Report from Special HE Sector Conferences

voteTwo conferences were held in Manchester, back to back, on 7 November 2018, Manchester.  This is a summary of discussion and motions passed.

Full list of what was passed at both conferences at



The bulk of discussion was around the result of the Pay & Equality Ballot, whether to re-ballot and how. In short, conference decided to re-ballot in early 2019, on an aggregated basis and focus more on equality issues.

Conference also heard how branches such as Heriot Watt had sailed over the threshold (achieving a 65% turnout) by implementing a meticulous GTVO campaign and, with properly targeted resources, speaking tours by HEC members and other support from UCU centrally, many more branches could do the same.

All motions passed, either in full or with amendments, most with strong or overwhelming majorities.


Because of the overlapping nature of many of the motions, most were not debated separately.

The first motion passed was Composite 1 with various amendments.  This commits us to:

  • redefine the dispute as “casualisation, equality, pay and workload”;
  • start a campaign immediately in the run-up to a new ballot in late January, early February
  • plan a campaign for the exam period in spring 2019
  • ensure that the ballot period is long enough to achieve a high turnout and that the ballot starts and ends during term time
  • organise grassroots GTVO campaigns for a YES vote in the re-ballot
  • call on UCU and NEC to actively engage with branches, speaking at meetings and producing local material
  • encourage local and national protest foci such as 12 November, Pay Inequality Day.

Conference instructs the HEC to:

  • Provide fresh GTVO materials to all reballoting branches emphasising the gender equality and anticasualisation elements of the claim
  • Organise regional briefings to share effective GTVO techniques and help branches draft GTVO plans
  • Coordinate visits to reballoting branches of NEC members and activists from branches which have already reached the threshold
  • Establish, in conjunction with ROCC, a central task force to collate progress and assist branches where necessary.

We then took Motion 5, which brought up the question of aggregation vs disaggregation.  Opinion on this did not split along the normal lines.  The motion was taken in parts.  I was unclear of the implications of parts b and c and abstained on both.  Subsequent discussion with fellow delegates and others has convinced me of the merits of aggregation.

A widened remit for the National Disputes Committee was also agreed.  Initially set up for the USS dispute, this will now also include the HE pay and equality.

Finally, a late motion instructing HEC to abandon surveying branches on local pay bargaining because it was both contrary to existing policy and, “at best a distraction and at worst an open invitation to employers to engage in local pay bargaining, at a time when the sector is threatened by market competition, speculative expansion and bankruptcies.”



This conference was inquorate and, as such, motions passed are technically advisory only. Questions were raised as to whether this could have been avoided by asking pre-92 delegates who were there in the morning to say on for the afternoon.  Vice President, Nita Sanghera, is currently pursuing this question with HEC, along with what will be done with motions passed.

Paul Bridge opened by outlining that the JEP report, which has now been endorsed by the SWG, has vindicated our position and moved the employers.  UUK want the dispute ended. The JEP proposals offer them significantly lower contributions and our opening negotiation position will be one of No Detriment.

Most motions passed as tabled or with amendments.  The two which fell completely would have made concessions to increased contributions, which would be incompatible with our negotiating position.


The session was split into 5 sections: JEP, No Detriment, Phase 2, Valuation and Other related issues.

The JEP section involved one composite motion, which passed with amendments:

Conference calls on the HEC

  • to seek an immediate return to negotiations with UUK.
  • to call on the employers to pick up the full cost of increased contributions
  • to generate confidence again amongst our members, by ensuring the National Disputes Committee guides future campaigns to save our DB pensions based on policy determined at Special Higher Education Conference (SHEC)
  • to undertake a ballot seeking a mandate for further strike action or ASOS if:
    • A. the employers fail to accept the JEP report in full, or
    • B. UUK seeks to postpone a return to negotiations, or
    • C. an agreement between UCU and UUK retaining the current benefit package is not reached in a timely fashion, or
    • D. the employers attempt to pass on costs they have generated onto employees.

Further, conference specifies that the agreement must not include a contribution increase exceeding the JEP recommendation.

There were also two emergency motions from the National Disputes Committee which should have been on the agenda but were not.  For reasons still to be clarified, these had not been passed on by HEC.

This will not happen in the future as a late motion was passed instructing HEC do pass these on automatically in the future.  A summary of the address to Conference by the Chair of NDC, Deepa Driver, can be read here.

The No Detriment section also included motions calling for the return to a full DB pension and financial compensation for scheme members who have lost out, repayment of earning lost due to strike action which should never have been necessary and a call for both the resignation of Alistair Jarvis and a formal apology from Janet Beer.

The Phase 2 section included a motion demanding equal access to pensions for casualised staff, with reduced contribution rates for lower paid members.

On valuation, motions were passed which called on the USS Trustees to abandon the 2017 valuation, stop de-risking and provide full information on Test 1.

The final motion, which passed unanimously, committed SWG and HEC demand USS adopt an ethical investment policy, including withdrawal from high carbon investments.

Grant Buttars, 18/11/2018

Further reading

Staff Survey – Our Initial Response

University staff will by now have seen the summary results of the survey. Like you, we received the results via the Principal’s email and links on Monday morning, so we haven’t had much time to digest the findings. We will be asking university management for more information, particularly a breakdown of results by gender, and a breakdown by academic/professional staff.

Management have already told us that they’re going to be wary about circulating free text comments because of confidentiality concerns, but we’ll ask for some analysis of them (e.g. words/phrases commonly used). If you think there is anything else we should ask for, please let us know.

First Impressions

When we looked at the results on Monday it soon became clear that in most categories we’re at or near the bottom of the Russell Group (and indeed most other) universities. This is particularly so in the category of leadership and change management, with (for example) just 36% of participants agreeing that they have confidence in the leadership of the university, and a dismal 24% agreeing that the university manages change effectively.


This is, or should be, an embarrassment for senior leaders. The Principal’s covering email made no acknowledgement of this fact: we are glad he was ‘pleased to see some very positive results’ but we are puzzled at his interpretation. He mentions ‘pride’ where we managed to score at the Russell Group average, ‘respect’ where we were 13 percentage points below with just 66% of respondents agreeing that the University treats them with respect, and ‘relationships’ where we scored at the UUK average (only three Russell Group universities included this question).

Are those ‘very positive results’? We don’t think so. The only acknowledgement of the very poor results in most other questions was a bland admission that ‘as expected, there are also areas which we could improve on’.

Inconsistent Message

Why the weasel words when we know the Principal is capable of tough talking? Whilst we don’t endorse the National Student Survey as a valid measure of student ‘satisfaction’, we can’t help contrasting the Principal’s communications about the NSS results with these ones.

When the university’s NSS results turned out to be towards the bottom of the Russell Group, the Principal did not pull any punches in telling staff to get our act together. We were all responsible, he told us, and we needed to shape up and do better. Where, then, is the ‘clarion call’ to culture change amongst senior leaders in relation to this survey?

Change at the Top Needed

We’ll ask him. We’ll also be looking out for any indications that responsibility for what looks like systemic failure is going to be passed down the chain to heads of schools, subject areas and service units, rather than being shouldered by senior leadership where it belongs. Whilst we agree that everyone has their part to play, we’ve long believed that structural and cultural change is needed at the very top and the survey results appear to confirm that.

Moving Forward

It is clear from the results that the disconnect between staff and senior management is greater than ever. We believe that only by engaging with the entire staff/student community can the problems with staff engagement be addressed. As such UCU, in discussion with the other campus unions, will be asking senior management to include representatives from all staff; such as casualised staff, postgraduate students, early career academics, professional services staff, technical staff, disabled staff, the staff pride network etc., in a wider consultation and in any responses to the issues this survey has raised.