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.’


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