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Update – Message to Members 14/08/20

The last few days of negotiations have been very intense, but I am now able to confirm that the negotiating team has reached a point at which we believe that we can win no further concessions from the University. The UCU negotiators have concluded that these proposals are the best achievable in negotiations. We believe that, through negotiations, UCU has managed to considerably change the proposals from those first tabled by University of Reading in June 2020. UCU succeeded in getting the University to agree to a number of points which they had previously been unwilling to concede.

We are now in a position where we will be putting the University’s proposal to you for your decision. Their proposal, along with a Memorandum of Understanding, were scheduled to be released at 3.30 today on the University website and you will find these documents on our blog at https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/08/200813-University-of-Reading-CG-final-proposal-13Aug20.pdf and https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/08/200813-MoU-University-of-Reading-UCU-Staff-Forum.pdf.

In broad terms, the proposal involves a pay freeze for three years and a tiered pay reduction for one year to take effect from February 2021 if the University’s losses, as a result of COVID-19, are so high that they cannot be covered by reserves. Importantly, it eliminates the University’s previous threat to cover the costs of COVID-19 by making staff compulsorily redundant and makes any cuts contingent on the actual position of the University, once student numbers have been confirmed.

Through our negotiations, we gained concessions on involvement in and scrutiny of the decision-making processes of the University. A voluntary redundancy scheme will be opened – details to be confirmed – along with an offer to cut working hours in exchange for that tiered pay reduction.

We have confirmation that money coming in will be paid to staff as a priority over any repayments to banks, lenders or other liabilities. We have confirmation that if the numbers are better than anticipated, then the proposed pay reductions will be lessened or removed.

Despite what the VC initially implied in his talk today, this has not been agreed.

Nothing can be agreed by UCU until there has been a ballot of all UCU members employed at University of Reading, the result of which supports UCU entering into an agreement with the University.

We’ll be sending out plenty of information over the coming weeks, including details of what the consequences will be of a ballot result which either accepts or rejects the proposal.

Ultimately, though, this is a decision which you, individually, will need to make for yourself: and we will be exhorting you to make sure that you do vote. If you have colleagues who are not in the union, please encourage them to join (www.ucu.org.uk/join) in order to have a say in this process: new members will of course be entitled to a vote. As we are the only recognised union for grades 6 to 9+ in terms of collective representation, our ballot result will affect all staff in those groups regardless of their union membership. You are welcome to forward this email to colleagues.

We won’t ask you to make a decision on the proposal until the situation is clearer. So we will be launching a secure e-ballot on this, with a timetable (to be confirmed) that the ballot would commence on Wednesday 16 September, closing at midday on 9 October 2020. This will mean it straddles the first week or so of term, and you will have a very clear picture of student numbers and the impact of the pandemic at that point.

Thank you for the feedback you’ve been providing so far. Keep passing on your comments.

Sally

Sally Pellow

Branch President, Reading UCU

Latest news on negotiations 11.08.20

We are now at a critical stage in negotiating with the University. You will recall that the statutory consultation period of 45 days expired on 31 July: but the negotiating team were able to convince the University that there was sufficient reason to continue with constructive discussions, on the basis that these would be condensed, and with the aim of reaching a point at which a proposal could be put to you, the members. The University was willing to continue for a very short period with talks if these were likely to end in an agreed position. No further meetings took place last week but so far we have had three and a half hours of intense meetings this week with a further three hours scheduled. These are fast moving. We have tabled a range of additional demands, based on your feedback. The University has now revised its ‘final’ proposal twice.

Nothing has been agreed. As a negotiating team, our duty is to hammer out the detail of any proposal from the University to understand every element of that proposal, challenging each assumption made. If we get to a position where we believe we can put a ‘jobs first’ agreement to you, and when we believe we can achieve no further concessions, we put that proposal to you. Only you, the members, can agree to it.

The basis of the University’s case is their predictions of potential shortfall in income over the coming months, based on wider national predictions on what may happen in relation to student numbers. Just to be totally clear: at no point have we accepted the University’s financial predictions or their modelling. We have challenged the underlying financial assumptions made, which has resulted in a number of changes to their projected budgets. We have challenged the predictions, too, drawing attention to other reports which counter the narrative of a decline in student attendance, such as today’s reports that the CEO of UCAS is expecting Clearing to be the biggest ever. We have also emphasised our requirement that if the University’s student numbers and financial position prove to be better than predicted in the Autumn term, then the University’s first priority must be to reverse or reduce any proposed job losses and changes to our terms and conditions and pay. We have made it crystal clear that it would not be acceptable to use any additional funds to pay banks or other lenders – including the University’s Trusts – whilst still asking staff for any sacrifice at all.

The current position is that the University is further rewriting its proposal with an aim of presenting it again tomorrow to us. Until that proposal is delivered to us in writing we cannot confirm exactly what is in it: but it sets in outline a series of measurement points, the earliest of which is at the end of October, which are designed to assess the actual position of the University versus its current forecasts, and which then lay out the next steps to be taken. The proposals will indicate which steps might be necessary as a result and those steps would be put into place if required with effect from 31 January. The measurements being used are externally verifiable – we’re not relying in any way on internal calculations which we can’t replicate. In other words, we will know how bad or good the University’s position is before we have to make any sacrifices. Meanwhile, however, it is proposed that voluntary measures can be implemented from October, including the reopening of a voluntary severance or voluntary redundancy scheme.

We have made it clear that we expect to be able to offer you, the members, the security of knowing what the position will be for the coming months. None of us can predict what will happen next with the Coronavirus. We know that the University is on an unstable financial footing even without the pandemic affecting things: but this is a different topic of conversation. The University has shown a willingness in these meetings to move to greater transparency generally and to improve its governance processes, its change processes and its decision-making processes. These are changes which we want to ensure will take place regardless of anything which may or may not happen in relation to the current negotiations.

Some members have expressed concern that a school, department, function or area of focus might be being targeted. Even at today’s meeting, the Vice-Chancellor confirmed that there is no intention to take any such action.

I’ve had a few emails which have queried my speed of response to emails from individual members. I’m sorry that I haven’t yet been able to reply to every email. I have had over a thousand emails relating to the branch since the EGM on 20 July, from about 150 different members: some have sent a number of emails. I will reply to everyone but it may take me a while longer: the negotiations themselves are taking up a lot of time and some emails have specifically asked that I reply personally rather than asking a fellow committee member to reply on my behalf. If you are one of the people waiting for a reply from me, I apologise. Please know that I do read every single email very carefully.

I’ve also received concerns from members which suggest that as staff we should be escalating the dispute at this stage. You will remember that the motion to the EGM called for me to engage in “direct negotiations [which] will take a ‘jobs first’ approach that stops or dramatically reduces the scale of redundancies of UCU members. This objective would be balanced against minimising the cuts to members pay, terms and conditions, with preventing redundancy.” I hope you feel that we’re delivering on that: and I want to emphasise that the final decision on any agreement does rest with you, the members. You will have the choice whether to accept any proposal – or to reject it and escalate a dispute accordingly.

We hope that we will be in a position later this week to give you a further update.

Sally Pellow, Branch President

Update on negotiations: 30/07/20

In the last ten days since the EGM we’ve made considerable progress in the discussions and negotiations with the University. At the consultation group meeting yesterday the University tabled the first draft of an outline confidential offer to staff. This offer calculated savings to be made which would dramatically reduce the risk of redundancies, leaving 55 potential redundancies. There were some other wins: agreement that cuts and redundancies will be contingent on agreed independently measurable points; a link to the national pay scales; and the reintroduction of a voluntary redundancy scheme. However, it did not guarantee zero redundancies, relied on both a pay freeze for up to three years and a one-year tiered pay cut based on grade, ranging from 5% to 15%, and it had no meaningful governance reform.

Your negotiating team is not prepared to put this proposal to members in its current form. We believe it can be improved. We are now proposing to enter into direct negotiations with the University: this will be a tighter, faster process still, and we will continue to need your input. This is the starting point and we may table our own counter proposal later. The University has indicated that it will be willing to continue with discussions based on the results of our consultation with you, the members, in the round.

Nothing has yet been agreed. The process of negotiation means that our job as negotiators is to get the best possible offer for you the members: that offer will then be put to you all in a secret ballot. We will not recommend how you vote in that ballot: what we will do is make all of the implications clear, so that you can assess how you would like to vote. However, we don’t want to put an offer to you unnecessarily: we want to be confident that we have acted on the basis of your priorities.

If you have not yet completed our survey, or have not yet contacted me or your department rep with your views, please do so as soon as possible. One of the things that really matters is whether you want us to prioritise zero redundancies over pay cuts or vice versa. We will obviously push for much more but we may not succeed in winning everything that you, the members, want. At the EGM, members voted in favour of jobs first, which will mean taking a hit on salary if student numbers are as bad as the University expects. We need to know what all our members think, including if they’ve changed their mind.

I must repeat that this is only the tip of the iceberg in the negotiations: we are also challenging the figures set out by the University to underlie its case. These include – but are not limited to – the overall financial predictions, the predicted admissions numbers, the projected savings set out on John Brady’s offer, and the resources available to the University including government financing.

I will send another update very soon.

Sally
RUCU President

Motion: A Jobs first approach for Reading UCU

Motion passed at RUCU Emergency General Meeting 20.07.2020

A Jobs first approach for Reading UCU.

This branch notes the briefing produced by Moray McAulay on the Post-COVID-19 Restructuring Process, opened by the University last month.

Reading UCU resolves to:
1. Mandate Sally Pellow as Branch President to:
a. Design and implement a programme of consultation with members over the
extremely serious threats to their livelihoods senior management is making as a
matter of urgency.
b. This programme will identify members’ priorities in respect to those threats,
and be based around UCU’s recently launched national campaign, Fund the
Future.
c. The programme will include consultation both of Departmental reps and of
individual members directly.
d. The programme must begin immediately, and be fully carried out well within the remaining consultation period which closes on 31 July 2020.
e. In order to ensure this happens, the design and implementation of this
programme, including any plan of communications associated with it, will not be
subject to further review.

2. Mandates Sally Pellow as Branch President, along with the rest of the committee, to:
a. Act on the basis of the members’ priorities identified in that consultation to
defend them against those threats made by senior management.
b. In particular, the branch mandates Sally Pellow as President to select a Branch negotiating team to represent UCU members in any consultation and negotiation meetings with senior management over the threats they are making as part of their Post-COVID-19 Response Programme.

3. Mandates Sally Pellow as Branch President, along with the rest of the branch committee, to seek to move to direct negotiations in order to protect members against those threats. These direct negotiations will take a ‘jobs first’ approach that stops or dramatically reduces the scale of redundancies of UCU members. This objective would be balanced against minimising the cuts to members pay, terms and conditions, with preventing redundancy.

Briefing Paper; University of Reading proposed redundancies and/or cuts to pay, terms and conditions

University of Reading proposed redundancies and/or cuts to pay, terms and conditions.

A discussion paper for Reading UCU Branch, UCU Regional Official Moray McAulay:

https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/07/16.07.20-Reading-UCU-Briefing-for-EGM.pdf

Emergency General Meeting, Thursday 25th June, 13:00

Reading UCU is calling an Emergency General Meeting, to be held remotely via online conferencing, on Thursday 25th June at 1.00.

The virtual EGM will be to discuss the branch position in regard to the university’s current plans for mitigating the currently forecast losses. We’ll be talking about the implications of the S188 notice forwarded to you last week, updating you on the negotiations that are taking place almost daily between your Committee and senior management, and covering the strategy that the committee is using as a guide in the negotiations. Your input will be needed! We’ll also send out an email which covers the same points, so if you can’t attend the meeting, you will be hearing the same points by email this week. Keep an eye out for our emails. We will be asking for your input, too, on how you are most comfortable with being consulted, and aiming to make sure that nobody is overlooked.

We will be circulating an EGM meeting link in the run up to Thursday, so please keep an eye on your inbox.

We hope to see you all there.

Extraordinary General Meeting, Friday 12 June, 13:00

Reading UCU is calling an Extraordinary General Meeting, to be held remotely via online conferencing, on Friday 12 June at 1.00.

Anyone who hasn’t yet been able to see the VC’s talk will be able to see the recording which has been made available now. Please watch this as soon as you can, and have a think about whether you see potential solutions, what you think of the University’s suggestions, and what you are prepared to do.

Some of you will need to discuss this with your family, particularly where there may be an impact on personal finances. We will want to know, too, how you see our role as a branch in this discussion.

We will be circulating an EGM meeting link in the run up to Friday, so please keep an eye on your inbox.

We hope to see you all there.

Advice on Redundancy, Redeployment and Furloughing 2020

For members looking for advice and guidance on any issue connected to Redundancy, Redeployment and/or the COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme (Furloughing), please see our new page under the Resources section: http://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/resources/advice-on-redundancy-redeployment-and-furloughing-2020/

 

Covid-19 - precarity

RUCU Picketing Newsletter Spring 2020

Please find our latest picketing newsletter here!

PDF version: http://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/03/200327-RUCU-Picketing-Newsletter-Spring-2020.pdf

Text version: http://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/03/200331-Text-version-of-RUCU-Newsletter.docx

Blog on Critical University Studies – references and links to further reading

Dear Members,

On the Earley Gate picket line we have again during this period of strike action been having stimulating discussions about the problems at the universities which include our pensions and ‘four fights’ issues, but are also about the wider context of marketisation, financialisation and standardisation that generates those working conditions.

During the discussion, it was suggested a blog might help to provide members with an overview of further resources to engage with these issues more widely.

We will start with mentioning some brief, ‘easy access’ materials and progress to more extensive and complex discussions of the issues:

  1. Recently, The Guardian newspaper has (finally) been starting to publish more about the problems at the universities (see, for instance: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/feb/10/humanities-are-not-the-right-courses-to-cut), but earlier on, in 2015, Karín wrote a public letter on the problems of the neo-liberal university, which was published in The Guardian and co-signed by 126 UK professors: ‘Let UK universities do what they do best – teaching and research.’: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/06/let-uk-universities-do-what-they-do-best-teaching-and-research?

Within 36 hours of being published, the letter had been accessed 4500 times. Karín was subsequently invited to write a blog about the letter and its signatories for the Times Higher Educational Supplement online, and this was the most accessed THES blog-post for that weekend, as tweeted by the THES editor.

  1. Subsequently, in 2017, Karín was invited by a the Thinktank ‘Civitas’ to write a report on the problems of higher education and ‘students as consumers’ and this resulted in the following paper (open access also online) which gives an overview of how this whole situation came to be and the consequences and also provides footnotes to further weblinks with studies on specific aspects: http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/thestudentasconsumer.pdf
  2. There is a short and useful Lee Jones ‘Seven deadly sins of marketisation’ piece from Medium written during the previous strike action which is really a summary of the complex arguments offered elsewhere, see: https://medium.com/@drleejones/the-seven-deadly-sins-of-marketisation-in-british-higher-education-c91102a04a8f
  3. ATTACHED: a paper on ‘Critical Pedagogy and Neoliberalism’ arguing how pedagogies which are often seen to be positive and anti-neoliberal in their focus on individual ‘self-regulated learning’ are in fact entirely obedient to neoliberal aims and structures.
  4. ATTACHED: the introduction to the Shore and Wright (eds) 2018 collection on ‘The Death of the Public University’
  5. ATTACHEDthe paper by Wright and Greenwood (2017) on Universities run by and on behalf of the faculty students and staff (really interesting this one)
  6. ATTACHEDMegoran and Mason (2020) for UCU on the Dehumanisation of casualisation in HE
  7. also attached an email here about an ominous gathering facilitated by the Westminster conference circuit (All Party Parliamentary Groups – APPGS – which are often fronts for private sector lobbyists) – about Education 4.0. etc. and what students really want in terms of technology-led learning, etc. etc – lots of the usual suspects like Anthony Seldon et al are involved…
  8. These discussions have been raging for much longer and much more extensively, however. Here are some of the key books in this area:

Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1997); Mike Molesworth, Richard Scullion and Elizabeth Nixon (eds), The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer (London: Routledge, 2010); Andrew McGettigan, The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education (London: Pluto Press, 2013); Roger Brown, Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher Education (London: Routledge, 2013); Henry Giroux, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Chicago, Ill.: Haymarket, 2014); Derek Sayer, Rank Hypocrisies: The Insult of the REF (London: Sage, 2015); Stefan Collini, Speaking of Universities (London: Verso: 2017); Neil Cocks, Higher Education Discourse and Deconstruction: Challenging the Case for Transparency and Objecthood (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2017).

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein and Andrew Ainslie

Further links:

The UK Higher Education Senior Management Survey: a statactivist response to managerialist governance: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338606700_The_UK_Higher_Education_Senior_Management_Survey_a_statactivist_response_to_managerialist_governance

USS Briefs: https://medium.com/ussbriefs

A New Vision for Further and Higher Education CLASS – Centre for Labour and Social Studies: http://classonline.org.uk/pubs/item/a-new-vision-for-further-and-higher-education

The Gold Paper / Goldsmiths: https://goldsmithsucu.org/gold-paper/

Blog ‘On strike’ http://pelicanmap.blogspot.com/2020/02/on-strike.html