Looking ahead to autumn term 2021-2022. The Delta variant: how to protect staff and students

As we look ahead to the 2021-2022 session, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic will still affect our daily lives. The success of the vaccination campaign in the UK notwithstanding, it would be premature to declare the pandemic over. At the moment, there is a lot of discussion about whether government guidelines for Higher Education institutions at the national level are sufficient and about whether the decisions made by Senior Management of The University of Nottingham do enough to keep students and staff safe. One of the key issues here is whether these guidelines and decisions incorporate the latest scientific advice on Covid-19 and, in particular, on the now dominant Delta variant.

The current teaching blueprint at the University of Nottingham seeks to maximise face to face teaching, whilst recommending vaccination, the wearing of face covering indoors and weekly testing. However, these are mere recommendations which means that they cannot be enforced. In addition, staff have been asked to return to campus for face to face teaching.

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UCU Committee message to management on 19 May 2021 re USS:

Dear Vice Chancellor, Chair of Council, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registrar, 

I am writing on behalf of the local UCU committee to express our grave concern about UoN management’s shift away from questioning USS’s valuation method toward accepting the most recent UUK proposals. We note that, if implemented, the UUK proposals would imply significant cuts to our members’ pensions including the following:  

  1. DB (defined benefits) salary threshold reduced to £40k. Currently we receive DB for income up to about ~£60k. This would bring all but the lowest paid members into the Defined Contribution (DC) scheme, significantly reducing benefits, and constitutes a step in bringing back the DC scheme that industrial action threw out in 2018.
      
  2. Accrual rate reduced to 1/85 (from the current 1/75) cutting the value of future pension by 12%.
      
  3. Reduction in inflation proofing to 2.5%. Currently it is up to 10%. Inflation has been high in the past and could increase again. If inflation does increase, our pensions could be very quickly reduced to only a fraction of their current value. 
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Victory for the Anti-Casualisation Campaign: the new GTA contracts

On March 1st 2021, the University of Nottingham’s People & HR Committee voted to approve a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) model for hiring postgraduate researchers (PGRs) to teach, to begin in the 2021/22 academic year. These roles will be exclusively offered to PGRs, and are intended to replace the Teaching Affiliate roles that previously existed, involving the preparation and delivery of seminars; provision of student contact hours; and marking responsibilities. Teaching Affiliate roles were hourly-paid and subcontracted to UniTemps, the University’s outsourced temporary engagement agency, offering none of the employment rights that come with having employee status with the University. While still hourly-paid, the new GTA contracts will be fixed-hours, in-house contracts of employment with the University; will grant employee status to PGRs who teach; and will secure pay and employment rights accordingly. This should be seen as a massive win in the fight against casualisation in higher education.

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UoN Must Save Our PGR Teachers

At the end of April 2020, the Faculty of Arts announced that it was cutting all postgraduate teaching opportunities from its 2020/21 budget, and since then the Faculty of Social Sciences has followed suit. In some departments, it is standard for teaching posts to only be offered to final year PhDs; colleagues who have gone through a year-long unpaid training programme and interview process, only now to be facing no chance of getting this essential career experience.  We are clear that these cuts are a choice; the UCU has recently learned that the combined cost of cutting PGR teaching in both Faculties could be recovered with money to spare, if the University simply stopped running one of its managerial training programmes for a year. 

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