other jobs on the side, to prevent being poor in my old age. I can’t do it if universities become dominated by a narrow, market logic which values only what is cheap and, in so doing, gradually kills off the magic, the joy I’ve been talking about.

I want to work in a university which stands for more than a market brand, which realises that its lifeblood is our collective belief in empowerment, freedom and the potential for transformative change. That’s why I will keep striking until we are heard. We are getting there – there is now a massive, UK-wide movement demanding that university managers and politicians think again about the value of a university education, of academics and students, in our society.

So please keep supporting us – we can’t do this without you. In the words of Alice Walker, “Anything we love can be saved”.

A  Lecturer

 

Petitions, Open Letters, Useful Stuff

A preliminary list of things to be looking at elsewhere. Please contact the website email address with suggestions to add below.

Petitions etc.

Stop punishing striking staff twice over

Vice Chancellors: stop threatening staff with punitive pay deductions if they refuse to reschedule classes cancelled due to strike action. These threats make a mockery of the right to strike without penalty other than loss of pay for strike days. They are damaging your university’s international reputation and relationships with staff.

No Deficit = No Change

Petition launched by UCL UCU – No to CPI erosion. Defend the ‘status quo’ in USS.

UK Government: Accept a role as guarantor to the USS pension scheme

The USS pension deficit is due to a “self sufficiency in gilts” valuation method that models what would happen if the pre-92 universities went bankrupt. If Government believes this is possible, this would be a national tragedy! They should therefore indemnify USS, until the next valuation at least.

Make Universities UK subject to the Freedom of Information Act

We ask that the appropriate Government Minister make an order under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 Section 5(1) designating Universities UK as a public authority, so making Universities UK subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The USS trustee board – USS must show its workings

USS should make its draft valuation report and all associated papers on methodology and inputs public as a matter of urgency.

Fighting for Pensions Justice in UK Higher Education

Crowdfunder for specialist legal advice about potential mismanagement by the Board of Trustees of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Open Letters

Open Letter to IS colleagues

Pension Information

Pension Modeller

This is a simple web app that estimates the impact of the USS’s proposed changes to the pension scheme. It forecasts the benefits that you will accrue under three different schemes:

  • What you would get if the scheme remained unchanged (Defined benefits, DB)
  • What USS is proposing (Defined contribution, DC)
  • What the Teachers Pension Scheme provides (TPS) for comparison

Update and Next Week

Thank you all for your continued support as we reach the end of the current set of strike dates.

We recognise that the past few weeks have been tough on everyone, and particularly for those of you who have braved so many different elements out on the picket lines.

As you know, because we started a little later than most, we also continue into Monday and Tuesday of next week, along with Stirling, UCL, and Kings: it is therefore vitally important that we retain a strong presence.

For these final two days, we will be organising things slightly differently from our recent pattern.

So, if you are willing to join us, please email ucu@ed.ac.uk (using your preferred email address), and we will get back in touch with details.

Picketing slots are only for an hour at a time, and it truly has been wonderful to meet colleagues from different areas and the teach-outs have been inspirational.

(To get an idea of what’s available next week (or to volunteer to add a new session), please go to https://edinburghteachout.wordpress.com/)

Why We Are Still on Strike

On Monday 12 March, negotiators from UUK (representing university employers) & UCU (representing university staff) presented a proposal to the current pensions dispute. The proposal was strongly rejected by local branches of the Union, and consequently by the Union as a whole.

Q: WHY DID WE REJECT THE PROPOSAL AND CONTINUE TO STRIKE?

We welcome one part of the proposal: to convene an independent expert evaluation group to assess the future financial health of our pension fund. Much of the current dispute revolves around how healthy the pension fund is. UUK say the scheme has a multi-billion pound deficit. Others say the scheme actually has a multi-million pound surplus. An independent evaluation is therefore crucial.

We could not accept the proposal, however, because:

  1. The proposal accepted implicitly that the valuation is wrong and yet wanted to proceed with cuts anyway of between 30-35% to colleagues’ pensions.  That means losing £6000-£8000 per year from our current pensions, leaving most people on or below the poverty line in retirement.
  2. The proposal would still have disproportionately disadvantaged early career and lower-paid colleagues.
  3. It introduced a Consumer Price Index (a measure of inflation) cap of 2.5%. This means the ‘defined’ benefit will actually lose value in real terms whenever inflation is higher than 2.5% (like 2017, when CPI was 3%).
  4. Contributions by employers and employees would still have increased, amounting to a significant loss of income for staff.
  5. The expectation to recover missed teaching undermines the principle of strike action and is logistically impossible.

We seriously regret having to continue this dispute

We would much rather be doing our jobs. We have been encouraged by the support we received from students and the wider public. We have achieved some important concessions, but the struggle continues.

Q: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Strike days are scheduled to continue in Edinburgh up to and including Tuesday 20 March.

The UCU has also approved a further 14 days of strike action in case the dispute is not resolved after the current round of action, but dates for these have not been set. We hope the situation will be resolved without the need for further strikes.

Universities UK has lost the trust of its front line workers. The best course of action for UUK – if genuinely committed to front line staff – is to maintain the status quo until a truly independent expert group reports on the valuation of the scheme.

Academic and academic-related staff are seeing their work stripped of social, cultural and political value at a time when the economic value of universities is at an all-time high. In 2014/15 the contribution of universities’ work to UK GDP was £21.5 BILLION. In 2015/16, they also provided £3.2 BILLION worth of pro-bono (unpaid) work to the British economy.

If you support keeping our universities strong and socially vital, please contact the Principal, Prof. Peter Mathieson (principal@ed.ac.uk) and ask him to use his influence with Universities UK to bring this to a sustainable and fair conclusion for staff and students.

Please also sign the open letter to the Principal at http://bit.ly/LettertoPeter

You can also download this as a printable leaflet.

Update, 20/03/2018 – There is now an updated version of the leaflet to download – includes link to pensions modeller rather than the open letter to the Principal (which has now been delivered)

 

 

Week 3 Arrangements

We’re posting this information here and on our Facebook group as we do not have everyone’s non-university email addresses, and, as we were reminded at Friday’s General Meeting (GM), we should not be accessing our University email accounts (and certainly not replying to any messages on strike days).

Thank you all again for your fantastic support for the strike.

General Meeting

For those of you who were not able to attend Friday’s GM, there was a large turn-out, overwhelming support for the motions, and an intense discussion of the issues around lecture recording. There were a couple of minor amendments to the first motion, the updated text if which will be circulated shortly.

Local Updates

There are also two important updates: firstly, the Principal has offered to meet with staff and will be setting up times for discussions; secondly, the Head of Law is now asking colleagues to indicate whether or not they consent for their recorded lectures from last year to be shown again. UCUE Officers will be meeting with the Principal, the University Secretary, the Head of HR, and the Head of Law to discuss this further tomorrow.

Talks

So far, there is no update from HQ on the ACAS talks, so we really need to maintain our presence on picket lines this week. Please either email your local contact (see link below) or email ucu@ed.ac.uk for further information on when and where to picket.

Rally In Glasgow

There is a rally in Glasgow, 12.30 on Friday, and the branch is looking into organising transport. If you would like to join us, please sign up BY 12 NOON TOMORROW (Tuesday, 13 March) via this link

In solidarity,

UCUE Committee