News

Oxford Brookes UCU Branch Motion on Palestine

This motion is to express solidarity with the millions of people directly affected in Gaza, Palestine, and Israel by the ongoing conflict. We are also expressing concerns at the attacks on academic freedom and freedom of speech in the UK. Finally, we express our sadness and devastation at the recent immense suffering and loss of life in Palestine and Israel and we unequivocally condemn the murder of civilians, no matter their religion or nationality.

This branch notes:

  • The situation of the current conflict has a long and complex history in the region, and beyond.
  • The attacks on 7 October by Hamas in Southern Israel.
  • The launch of a bombing campaign and ground incursions on the Gaza strip by the Israeli government.
  • The UN General Assembly vote in favour of a resolution calling for a ‘humanitarian truce’ on 27 October 2023.
  • Voices including 250 UK lawyers, the UN General Secretary, Oxfam, MSF, Amnesty International, the Runnymede Trust, BRISMES, UK trade unionists, and 800 legal scholars worldwide are underlining that international humanitarian law and customary international law are not being upheld.
  • UCU nationally, GS Jo Grady, and UK scholars have issued statements of solidarity and empathy with Palestinian and Israeli civilians, and a growing number of branches are passing resolutions expressing solidarity and concerns about attacks and threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom (e.g. SOAS, Edinburgh, Sussex, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, UCL, Strathclyde, LSE, Brunel).
  • On 11 October, the UK Secretary of State for Education sent a letter to all UK Vice Chancellors, suggesting a close monitoring of events and external speakers discussing the conflict under the ‘Prevent Duty’.
  • There are Palestinian and Israeli people, and people of all faiths and none, from across the world, who are against all forms of aggression and who wish to see a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

This branch believes:

  • That academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the right to protest within the law, must be upheld.
  • That a peaceful solution should be sought and can be found following the guidelines of international law, and the UN resolutions, and in accordance with international humanitarian law.

This branch resolves:

  • To support the call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
  • To reaffirm the UCU’s position on the Prevent Duty.
  • To support students and staff in their right to protest within the law.
  • To support students and staff who are affected by challenges to academic freedom and freedom of speech.

 

Oxford Brookes Student Union Supports Strike Action

On the 15th of November, Brookes Union’s Executive Committee voted in favour of supporting the UCU staff going on strike in the coming weeks. This was following the precedent of the all student vote in General Meeting last year and after they collected feedback from a variety of students.

Following this vote, the Student Union will write to all students and to the Vice-Chancellor’s Group, making their support clear.

You can see the first statement from UCU here, calling for student support here.

Strike Action: Answering Student’s questions

We know that many students will have concerns about the upcomming strike action and it would be disengenuous of us to claim that there will be no negative impact on students.

What is important to sayis that we really don’t want to strike because not simply because we obviously lose pay in doing so but also because we all want to see our students do as well as possible. The issue of course is that the employers aren’t recruiting enough lecturers, they aren’t financing support services well enough and they aren’t paying wages which mean we can recruit enough staff.

All of these things have been going on for years and the quality that students experience has inevitably fallen as a result (unlike their fees). So if we don’t make a stand now then it will simply get worse and worse.

We want the same as students: To provide the quality of education they deserve and which is value for money. It is a real shame that the only way we can get the Universities to provide this is to strike.

Recently we asked the Oxford Brookes Student Union to invite questions from students and below are the answers provided by the Chair of the Oxford Brookes UCU Branch.

Will I and if so, how can I claim monies back from missed lectures due to lecturers not being there.

This would have to be taken up with the university, via Head of School – the union is not in a position to reimburse students for lost learning – we lose pay every time we go on strike, so it would be a double whammy!

Will the strikes impact exams? will we be assessed on missed content?

There is no simple answer to this. In the first instance, if you are concerned about this you should speak to your lecturer and seek their advice: I am sure they will be sympathetic, but need to balance this against the need to ensure that the learning outcomes and assessed appropriately – particularly if the programme is externally validated, so we can’t guarantee their won’t be some impact – but the sooner the employer recognises the union’s claim the less risk there is of this.

What happens about the topics I miss during the strike? Am I just expected to learn about them myself?

As with the previous answer – seek guidance from your lecturer on managing learning and assessment expectations.

Why Can’t the university pay staff what they’re asking?

UCU believes they can – but this is really a question for the VC and governors.

Can you give a breakdown about how we have needed up in this situation and why lectures are striking?

The union has been attempting to negotiate over pay and other issues – workloads, equality and, precarious contracts – for several years, with little progress. The purpose of the strike action is to try and get the national employer – UCEA, which represents all universities and HEs across the country – back to the negotiating table and to put a serious offer to us on all of these. The value of academic pay has gone down in real terms by at least 20% in the last twenty years, and pay has not kept pace with the rise in the cost of living. The employer has imposed a 3% deal for this year and we are seeking a 12% increase, which will only go part way to making up for pay lost over the years. Striking is a last resort – and all members across the country were balloted, and the majority voted in favour of taking this action – so it’s not just Brookes.

This link gives further details: UCU why we are striking

Could you potentially give a rough estimate of which faculty’s will be most impacted?

Impossible to say – we have strong representation across the university, and hopefully all members will be supporting the action.

Will lecturers tell students beforehand if their lectures are cancelled or could we show up to no lecturer?

This will be up to the lecturer – there is no obligation to tell the university if someone is going on strike , only after they have taken the action. My advice to colleagues is that they can tell students, and I can’t see a problem with asking whether a class is going ahead or not – but don’t pressurise the lecturer for an answer.

How are students who are going to be impacted by the strike going to be supported due to missing on on learning time? If there is a support plan, how will lectures be held accountable for providing support?

Lecturers are held accountable by not being paid for time they are on strike. It’s the employer that needs to be accountable for not providing adequate pay and other conditions of employment. If a class is missed because the lecturer is on strike, they will not be required to reschedule since this is work they won’t be paid for.

For the university: what are your plans in regards to raising wages to meet the rise of inflation of living costs?

Good question. You can find the Vice Chancellor’s contact details here. Students should feel free to email and ask

Can students get exceptional circumstances for missed lectures/ delayed responses from strikes and will the uni tell them this if so?

We haven’t seen any guidance on this, and it is not a decision those on strike can take – it should be addressed to the university via Heads of School and Deans

Why is it always students who lose out when there’s an issue? Has anything been done to reduce the impact on students?

Staff are also losing out by losing a significant amount of pay – in the longer term students should benefit from having better motivated lecturers who are properly paid and not overworked, but the point is taken.

Will we be told in advance if our lectures are cancelled? Can we get refunds for travel if we turn up and our lecturers don’t?

See above – if students have suffered unnecessary costs then they should contact the university – Dean or Head of School. In the past, the university has put any pay saved from striking staff into a student hardship fund, so there may be a mechanism for claiming against this under certain criteria which we do control.

Response to HSS Restructure Proposal 2022 on behalf of UCU members in the Faculty

 

Response to HSS Restructure Proposal 2022 on behalf of UCU members in the Faculty

University and College Union (UCU) members across the Faculty welcome the opportunity to contribute as a group to the proposal to restructure the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS).

A meeting to which all UCU members in HSS were invited has facilitated this collective response. A draft of the response was then distributed to all UCU members in HSS inviting further comments and feedback from union members.

In essence, the proposal for the restructure identifies recruitment challenges, across some programmes in HSS, as the problem and identifies the solution as “…a reduction of the number of academic Schools within the Faculty from five to two (with a relocation of one programme within that new structure) and a new management structure within each of these new Schools”.

UCU members are concerned that the restructure will not deliver on the goals it sets for itself.

Our key concerns relating to the proposal are outlined in more detail below.

Decision-Making Structures

It has been suggested that the proposed restructuring will produce ‘economies of scale’ by virtue of the fact that instead of five heads of school, under the new structure there will only be two heads. There will, however, also be four deputy heads if the new structure is adopted, creating a management structure of six people instead of five.

Economies of scale would only be achieved if decision-making structures are made increasingly top-down, which is a real concern of UCU members given the way the benefits of the new structure have been presented to staff. Moreover, Heads of School in the new structure will need to be responsible for a diverse range of subject areas making it hard for them to identify the kinds of changes that might be needed to ensure the sustainability of existing degree programmes. It is also stated that the new Heads will take an external-facing role but UCU members are unclear as to how they can do this effectively for such a wide-range of subject areas.

Marketing and Student Recruitment

The proposal claims that it will “establish a strong vision, identity and value proposition for each of the Schools and the disciplines within them, which will enable more effective and efficient marketing activity”. However, by merging more programmes together into ‘super-schools’, the vision, identity, and value proposition for programmes loses clarity and will become more difficult to market. Moreover, the proposal fails to identify the underlying causal factors in marketing and admissions that are contributing to student recruitment challenges.

Collaboration and communication between Programmes

It is also suggested that the new structure will reduce the barriers to working across subjects but the evidence shows that there are already multiple cross-Programme and School initiatives at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Additionally, the seven university-wide Research Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Networks, three of which are currently chaired by staff in HSS, draw together postgraduate research students and staff from across Schools and Faculties and already facilitate a “culture of successful bidding for external research funding by drawing researchers into different groupings and offering new opportunities for training, sandpits, and sharing of good practice”.

The restructure proposal does not demonstrate any awareness of these existing structures of the research environment, nor does it provide any evidence or examples of the so-called barriers that it claims to remove.

Timeframe

UCU members are very concerned at the proposed speed of the envisaged changes. Jobs deemed at-risk appear to have been identified before the consultation process on whether to move forwards with the restructuring has even been concluded. Implementing such a dramatic change to the way the Faculty works in the middle of an academic year is likely to lead to significant disruption to the staff experience and indirectly impact the student experience.

Staff Recruitment and Retention

UCU members feel that it will be harder to recruit and retain new staff without a more specific disciplinary division of Schools. If we are serious about competing with the ‘old’ Universities within the UK and internationally, then it is important to note that such large multi-disciplinary Schools or Departments are the exception rather than the norm

Workload Planning

UCU members are concerned that a loss of subject expertise within management structures will lead to workload allocations which are less aware of subject or discipline specific restrictions on staff flexibility. If these dangers are to be avoided, then it is important that sufficient division of schools is made, with associated disciplinary autonomy retained.

The Size of the Deputy Head Roles

The Deputy Heads are billed as having specific roles to play within the schools, such as being the deputy head for strategy. However, in response to staff concerns during the consultation process, it has also been suggested by Faculty Management that these Deputy Heads will have subject specific and discipline related roles in addition to their overall focus. As such, UCU members are concerned that the proposed Deputy Heads will face unmanageable workloads. This, in turn, may lead to delays and breakdowns in decision making processes and an increased workload for Programme Leads.

The Impact on the Role of Programme Leads

The exact roles of Programme Leads are unclear in the proposed new structure. It is suggested in the proposal that the restructure will “support the realignment of workloads, taking some of the pressure off the role of Programme Lead which is overburdened at the moment” but at the same time it is stated the PL roles will remain the same. Given the significant changes in the management structure above them, UCU members are concerned that it would appear that in reality they will be expected to take on much greater responsibility. As noted above, given the significant expectations placed on Deputy Heads in the new structure, in particular, there are no concrete examples provided of how the role of PLs will be made less burdensome.

Other Causal Factors of Falling Student Numbers

Given these serious concerns about the effectiveness and implementation of the proposal, UCU members suggest that the Faculty consider important issues that have contributed to the fall in student numbers across some programmes over recent years. All of these relate to factors outside of the control of academic staff in HSS.

  1. Marketing support has been reduced substantially and as a result the use of external agencies has become commonplace. UCU members in HSS have given negative feedback concerning their recent experiences working with ‘A Thousand Monkeys’ in updating misleading and incorrect course copy for the University website.
  2. Admissions has been a cause of real concern for UCU members in the Faculty. Course leaders for our PG programmes, in particular, have reported significant problems including long delays in responding to applicants and the complete breakdown in communication between Admissions and the relevant academic staff relating to the adoption of the new CRM Recruit system.
  3. UCU members agree that the implementation of the Academic Framework has had an overall negative impact on the ability of staff to offer the most attractive and intellectually engaging courses at both UG and PG levels.

UCU Members have been willing to cooperate with marketing and admissions to make improvements, but it is clear that most of the issues they face are beyond our control. That said, there is no evidence that the current School structure has affected this process in any way, nor that the restructure would improve it.

Conclusion

In sum, UCU members in HSS feel that if we are to address student recruitment issues that are identified in this proposal for restructuring the Faculty, then we need to focus on drawing on the passion and knowledge of their subjects that our academic staff have. Creating a more vertical decision-making structure and two large and incoherent Schools will not, in our opinion, address the real challenges we face as a Faculty. Such a restructure will consume substantial time and energy that could be better spent on addressing the more fundamental issues that we have outlined above.

Open Letter to Alistair Fitt on Pay Offer

Joint open letter to Alistair Fitt in response to the all-staff communication on the pay settlement

Dear Alistair,

On behalf of both UCU and UNISON at Brookes, we are writing to you in response to the all-staff communication sent to colleagues earlier in the month about potential industrial action.

First of all, we welcome the fact that the University has adopted the Oxford Living Wage, which will benefit the lowest paid staff, and is something both unions have been demanding for a considerable time.

However, as you will know, the 3% pay offer by the national employer fails significantly to address the real terms reduction in our salaries over a number of years. We calculate that on average all staff whose salaries are nationally negotiated are now worth at least 20% less than they would have been if pay rises had simply kept pace with inflation over the last fifteen
years. This situation is, of course, worsening – with inflation for this year alone estimated to
reach 11%.

One UNISON colleague has calculated that she is now over £9,000 a year worse off now, compared with 2009, if her salary had kept up with increases in the cost of living over this period. The imposed 3% rise will mean her annual income will rise by £915 before tax, as against £4,115 if the employer had met UNISON’s claim.

She is not alone in having her pay effectively cut, and in the significant difference in value between the employer’s offer and the unions’ claims:

  • Someone in point 11 of the pay spine (the bottom) would get a rise of £1,105, as opposed to £2,753 if the claim was met.
  • .Someone in point 26 of the pay spine (the middle) would get a rise of £915, as opposed to £4,175 if the claim was met.
  • Someone in point 51 of the pay spine (the top) would get a rise of £1910, as opposed to £8,723 if the claim was met.

Can we remind you that many staff at Brookes do not benefit from an incremental increase in salary every year; and we do not accept, in any event, that increments represent a real terms pay rise per se.

Some of the lowest paid staff at Brookes are now routinely having to use food banks simply to survive, and this is before the massive increase in fuel costs in the Autumn. Perhaps, like Abingdon and Witney College, the University might consider setting up its own food bank if
it is not prepared to pay its staff adequately.

Unions do not ballot for strike action on a whim. We only do this when all other measures have failed. We do not do this, as your note implies, to ‘disrupt the education and university experience of students’; we do it because we have no other choice; and we do it to improve
the quality of the student experience – an underpaid workforce will not deliver the best quality of teaching and support, as we are sure you can appreciate.

You say you are disappointed that we have chosen to ask colleagues to take the legal and appropriate action to achieve a better pay settlement; but we are disappointed that as our VC you do not seem to have put the case of your staff to the national employer for an acceptable pay deal – something both unions have asked you to do over the last two years.

All five national unions who have decide to ballot members on taking industrial action, would hope that strikes will be unnecessary in the Autumn. But this will only be the case if local employers – such as yourself – are prepared to speak up for us, and demand that UCEA make a more reasonable offer.

Yours,
Alan Reeve, Chair UCU at OBU
Simon Hogg, Chair UNISON, OBU

Sign our open letter to the VC!

Dear Vice Chancellor,

We, the undersigned, are members of Oxford Brookes University.

As staff and students, we are united in frustration by the failures of leadership across higher education that have led to recent industrial action. We are dismayed by the prospect of further industrial action. Given the lack of constructive progress on issues of pensions and pay, further action is likely to include marking boycotts and delayed graduations.

We write to recommend three actions that we believe will lead to a resolution of industrial disputes before further disruption occurs.

  1. Withdraw your support for the Universities UK pension reduction plan, and push other Vice Chancellors to follow suit.
    It is unacceptable that you have chosen to support the Universities UK plan based on a March 2020 pension scheme valuation, and which pushes through dramatic cuts to your colleagues’ pensions. In March 2020, at the nadir of a pandemic-driven market slump, the pension scheme assets were valued at £66.5bn; according to USS’s own figures, assets are now valued at around £90bn, placing the scheme on solid foundations. A lawsuit against the pension trustees, charging abuse of power and negligent inefficiency, is ongoing in the High Court. In this context, it is impossible to understand how you can continue with your current path. We hope that you find recent clarifications of the UCU alternative to be of use.
  2. Make public your support for a fair pay settlement for all higher education staff, and a sector-wide approach to address casualisation of employment.
    It is unacceptable that more-than-a-decade of real terms cuts to lecturers’ pay scales are set to be continued. Additionally, the number of colleagues undertaking teaching, research, and other duties without secure employment is unacceptable. We urge you to work with other Vice Chancellors to secure a sector-wide framework to address pay and casualisation.
  3. Agree a sector-wide framework for addressing gender, ethnicity, and disability pay gaps.
    It is unacceptable that across the sector men earn 16% more than women, white staff earn 17% more than their Black colleagues, and that the disability pay gap is estimated at 16%. We urge you to work to secure a sector-wide framework to monitor and address these clear material injustices.

We look forward to your response, which can be delivered to and then disseminated by Oxford Brookes University UCU branch.

The teach-outs in support of the strikes are still going strong

Please join us for a teach-out organised by UCU members and Brookes students, celebrating the role of the university as a space for provocation, thought and reflection on key social justice issues of our day.

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 — Thursday, 31st March

When?
People will likely start to arrive from 12:30. Events will start once people have been able to grab a bite or a drink – as things settle.
Where?
The Up in Arms Pub, 241 Marston Road, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0FN
What?
This event will be composed of two mini-panels consisting of three 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

Chris Hesketh, Department of Social Sciences
What insights are to be learned from social movement struggles in Latin America?
Doerthe Rosenow, Department of Social Sciences
How can we respond to management appropriation of the ‘decolonising education’ agenda?
Alex Powell, School of Law
Is disruption good? Reconsidering the domestication of dissent

Panel Two

Neal Harris, Department of Social Sciences
Neoliberalism: What is it good for?
Francesco Sticchi, School of Arts
Do zombie films fight real political struggles?
Tina Managhan, Department of Social Sciences
The end of the ‘liberal world order’: What does
gender have to do with it?

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

When?
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.
Where?
The Up in Arms Pub, 241 Marston Road, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0FN
What?
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.