UCU Scotland on Sarah Everard and events at the 13 March 2021 vigil

‘UCU Scotland shares the sadness of millions of women at the abduction and killing of Sarah Everard and their anger at the way in which a peaceful protest to celebrate her life and manifest against violence towards women and girls has degenerated into a spectacle of patriarchy and misogyny.

‘UCU Scotland is equally concerned that in the current proposed legislative environment an offense caused to a statue receives a harsher punishment than one caused to a woman; this is indicative of a toxic misogynistic culture which UCU Scotland intends to fight while proposing instead a vision of true equality which recognises the value of every individual no matter their gender.’

Online UCU Scotland hustings, 1pm, Wednesday 24 March

We’re pleased to be able to tell you about the online UCU Scotland hustings we’re holding ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections.  The hustings will start at 1.00pm on Wednesday 24 March 2021, and will be over no later than 2.30pm.

Put the date in your diary now.  You can watch the hustings at this YouTube link

Hear from confirmed speakers: SNP education spokesperson at Westminster Carol Monaghan MP; Scottish Labour’s newly appointed education spokesperson Michael Marra; The Scottish Lib Dem’s education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP; the Scottish Green’s education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP; and the Scottish Conservative’s education spokesperson Jamie Greene MSP.

We’ll have a short run through of UCU’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections (you can see the union’s paper on an alternative future for Scottish higher education here) before the politicians answer questions from UCU members.

To suggest a question you’d like the candidates aspiring to lead Scottish higher education in government for the next five years to answer, email scotland@ucu.org.uk before 22 March.

Join us for this important event on Wednesday 24 March.

International Solidarity

International solidarity with workers, students and citizens of the world is really important to the trade union movement.

Further details of UCU’s solidarity work is on our website.

At the UCU Scotland Congress in September 2020, delegates debated motions on specific situations around the globe in India and in Palestine.  UCU Scotland agreed the following resolutions:

Solidarity with students and staff in India

The protests across India against issues concerning the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 have met state-sponsored repression on university campuses.

UCU Scotland notes:

  • UCU UK’s 17 December 2019 statement of solidarity with students and staff on university campuses in India, condemning the Indian state’s assault on free speech.
  • The escalation of the conflict, including the police invasion of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, and the violence of ABVP cadres against students at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
  •  

UCU Scotland resolves to:

  • Issue a statement referencing recent events in solidarity with students, staff and other citizens protesting in India.
  • Work with students and academics from South Asia to organise against the continuing assault on free speech in the country.
  • Organise, promote and share good practice on events, such as seminars, public meetings, or talks providing information on the CAA, NRC, and the threat of Hindu fundamentalism to the social fabric of India.
  • Lobby the Scottish Government to issue a strong statement condemning the attacks.
  • Work to support organisations and unions such as the JNU Teachers Association which are working in Indian universities to challenge this repressive situation
  • To condemn in the strongest terms the anti-Muslim nationalist pogroms ongoing under the pretext of pro CAA and NRC action”

Further information on the situation in India was reported in the Guardian in January 2020:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/06/students-injured-in-india-after-masked-attackers-raid-top-university

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/09/a-violent-attack-on-academic-freedom

Palestine

Congress notes:

  • the Palestinian call for international week of action to support the Great March of Return (GMR) 24-30 March 2020;

70% of the population of Gaza are refugees, entitled to return to the homes, now in Israel, from which their families were evicted in 1948, a right denied by Israel in defiance of UN security council resolution 194;

  • GMR is a popular, unarmed civilian movement of resistance to the denial of rights to Palestinians;
  • GMR 2018-19 was met with violence by Israeli occupying forces against unarmed nonviolent protesters, children, medical personnel and journalists, resulting in over 250 deaths and  8,000 injuries, which the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry believes, may constitute a crime against humanity;

This congress agrees to send a public message of solidarity to the GMR, and encourages branches and members to take solidarity action, including supporting STUC endorsed campaign of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. 

Further information on the STUC work and the SUSPS programme is here:

http://www.stuc.org.uk/campaigns-and-events/international-solidarity/palestine

STUC congress 2020

UCU Scotland delegates participated in the STUC’s very first online virtual congress on Tuesday 17 November. You can watch a recording of the congress here, including speeches from Scotland president Carlo Morelli and Kate Sang from Heriot Watt branch.  Kate was also this year’s recipient of the STUC Union Reps Equality Award (You can see a video explaining why she won the award 1 hour and 15 mins into the footage).

Following Congress, Mary Senior was elected as the STUC’s President for the coming year.  Mary is the first UCU nominee to hold this position, which will include chairing the STUC’s  general council.  Mary will continue her important UCU work as the union’s Scotland official, supported by the team in Scotland.

UCU’s views on “restricted blended” and why we don’t have clarity from government yet

It’s now nearly two weeks since the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework – with the different levels and the updated rules – came into force on 2 November 2020.  For the university sector, we still don’t have clarity as to what is meant by the new “restricted blended” learning definition which according to the Scottish Government’s framework is applicable for all universities in “level three” areas.   When it was introduced over a week ago, this new “restricted blended” provision applied to universities in the central belt – that’s all the Glasgow and Edinburgh institutions, as well as those in Stirling and Dundee.   On Tuesday 10 November, Fife moved into level three, and so St Andrews University is now under the “restricted blended” regime too. 

Ever since we saw the proposed “restricted blended” term back on the 23 October, and the new framework of levels, UCU has been pushing the Scottish Government to clarify what this means and to end the ambiguity and the ability for universities to continue demanding our members provide more and more in-person provision.  We want to keep students and staff safe from the virus which is becoming more prevalent in our communities.

UCU is very clear that “blended learning” should mean that all activity (including teaching and student support) where it is possible to undertake that activity remotely online, should be done remotely online.  This will free up space on campus for other activity (eg lab work, practical work – especially in nursing/medicine degrees) to be done in-person on campus, with the due mitigations.

We believe that “restricted blended” should mean, as above, that all activity that is possible to be delivered remotely online, should be done online.  However, it additionally means that activity which may not easily adapt to online work (eg lab work, practical work – especially nursing/medicine degrees) has to have additional consideration as to how it can be adapted (done in a different way remotely), deferred (done later in the year when it is safer), or it is deemed essential to be done in-person on campus, and additional mitigations are put in place to enable this to happen (eg, extra PPE, smaller groups, etc).

We have made these points repeatedly to civil servants, in writing and in meetings with Ministers too, but at the time of writing there has been no update on these definitions.

UCU has also submitted to government our views that the “restricted blended” provisions should not just apply to universities in levels three and four areas, but also to institutions operating in level two areas as well.  We await to see if this will be taken on board.

The union has been making representations on the end of term too.  UCU believes that students have to be given the choice to return to family homes (where they have them) at the end of term for Christmas.  This should be made possible by minimising in-person activity on campus, to support a staggered movement of students and staff, and reduce the spreading of the virus.   Additionally more robust and systematic testing of students and staff should take place, to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.   So we were heartened to see the announcement of asymptomatic testing by the Minister on 11 November.  But we need to see far more detail, including on the role of staff and students in the administration of testing, and the support and protections for them at this crucial time.   There is currently minimal detail on how any of this will work, and very limited time for a robust testing system to be rolled out and effective before the end of the year.  The union is continuing to push the government for answers on this matter.

UCU has stressed the need to prioritise student wellbeing and support, particularly for those who test positive and will need to self-isolate, we need to ensure their health, practical needs, and their wellbeing is protected.  We’re liaising closely with NUS Scotland on these steps.

We’re also arguing very strongly for a plan for Semester Two right now, because decisions being made about returns at Christmas are inextricably linked to the new year in 2021.   UCU has said clearly that we need to see quality online provision, with staff supported, in the new year, to give students choice as to whether they wish to return to term-time accommodation or remain in a family home, and to minimise the potential for the outbreaks and spread of the virus that we witnessed in September.

The union will continue to push all of these points, and for the health, safety and wellbeing of students and staff to be the priority.

UCU Scotland

12 November 2020

UPDATE – Subsequent to the publication of this article the Scottish Government published a definition of ‘restricted blended’ and ‘blended’ learning here.

UCU webinar – ‘The Automatic University’: the new normal for higher education?

Last year UCU Scotland commissioned work to review and understand the expansion of data systems and automation in higher education. We wanted to be able to pre-empt and respond to the challenges that artificial intelligence and automation bring to our sector. A year on Covid-19 has made these challenges all too real for staff and students in education. This UCU webinar (below) hears from the report’s author, Dr Ben Williamson, an academic from the University of Edinburgh;  from Ann Gow, UCU Scotland immediate past-president, who was involved in the working group for the report; and from Jenny Lennox of the union’s bargaining and negotiations team. UCU’s Scotland official, Mary Senior chaired the session.

The report, and its recommendations for the union are available on the UCU website.

And you can view the webinar here.

Heriot-Watt branch rally to defend jobs

UCU members at Heriot-Watt University were joined by politicians, figures from across the trade union movement, and UCU members from across the country in an online rally on Wednesday 7 October.

The rally was held as members were being balloted for strike action in a row over the prospect of compulsory job losses. Despite having cut 70 jobs in 2017, the university are now threatening an additional 130 jobs and have refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.

Members heard from local MP Joanna Cherry, Lothians MSP Neil Findlay, Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray MSP, and the Scottish Green’s Andy Wightman MSP. Message were also read from Beatrice Wishart MSP, the Lib Dems education spokesperson and the MP John Lamont whose constituency includes the university’s Scottish borders campus. Rozanne Foyer, General Secretary of the STUC and the CWU’s Gary Clark brought solidarity messages, and James Richards (vice-president of the branch) set out the branch’s opposition to university management’s plans explpaining why they are premature and ill-thought out. Members also heard messages of support from the union’s UK president Vicky Blake and the UCU Scotland president, Carlo Morelli.

You can watch the rally below.

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.

Ed UCU