UCU runs a number of national campaigns focusing on common issues affecting staff in FE and HE.

The UCU Rising campaign seeks to address long-standing issues around attacks on pay, working conditions, and pensions.

The union ballots members on strike action. A ballot on industrial action began in September 2022.

Aber UCU is prioritising working on the issue of casualisation and precarity in employment. A summary of the issues is outlined below. We have an ‘anti-casualisation working group‘ of staff looking at this issue. If you would like to be involved contact: Jo Eastlake or Marc Welsh


Pay

UK universities generated £41bn for the UK economy in 2020/21. At the end of that financial year UK universities finished with £3.4bn more cash in the bank than they started it with, half of that accrued to Oxford and Cambridge alone.

As inflation hit double figures the employers (UCEA) offered of a 3% pay increase for 2022/23, which means that relative to inflation HE pay has fallen by 25% since 2009. To rectify this UCU is asking for an uplift in pay of at least RPI plus 2% .

The pay gap between Black and white staff stands at 17% and the disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 16%. At the current rate of change it will not be closed for another 22 years. Equality in the workplace is therefore tied to issues of pay, progression and employment and a central part of the UCU Rising campaign.

   


Pensions

University employees are enrolled in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The details can be complex [more details here] but boil down to:

  • Changes in USS between 2011-2019 already reduce retirement benefits for a ‘typical’ employee by £240,000 after retirement.
  • Disputes between UCU and UUK (representing the employers) over how the current scheme is valued have resulted in further changes being imposed by the employers through the USS. These are based on a flawed valuation of the pension scheme conducted as the stock markets crashed at the beginning of Covid-19 (April 2020).
  • In 2022 the trustee of the USS estimated pension assets to have risen to £88 billion – proving UCU negotiators right in their dispute with UUK over the 2020 valuation.
  • UCU estimate the changes imposed by Universities UK (UUK) result in 196,000 staff will lose between 30%-35% from the guaranteed future retirement income (defined benefits). Employees under the age of 40 estimated to lose between £100k-£200k in retirement.

This second suite of changes to the scheme was entirely unnecessary. UCU seek to have these unnecessary and brutal cuts revoked.


Casualisation and precarity

Casualisation affects many staff in HE institutions, exacerbating precarity. According to UCU’s report, ‘Precarious work in higher education’, around one-third of all academic staff are employed on fixed-term contracts; this figure rises to almost half for teaching-only academics (44%) and over two-thirds (68%) for research-only staff.

UCU’s previous research showed that 42% of staff on casual contracts struggled to pay household bills, while many others struggle to make long-term financial commitments like buying a house. In our 2019 survey of 3,802 casualised staff in higher education, 71% of the respondents said their mental health had been damaged by working on insecure contracts and 43% said it had impacted on their physical well-being.

Another report in 2022 (UK Higher Education – a workforce in crisis) surveyed almost 7,000 university staff at over 100 institutions. It revealed high numbers of staff saying they were “likely” or “very likely” to leave the UK university sector in the next five years. This was particularly high (81%) for workers under 30 years of age. Workload, pay and casualisation are the three biggest factors driving respondents away from higher education.


Workload

UCU’s 2021 workload survey (June 2022) of 13,000 staff showed academic staff work on average 51.3 FTE hours per week, academic-related professional services staff work an average of 44.4 FTE hours per week, and staff on fractional contracts can be working 2-3 times the hours that they are paid for each week. Most staff are contracted to work 35 – 37.5 hours a week.

Such unpaid work reflects the sectors reliance on goodwill and workplace pressure. It has been exacerbated by ever-increasing administrative burden, reduction in staff members, and COVID-related changes to teaching and learning. The survey found 33% of higher education respondents said their workload was unmanageable most of the time or entirely unmanageable.

Collectively these issues are subject to a negotiation between UCU and the employers covered by the campaign UCU Rising

 

 

 

 


Industrial action

The withdrawal of labour is always the last resort, but ultimately it is the main power union members possess.

This might range from withdrawing goodwill labour (e.g. working beyond contracted hours, or voluntary roles on committees) to working to rule (within the hours and terms laid out in contracts – HE employees regularly undertake activities outside of these for pedagogical and collegiate reasons) to the withdrawing of labour entirely (strike action).

If UCU nationally call for a ballot on industrial action the Aber UCU branch will support ballot campaigns through holding local meetings, circulating material, trying to Get The Vote Out (GTVO), and liaising with UCU national to encourage all local members to exercise their vote.

Local and national ballots are only legally valid if more than 50% of eligible members exercise their vote.