Conference Report

Report from Special Higher Education Sector Conferences

by Alan Barker

On 7th November two special sector conferences took place in Manchester. The first was to discuss strategy on the Pay campaign and the second was to discuss the USS dispute. Below are short reports on both.


It will be remembered that there was a recent ballot of members on the issue of pay. Specifically, members were asked if they were willing to take part in Industrial Action to help the union negotiate a better pay award. This took place in the context of a draconian policy introduced by the government requiring all institutions to achieve at least a 50% turnout. Naturally, the union is campaigning for this law to be overturned since it one of the most restrictive anywhere in Europe and is democratically unfair since a failure to vote counts in effect the same as a vote of ‘no’.

As was publicised at the time, only a minority of institutions achieved this artificially introduced 50% figure. I’m please to say that we were one of them. However, it is clear that we cannot proceed with national action when most of our branches are not legally able to take it. So, a new strategy is called for. There were 8 motions discussed at this conference which called for different approaches. After a very complex debate a position has emerged.

We will continue the arguments with the employer’s side and attempt to resolve the pay dispute through collective national bargaining. In other words, we will not attempt to bargain as individual branches with our own employer.

The union will complete a nationally aggregated ballot of all members by the end of March with a view to entering the 2019/20 negotiations with a legal mandate for industrial action.


This has been an astonishing success for the union. After a very long period of strike action, both sides agreed to the setting up of a panel of experts who would consider the re-valuation of the USS pension scheme. This panel has concluded that there was no valid reason for USS to value the pension fund as it did and has completely vindicated the position that UCU held throughout the dispute. Our next steps are to be determined by the Higher Education Committee (HEC) as advised by this conference.

It should be noted that, due in large part to a peculiarity in UCU’s rules, this conference was not considered quorate. However, the chair did indicate that decisions taken would be carried through by the HEC.

It was the very clear feeling of the meeting that UCU should not accept any detriment in the next valuation of the pension scheme and there should be no increases in employee contributions above those recommended by the panel. In addition, we will be campaigning for universities to reimburse staff who lost wages during the strike. The University of Nottingham motion was combined with similar motions from UCL and Royal Holloway, and this joint motion was proposed by the UoN Branch President. The motion was taken in parts and the substantive portion of the motion, included below, passed overwhelmingly.

While, as indicated above, this has been one of the most successful campaigns in the union’s history, we have definitely not won yet and work still needs to be done to make sure that the conclusions reached by the expert panel and listened to by all sides.

In conclusion, the day was complicated but useful and UCU has good and hopefully effective policy on both of these matters in the short to medium term.

Composite Motion: Strike action, the JEP report and negotiations

University of Nottingham, University College London, Royal Holloway University of London

Conference notes

1. the historic 14 days of strike action and the threat of further action that forced the employers and USS managers to abandon their plans to replace a Defined Benefit scheme with Defined Contribution pensions and led to the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report

2. since 2011 UUK has sought to degrade the USS pension and was halted only after this prolonged strike action

3. the contents of the first JEP report, that revealed the scheme was not at imminent risk of default and it was UUK’s attempt to reduce the Employers’ Covenant that triggered de-risking, and which vindicates, as realistic and desirable, the retention of a DB pension with no detriment to benefits

4. analysis by both JEP and Sam Marsh of Sheffield UCU which suggests errors led to both the apparent USS deficit and universities’ willingness to withdraw defined benefit pensions

5. six weeks have passed since the first JEP report and further delays could impede the effectiveness of future strike action.

Conference further notes:

a. the triggering of rule 76.4 imposing cost-sharing of 40%+ increased contributions

b. as an interim measure the JEP proposed that total contributions should rise from 26 to 29.2% of salary, an increase of more than 12% in contributions.

c. current plans for phased increases in contributions place too high a burden on employees and fail to take account of the historic underpayment by employers

d. the dispute is not yet resolved.

Conference calls on the HEC

i. to seek an immediate return to negotiations with UUK.

ii. to call on the employers to pick up the full cost of increased contributions page 2

iii. 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)

Iv. to undertake a ballot seeking a mandate for further strike action or ASOS if:

  1. the employers fail to accept the JEP report in full, or
  2. UUK seeks to postpone a return to negotiations, or
  3. an agreement between UCU and UUK retaining the current benefit package is not reached in a timely fashion, or
  4. 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.

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Anti-Outsourcing Action Group Report and Survey

The University of Nottingham UCU, Unison and Unite branches have been working together to oppose the work of University management to outsource the Information Services department in any form.

In October 2017 the first report on the state and capability of Information Services was created by KPMG. This had several factual issues that the Union, when informed of the report, were concerned about. This was presented to staff in June 2018. It contained 5 potential levels of outsourcing from retaining in-house fully, to a complete outsourcing of over 250 IS staff.

There is currently (November 2018) an ongoing “ITO SOC” (IT Outsourcing Strategic Outline Case) being worked on by an external company. This is expected to be used to present options in January 2019 for a decision to be made by UEB and University Council.

The suggestion of outsourcing part or all of the IS department is unprecedented in the UK Higher Education sector, with the closest example being University of Manchester and their cancelled attempt in 2015. Examples of outsourcing from worldwide Universities have not been easy to find. So called “joint-venture” companies have also been suggested which the Union also oppose since staff are removed from the University workforce and the unit still privatised.

The current outsourcing of the “Campus Solutions” or “Project Transform” (which itself involving 12 TUPEd members of staff) is a cause of concern if this is done to Information Services, as the outsourcing has become a massive issue for the University with frequent complications, delays and cost overruns (unknown and unreported), and a wholesale restructuring of all UoN services in a very opaque process.

The Anti-Outsourcing Joint Action Group has produced a report which has been sent to several UEB members and the Chief Digital Officer of IS which is firmly against any possible outsourcing of IS. You can read this report for further background and outline of the situation here. We however cannot release the KPMG reports to Union members.

We have agreed with our sister unions that the current state of IS is no reason to privatise the department. There are many areas IS excels at and with proper staffing, management, training and strategically run budgets with forward planning the department would be vastly improved. The current work on outsourcing is making staff morale drop and causing a lot of uncertainty and stress, especially over hiring practices cutting back staff numbers and some fixed term contracts being used.

We are interested in hearing your thoughts about the potential IS outsourcing; we have created an online survey which is available here, and request all members of staff send their feedback. Please note that the poll will close on 31 January 2019. IT is used by everyone and therefore the outsourcing is bound to affect everyone.

Any queries or concerns, please email our branch at

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National ballot on pay and equality is now live!

The value of your pay has declined. The last pay award above inflation was in 2014. 2018 is the year we need to unite and fight for a fair rate for the job.

But if we want to do anything about this we have to do more than win the ballot. Since the government changed the law in 2016 the union now has to get at least a 50% turnout or we cannot take action to defend your position.

Therefore please use your vote. If you have not received a ballot, please contact the branch now to request a replacement ballot paper:

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Joint UCU and Unison meeting for APM staff – join us on Friday 29th!

June 29th APM Unison and UCU

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Our branch to lead the Notts TUC Mayday Rally on Saturday 5th May

We hope you can join us for the rally, which will be an opportunity for us to make visible on the streets the solidarity that we experienced during our dispute. We hope to see many of our members behind our banners  – it will certainly be warmer than those picket lines!

The march assembles at the University Boulevard tram stop at 10.30, and will arrive at the White Lion in Beeston for a rally at 12 noon.

flyer notts tuc


You can download a route map here: May Day Route map options 2018 mk 3 

You can also download the flyer May Day Flyer 2018 – fourth version update

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Hardship Fund application form

You can find the application form for the hardship find here.

Our thanks to the many individuals and trade union branches who have donated so generously.

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Hardship Fund benefit gig on Sunday April 29th

We hope to see you at this year’s UCU Mayday Celebration in support of the USS strike hardship fund on Sunday 29th April.

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Please share the event on facebook

Artists Line-up:

8.45-9.15 NASH/KIT

Featuring Chris Carter & Natasha Ratcliffe. Acoustic covers of old and new songs with male/female harmonies.


9.30 Speech from Matt Green, UCU President



Dance along, sing along with the music hall/folk songs of Bendigo’s Bazaar.


Entrance at the door £5* – open to all, not just UCU members

*Proceeds to UCU hardship fund


You can also download flyers to print here:  print two flyers Rosie Benefit 29th April.

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