UCU pay, equalities, job security and workload and USS ballots – getting the vote out


UCU is currently balloting members on two ballots for industrial action. One ballot on pay, workload, casualisation and gender pay; and the other for members in the USS pension scheme. The union is working hard to secure ‘yes’ votes for both strike action and action short of strike in both ballots. Branches too are working tirelessly to ensure that the turnout is over the 50% required by legislation to allow members to push for better pay, working conditions and a fair pension. This blog post contains some of the highlights of the work taking place now and which members will continue to do in the run up to the ballot closing on 30 October.
Members from 8 branches from around Scotland met at the STUC in Glasgow in late August at a co-ordinating event called ‘Biting the Ballot’. After hearing an introduction from UCU Scotland president Carlo Morelli, the meeting heard from the union’s Scotland official Mary Senior along with the union’s Marion Hersh and Tim Wilson. The meeting also looked in detail at how to maximise turnout, hearing from Heriot-Watt branch who in the 2018 ballot managed to get turnout up to 64%. Following the presentations branches split into groups and identified key tasks to allow them to make their own get the vote out (GTVO) plans more successful. The weeks since have seen branches put this work into practice encouraging members to vote yes for action in all the ballots and drive up turnout over the 50% mark.
18 September saw Scotland play host to a ballot briefing where members heard from UCU’s general secretary Jo Grady. The multi-branch event, held again at the STUC in Glasgow, was well attended with branches going in depth into the substance and cause of the disputes and feeding back to the union nationally about the strength of feeling locally. As well as addressing the briefing, Jo Grady also visited branches across Scotland as part of her national tour. She met with members and addressed meetings in branches at Dundee, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Strathclyde and Glasgow universities. Below are some pictures from the meetings:

The next few weeks will be critical in ensuring that we get the turnout and result we need to defend the USS pension and for a fair pay award and action on equality, workload and job security. For help and advice on GTVO work in your branch contact UCU Scotland Branch Development Officer Mike Williamson on scotland@ucu.org.uk

Action on climate change: UCU’s call for a 30 minute stoppage on 20 September in support of the climate change school strike; supporting presentation slides and draft letter on divestment.

In line with motions passed at UK UCU congress, UCU has submitted a motion to TUC congress in September calling for unions and student associations to hold 30 minutes stoppages in solidarity with the global school strike for climate justice on 20 September.  You can find more about UCU’s call here.

UCU Scotland president, Carlo Morelli, has produced the presentation below for branches to use as a base for raising awareness of the action and UCU’s call:

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There is also a supporting video here.

Carlo has also produced the draft letter below for branches to send to their institution’s principal calling for pension fund disinvestment.  The letter includes details of those institutions who have already divested.

Dear Principal,

Re: Divestment of Pension Fund

I’m writing on behalf of UCU, which represents academic and professional services staff across our university, to request that you take steps to divest the university’s endowment from all fossil fuel companies. UCU has policy calling for all universities to ask the Pension fund to start divestment.

On 19 May 2019, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a state of climate emergency. This followed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in October 2018 which demanded ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ in less than 12 years (before 2030) to meet the demands to the 2015 Paris Agreement and keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C warming, and therefore avoid total climate breakdown and mass extinction.

Removing investment for fossil fuel companies is a key part of the changes that are necessary in this relatively short period of time. We all must do our bit. Already, across the UK and Ireland, more than 70 universities have divested their endowments. You can see the full list on the People & Planet website here: peopleandplanet.org/fossil-free-victories
In Scotland, nearly all of our major universities have now committed to divestment:
Glasgow University in 2014, Queen Margaret University and Heriot-Watt University in 2015, Abertay Dundee and University of the West of Scotland in 2016, University of St Andrews in 2017, University of Edinburgh in 2018 and University of Stirling earlier this year.

Others shamefully are being left behind. As more and more young people become aware of the devastating impact extracting and burning fossil fuels is having on our climate, the fact that all universities in Scotland have still not committed to disinvesting in fossil fuels does not make sense. It is not good for Higher Education’s public image, nor for maintaining our educational values, nor in terms of good business sense as carbon reduction legislation kicks in and these investments become ‘stranded assets’. What is more divestment is an incredibly simple process and will signal the direction universities intend to move in terms of meeting our obligations to reduce our impact and fight climate change.

Many Fund Managers now have ethical/fossil free schemes, which make divestment incredibly simple. All you need do is give the instruction, they will do the rest. People & Planet have suggested universities use Sarasin to complete their divestments. http://www.sarasinandpartners.com/ We therefore request that you ensure that ethical/fossil free investment is at the core of your decisions over which Fund Manager to recruit.

We would be keen to come to discuss this urgent issue with you further.

We look forward to the university taking responsibility for its own impact on the environment and committing to divest in the near future.

Best regards,



Blog by UCU member Mari-Cruz Garcia: ‘Keeping British Universities international: what has immigration ever done to us?’

UCU member Mari-Cruz García is a digital education consultant who has lived in the UK for 18 years. She has been equality officer at Dundee University UCU and she is a delegate at the Consejo de Residentes Españoles en el Norte del Reino Unido, representing the Spanish citizens in the EU27 Representative Group of the EU Exit Office of the Home Office.  She wrote the blog below on ‘Keeping British Universities international; what has immigration ever done to us?’ for the blog of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) … ‘Keeping British Universities international: what has immigration ever done to us by’ Mari-Cruz Garcia




8th Annual STUC LGBT+ Conference Report

Photo of Lena and Sylvia

By Dr Lena Wånggren

At the end of May (25-26), when most UCU officers were participating in the UCU UK national congress in Harrogate, UCU Scotland were represented by Lena Wånggren (UCU Edinburgh and UCU Scotland Vice President) and Sylvia Morgan (UCU Glasgow) at the 8th annual Scottish Trade Union Congress LGBT+ Workers’ Conference held in Clydebank, Glasgow. It was two days of debating motions, attending workshops (one on dementia care for older LGBT+ people, and one on improving trans rights and equality), and moving forward to represent and improve working conditions for LGBT+ members.

UCU Scotland delegates moved motions on anti-casualisation and improved research and university teaching on LGBT+ issues, and spoke in support of a number of motions e.g. on support for LGBT mental health (amending the motion proposed by Fire Brigades Union). Other motions included work against homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia; intersectionality in the LGBT+ movement; tackling LGBT+ hate crime and discrimination; improving inclusive language; social media; outlawing LGBT+ ‘cure’ therapy; ending new HIV transmissions; supporting LGBT+ education; and supporting LGBT+ people internationally.

Two motions were specifically supported by a large number of speakers from different unions: the first motion that called for STUC to support battling a transphobic society, proposed by Unite the Union Scotland, which included figures that ‘according to Stonewall Scotland, one in eight trans employees have been physically attacked at work, and 51 percent of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination’; the second motion, proposed by the Fire Brigades Union, concerned support for LGBT mental health, and noted that according to research ‘LGBT people are up to three times more likely to suffer from mental health conditions than the rest of society’, with a further stigma for these workers connected to sexuality and gender identity.

Guest speakers and workshop facilitators at the conference included Mary Senior, STUC Vice President (and UCU Scotland official), Christina McKelvie MSP (Minister for Older People and Equalities), Helen Wright (Scottish Queer International Film Festival), Ciara Maguire (Outside the Box, with Scottish Pensioners’ Forum), James Morton (Scottish Trans Alliance), and Linda Ford (STUC Disableed Workers’ Committee).

It was a busy but great two days, with much solidarity and equality work.

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 :


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.


STUC 2019 Congress, Caird Hall, Dundee.