Vote Vicky Knight for UCU Vice President

The UCU Independent Broad Left (IBL) network supports the need for UCU to make hard strategic choices about prioritising resources to meet the challenges we face in this ever more hostile environment for post-16 education. This requires a union leadership which puts members first, and seeks to involve them, and emphasises core professional and trade union issues – education, research, jobs, pay, conditions, equality and professional autonomy. 

With this in mind, we have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting Vicky Knight’s candidature as VP of the union. (Download her election address here)

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A message to all UCU members from Vicky:

“This Government’s ideological agenda is clearly hurting everyone in our communities. As workers, educators and researchers we are continually doing more for less, in increasingly stressful environments – over-worked, underpaid, our workplace rights eroded, increasingly precarious in terms of job security, our professionalism undermined, and terms and conditions constantly under attack with privatisation looming.

We also face the (anti) Trade Union Bill, designed to subvert our right to strike, congregate and demonstrate – all of which are fundamental trade union and workers’ rights.

We must maintain at all costs the right to withdraw our labour – an action which UCU members never undertake lightly. Our strength is our democracy, using our collective ability to negotiate and exhaust political alternatives rst.

In order to defend our members in the current climate, a vital objective and focus of the union must be the strengthening of our branches – the absolute foundation of our membership – including increasing our numbers, and thus empowering us to use our collective bargaining and negotiation skills to improve members’ lives.

If you vote for me, you vote for a strong independent voice working hard for, and responsive to, all UCU stakeholders, for the benefit of all, inclusively and equally, in both HE and FE.” 

Some aspects of Vicky’s experience.


  • is a trade union studies lecturer at The Manchester College.
  • has 25 years’ active experience within the public sector, in both the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and UCU.
  • has a strong commitment to the principles of justice, equality of opportunities, fairness, inclusivity and a voice for all.
  • holds branch, regional and national representative positions in UCU, including NEC membership and FE negotiator.
  • is a member of the UCU Equality and Women’s Committees.
  • has represented UCU at the TUC annual Congress,TUC Women’s Conference and TUC Women’s Committee.
  • has been chair of the TUC Women’s Committee for the last two years.

Vicky believes that:

  • in the face of relentless government and employer attacks on further and higher education, our unity is our strength.
  • our union, funded by members for members, must use democratic structures to represent the needs and aspirations of all, working in all roles across our institutions – and not be used as a vehicle to progress the agendas of any external political organisation or grouping

See below for endorsements of Vicky and her approach from a wide range of UCU members.

Continue reading

In praise of union learning

Alison Hollinrake is UCU Vice Chair and Union Learning Rep at the University of Central Lancashire. Alison has worked on a number of projects for women, most recently an iROWE project about union support for women dealing with domestic violence Here she considers the continuing role of union education in opening up horizons for working people of all ages and experience.

Alison Hollinrake

I consider myself a lifelong learner.

The start of my working life, in the mid 1970s was as a payroll clerk – at a time when women weren’t allowed to do banking exams.

A request for support – any support – from my employer of seven years for the night school, part time degree programme I wanted to enrol in during the mid 1980s was invariably brushed off with refusal and some degree of amazement that employers might be asked to pay for a degree for a ‘payroll clerk’.

Yet this was not a poor employer or one where there existed no training opportunities – it was a hi-tech engineering company with a YTS training scheme including the opportunity to achieve level 2 NVQ qualifications. It had engineering apprentices, technician trainees, a graduate development programme, supervisor training, and management development. But for lowly payroll clerks (mostly women of course), the doors were firmly shut.

I’m sure that my conviction that I ought to have been offered such opportunities had been awakened by the trade union education I had completed as a Shop Steward, Health & Safety Rep and eventually as Deputy Convenor for APEX. This came courtesy of both TUC Education and my own trade union.

I thought the creation of NVQs, and the establishment of Investors in People might just open up and provide opportunities for those in the workforce, like I had been, who traditionally were overlooked by management in terms of learning and development opportunities unlike our colleagues on the Apprenticeship, Technician, Graduate Development, Supervisory and Management development programmes. This of course has not been the case.

Like many others, I got my first degree after six years of self-funded night school. This then led to my first job in Higher Education – you could do that then!

My MSc followed and in September 2014 I was awarded my Doctorate – my research being concerned with the extent to which the union learning representative (ULR) initiative had met the expectations of its stakeholders. My research continues investigating the impact of the nature of the employment relationship on workplace learning.

I was invited to join the steering group for the North West UCU, Union Learning Fund project “UCU Women, Moving Further, Reaching Higher”  – right up my street! It was truly inspirational working with the project – highlighted on youtube here:


with the enthusiasm and commitment of the Project Manager and the National Officer reminding me why I had embarked on a career, to try to encourage workplace learning, for all employees, not just the ‘elite’ few in the first place.

From being involved in the project my branch  has benefited, and the profile of union learning has been revised – for example we have run a ‘mid-career’ development event. One lesson from this was perhaps that even members of UCU don’t always appear to appreciate how many development opportunities are available to them within our own organization and via the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) offered to us all by the union. I would say to all members to check out the latest resources – found here.

CPD front pageMy colleagues on the Branch Committee regularly participate in development programmes offered both regionally by UCU and TUC Education.  We also use the on-line resources produced by colleagues for colleagues via the UCU Women, Moving Further Reaching Higher Project – all available via the UCU web site to inform and educate us and our members in case work.

UCU branches in the North West region owe it to the project to sustain and embed the outcomes from its work, via the resources it has produced which can be a tremendous help to our branches!

I might add on a personal note, that at this stage in my career, I also appreciate the development opportunities this and other union resources offer for older workers!

Free our colleague Miguel Beltran


Dr Miguel Beltran – our colleague who needs our support

Those of us who were UK congress delegates in 2012 will remember the electrifying speech given by Dr Miguel Beltran, the Colombian academic who had been falsely imprisoned for two years on the charges of rebellion – a trumped up accusation due to his criticism of the Colombian government.

In his speech he paid tribute to UCU saying:

“There were moments when every door seemed to be closing. But your solidarity meant I did not feel alone. It gave me dignity and the strength to carry on.”

On 31 of July of this year he was once again arrested. The arrest came after the ruling which cleared Miguel of all charges was overturned, but in spite of the fact that a subsequent appeal with the Supreme Court is still in process. Continue reading

Defeating the Prevent Agenda

Increasingly branches are having to deal with the imposition of the UK Government’s  ‘Prevent’ agenda. Some valuable work is being done with local NUS branches, Students Associations, and most recently the ‘Students not Suspects’ tour. Here are some observations following the recent arrival of the tour in Strathclyde University

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Douglas Chalmers, President UCU Scotland, speaking on behalf of UCU as part of the Students not Suspects tour at Strathclyde University

Horror stories about the new government measures under their Prevent ‘anti-terrorism’ agenda are becoming more widely known, and were no surprise to the audience at the recent Students not Suspects rally in Strathclyde University. These included the  accusations of supporting terrorism against a Staffordshire University student on a Masters Course on Terrorism, Crime and Global Security ( you would think a tiny clue might be in the name of the course), who was questioned while reading a course textbook called Terrorism Studies in his own university library. Previously, Nottingham Uni research student Rizwaan Sabir was wrongly accused of conducting research into terrorism – although clearly part of his doctoral research, endorsed by the university. After being detained for seven days as a ‘suspected terrorist’ he eventually won out of court damages of £20,000 from the police.

These are only two, isolated cases easy findable through a Google search. What is as bad, if not worse, are the examples of ‘self censorship’ or reticence beginning to be seen in some of our Muslim students who are aware that there is a concerted effort by the UK government to find a ‘terrorist threat’ in our universities and other public bodies – an effort which targets the Muslim communities. Continue reading

A message from Unlock Democracy

Last year, the UCU and NUS ran a joint ‘Bite the Ballot’ campaign to encourage students to register to vote. This was a substantial success, but now, the Tories are back, still aiming to remove people off the register. As usual, students will be badly hit. UCU members should contact their MPs and demand they sign the Early Day Motion, to publicise what the UK Government is planning, and help build opposition to it.

Unlock democracy logos

In December, up to 1.9m people will be deleted from the voting register.

The way we register to vote is changing. Councils have been transferring everyone from the old voting register to the new one, but they haven’t finished the job. The government originally planned to give councils until December 2016 to re-register the missing voters. But over the summer they announced that they would speed up the process. Anyone who hasn’t been transferred to the new register will be deleted in December – that’s up to 1.9m people.

Why are the government rushing the job? In April, the new voting register will be used to work out new constituency boundaries for the 2020 election. Anyone who is removed from the register in December won’t be counted. That means areas with lots of voters who haven’t been transferred will get fewer seats in Parliament. Continue reading

Winning the pay campaign needs to start now

How our union can be effective in winning better conditions including pay is a crucial question involving strategy, tactics and effective use of our resources based on an active membership. Here, Martin Levy, NEC member puts a point of view in favour of building a campaign that will be powerful enough to force management to concede. 


Martin Levy, NEC and HEC member

Activists will be pleased to know, that at the Higher Education Committee (HEC) meeting last Friday, decisions were taken to enable UCU to pursue an active campaign about the HE pay situation.  The official report is in the attached HE News, which you may already have seen.

Having heard from over 100 branches up and down the UK, it was clear that, while there was a widespread antipathy towards taking industrial action on pay at present, there was also a strong view that UCU needs to keep the pay issue active and that this requires a campaigning strategy from the centre.

Several options were considered, and the one which was supported by the majority on HEC, tasks HEC with:

  • starting now and campaigning forward into 2016;
  • early submission of our 2016 pay claim;
  • the maintenance of a continuing campaign in parallel with next year’s negotiations.

UCU box text on pay

This was an important decision – pledging us as a fighting union to develop the type of campaigning strategy that could realistically lead to a result rather than empty posturing. Continue reading