Join our teach-in on 1st March!

UCU members and students have out together an exciting programme of teach-ins, celebrating the role of the university as a space for provocation, thought and reflection on key social justice issues of our day.

After the rally with UCU President Vicky Blake, come join us for a fascinating series of 5–10 minute provocations followed by Q&A and discussion at The Up in Arms Pub.

All staff, students and members of the public welcome. Pizza (including vegan option) available for £5 from 12–3pm.

Teach-In Schedule — Tuesday, March 1st

Post UCU-Rally. People will likely start to arrive from 1:00. Events will start once people have been able to grab a bite or a drink – as things settle.
The Up in Arms Pub, 241 Marston Road, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0FN
This event will be composed of two mini-panels consisting of twp discussants (or provocateurs) per panel followed by Q&A. As the aim of this event is to generate discussion and dialogue, discussants will limit their provocations to 5–10 minutes.

Panel One

Stuart Whigham, Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work
Sport, political protest, and social change — the need for public intellectuals
Although many social conservatives have long argued that ‘sport and politics shouldn’t mix’, sport has long been a domain in which political protests have been evident, albeit with varying degrees of success. More recently, the cases of Marcus Rashford, Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, amongst others, have illustrated the potential for sportspeople to act as what Gramsci described as ‘public intellectuals’ in using their platform to gain popular support to enact social change. This discussion will focus on the lessons that can be gleaned from sport for other political protest movements in other domains of society.
Jill Millar, Business School
Is strike action ethical?
This provocation will ask the following:

  1. What are the ethical issues raised by strike action? (Such as withdrawing labour; not delivering needed services, or services that stakeholders are entitled to; potential for exploitation if strikes not permitted)
  2. How would I justify strike action from an ethical point of view? What principles am I relying on?

Panel Two

Tim Jones, School of the Built Environment
Why is the climate emergency a union issue?
Tim Jones (OBU UCU Green Rep) will talk about why the climate emergency is a union issue and what members of UCU and the NUS can do to get involved in addressing it.
Ben Kenward, Centre for Psychological Research
Has the world already been taken over by artificial intelligence?
Some people worry that intelligent machines with conflicting interests to people could take over. But what if intelligent non-human entities already exist, made out of people and infrastructure? This session takes a psychological and evolutionary approach to discuss the argument that some organisations (such as fossil fuel companies) are best seen as non-human entities making decisions that no human would make, and already “outwitting humanity”.

Out now! Precarious academic work in Oxford: testimonies from Oxford Brookes and Oxford University UCU members

Teaching-only academics on hourly-paid contracts: Oxford Brookes University, 75%

Research-only academics on fixed-term contracts: Oxford University, 87%; Oxford Brookes University, 97%

There is nothing inevitable about the levels of casualisation in the
higher education sector, nor has it come about by accident; it is the
result of universities’ reliance on a particular business model. After
adjusting for inflation, the sector has seen its total income rise by
around 15% over the last six years, while casualisation continues to grow.

For all these reasons, Oxford Brookes UCU and Oxford University UCU
joined forces to collect testimonies from their casualised members.
Collecting and sharing these stories means giving voice to those who
too often feel unable to question their terms of employment, for fear of
having their hours cut or not having their fixed-term contract renewed.

For our casualised colleagues, our branches and your fellow workers
are reaching out to tell you that you are not alone and that there are
ways we can take collective action to improve our conditions
: contact
your reps and your branch, get involved, and don’t hesitate to ask for
information about your contract and rights.

For our colleagues in more
stable roles, this is a call to show your solidarity: talk to your students and precarious colleagues about joining the union, and support anti-
casualisation initiatives organized locally and nationally. ‘What can I do?’, includes more practical suggestions on how all UCU members
can challenge casualisation.

Read the full report here.

OBU UCU Statement on Reopening and Return to Campus

The branch’s statement on reopening and returning to campus can be found here.

Branch members were asked to vote on whether or not they support the statement. 230 member responded, representing about 57% of the branch membership. 195 member (85%) voted to support the statement; 35 members (15%) were not in support of the statement.

Advice on Face to Face Teaching and Vulnerable Members

Currently, Brookes is requiring that academic staff be available for face to face teaching. It has also said that if staff refuse to undertake face to face delivery they may be put on unpaid leave. Our position is that if you have a health condition that puts you at risk by attending work – particularly if you have a chronic illness or disability, or are living with someone who does – you may legitimately object to putting yourself at risk by having to attend work in person.

In addition, if you are feeling extremely anxious (and anxiety can be a physiological condition) about coming in, but have no other health issues, you may wish to consider seeing your GP for advice, and possibly a fitness to work note that may ask the employer to make the reasonable adjustment of not requiring you to come in.

If you are experiencing difficulties about coming to a mutually acceptable agreement with your line manager about attending work, please seek advice from your union rep.

We are attaching information from UCU on the rights of vulnerable staff which should address any concerns you might have about your rights here. You can also find the branch statement on reopening of the campus here.

Teachers’ Pension Scheme Update

In September 2018, the government announced that HE employer contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) in England & Wales were to increase by 7.2 per cent to 23.8 per cent.  The TPS is the pension scheme which most post-92 institutions and their academics reside under.   These increases represent a very significant increase in real £ terms to the employers – in the case of OBU approximately £2.3m annually.  The central questions surrounding this uplift in contributions are “how will the University meet this increased bill and what might be the fallout from this for staff”?  Before we answer these questions it is wise to consider what has already gone before in recent times, as recent/ongoing events will fashion employer response.

Of particular note are UG recruitment trends over the last 3 years.  Both nationally and within OBU we are experiencing sharp declines in UG recruitment levels.  Whilst our employers are trying to calm the waters by indicating that the worst is over i.e. we only have a 3% decline in the academic year 2018-19 as compared to a 20% decline in 2017-18, the fact remains that over the last 3 year time period, income generation from UG fees has dropped sharply.  As student fee income is our “bread and butter” – in essence we have a lot less money coming in with which to pay the bills.  To potentially compound the impact of this – the Augar Review of post-18 education will look at UG fee levels, with several leaks suggesting that the annual fee will be reduced to £6.5k a year – should this become a reality, again a lot less money with which to pay the bills!

We have already experienced the impact of this downturn in our income generation in recent times in the shape of UG module/course closures and the implementation of a voluntary severance scheme (VSS) last summer.  Both had significant impact.  The removal of elements of our UG offer may well have a part to play in our recruitment difficulties, although there are other equally significant factors to take into account.  Unquestionably however, we have concerns about the impact to our students’ study programme and its flexibility – with VSS as a senior management initiative at odds with their stated aim of “enhancing the student experience”. For us as a Branch the success (or otherwise) of the VSS, which aimed to save approximately £3.7m, has been difficult to gauge, as a lack of transparency by the senior management in terms of information provision has rather obfuscated the impact of the initiative.  If, as we suspect the targets for VSS were not reached, then what next?  Given the escalation in pressure upon the University to service a large and not entirely expected increase in pension contributions will we see yet more cuts in our academic offer?  As Universities are knowledge-based industries with a very high proportion of their expenditure necessarily going on staff, some will argue that it is inevitable that they will explore reducing that expenditure via compulsory redundancies.

But what might it mean for our pensions?  Already employers within the independent arm of secondary school provision are indicating that they are unable to afford the increased contributions and will be forced to withdraw from the TPS altogether, substituting it with a much poorer performing (but cheaper to them) alternative.  Many others are indicating that the additional costs will impinge on their ability to fund staff pay increases and other staff benefits.  How long will it be before Universities begin to explore similar mechanisms?  Alternatively, Universities might simply do their sums in terms of how many staff needs to be shed in order to keep their annual TPS contributions at those similar to current.

-Prof Stewart Thompson

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences

Management Response to 5% Cuts

Alan Reeve – Branch Co-Chair
22 March 2018
Members will have received an email a few days ago with the questions put to the management regarding the proposed 5% cut to spending. At the Joint Staff Committee on the 19th of March, they responded – see here.
In essence, they said that it was too early to give us more than a general indication of what the strategy will be, but they took the opportunity to elaborate on their understanding of why the institution is in the state it is in with regard to recruitment. The reasons are set out in the paper they presented which is also provided here. According the Brendan Casey, the Registrar, the main reasons for Brooke’s plight are that we are in a much more competitive market, that our ‘offer’ is not distinctive’ and that we have no real USP. Being in Oxford is no longer of itself a critical factor in persuading potential students to apply and to come here.
The Faculties and Directorate have been asked to ‘model’ what a response to the need to reduce expenditure by 5% might look like, but the analysis of this exercise is still going on. The intention is that there will be a clear strategy by May when our questions will have fuller answers.
They stressed two things at the JSC: first that there will not be an across the board 5% cut – that the savings will be made in a more nuanced way; second that the primary aim is not to make savings by cutting jobs, as far as possible.
They recognize – and volunteered – the fact that Brookes has been somewhat ‘complacent’ over the years in relying on Oxford as an attractor, and in terms of believing that the quality of the student experience is as good as it had liked to think. The context in which HE operates has changed – with the cap coming off student number in particular- and Brookes is now facing the consequences of this.
Finally, we suggested that once the strategy is clearer, we would like an open meeting with the management where the member’s questions and issues could be directly addressed and discussed.