Update on UCU’s work with the Scottish Government – 20 August 2020

The union has been taking the views of our members to ministers and civil servants consistently throughout the pandemic period, and has made a number of interventions on funding, protecting jobs, and safe returns to campus, over the past few weeks.

Lobbying against job losses

In the last month UCU met, along with other campus unions, with the Minister for Further and Higher Education Richard Lochhead MSP, to raise our concerns on the rush to cut jobs in universities and colleges.  Unions urged the minister to ensure employers to follow Fair Work principles, consult meaningfully with campus unions, and do all that they can to avoid making redundancies.   The Minister agreed to raise these issues with employers – and his correspondence to employers is here (and was circulated to all our branches on 21 August).  The union has been clear that the sector needs to be at the forefront of the education-led recovery, and not contributing to the unemployment claimant count.

SQA exams fallout

Last week UCU welcomed the Scottish Government’s U-turn on SQA exam results, so as teacher predicted grades now stand.  We also welcomed the commitment of the Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP to fund the additional college and university places that would now be required given the exams grade uplift.  Since that announcement the union has been pushing government to provide clarity on additional university places, and importantly, to fully fund those places too.   These points were made clearly to Richard Lochhead when he met unions on 18 August, where he did say government is committed to funding the extra places.   In closing the discussion the minister asked that we thank all of our members – the staff in the sectors – for everything they are doing in these challenging times.

Ministerial Leadership Group Meeting:  SQA exams, funding, and safe returns to campus

The Deputy First Minister, Education Cabinet Secretary, John Swinney MSP came along to the ninth meeting of the group on 20 August, chaired by Richard Lochhead.   Mr Swinney reported on the SQA exams situation, the extraordinary circumstances with the cancellation of exams, and how he took responsibility for the change in approach.  He indicated that the Scottish government’s support for an expansion of places in universities and colleges as a result of this decision should have a beneficial impact to give positive opportunities for individuals at a time when we are seeing a rise in unemployment generally.

Universities Scotland and UCU both pushed the Deputy First Minister on the funding of the additional places, and the need for teaching places for Scottish domiciled students to be fully funded by government, given the shortfall institutions are experiencing in international student fee and commercial income streams.  UCU echoed comments from Colleges Scotland on the need to avoid displacement in the system too, so as colleges, post-92s and other institutions don’t lose out as upgraded students look for new places.  UCU reiterated that the funding of places was important given universities and colleges are already making moves to cut jobs across the sector.

Disappointingly the Deputy First Minister said he couldn’t give any definitive answers on funding at the moment, but wanted to support the financial sustainability of institutions.   The Scottish Funding Council updated the meeting on its work in this area too, and that it is looking at funding, capacity – what the increase in places means, retention and support (to ensure students progress successfully), displacement (and the system-wide impact), and the multiyear impact on the SQA exams situation – in that it will impact on 3-4 academic years to come.

The meeting also covered safe re-opening of colleges and universities, with the Deputy First Minister stressing the fragile position that we’re in, and the need to tread very cautiously, taking balanced measures.

National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch updated the group on the current state of play, noting the concerns on the rise in new infections in Scotland, and that the global situation is much worse with the virus accelerating around the world. He emphasised that the virus is not under control or close to being under control in a global context.  For Scotland he explained that Test and Protect is working well with over 90% of contacts traced in the 12 outbreaks we’re currently seeing across Scotland, and that people in the main are obeying the rules.  The government wants our sectors to open safely, and that has to be subject to mitigations.  He said testing should form part of that regime, particularly testing in high risk areas, and that there are plans for walk-in testing centres in areas accessible for university and college staff and students.

UCU had posed a couple of questions in advance of the meeting to Professor Leitch:

  1. What lessons should Scottish universities take from the experiences of US institutions that have already had to shift their plans for in-person teaching to online learning, and how can we ensure Scotland’s public health guidance on quarantining, social distancing, and test and protect is adhered to within our sector – particularly thinking about international staff and students newly arrived in Scotland?
  2. How does the Scottish Government reassure students and staff from vulnerable groups (BME, older people, disabled, pregnant etc) who are anxious because their institution is requiring them to be physically on campus participating in face to face classes in the next few weeks?

Professor Leitch responded on the first saying that the US does not have control of the virus, implying that the so the context for Scottish universities is different.  However he did say that enforcement is an issue, and at the moment we are “requiring” people to follow the rules, and do our best to get the messaging right. He asked for help from universities, student leaders and all stakeholders in getting the compliance message across – and there was a fair bit of discussion on strong clear messaging, particularly for students and young people.

On the second question, he had already said that the biggest factors in terms of vulnerability are age and obesity, and he spoke about ensuring individual risk assessments are undertaken, and that where people score highly in terms of risk then they should not have a front facing role at the moment, or if students they shouldn’t attend class but access to learning in other formats.  He encouraged use of the individual risk assessment form which has been devised for people returning to work after shielding, are vulnerable or who have other concerns.

UCU is continuing to engage with civil servants on safe returns and the range of mitigations that are possible.

The final agenda item was a brief update from the Scottish Funding Council, to thank partners for their responses to the current review of provision, and that a further update would be provided in September.  UCU’s response to the review is on the UCU website.

Further information on the Ministerial Leadership Group is here .





UCU Scotland organising award

With UCU Scotland congress not taking place in the spring, the annual UCU Scotland organising aware had to be awarded virtually.  This year’s winners were the UCU branch at Edinburgh university who won for significant progress in recruitment, membership engagement and organisation.

With the pandemic meaning the award couldn’t be given in person, UCU general secretary Jo Grady made the award online and congratulated the branch who were, as you can see from the photo below, happy recipients.  Well done to Edinburgh university UCU.



UCU  Union Reps Induction course – online/blended learning

Start date Tuesday 25 August – Enrolment and introduction session via Zoom

Course begins Tuesday 1 September – Activities 1-3 set up with feedback via discussion forums and zoom session

15 September – Feedback session via zoom for Activities 1-3, Activity 4 set up.

22 September – Feedback Activity 4 via discussion forum, Activities 5 & 6 set up

6 October feedback activities 5&6 via discussion forums and zoom. Set up Activity 7

20 October feedback Activity 7 via zoom, course review/next steps

Each zoom session would run for 2 hours maximum. Participants need to be able to join all the online sessions and complete the activities as set out.  Exact times of zoom sessions to be arranged between tutor and course members.

To register to join the course please email  scotland@ucu.org.uk

Angi Lamb – a tribute from her UCU friends and colleagues

UCU Scotland was very sorry to hear of the death of Angi Lamb.  Angi was a former UCU branch president at Edinburgh University and honorary secretary of UCU Scotland.  UCU Scotland past president Ann Gow has written the tribute to Angi below:

Like all her family and friends, UCU & the trade union movement has lost a wonderful colleague in Angi. So many of us were privileged to work with Angi in AUT and then UCU, locally and nationally. It is testament to Angi’s razor sharp wit and quiet compassion as well as her commitment and dedication to the trade union movement that so many of her colleagues became her friend. We feel her loss deeply.

This year UCU Scotland nominated Angi for a Distinguished Service Award and were delighted that she was awarded it. Sadly, we never got the chance to congratulate and applaud her at Congress but it gives us some comfort to know that Angi knew how much her UCU colleagues valued her.

Angi was a dedicated and committed activist with over 40 years active trade union service spanning four universities. She had an extraordinary commitment to education and her community as well as to the wider trade union movement. Locally, she undertook extensive case work and mentored numbers of new caseworkers. She was the first woman president of Edinburgh UCU from 2007-2009, leading on all negotiations representing 6000+ staff. But it was equality that Angi worked particularly hard to push higher up the agenda. She used her talent for data as a basis for negotiations around Gender Pay specifically, moving management to develop an Equal Pay action plan and drive policies around maternity leave, promotion and recruitment.

Angi blazed a trail for union membership of University governance through her role on Court (first as staff representative and then as the Rector’s Assessor), and established a direct connection between the Joint Union Liaison Committee and the Rector, ensuring that the Rector really did represent both staff and students (as is their role at the University of Edinburgh). Her work on implementing the Governance Act locally has ensured Trade Union voices are heard at all levels and the impact has been seen on work on casualisation, gender pay and disability access.

Angi never stopped campaigning, even into her retirement and after her diagnosis. Even in the Western General in December, she was in full campaigning mode.  WiFi was hopeless in the hospital for most people and she had approached the Principal of University of Edinburgh to improve it. There were more campaigns on her agenda – one for better GP action for cancer diagnosis and on access to medical cannabis.  She approached these campaigns as always, from the data. Angi had looked at the stats and discovered that lung cancer kills more women in Scotland than breast cancer. She was determined that her work would help others. Angi has helped so many people, by supporting staff in personal case work to negotiations that improved the lot for many. Her legacy will live on through her work.

In a recent conversation Angi said she was not afraid of dying but she wanted to do so much more still.  We have never known anyone so serene in the face of adversity. We will honour her work and campaigns, always striving to reflect her measured, quiet but rather forceful style of trade unionism.

UCU Scotland update – 9 June 2020

It’s a been a busy start to the month for the union, making the case for education and the need to support  students and staff in our universities,  with government, officials and other key influencers.

 Scottish Government’s Economic Recovery Group

On Tuesday 2 June the union participated in the STUC’s meeting with the Economic Recovery Group which has been set up by the Scottish Government to make recommendations for the economy post-Covid19.   Benny Higgins, the chair of the group, and group member Grahame Smith, the outgoing general secretary of the STUC, met with trade unionists to hear our views.   UCU ensured our position on the importance of universities in powering the economy out of recession was key, as well as ensuring the funding challenges the sector faced doesn’t result in it dismissing staff and contributing to the expected record levels of unemployment.  Benny Higgins was clear on the importance of education, skills and training for the recovery, and the need to address the clear risk that we have significant numbers of teenagers and people in their early 20s who lose out in this crisis.  UCU emphasised the importance of universities to ensuring young people do not become a “lost generation”, and called for more measures to address digital poverty, and consideration of how reduced working time and the “four day week” can fit into the post-Covid world.

The Economic Recovery Group is due to report to the First Minister in late June.

Ministerial Leadership Group Meeting, 4 June 2020

The union participated in the fifth meeting of the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Leadership Group on further and higher education and community learning on Thursday 4 June.  In opening the meeting the Minister Richard Lochhead shared correspondence with the Scottish Funding Council on a review which will look at sustainability, coherence in sectors, achieving outcomes, funding methodologies, and connections to economic recovery.  UCU Scotland’s officers will be considering this review and how we engage with this process at their meeting later this week.

Fair Work was a substantive agenda item and the Minister made clear that Fair Work principles underpin the Scottish Government’s approach to the new academic year and to the eventual re-opening of campuses. STUC Assistant General Secretary Helen Martin gave a short presentation on Fair Work and the STUC’s role working with the Scottish Government in producing agreed approaches on Fair Work for the whole economy.  Unions voiced the need to have a national and a partnership approach to developing sectoral guidance, and asked that the Scottish Government facilitate the development of a Fair Work statement to underpin how the sectors approach the move out of lockdown and the challenges we are facing due to Covid-19. The Minister stated he is keen for proper co-ordination, though needs to recognise particular needs of sectors.  Follow up work is now taking place with the Scottish Government, unions and Universities Scotland.

The meeting also heard from the Commissioner for Fair Access, Peter Scott, on the challenges the pandemic present to the widening access agenda.  The Scottish Government’s Clinical Director Jason Leitch, joined the meeting to address issues facing the post-16 education sector, and to respond to questions.   During discussion, professor Leitch made it clear that in this phase 1 of the Scottish Government’s route map, universities and colleges remain closed to all activities except those of essential workers.   Employers should not be asking any staff to come onto campus to undertake any kind of preparatory or non-essential work at this time, indeed his strong message was that all staff and students should work from home to avoid unnecessary risks.  Professor Leitch will continue to input into the work of the group, particularly as the sectoral guidance is developed.

Transport Secretary – Michael Matheson MSP

The union was part of an STUC delegation meeting with the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson on Friday 5 June.  The purpose of the meeting was for trade unions to provide views to government on the transport guidance being devised in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.  A range of issues were raised by transport unions on the need for providers to be adhering to guidance, for effective policing, and there were calls for face coverings on public transport to be made mandatory.  UCU stressed the importance of the transport guidance to sectoral guidance for universities, given the large numbers of students and staff who rely on public transport to reach campuses, and travel from all corners of the UK.   The union called for clear messaging from government in line with the government’s own phased route map out of lockdown, given it appears that employers are eager to start moving staff back onto campus.   The union urged the government to be clear in upholding the current position that only essential workers should be travelling to work on campus.

Scottish Qualifications Authority

Following on from the Ministerial Leadership Group meeting on 4 June, the union met with the SQA’s chief executive Fiona Robertson, to discuss the our concerns about the impact the cancellation of school exams and assessments may have on fair access to university.   The union welcomed the Commissioner for Fair Access. Peter Scott’s annual report published on 5 June which highlighted the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic presents to the widening access agenda.

The discussion with SQA on Monday 8 June, was an opportunity for the union to raise our concerns at the potential for bias or discrimination to creep into the process for estimating and awarding grades.  Fiona Robertson explained that this was an issue that the SQA takes incredibly seriously and has been undertaking a range of steps, including the provision of support and guidance, consultation with a wide range of stakeholders – including the Equality and Human Rights Commission – as well as a comprehensive equality impact assessment on the process.  UCU has subsequently shared our own work and research on the issues of predicted grades, and the SQA has agreed to keep in touch with UCU on these important issues.

UCU report on the Ministerial Leadership Group – 14 May 2020

The union participated in the fourth Ministerial Leadership Group on Covid-19 on Thursday 14 May.  The meeting is chaired by the Minister for further and higher education and science Richard Lochhead MSP, and includes representatives from across the post-16 and community learning sectors.

This meeting focused on two agenda items, first on international students, and second on student poverty.   On international students, it was reported that Scotland’s messaging and implementation on “safe campuses” was vital if we were to attract international students back, along with the other opportunities for students to live and work post-study in Scotland.  UCU noted that health and safety on campuses is paramount for existing staff and students, and that union involvement in strategies for re-opening campuses and moving out of lockdown is necessary for staff confidence.     The worrying developing situation for student poverty, and the impact the current recession and lockdown is having on student employment was reported by NUS.  The shut down in hospitality and related sectors is affecting students who are more likely to have part time and zero hours contract work in these areas.    The meeting also recognised the issues of digital poverty and access to broadband which determine how students are able to continue with studies or not during lockdown.

UCU reported how the funding crisis is already having a detrimental impact upon staff pay, terms and conditions; and that members are being made redundant right now when fixed term and hourly paid contracts are not renewed, meaning that the sector is losing vital new talent.   The unions noted the importance of Fair Work, and indicated our desire for a Fair Work approach to underpin how employers and unions work together to manage the Covid-19 crisis.

15 May 2020

Neil Davidson, 1957-2020

UCU Scotland sends its sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Neil Davidson who died at the weekend.  Neil was a formidable union rep, had been a branch officer with Strathclyde UCU branch during his time at the University, leading the branch response during a challenging period of cuts and redundancies.  More recently at the University of Glasgow he was a committee member at UCU Glasgow where he made a huge contribution to the workings of the branch and committee.   With a strong sense of justice and always striving for fairness and equality, Neil’s contributions to the union along with his academic work as a Marxist historian and author, will continue to shape and inform our political landscape for years to come.


Campus unions’ meeting with higher education minister Richard Lochhead MSP on 29 April

UCU Scotland president Carlo Morelli and Scotland Official Mary Senior were part of an STUC campus unions’ delegation conference call meeting with the Minister for Further and Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead MSP, on Wednesday 29 April.

The meeting was an opportunity for the Minister to update trade unions on the work the Scottish Government is undertaking to support the post-16 education sectors, and importantly where unions raised the issues impacting upon our members directly with the Minister

In opening the meeting Richard Lochhead paid tribute to all staff in the sectors, thanking them for the way they are working amid the coronavirus lockdown.   He set out his recognition of the forthcoming financial challenges of the sector, and how he is meeting his UK government counterparts to impress upon them the need for Treasury support for the university sector in particular.     The Minister asked for our support in lobbying the UK government too, so it is very clear that the work that UCU is undertaking at UK and Scottish levels, and our encouragement to members to contact local MPs and MSPs, is crucial to get this message across.

UCU raised with the Minister our own concerns on the financial health of the sector and the need for government to underwrite the sector at this time.   We also reported on our issues with the furlough scheme, and that while the SFC guidance is helpful, that employers are still not being flexible and progressive on this matter, especially when it comes to fixed term contracts.  Richard Lochhead committed to pushing employers more on this point.  The Minister was also very positive on Fair Work, and UCU Scotland is playing a key part in finalising a campus unions’ proposal for Fair Work in the HE sector.

The union will continue with our regular engagement with the Scottish Government representing the interests and concerns of our members at this crucial time.

Investing in higher education essential to recovery

Mary Senior, Scotland Official, UCU writes about the role higher education will play as the country emerges from the current Covid-19 crisis and why its so important to invest to protect our universities.

This is a worrying and uncertain time for staff and students in universities.  Colleagues have done a tremendous job in shifting lectures, tutorials and student support to remote learning portals in a short space of time.  But this is not without its consequences for staff workloads, and should not be seen as the best way of delivering education as we move forward.

We are seeing some very worrying reports and predictions on the financial impact of Covid-19 for our sector, indeed our own union published its report on 23 April setting out our deep concerns on a major loss of income for the sector, and our current demands of government.   What is clear is that universities are essential to the country’s recovery and key to the fight against the virus.  Universities are increasing the number of doctors and nurses on the frontline, as well as spearheading the research and medical quests to tackle the virus.  Universities provide the vital economic, cultural and social lifeblood of our country, so it is crucial that they are supported.

The union is already making the case to the UK and Scottish governments on the issues facing the sector in this pandemic.  In Scotland we’re making representations direct to the Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead, and via the Ministerial Leadership Group that he convenes.   That includes the immediate issues facing hourly paid and fixed term contract staff, concerns on workloads, fair work, and on employers engaging with campus unions, as well as the longer term funding issues that are so vital for our futures.  The letters UCU members are sending to MSPs to support our message are all helping make this case.   Government need to ensure that all our universities – and the vital teaching and research they provide – are financially protected.  We can’t afford to lose university teaching staff, researchers and professional support staff at precisely the time universities need to be a key driver of recovery – as well as supporting the fight against Covid-19.


Draft letter for UCU members to send to their MSPs: Protecting Scotland’s higher education sector

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady recently wrote to UK education minister Gavin Williamson MP setting out a series of actions the union was asking the UK government to carry out.  UCU Scotland is maintaining regular dialogue with Richard Lochhead MSP, the minister responsible for higher education in the Scottish Government through regular briefings and meetings.  We’re asking members to write to their MSPs asking them to call on the Scottish Government to take a number of actions to support Scottish higher education in these uncertain times.  The draft letter is below and information on how to contact your MSPs can be found on the Scottish Parliament’s website here.

Draft letter to send to MSPs. Please personalise it as much as you wish:


I am writing as your constituent to ask for your help in providing much-needed stability for staff and students in Scottish higher education in the face of the current Covid-19 crisis.

Our universities have always been a critical part of the social and economic fabric of Scotland and will be crucial to our recovery from the current crisis. Staff in universities have already responded swiftly, shifting within a matter of days to online teaching and supporting students and stepping up vital research.

Unsurprisingly, though, the crisis is creating huge uncertainty and without urgent action from government we risk losing vital educational capacity just when it will be needed most.  The sector needs a clear and coherent plan aimed at retaining capacity and maximising the positive impact that higher education can make.

My union, the University and College Union, is calling for the Scottish government to take action in the following areas:

  1. Underwriting higher education by committing to maintaining the income of all higher education institutions at current levels.
  2. Requiring institutions to work cooperatively and cross-sectorally to protect the interests of students and local communities.
  3. Making a public commitment to protect Scotland’s universities against closure.
  4. Ensure access to properly resourced lifelong learning which ensures people of all ages can access the learning they need.
  5. Ensuring that staff working for outsourced companies providing services to higher education institutions receive the same protections as directly employed staff.
  6. Protecting educational capacity by confirming that furlough arrangements will apply to all staff currently employed by universities, including those on insecure contracts, and lobbying the UK government to extend the one-year visa extension scheme being offered to NHS staff to all current visa holders.

As your constituent, I would be grateful if you could, on my behalf, urge the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science to adopt these recommendations and take action to protect our universities.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,