UCU Scotland President’s Reception

On Wednesday 17 May 2017 members of the UCU Scotland executive committee joined MSPs, and the higher education minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville, at a reception hosted for UCU Scotland by the Labour education spokesperson, Iain Gray MSP.  The reception recognised the time in office of the outgoing UCU Scotland president, Douglas Chalmers, and was also an opportunity for the union to highlight our 2017 general election manifesto and our work on Brexit.  Douglas’ speech to the reception is copied below.

‘Any credit that has been pointed in my direction, really ought to go to the movement as a whole, since the watchword of the union movement is that of building on our collective strength around shared values.

And this really is a time when it’s so important to fight for these shared values – to forge together a new conversation about Higher Education and how an open, truly educated society is the best, if not the only, guarantee of solving some of the global problems we face now, and will face in the coming period.

And we don’t need to look far for these problems even in Scotland, despite the measures taken to safeguard and secure our Higher Education system.

It’s roughly 3 weeks before the General Election – an election called by a Prime Minister after repeatedly denying she would do so – the type of cynical opportunism that gives politics a bad name.

And all this after a Brexit campaign where the opinions of experts, and expertise in general was rubbished by cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove.

The UCU itself did not take a view on the referendum during the campaign, recognising the variety of views held by our members. However, the union is clear that the decision has significant implications for higher education.

Article 50 was triggered in March, and in Westminster the white paper on the Great Repeal Bill was published.

If the Conservatives are re-elected then we expect 2 major bills in the Queen’s Speech – both of which will be key for the sector – the first a European Bill that will encompass details of the transfer of funding arrangements to domestic sources, and the second, an Immigration Bill.

Brexit is a key question for the UCU because Higher and Further Education are international and outward facing. In fact Scottish Higher education has one of the most international of labour forces. And this is also reflected in our range of students.

16 per cent of academic staff in Scotland’s higher education sector are from the EU. This rises to 23 per cent among research-only staff.

There are currently 24,000 students of EU nationality studying at undergraduate and postgraduate in Scotland.

Scotland’s universities receive approximately  £90million of research funding a year from EU sources. Most of this, 85 per cent, comes from European Commission programmes.

Scotland secured £636 million from the last EU research framework research programme before our current Horizon 2020 one – our membership of which may now be endangered by Brexit.

1,600 students from Scotland go to Europe on study and/or work exchange programmes every year through Erasmus

All this involves a lot of people, and potentially a lot of jobs.

Together with our colleagues the University Principals (Oops did I really say that, it must be a first…). With our colleagues the University Principals in Universities Scotland, and also our colleagues (or maybe comrades) in NUS, we launched this week what we’ve called a Manifesto for the Mobility of Talent which calls for a guarantee for the almost 5,000 staff from the EU who work in Scotland’s universities to continue to work and reside in the UK and access public services. Our union, wants EU staff and students to maintain freedom of movement.

We also need to safeguard the right of our students to study abroad, and to allow us to accept the thousands of EU students we currently get under the Erasmus+ programme.

And finally we call for the re-instatement of the Scottish post-study work visa, allowing international students the opportunity to stay and work in Scotland for a few years after they graduate. I know this truly does have cross party support in Scotland, and even our Conservatives here are in favour of this. (So I reckon they should be on the phone more often to down South. It is good to talk I believe).It’s even better to insist.

This is of crucial importance as education and research is an international issue, and we are strong in Scotland, because we are international.

So that’s why our union is trying to help build a coalition of support for the best outcome post-brexit around the Manifesto and also our own Manifesto for the General Election where we also call for removing students totally from the immigration figures. And we do need a continuing campaign against xenophobia and racism – surveys by Hobson International have suggested that an increase in racist and xenophobic attacks may be putting off potential new international students.

There is a role for universities and colleges to be up there in the front in a post Brexit world. In difficult times we must continue to make the case for what they stand for: a new conversation based on openness to new ideas, access to opportunity for all, and of course, collaboration with each other, wherever we come from._

And on the issue of collaboration I must sincerely thank both the SNP Government, and the Labour Party and of course the Greens for their collaboration on the rocky road to bringing us more democracy in how our universities are governed. This was not an issue we were able to bring with us, those I referred to as ‘my colleagues the university Principals’, but hope springs eternal and I’m a great believer in the redemptive effect of good experience, so I’m hoping this will indeed be a win-win situation for all of us who want to see a forward looking university sector.

Finally, rather than being disheartened by the Brexiteer’s call to Take Back Control, we should make it our own slogan, and take control of the debate, I think that’s the challenge for us all..

Lastly, then, I’d like to thank you all for coming along this evening. It’s so good to see colleagues both from the UCU and our sister unions, but also from the wider sector and of course from the Scottish government and the other parties at Holyrood here.

And of course, as is proper I need to express my thanks to some people who really have been the heart of the team I’ve played a part of, over the last 2 years, and without whose help it just wouldn’t have been possible to make any of the achievements we’ve been successful in.

Firstly of course, there is the core of the Union team here in Scotland who make the elected officials’ job possible, who I’m really pleased have made it tonight, together with my other union officers, and colleagues from the Scottish executive. David Anderson, our immediate past president was unable to make it as he was at a negotiators meeting in London, so he gives his apologies.

But I’d also like to make a few additional points of thanks. At my own University – Glasgow Caledonian University I’ve had the benefit of the support of some great colleagues – too many to mention, but I just want to put on record the fantastic help they’ve all been to me, and to others at GCU.

And of course like most people, I would never have been able to do half of this without the long suffering support of my partner of almost 30 years, Mhairi McGowan, who although she won’t admit it, has probably forgotten more about trade unions, than I’ve ever learned in my time as a union official. I need to thank her, and my three kids for putting up with all the stresses and strains that come with living with anyone active in the movement.

So the next two years I’m sure will be challenging for the union, but I’m so glad that it will now be in the hands of my good colleague Ann Gow the new President elect, and her deputy as Vice President Eurig Scandrett.

Ann I know will chair the meetings far better than I have – although you know she had the cheek to say to me, when I successfully, successfully, got through our last Congress, on time and with no piece of business falling off the end, “you know, she said, you have a very laid back attitude to standing orders” So that was me told, and I reckon that’s everybody warned.

I’ve no doubt Ann is going to make her mark even more in the union over this coming period and in the longer term future.  So to conclude, I’d like to thank you all very much for coming and I hope you’ve enjoyed the evening as much as I have.’


STUC Equality Rep award

Dundee UCU’s branch president Sharon Sweeney was the proud recipient of this year’s STUC Equality Rep award, presented by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP at STUC Congress in Aviemore in April.

Pic by Fraser Band - 07984 163 256

STUC 2017 congress at Aviemore.

Sharon was presented with the award due to her outstanding work on promoting equality and tackling discrimination.   Sharon has pursued the disability equality agenda, and through negotiations with her employer has successfully negotiated a Disability Leave Policy, one of only a few in higher education.  The policy includes provision for disability leave in long term absence situations, so that disabled staff are not penalised or subject to unfair absence management procedures within the sickness absence process. Following the agreement of this policy, Sharon then instigated a UCU training session together with UCU’s National Head of Equality, Helen Carr, and the Human Resources Director of Dundee University, to show the positive outcomes for good negotiations and best practice around Disability Leave policies.

Staff, students and university principals launch a Manifesto for the Mobility of Talent

UCU Scotland have joined with NUS and Universities Scotland to make a joint statement on the need to have a more open approach to immigration with the return of post-study work visas, and to guarantee the rights of EU citizens working in our universities to work and live here.  You can see the joint press release issued below and read the joint statement here.

Students, staff and principals have called on political parties contesting the General Election to support a Manifesto for Mobility of Talent which focuses on three clear immigration and mobility policies for Scotland.

Political parties’ manifestos for the General Election on the 8 June are expected to be published in the coming days.

The Manifesto for the Mobility of Talent, published on 1 May by the staff and student unions of Scotland’s universities and its Principals, asks all parties to include a proposal for a Scottish post-study work visa in their plans for Government, allowing international students the opportunity to stay and work in Scotland for a few years after they graduate. Scotland attracts 31,000 students from outside the European Union to study in its universities, generating significant economic and cultural benefits for Scotland. Yet current immigration policy makes it very difficult for international students to stay and work in Scotland, forcing a highly skilled and young demographic to return home meaning Scotland’s business sector and public services lose out on talent as a result.

There is cross-party support in Scotland for the return of a post-study work visa for international students. All five major Scottish political parties back a proposal for the reintroduction of such a visa.

Public opinion in Scotland supports such a move. A recent poll found 83% of Scots support the idea that international students should remain in Scotland to work for a period after they graduate rather than immediately returning to their home country. 67% of Scots think the economic impact of international students helps to create jobs. Only 27% of Scots think of international students as immigrants.

Commenting on the launch of the Manifesto, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, the representative body of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, said:

“The next UK Government is going to have to take a new approach to immigration as it moves on with Brexit. This election gives politicians in Scotland a chance to send a strong and united message to the next Government, backed by the electorate, that Scotland wants an immigration policy that works for us.

“We value living and working amongst people from across the world. We want that talent to come and we want to keep our highly-skilled international students for the benefit of our economy and society. Scotland has been able to set a different policy on immigration before. It is entirely possible for the next UK Government to make this happen for Scotland again.”

The joint Manifesto for the Mobility of Talent also calls on politicians to guarantee the rights of the 4,500 staff from the EU and EAA who already work in Scotland’s universities to continue to work and reside in the UK without limits on their ability to access public services. Universities want EU staff and students to maintain freedom of movement.

The Manifesto finally calls for support for opportunities for Scottish students to go abroad as part of their studies. The UK’s continued role in Erasmus+, a major European student exchange programme, is in doubt as a result of Brexit.

NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan said:

“The economic uncertainty of Brexit threatens to have a negative impact on young people’s futures. In this election politicians must be reminded it is their duty to ensure that students and young people have access to the opportunities and experiences that will enable them to reach their full potential in life.

“NUS Scotland strongly believes that students from outside the UK – be that within the EU, or beyond it – bring immense cultural, economic, and educational benefits to our universities and colleges, as well as wider Scottish society. In addition to this, Scottish students also benefit from the chance to study elsewhere in the EU and it is vital that these doors of opportunity do not shut as a consequence of Brexit. In the next Parliament we want to see Scottish MPs hold the UK Government to account on these issues and ensure education and mobility are at the heart of Brexit negotiations.”

Mary Senior, Scotland Official, University and College Union said:

“Our global workforce is a key strength of the education sector, and along with EU and international students, make a hugely valuable contribution to our universities. To avoid a brain drain of international talent we need to send a strong message that staff and students from around the world are welcome in Scotland. That’s why our manifesto calls for the incoming UK government to immediately guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens working and studying in the UK, and end the uncertainty that they are currently facing. We need to be clear that people are welcome to come to study and work in Scotland, and the return of the post-study work visa for international students would do exactly that.”

Brexit is set to be a defining issue within this election. Brexit creates the need for a very different approach to immigration if the UK is to avoid significant skills gaps in some sectors. The outgoing Conservative Government was expected to launch a wide-ranging consultation on immigration policy in the summer. There has been some recent speculation that a more regional approach to immigration policy across the UK will be needed post-Brexit.

The Smith Commission, which considered new powers for Scotland following the 2014 referendum on independence, concluded that Scotland did not need new powers to enact this policy. It is possible under the existing devolution arrangement to deliver regional variation on immigration policy across the UK.