Ceasefire NOW!

UCU joins with many others in Palestine, the UK, and beyond to reiterate the demands for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and the lifting of the siege of Gaza.

We call on all UCU members to sign the parliamentary petition calling for a ceasefire and to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Academic freedom and free speech

UCU is aware that some of our members have been targeted for speaking out about the events in Israel and Palestine, and that this targeting has unfortunately often been racialised. UCU has clear policy in defence of academic freedom; if you have been targeted in this way please contact your local rep or regional office for support.

Open letter to Heriot-Watt senior leadership team about Assessment and Award Boards

Dear Senior Leadership Team,

We, as a community of academics, educators and scholars, are writing to you with grave concern over the response of the University to the current Marking and Assessment Boycott. Whilst there are, clearly, issues developing at national level in the UK, we want to address the decisions being made at local level at Heriot-Watt.

In relation to Regulation A10: Authorities in Exceptional Circumstances, we believe that enacting these procedures at scale this summer, as proposed, threatens the integrity of our degrees, runs counter to requirements of accrediting institutions, and has the potential to significantly damage the international reputation of our institution.

We are particularly troubled by:

  • The instruction to award discretionary credits (DC) without any limit to the number of DCs, where assessment information is not available. Furthermore, results are already being “deferred” in boards where marks are missing – but without a plan, other than DCs, for what happens when they cannot be deferred any longer.
  • Reducing significantly the number of experienced staff required to convene an Assessment, Progression or Award board, thereby reducing scrutiny to ineffectual level.
  • Recording grades for assessments that have not been either second-marked or moderated across campuses, or both
  • The exclusion of work submitted during the summer exam period from degree classification calculations

The global nature of our university, and the global teaching teams and content delivery, mean that the Industrial Action taking place in the UK impacts quality across our international campuses. The premise of the Heriot Watt Degree being equal on all campuses is anchored in the symbiotic marking and scrutiny of assessments.

Particularly in the case of final-year students, the use of DCs to enable an Award to be made, which cannot then be withdrawn due to the university policy of “no academic disadvantage”, explicitly threatens the integrity of our degrees. This action would risk losing accredited status from a number of our Professional, Statutory and Regulatory bodies, which would impact huge numbers of our global student population, not only this year but also in future years – and we are not aware of any meaningful dialogue with these accrediting bodies to understand these implications. Loss of reputation and/or accreditation risks severely impacting student and staff recruitment.

Expert scrutiny is vital in maintaining the integrity and consistency of academic standards. By stripping back these processes, we risk creating a situation where degrees are no longer awarded on the basis of merit and hard work, but on arbitrary decisions made by a small group of individuals for the sake of expediting a business process. This is unacceptable, both for our students and for the wider academic community.

Of particular concern is the impact on final year undergraduates, who face the prospect of having a significant proportion of their assignments go unmarked. This includes the dissertation and/or final project, which should be the crowning achievement of their degree. We are also concerned about the impact of these changes on students with disabilities, mental health difficulties, or who face systemic inequalities. In the absence of an Equality Impact Assessment, we fear that these measures may exacerbate existing inequalities and make vulnerable students even more disadvantaged.

Furthermore, the impact on staff does not seem to have been adequately considered, and this is particularly evident by the decision to dock the pay of staff participating in legal industrial action by 50%. To do so during a cost-of-living crisis, on the basis of advice from the national employer organisation UCEA, shows a disconnect with your own staff at a local level. On a more practical level, the implications of this decision are likely to be twofold: i) staff participating in the current action will have no option but to reduce their time to 50% FTE, and ii) the long-term impact on staff relations will be dire, destroying community and collegiality, running directly counter to Heriot Watt Values of ‘Belong’.

We acknowledge that the current dispute is complex, and that there are competing demands and interests at play. However, we firmly believe that there is a better way to resolve this situation, one that does not disadvantage our students or undermine the integrity of our degrees. As educators, we cannot stand by and allow our degrees, the welfare of our students, and the well-being of staff to be treated with such disregard.

We urge you to reconsider your approach to this dispute, to lead a fresh approach to negotiations at a national level, and to engage with staff in a meaningful dialogue at local level. We believe that by working together, we can find a solution that upholds academic standards, treats students fairly, and preserves the global reputation of Heriot Watt University.

Sincerely,

Name Role Department
David Jenkins Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
John Spinks Web Developer Professional Services
Marion Winters Associate Professor Social Sciences
Alex MacLaren Assoc Prof in Architecture Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Kate Sang Professor Social Sciences
Hendrik Nahler Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Sandhya Patidar Associate professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Anna Clark Sustainability Strategy Coordinator Professional Services
Dr Caroline Brown Assistant Professor/Director of Studies Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Wolf-Gerrit Fruh Associate Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Ruth Aylett Professor of Computer Science Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Sarah Joss Scholar
Ruth Humphreys Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Harry Smith Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Joanna Drugan Professor Social Sciences
James Richards Academic Social Sciences
Pamela Docherty Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Manuel Maarek Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Matthew Aylett Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
David Cobham Prof Economics Social Sciences
Xihui Chen Assistant Professor of Accountancy Social Sciences
Shai Davidov Associate Professor Social Sciences
Dr Laura Jackman Assistant Professor Strategy and Enterprise Social Sciences
Stephen Gibson Professor Social Sciences
Theo Georgiou Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Swapnesh Masrani Social Sciences
Nick Taylor Professor of Computer Science Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Fanny Chouc Academic Social Sciences
Robert Stewart Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Professor Lynne Baillie Professor Computer Science Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Dr Alan Forster Associate Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
José M. Conde Assistant professor Social Sciences
Laurent Galbrun Assistant Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Rania Kamla Professor Social Sciences
Lena Wanggren Dissertation Supervisor Social Sciences
Marc Alexander Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Adnan Ilyas Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Leena Kerr Assistant Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
John Cleary Associate Professor Social Sciences
Dan Green PGR Lab Tutor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Christopher Dodd Associate Professor Social Sciences
Marta Romeo Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Joao Mota Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Anne Grzybowski Professional Services
Rob Daley Assistant Professor LTA
Mehreen Gul Assistant Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Shadi Mohamed Associate Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Michael Gormley Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Phil Bartie Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Bhaskar Sengupta Academic, Teaching and Research Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Andrew Peacock Associate Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Daniel Pacey Educational Developer Professional Services
Fergus Guppy Associate Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Scott Dalgarno Academic Engineering and Physical Sciences
Marc Desmulliez Professor at ISSS Engineering and Physical Sciences
Matt Costen Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Yvan Petillot Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Aongus McCarthy Research Fellow Engineering and Physical Sciences
Stephen Euston Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Richard Carter Associate Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Dr Stephen Mansell Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Graeme Barker Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Juan Casanova Assistant Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Omar Laghrouche Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Idris Skloul Ibrahim Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Bart Craenen Research Fellow Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Beatrice Pelloni Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Wei Pang Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Oliver Lemon Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Matthew Aylett Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Mike Just Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Kathryn Waite Head of Department: Marketing and Operations Social Sciences
Luciana Blaha Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Matthew Daggitt Post-doctoral researcher Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Claire Lindsay Associate Professor Social Sciences
Anne Bernassau Assistant professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Lina Fadel Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Peter McKenna Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Yasaman Sarabi Assistant Professor Social Sciences
Susan Dewar Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Keith Brown Associate Professor Engineering and Physical Sciences
Juergen Munz Professional Services Social Sciences
Jesus Canduela Associate professor Social Sciences
Adrian Carberry PGR Manager Social Sciences
Lauren Guazzelli Professional Services
Joe Wells Senior Research Fellow Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Craig Kennedy Associate Professor Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society
Georgina Rosair Scientific Officer Engineering and Physical Sciences
James Igoe Professional Services
Martin McCoustra Professor of Chemical Physics Engineering and Physical Sciences
Graham Turner Emeritus Professor of Translation & Interpreting Studies Social Sciences
Arash Eshghi Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Stuart Greaves Academic Engineering and Physical Sciences
Matteo Capoferri Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Anonymous Learning & Teaching Administrator Professional Services
Sharon Black External Examiner for LINCS Social Sciences
Dr Cat Morgan Postdoctoral Research Associate Social Sciences
Tessa Berg Director of Academic Quality Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Kathrin Stark
Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Jamie Gabbay Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Patricia A Vargas Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Idris Skloul Ibrahim Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Jurriaan Hage Head of Department Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Idris Ibrahim Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Muhammad Najib Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Swaraj Dash Assistant Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Mike Chantler Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Ioannis Konstas Associate Professor Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Benjamin Kenwright
  Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Albert Burger
Professor of Computer Science Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Amos Haniff
Associate Professor / Pan-Dean Social Sciences

The letter is about our concerns at a local level. It is not from the Heriot-Watt branch of UCU but rather from a mix of members and non-members who all agree with the points raised.

If you wish to add your name please sign at https://forms.gle/tmxQ57wcWgkknDQV9

Save university pensions, and save the planet

Save university pensions, and save the planet is a crowdfunded legal action separate from the main UCU pension dispute. It may be of interest to members and non-members who are in the USS scheme. Updates published on behalf of the team at savepensionsandplanet.org.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We got solicitors! Probably the best firm in the UK for business and human rights, Leigh Day, is joining our legal team on a no-win-no-fee basis. Together we are going to the Court of Appeal on 13 June to win back our pension and our right to life in a clean environment. We must hold the USS directors personally accountable for the damage they’ve caused to our pensions and the planet, and together we will close the deal and win!

To do this, we urgently need your support to raise the remaining funds for the hearing! We’ve raised 75% of the funds we need. Please:

  • Give £10 or £20 CrowdJustice so we reach our funding target.
  • Share the crowdfunding page with your colleagues and ask your UCU branch to email all their members asking for support!

Together, we can finish the crowdfund and head to the Court of Appeal!

Thank you so much for your hard work and support. Even if employers don’t, even if fund managers don’t, and this government doesn’t, we know how much you do every day to hold UK higher education together. We know that your work matters, and you deserve fair pay, a fair pension, and a living planet.

Best wishes,
Ewan and Neil

We “note” the pension’s not yet saved!

Update on Save university pensions, and save the planet. This is a crowdfunded legal action separate from the UCU pension dispute. It may be of interest to members and non-members who are in the USS scheme. Updates published on behalf of the team at savepensionsandplanet.org.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you’ll have seen, UCU members just voted by 85% to “note” the statement between UUK and UCU on restoring pension benefits and reducing contributions (by how much, we do not yet know!).

Of course, we know that the reason why USS directors suddenly started predicting surpluses (not nonsense deficits), why they changed the pension asset growth assumption from 0.0% above inflation to 0.29%, and now 1.8% above inflation for 30 years (to get those surpluses), why the failed CEO Bill Galvin resigned, and why they say they could restore benefits, is that we have sued them for their catastrophic failure. It’s great that UUK and UCU have done a joint statement, but we’re not yet done with the USS directors.

The USS directors didn’t suddenly have a change of heart. They didn’t suddenly say, “Eureka – there is no deficit”! They didn’t suddenly find the markets had improved after the Truss mini-budget, after the UK’s growth outlook was worse than Russia, or after the USS itself lost £450m in Russian investments following Putin’s criminal war on Ukraine.

No, we sued them. And we got leave to go to the Court of Appeal. Even though we did not win in the High Court, they know we’ve shone a torch on them. This very public pressure, the prospect of personal responsibility for the first time in the directors’ careers, this case that all the university employers could see, forced them to change. Together with everyone’s work, everyone’s solidarity, and everyone being on picket lines, your contribution to this court case is making a difference. Remember, the UCU Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) and the UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) and dozens of UCU branches across the UK have agreed to support our case. However, the General Secretary has refused to do this, and so far, despite what was agreed at Conference and the NEC’s instructions, UCU national has not funded or publicised our case.

We still need to get a legally binding agreement on USS. UCU and UUK have agreed to restore benefits if it can be done “sustainably”. They have agreed to “explore” restoring pension benefits needlessly cut in April 2022. The USS directors cannot be forced to act or even be removed by UUK or UCU. The USS directors changed the USS Ltd constitution so that the only people who can remove existing board members are the board members themselves! Therefore it is absolutely essential that we take the case to the Court of Appeal to get the best possible, legally binding USS agreement.

So we still need to go to the Court of Appeal. Help us:

  • raise the final £120k – 90% of donations, have been from small contributions;
  • ask your branch for Ewan and Neil to come to a special or general meeting to talk about the case;
  • ask your branch to circulate a call for donations to all members (even if the General Secretary won’t listen to the NEC and HESC);
  • by considering giving another £15 – if everyone who’s already donated gave again, we’d make what we need;
  • get in touch if you have more ideas for fundraising, especially if you have contacts at environmental groups that could be interested in the case for divesting fossil fuels, and ending climate risk.

Thanks once again for all your help!

Best wishes,
Ewan and Neil

USS legal action crowdfund update

Note: This is a crowdfunded legal action separate from the UCU pension dispute. It may be of interest to members and non-members who are in the USS scheme. Updates published on behalf of the team at savepensionsandplanet.org.

Dear colleagues,

Thank you for supporting the USS campaign.

We’re making excellent progress with the crowdfund and are about 65% of the way there. To finish this, we need your help! Almost 90% of the funding for the case has come from almost 10,000 donations from members, £10, £20, or £50 from individual members. We need to wrap up the fundraising so that we can focus on the legal arguments.

Please support the case by:

UUK, UCU, and USS negotiations – this case is still essential

Do the recent statements from UUK and UCU, which note the possibility of benefit restoration, mean we don’t need to go to the Court of Appeal? No, taking the case to the Court of Appeal is still essential. These statements were made and are likely only possible because of the USS legal action.

A judgement from the Court of Appeal would demonstrate that the USS directors, who run the scheme on our behalf, must act within the law and fulfil their legal obligations to members. If the case is not heard in the Court of Appeal, the directors will conclude that they are unlikely to face any meaningful legal challenge from members. They, and TPR are likely to return to their pre-2021 strategy of ramping up scheme costs to close the DB scheme. The only way to prevent this is by hearing the case in the Court of Appeal.

Please support the case with whatever you can at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-pensions-and-planet/, so we can win in the Court of Appeal.

As ever, please let me know if you’d rather not receive further emails.

All the best,
Neil, Ewan and the rest of the team

Final day for now but the fight continues

Support our Striking Staff

To mark our last strike day on Friday we finished with particularly colourful picket and a book swap to raise money for our local branch Hardship Fund.

On the picket we have been joined many visitors who came to show their support solidarity. These have included:

  • The Heriot-Watt Student Progressive Society
  • Our BSL colleagues and interpreter Kitty
  • Joanna Cherry QC and MP for Edinburgh South West
  • Richard Leonard MSP
  • Val Walker, Scottish Labour candidate in the Edinburgh City Council Elections
  • Des Loughney, Edinburgh Trade Union Council
  • Vicky Blake, UCU President
  • Lena Wanggren, UCU Scotland President
  • Janet Farrar, UCU President Elect

A big thank-you to you all, and also to the passers-by to stopped to chat and help us with our group photos, and to those of you who have tooted and honked in support.

We raised £109 in cash, with more donations to be made directly into the hardship fund. This has far exceeded our expectations and just to reiterate: please don’t hesitate to claim if you’re struggling financially due to pay deductions for strike action.

Action Short of Strike

For now we continue with Action Short of Strike and no-one should work beyond  35 hrs/week (or part thereof if on a fractional contract), reschedule classes or meetings cancelled due to strike action, cover for absent colleagues, or undertake voluntary tasks. Something which you can do is activate your automatic reply in email, clarifying that you are participating in Action Short of strike. Some examples you can use:

  1. I am participating in industrial action where I work to ‘contract’ (known as action short of a strike or ASOS).  This means that we work only 100% of our allocated working time but not beyond that.  Given that our normal work load expects us to use our goodwill to work excessive hours, this means that my progress and replies to your email might take much longer than either of us would like. If you want to know more about why I participate in ASOS, please see here: UCU – Why we’re taking action
  2. I am taking part in continuous action short of a strike in the form of working to contract as part of UCU’s national industrial action to defend pensions and pay for university staff, and to push back against the widening inequalities across higher education. You can find further information about the disputes here: UCU – Why we’re taking action

Further information which may be of use:

How to say No to extra work

You can politely and professionally decline work/volunteering as part of ASOS or you can send an email stating: ‘I am currently engaged in action short of strike to defend [eg] pay, equalities and pensions which includes working to my contract. All UCU members are advised not to cover for absent colleagues or undertake voluntary activities as part of this action. For this reason I am unable to…’

If your manager raises a concern about this, inform your local branch officers immediately.

Some other initiatives

  • Write to your MSPs, constituency and list. The Education, Children and Young People Committee (ECYP) of the Scottish Parliament has the power to call witnesses as part of a committee enquiry into the governance of Scotland’s Universities. Our Principals can be held to account over their claims that UCU pension proposals are unaffordable. Our colleagues at the University of Edinburgh have started a campaign. You can contact our local branch office for a flyer that explains more, and a sample letter template which you can use.
  • Mass resignation of external examiners

Not in the UCU?

It is never too late to join the UCU. You do not have to be a member of a union to take part in industrial action and had have your voice heard, but it is advisable. Being part of a recognised collective bargaining group comes with benefits and protections.

It only takes a few minutes to join the UCU, it doesn’t cost much, and your subscription will be eligible for tax relief.

 

&

3 weeks to save university pensions, and save the planet

In August last year over 1700 other people raised more than £50,000 to fund a legal action against the USS directors via Crowdjustice.

The case was presented by a barrister at an initial oral hearing at the High Court on 28 February and the judge ruled that we can proceed to the next stage – a full contested hearing. This stage has been successful. That judge ruled that we have a prima facie case and that we were acting in good faith. Thank-you to everyone who has contributed.

We now need to raise funds for the next stage, the full contested hearing. This will begin on 28 March. If we are successful at the next hearing, we will be able to proceed with the legal action against the directors, which may be paid for by USS Limited (the company that runs our pensions). We have four claims:

  1. That the 2020 valuation was flawed and unnecessary
  2. USS costs are excessive
  3. The changes discriminate against women, younger and minority colleagues
  4. The USS has failed to have a credible plan to divest from fossil fuels, and this causes significant financial detriment

If you can donate just £50 or £20 it will make a huge difference. The current pensions cuts leave many of us £100,000’s worse off in retirement. If we win, we could get an injunction against the cuts that will happen on 1 April.

However, to proceed with the next hearing, we urgently need to raise more money to cover the legal costs of the full hearing. So we would be very grateful if you could contribute to our crowdfund. Time is short, so if you could donate as soon as possible we would greatly appreciate it!

If there is any money remaining in the crowdfund after the legal action is complete, we will use it for further legal action over the USS, for example, seeking judicial review of The Pensions Regulator. If  there are no further legal options, or we get everything we want (a reasonable valuation, a cost-effective pension scheme, a pensions proposal that is not discriminatory, and divestment from fossil fuels), then we will donate any remaining funds to a charity.

We have 3 weeks to save the pension, so please donate now, and share with everyone you know!

To do

  1. Please donate to our crowdfund
  2. Please share this with anyone who might be interested, or tweet the crowdfund page
  3. Ask your UCU branch to contribute to the fund
  4. Register and join our Zoom Q&A on Friday 11 March at 1300

Posted on behalf of Ewan McGaughey and Neil Davies

Open letter to Professor Richard Williams about the new UCU proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme

Dear Professor Williams,

You will have seen that the University and College Union (UCU) issued a set of new proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on 26 January 2022 which are aimed at averting widespread industrial action across UK campuses in February and beyond.

These new proposals would see retirement benefits protected in return for a small increase in contributions for both members and employers ahead of a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme.

A USS consultation of scheme members concluded on 17 January 2022, and UCU understands that a significant majority preferred increasing contributions of members and employers in order to protect benefits over the alternatives, including benefit cuts.

Retaining members’ benefits until April 2023 would result in a saving of £240,000 for HWU over the current and coming financial year compared to the increases that were scheduled for Oct’ 21 that employers committed to as part of the 2018 valuation. In addition, staff would be protected from having their pensions eroded by high inflation.

This request for a new valuation is bolstered by the announcement that USS assets have jumped to over £92bn, more than £25bn higher than the previous valuation.

Given this and the above consultation, which we assume was undertaken in good faith, then we would expect HWU to consider the UCU proposal very seriously.
UCU’s proposals are as follows:

  • that UUK call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation of the financial health of the scheme as at 31 March 2022, to be issued for consultation in June (at the latest)
  • that employers agree to provide the same level of covenant support as for their own proposals to facilitate a cost-sharing of current benefits throughout the 2022/23 scheme year, starting 1 April 2022 at 11% member/23.7% employer until 1 October 2022, and 11.8%/25.2% thereafter
  • that employers agree to pay a maximum of 25.2% and members a maximum of 9.8% from 1 April 2023 to secure current benefits or, if not possible, the best achievable as a result of the call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation.

We are writing to ask you to support UCU’s proposals instead of UUK’s plan. Under UUK’s plan university staff would see an approximate 35% cut to their guaranteed retirement income based on a flawed USS valuation conducted in March 2020.

We would appreciate a response from you before Friday 11 February.

We believe this represents the best and fairest means to avoid disruptive strikes, as well as ongoing action short of strike action, by staff determined to defend their pensions for the third time in just four years.

Yours sincerely

The undersigned

This letter has been signed by 119 members of staff at Heriot-Watt University. The names have been omitted for brevity in this news article but a full copy can be supplied on request.