Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe

UCU is critical of UK government policy on immigration and the creation of a deliberately hostile environment.  One aspect of government policy is that university staff find themselves forced to act, simply in doing their jobs assessing students, in a way that impacts on their students’ ability to live in the UK and can leave them facing deportation.  This is both unfair on the student and the member of university staff doing their job.

Dundee PhD student Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe is facing deportation.  In light of this the elected officers of UCU Scotland agreed a statement, supporting Bamidele, and also strongly supporting staff at the University of Dundee:

UCU Scotland Officers note with concern the news that a Dundee PhD student Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe from Nigeria who is blind, is, along with his wife and children, at risk of deportation from the UK. 

We believe that international students and staff should be welcome to live, study and work in Scotland, and that academic decisions should not lead to deportations of students and their families.  

We note the intersectionality of institutional discrimination and institutional racism and as a union we offer support and solidarity to Bamidele and his family at this difficult time. 

We also put on record  our strong support of UCU members at the University of Dundee.  UCU Scotland officers are very clear that university staff, including UCU members, should not be criticised for making academic decisions and doing their jobs professionally.  We also reiterate our commitment to defend our members in the face of misinformation about student support and supervision at the University of Dundee.   

Our opposition is to the UK’s draconian immigration system, and we oppose deportations of students and their families.”

UCU also moved an emergency motion at the recent STUC congress in Dundee.  The text of the motion is below and the STUC have subsequently written in the terms of the motions to Professor Atherton, the principal of the university, the home secretary, Sajid Javid MP, and Scottish government education minister, John Swinney MSP.

“That this Congress notes Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe, a blind Nigerian student, is facing deportation after the University of Dundee cancelled his student status. Congress also notes:

  • the submission of an appeal against the ending of his student status by Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) on 11 April;
  • that Bamidele came to Scotland, with his family to pursue his education prior to returning to Nigeria, aimed at improving the educational opportunities for education for blind students;
  • the intervention by his local MSP and his campaign led to his deportation being delayed from 25 March to 5 June, but his and his family’s threatened deportation is still due to take place; and
  • UCU Scotland’s calls for an end to his deportation and Dundee University UCU’s call on the University of Dundee to reach an agreed settlement with Bamidele.

“STUC believes:

  • the toxic racism of May’s hostile environment and the Home Office Prevent agenda makes international students vulnerable if their studies face any problems; and
  • public bodies, such as Universities, are increasingly forced to act in an institutionally racist way in order to comply with Home Office policies.

STUC resolves to:

  • support Bamidele’s right to stay in Scotland to complete his and his family’s education;
  • call on the University of Dundee to reach an agreed settlement of the appeal raised by PAIH;
  • call on the Home Office to withdraw its deportation order; and
  • call on the Scottish Government, and John Swinney MSP as Education Minister, to mediate between the University of Dundee and PAIH to reach an agreed settlement with Bamidele.”

 

 

 

Val Smith – UCU St Andrews Branch

We are sad to report the passing of our comrade and colleague Val Smith, health and safety officer at the UCU St Andrews Branch.   Val was a dedicated trade unionist, and as health and safety rep for many years she worked tirelessly to support staff and students in the workplace.   Val was a strong advocate against the University’s introduction of an “employer justified retirement age”, very effectively defying this policy herself.  We were grateful for her good judgement and guidance as part of the UCU Scotland Congress Business Committee in 2015, as well as her longstanding work for the branch.  She will be sorely missed by the St Andrews branch and all within UCU Scotland.

St Andrews Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, has paid a fitting tribute to Val :

STA

Dear Colleagues

It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the death of our friend and colleague Dr Val Smith. Val passed away on 2 May, surrounded by loved ones; she had been suffering from cancer.

Val was a respected academic from the School of Biology who was known internationally for her work in comparative immunology. Her objects of passion were crustaceans, finfish and micro-algae. They inspired a curiosity which drove decades of research and intellectual fulfilment. Through this work Val showed that crabs, lobsters, and shrimp have much to teach us about the effects of pollution, disease resistance, and human evolution. Amongst her many highly cited papers, she felt that her crowning achievement was a Nature Communications publication in  2014. This was the first paper unequivocally to  demonstrate that the evolutionarily ancient process of extracellular trap formation by immune cells can be carried out by the simplest of animals and pre-dates the evolution of the coelom.

Undergraduate students loved her teaching; she used innovative assessment techniques including memorably a ‘dragon’s den’ activity in which students presented proposals for industrial advances in marine biotechnology. Val supervised over 20 PhD students.

Val was educated at the University of Wales, where she gained her BSc in Zoology and Microbiology before graduating with a PhD in Comparative Immunology. Her academic career began as a lecturer in Marine Microbiology at the University of London, and she joined our St Andrews family in 1989, dedicating the next 30 years to us.

Val was awarded numerous Visiting Professorships, including a Burroughs Wellcome Award for education on marine microbiology in 1997 and a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Senior Visiting Professorship in 2009. She held several BBSRC and NERC grants during her career, most recently leading an aquaculture related BBSRC-funded research project on salmon immunity.

An accomplished scuba diver with a strong sense of justice, Val was well qualified to be a super-hero. She held the distinction of being deported from Mururoa by the French Foreign Legion, a consequence of spending time in French Polynesia as a scientific observer for Greenpeace.  Val also worked unstintingly as a Union advocate to support her colleagues at the University, and was immensely resilient in the face of the adversity that was her progressive illness.

Our thoughts go out to Val’s family, her close friend and colleague Liz Dyrynda, and her beloved cat Lucy. Details of arrangements for Val’s funeral will be available from the Chaplaincy in due course.

Sally Mapstone

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Val Smith

Dr Val Smith

(image courtesy of University of St Andrews)

2019 STUC Congress

The 2019 STUC congress took place between 15 and 17 April in the Caird Hall in Dundee.  UCU was represented by a full delegation with delegates from a range of branches playing a full part in congress.

All UCU’s motions – on higher education funding, gender based violence in higher education, and on EU staff and students – were passed along with motions we’d amended, one from NASUWT on the UK treasury changes to the Scottish Teachers’ Pension Scheme and the other seeking justice for Bhopal after 35 years.

UCU also submitted an emergency motion calling for an end to moves to deport Dundee student Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe.  The motion was passed unanimously and Bamidele was present in the hall to receive the support of delegates. UCU delegates spoke powerfully on all our motions and those we amended and also on a range of other motions on issues affecting members.

In addition, UCU member James Richards from Heriot-Watt was a member of the UCU delegation and on the Wednesday was awarded the 2019 STUC organising award for his and the branch’s work on turnout.  The award was presented to James by STUC general secretary Grahame Smith and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon after delegates watched a video detailing James’ work on recent UCU ballots and how his branch have consistently achieved a high turnout.

On the last day of congress it was announced that the STUC general council had elected UCU Scotland official Mary Senior as STUC vice-president.

Photos of UCU at congress are below.  All photos ‘2019 STUC Congress – Fraser Band’ other than the first two which were taken by UCU.

James STUC photo

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STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.

STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.

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STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.

Guidance For Those Accused of Bullying or Harassment

Guidance for those accused of bullying or harassment – advice for UCU members and lay Reps/Caseworkers

Supporting/representing members accused of bullying or harassment is never straightforward.  Please see information HERE which provides members in these circumstances with information and guidance which aims to assist in helping them re-frame their reflections about what’s alleged and also how best to react and respond to any allegations.  Although the intended audience for this resource is our members, it is also instructive and useful for Reps and lay Branch Caseworkers to refer to.  Encourage members first accused of bullying or harassment to remember it is their accusers reaction to their behaviour which is important to reflect on, not the members intention or the reaction they think their accuser should have.  Worth highlighting  too that, should a complaint of bullying or harassment be upheld against a member (following conclusion of due process, up-to-and-beyond appeal stage) then the Branch may decide to withdraw ongoing support for that member, aside from advising them of their legal rights… unless there is evidence of a miscarriage of justice.  In harassment and possible serious discrimination cases, harassment being a form of discrimination defined within the Equality Act 2010, the Branch should always contact the Caseworker for Scotland, based in Ingram House Glasgow using the generic Scotland email address below i.e. to discuss and agree a way forward.  Also, if in doubt about a case don’t hesitate to contact UCU Scotland by email in the first instance – scotland@ucu.org.uk

This is important because of the need to assess statutory deadlines and protect a member’s employment rights.  Members experiencing mental distress, no matter the underpinnings of the case, should always be signposted to the following agencies for help:

  • UCU Education Support Partnership provides independent, confidential 24/7 support, to help you deal with stress and anxiety, bullying, career and money worries, and a range of other issues, tel. 08000 562 561 (free, any time from any phone) or email support@edsupport.org.uk
  • Breathingspace Scotland: breathingspace.scot tel. 0800 83 85 87 (free, any time from any phone) Mon-Thurs 6pm to 2pm & Friday 6pm to Mon 6am
  • Samaritans: samaritans.org (you don’t have to be suicidal) tel. 116 123 (free, any time from any phone) or email: jo@samaritans.org

 

Presentation to UCU Scotland congress from Kathy Jenkins, Scottish Hazards

UCU Scotland congress heard from Kathy Jenkins, secretary of Scottish Hazards.  Scottish Hazards provides free and confidential information, advice, support and training to workers on workplace health and safety issues.  They also campaign for safe and healthy workplaces, acting as a focal point for trade unionists and others committed to improving workplace health and safety.

Kathy addressed congress on the issues of workload and work-related stress, and on the work of the Scottish Hazards Centre.  The slides from Kathy’s presentation are copied below.

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President’s address to UCU Scotland congress 2019

Ann Gow congress 2019

UCU Scotland Congress 2019 heard from president Ann Gow on the morning of Friday 29 March.  The text of what will be her last speech to Scottish congress in the role of president is reproduced below.

Congress. I can hardly believe it’s a year since we met and that I have just two months to run as your president. It has been a true honour and a privilege to serve UCU Scotland and all our members. Perhaps one of the most rewarding time of my years as a trade union activist in Higher Education.

I have had the real pleasure of working with the UCU Scotland Office team, the Officers and Executive – committed, hard-working and fiercely political and of course, our members. I have met so many over the two years, on picket lines, at rallies, on marches, at GMs, at  campaign stalls, at teach ins and outs, even at singing practice and have listened to their opinions, experiences, and plans to take forward their  organising work in their branches to shape UCU policy and drive our union forward.

While I want to use this time to look forward, I will take a moment to reflect on the past year and the action we took to defend our USS pension. With our employers obdurate in forcing changes through, deaf to our argument that there were no compelling financial reason for changes, and short-sighted in ignoring the threat that the changes posed economically, socially and in terms of employment relations – we took the most transformative action in our history.

We have driven our employers back from the wilful sabotage of our pensions to the point we are at now (and I’m not going into the technicalities here – 13 point update)

This is a critical time and while our strike brought us the JEP (In fact, it was at this meeting last year we witnessed the delight of the negotiators as we heard the news of the JEP)

And it was the JEP that vindicated UCU’s position on the discredited 2017 valuation.

We continue to argue for the implementation of all of the JEP’s recommendations, with the custodians, not (for once) our employers of our pension unhelpfully trying to unpick JEP– and it will ultimately be for members who got us to this point, to decide whether further industrial action is required to achieve the union’s aims.

How did we do this?

We did it because at key moments we all saw the value of unity – the message that sends to members when we are fighting together.

We did it because of the brilliant leadership of our branches, because of our determined negotiators and – of course – our fantastic staff.

When we work together we are very hard to beat.

One of our students told me when I was explaining our action, of an Ethiopian saying that he thought I’d like “When spiders webs unite, they can tie down a lion”

And we have a lot to unite against.

Challenges in our workplaces

Challenges as a country

Challenges internationally

Unity is the key to fighting these challenges

We see the big issues our members struggle with in branches

workload, stress, casualization and equalities.

I’ll delighted to welcome Kathy Jenkins from Scottish Hazards to talk to us on workload and work related stress. And also to welcome Letitia McGowan from Unison to address congress on the fantastic success of the equal pay campaign in Glasgow.

Branches are the keystones of our union I must take a minute to recognise the immense work they do, day in day out for their members facing these challenges.  QMU, taking action to defend members from swingeing cuts, Heriot Watt, smashing the 50% barrier as they GTVO, Edinburgh for detailed and driven work on casualization, Glasgow for H&S approaches to work related stress.

Work done by the inspiring activists in branches along with our colleagues in the UCU Scotland office.

It has been a transformative year

In which we have seen our membership and influence grow – We have grown our membership to over 7000 in Scotland

A transformative year in which we have fought and won at work.

In which we have increased participation in the union at every level

UCU Scotland starts from the position that the staff who deliver education must be at the centre of a fair, just and efficient education system. As I see it, questions of professional status and of academic freedom form a bridge between employment issues and those affecting the state of universities.

They remain as pressingly important as ever, if not more so. Progressive encroachment on the professional autonomy of our members in their workplaces through performance management schemes, have a direct impact on their working lives not least through workload.

The truth is that they have been actively created by the gradual development of managerialism internally in response to successive government initiatives from the Thatcher period onwards. I needn’t rehearse these factors here: they can, I suppose, be summed up in two mantras – ‘value for money’ and ‘efficiency gains’ From the outset, instead of actively challenging the obviously destructive policies of government, VCs and governing bodies rolled over and accepted almost without a murmur the supposed need for crass efficiency gains. We see this starkly in the rush to the game of REF and the destruction this causes to research that doesn’t fit the game playing strategies that we are about to see enacted in our universities.

Together we must keep pushing for the things that I think matter.

Like opposing the march of the market in higher education: misplaced priorities and treating higher education as a zero sum game rather than a public good and a civic and political and economic resource for the polity. This is a deep institutional problem, and a deep political problem.

Like proper investment in our universities – we have seen a Scottish budget that attacks HE with damaging consequences for students and staff in universities, at an already uncertain time – if we want Scotland to have a world-leading university system, that is also accessible to students from hard to reach backgrounds, it needs to be properly funded

Like our work with NUS, University Scotland, Scottish Government and Equally Safe in HE on fighting GBV in HE. I have had the privilege to sit on committees working together to address the 1 in 7 reports from students of unwanted sexual behaviour during their time at University. We have produced GBV support cards given to all staff in Colleges and Universities and are working towards strategy for Fresher’s week.
Like standing up for staff on casual contracts – the people who make our universities tick – and who deserve so much better. Local claims at various universities across Scotland are beginning to take effect as we see staff moved from zero hours or zero hours by another name, to contracts and gaining the employment rights that come with this.

And these are just some of the challenges that face us in Scotland over the next months and years.  If we look beyond our horizon, to borrow a shipping forecast metaphor, that the outlook is not fair.  Yes, here it comes – the B word

Brexit. I started writing this speech earlier this week so who knows where we are, certainly not the government. And this is still true on Thursday evening as we look to MV 3 on Friday.

What we do know is that Brexit is looming over everything we do, causing fear and anxiety across our membership.  UCU members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the union supporting a referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the UK government (whatever and whenever that may be)

We see a huge outpouring on the streets and through petitions, as a split parliament and country tries to find a way forward.

And we also witnessed the dreadful events in Christchurch, the damage to mosques in Birmingham and Newcastle – events that are driven by hate and fear. We see extremists organising groups on campus and we know that racist attacks are on the rise. The rhetoric of the right fuels this fear and hatred and as TU we MUST call it out, stamp it out whenever we see it.

Education is what this union is all about and our response to the horrific incident in Christchurch must be to continue to champion knowledge, truth, tolerance and diversity. These are values that are worth fighting for.

And we can learn from the magnificent response from New Zealand both government and people –  united in the face of hatred  and we can watch real leadership show steel and compassion as Jacinta Arden says “We are one”

All these things matter to our members so we will campaign on them across this union because these issues of equality, justice and opportunity are in the DNA of UCU Scotland; hard wired into everything we do.

Our strength – our unique strength – in the trade union movement- is the spirit of solidarity that permeates everything we do.  It is that commitment to each other and to a common cause which gives us everything we need to fight back.

We see clearly what happens as polarising debates breed distrust, contempt and fear and hatred. But it is that spirit of unity that I have had the huge honour to witness at first hand across all our branches in my term as president that gives me hope for the future.

As we move to our debates  I know we will do so in that spirit of solidarity, to be calm and reasonable in our discussions, to listen and to respond to opposing views and to show our  spirit of unity  at all times.

Let us celebrate the achievements we have made, the USS action, in the equality gain, in local claims, in the changes in governance, in opposing GBV and look to the future – we have a day of debate, discussion and planning ahead.

Let us make this Congress a celebration of what our members do and a signal of our determination to defend them and defend education.

If I can crave your indulgence for a moment longer, I’d like to thank my fellow officers, the UCU Scotland staff who work incredibly hard supporting branches and our members, my colleagues, family and friends for supporting me to be able to take on this role. I’d thank my son but as he’s 16, that’d embarrass him forever, so I won’t.

 

 

 

UCU Scotland branch organising awards 2019

UCU Scotland congress took place on Friday 29 March 2019 and, as well as the important business of passing motions and setting policy, congress also saw the annual awarding of the UCU Scotland branch organising awards.

The awards are decided by the UCU Scotland elected officers and recognise outstanding work in local organising carried out by branches in the preceeding year.  Announcing the awards, UCU UK president Vicky Knight said that 2018/19 had been a particularly difficult year to decide the winners given the significant organising work carried out by branches and reps across Scotland building on the the USS dispute; organising around pay, workload, anti casualisation and equality; and campaigning against education cuts.

However she did announce the winners with the first branch rep award going to James Richards of Heriot Watt branch in recognition of the outstanding GTVO campaign which delivered a 64% turnout at Heriot Watt branch in the Pay and Equality Ballot, along with the follow-up work of capturing the data and activity to develop a blue print for branch GTVO campaigns in UCU and across the trade union movement.

James Richards award pictureJames Richards from Heriot-Watt UCU receiving his award from UCU president, Vicky Knight

The second, branch organising award was presented to QMU branch in recognition of the outstanding campaigning and organising work of the branch in the face of employer cuts, and in securing a 72% turnout in a local industrial action ballot.

QMU award pictureQMU UCU branch officers at congress receiving their award from UCU president, Vicky Knight