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.

She:

  • 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.

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Why nurses’ bursaries are important

Julia Charlton is UCU branch chair at Northumbria University, Northern Regional Secretary and NEC member. Here she writes about the importance for UCU members of the campaign to retain bursaries for student nurses.

Julia Charlton

In the autumn statement, George Osborne announced the scrapping of the NHS bursary for new student nurses, midwives and allied health professions in England from 2017. The ‪NHS bursary supports over 80,000 healthcare students at more than 120 universities each year and the Tories want to scrap it.

Why does this matter to UCU members? Because our hardworking health academics are at possible risk because of the possible loss of NHS commissioned training places at Universities. These commissioned places bring vital finance into the university in millions per year.

Under the current NHS bursary system, no fees are charged and students are entitled to a combination of a non-means tested bursary, a means-tested bursary and a ‘reduced rate’ student loan. This will be replaced with the standard undergraduate system, with fees of up to £9,000 and a much larger student loan for maintenance.

These changes would see students burdened with at least £51,600 of debt, plus interest and any overdraft and commercial debt. This is an enormous sum for many in these professions. Loan repayments will mean a nurse, midwife or allied health professional will lose over £900 in pay a year. A new graduate nurse can expect to earn about £ 22,799 in their first year.

What do students say? “The next nurses will basically be paying to work,” says Danielle, of Cornwall. “And no one from my background is going to think it’s a good idea to get in huge debt for a job where you are never going to earn a lot.” “We know we’re going into a profession where there’s been no pay increase for five years.”

A pre-registration health degree requires significant time spent in clinical practice, including early, late, night and weekend shifts as a normal part of their studies. For example, nursing students must complete a minimum of 2,300 hours in clinical practice over the course of their studies. These changes effectively charge students for working in the NHS. The best asset of the NHS is its workforce. The best way to make the most of this asset is to invest in the future workforce. By scrapping the NHS bursary and uncoupling workforce planning from education commissioning the Government are taking a risk with the future of patient safety and care delivery, and exacerbating the current recruitment crisis.

The Government needs to reconsider these proposals and discuss how best we invest in and support students, rather than making a reckless decision driven by the desire to achieve deficit targets. We’ll be reminding the Government that “people should come before money” (Sir Robert Francis) on the Save the NHS Bursary demonstrations. (Written by Gail Adams, Head of Nursing at the trade union Unison)

How many hospital visits can you remember where the ward or department was fully staffed with nurses, nurses got their breaks and had time for patients?

We have a shortage of nurses in the UK (just for starters 1200 matrons/ very senior nurse posts were cut as was reported recently). So one would think that the government would do their best to attract more nurses and get more people to train as nurses. Instead we have ‘boom and bust’ policies, and possibly unethical recruitment of nurses from overseas from countries that need their nurses too. The reason we aren’t training enough nurses is because the Conservatives cut the number of nurse training places in the last parliament.

If you or I wanted to get people to choose a particular job or career, would we treat them well and make them feel welcome? Or would we – like the government—effectively block a lot of nurse recruitment from abroad, make those from outside the EU leave if they earn less than £35,000 per year, and scrap student nurses’ bursaries, making it financially impossible for many people to train as nurses, especially for mature students with families? For decades, professions like nursing and midwifery have been open to people of all backgrounds. Now, Jeremy Hunt and George Osborne are slamming the door on the dreams of working class kids who want to care.

To anyone with common sense, these measures seem like a sure fire way to make sure as few people as possible train as nurses.

Now this is where government spin comes in: these policies are being sold to us as “recruiting more nurses and student nurses”, as having a lot more nurses than we used to have, and as all being well with the NHS. NewSpeak rules supreme, Black is White, nurse shortages are more nurses, financial hardship for student nurses will attract more people to become nurses.

Clear as mud?

If you and your loved ones wish to be cared for and treated in a publicly owned and funded and accountable NHS now and in the future then please get behind the movement in favour of keeping student nurses’ bursaries. We have already seen the anger shown in the marches all over the country in mid January. This will continue till we win.

But it is not just nurses as the move will mean thousands of student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, radiographers, dietetics, operating department practitioners and possibly paramedics will be over £50,000 in debt when they graduate. (Veronika Wagner )
Things you can do:

Sign the petition to urge MP’s to save the NHS Bursary
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/113491

If you’re a student in the NHS fill in the survey
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KJM2QD5

Get your branch to pass and act on this suggested TU branch NHS motion.

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Free our colleague Miguel Beltran

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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

Stop the Open University Regional Closures!

Save the OU

A ballot for strike action at the Open University (OU) has opened over the closure of regional offices and potential loss of over 500 jobs. The OU Senate has voted to advise against the plans despite the university’s attempts to prevent UCU lobbying the meeting.

Quoted in the Guardian, Philip O’Sullivan, lecturer in the faculty of social sciences, and a UCU rep. pointed out that this was the most fundamental change in the way the university had operated since its creation. Tony Coughlan, a tutor at the OU’s Bristol office also pointed out that closure of these centres means students do not get a person who can personalise the learning experience – this is something that the regions had always done.

Coughlan points out that its only through meeting other students that the sense of being in a learning community is created – something that’s vital if you’re having a difficult time as a student. 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.

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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

UCU Supports Science is Vital – you can too

One of the decisions taken at the October meeting of the HEC was to support the ‘Science is Vital’ initiative. The video below shows Ben Goldacre and why he supports the campaign. Our union does too, so we would ask branches to take part in the activity mentioned below and ensure science is safeguarded for future generations. Below, there is an e-mail from the chair of the campaign asking for everyone to get behind it and giving more details of how you can be more involved.

Dr Jennifer Rohn, Chair, Science is Vital who is a Principal Research Associate at University College London has written to all the supporters of the campaign to say:
Science is Vital needs your help. Funding for science and engineering in the UK is once again under serious threat, and we are asking our supporters to help ensure that our new campaign makes as much impact as possible on the government as it prepares for the Comprehensive Spending Review in November.

If you want to help, here’s what you can do. If you want to find out more, see below.

– Send a postcard to George Osborne telling him why science is vital to you at http://scienceisvital.org.uk/postcard
– Come to our rally in London on 26 October – tickets available here – attend a local party or watch the live-stream
– Spread the word – forward this email to friends and family (including non-scientists), and if you use social media (#scienceisvital), share our campaign page: http://scienceisvital.org.uk/as-vital-as-ever

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