Thank you and next steps: email to subscribers

This is the text of an email sent to subscribers of the #Grady4GS mailing list on 19 July 2019. To subscribe to our GDPR-compliant list, please fill out your details here!

19 July 2019

Dear Colleague,

As you will have heard by now, I officially take up my post as General Secretary of UCU on 1 August. But although the election is over, we will need to stay organised and keep working together if we are to achieve what we want, both inside and outside UCU. 

My campaign has built a new coalition of UCU members and the subscribers to this mailing list were the heart of that coalition. Many of you put a lot of time and effort into campaigning on my behalf. This mailing list grew to nearly four hundred subscribers over the course of the ballot period. By the start of the final week, we had at least one volunteer who had agreed to knock on doors and put up posters in every single one of the sixty largest branches in UCU. 

Those efforts translated into a record-breaking turnout for UCU GS elections and a record-breaking share of the vote. If we keep working together, both inside and outside UCU’s formal structures, we can get even more done.

I would therefore like to keep this movement and this mailing list alive once I start work at UCU HQ. I hope to use the list to create opportunities to meet and listen to supporters. For example, I will be touring branches in September and October as part of UCU’s joint USS and pay/equality/anti-casualisation campaigns, and you will hear more about that via official emails from UCU HQ. But as well as speaking and taking questions at branch meetings, I also want to take the time to meet informally with supporters of my campaign, to give you the inside track on what I’m doing for UCU and hear your thoughts on what we should be doing next. I’d love to hear from people who want to get more involved in UCU at a national level, perhaps by taking part in committees or the new ‘task groups’ which I pledged to set up in my manifesto. You don’t need to be very experienced in UCU or involved in your branch to consider doing this – I want to see a range of people with different backgrounds getting involved now that I’m General Secretary.

However, in order to do all these things, I need your consent. This mailing list was created for the specific purpose of my election campaign. To use it for any other purpose, I need to inform you what that purpose is and give you an opportunity to opt out. The list is not, nor will it become, an official UCU list. It will not be administered using UCU resources, but only in a personal capacity by me and the registered data controllers for my campaign. If you would like to leave the list, please follow the steps to unsubscribe at the bottom of this message. If not, you can look forward to hearing more from me in the coming months, and I encourage you to invite anyone else who might be interested to subscribe via my campaign website. But either way, thank you so much for your support.

Best wishes,

Jo.

Thoughts on the Augar Review

Thursday 30 May 2019

Some thoughts on the Augar review of HE and FE funding, published today. It’s being billed as a much-needed ‘rebalancing’ of funding away from HE towards FE. But despite one or two positive changes compared with the system we have at present, like the reintroduction of maintenance grants, I’m not convinced by many of its key recommendations.

The first thing to say is that although it presents itself as ‘independent’, this is a Tory review. It was led by an investment banker who was told that abolishing HE tuition fees wasn’t an option. It doesn’t advocate for increased direct public investment in education. Until we start resourcing education properly, we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: introducing tweaks to our metrics and creating new perverse incentives that distract us from what our students might want or need.

For FE, Augar advises streamlining of colleges via mergers and other forms of consolidation: we supposedly need fewer colleges competing with each other in any given area. Given how much trouble and volatility college mergers have already been causing, this seems like a dangerous idea. I can see it leading to further shifts in favour of private ownership.

It also advocates redistribution of funds from HE to FE. There are fine words about the problems you get when FE staff aren’t paid as much as secondary school teachers, but the concrete recommendations really concentrate on capital expenditure, not staff expenditure. FE could end up with more expensive but impractical buildings, and no easing up on punishing workloads and real-terms pay cuts for our staff.

On a broader political level, the review seems to want to drive us down an even narrower path of ’employability’ and vocational/technical training. I’ve always got the impression that this government does not want working-class people to study potentially liberating subjects, especially in creative arts, humanities, and social sciences. There’s nothing to change my mind in what I’ve seen so far. The thrust of the review seems to be an even stronger reorientation of education around what businesses want, rather than the interests and capabilities of students.

And how is any limited redistribution from HE to FE going to be paid for? By changes to HE tuition fees which will be socio-economically regressive, even compared with the system we have at present. Overall, graduates are likely to pay more, the government less. Some people have been fooled by the proposed cut in headline fees from over £9k to £7.5k, but the terms of repayment will be longer and harsher, which will disproportionately hurt graduates who earn less over the course of their careers. And let’s not forget, graduate earnings are still more closely tied to class background than they are to tertiary qualifications.

Meanwhile, this Tory government looks like it will only protect higher funding for subjects it deems to be of value to businesses. Employability should never be our main reference point when we think about what we want from education, but even so, there’s little evidence that employers actually want what Augar is proposing.

In my speech to Congress as incoming GS on Saturday, I said the Augar review was likely to be ‘mixed at best for FE, potentially disastrous for HE’. So far, I’ve seen nothing that changes my mind – and plenty of reasons to think I was too optimistic. We can’t trust the Tories to get this review right any more than we could trust them to negotiate a Brexit deal. Like Brexit, austerity, and many other things, this is a ham-fisted Tory solution to problems the Tories themselves are responsible for. In any case, with the Prime Minister about to leave, the government in disarray, and the larger post-18 education spending review yet to be completed, we have no idea how many of Augar’s prescriptions, if any, will actually be implemented.

What does this mean for UCU, especially for members in the FE sector? As I said in my manifesto, there are no shortcuts: we can’t get distracted from the task of organising and building power while we wait for any government, especially this one, to rescue us with better policies. The Augar review might present staff with an opportunity, if colleges do end up receiving a slight funding boost, to stand up and remind the government and their managers that they, not construction companies, need to be the first beneficiaries of redistribution. At the same time, we need governance reforms that help us claw back some control from managers who have shown they can’t be trusted to spend any increased funding in the right areas. And whatever bureaucratic measures are taken to streamline the allocation of funding, members in branches should be making their voices heard in order to ensure that those measures reduce their workload and make their working lives more stable. I look forward to leading UCU’s response as soon as I take up my post as General Secretary.

Open letter to Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge

Wednesday 29 May 2019

To the Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge

As Fellows of Trinity College, you are aware that your Council, in its capacity as the College’s governing body, has voted to leave the USS pension scheme. I am writing in my capacity as General Secretary Elect of the University and College Union, because the Council’s decision has become a matter of national rather than local significance. You deserve to know exactly what is at stake.

People often speak about the need for different institutions in the Higher Education sector to stand in solidarity with one another. In this case, a small act of solidarity would make a massive material difference for all of us, including you. We have learnt in the last few days that Trinity’s departure gives USS a pretext to downgrade its assessment of the ‘employer covenant’. The practical consequence of this is that if one more similar employer leaves, the Scheme will demand higher contributions from those who remain, or significant cuts in the benefits promised to members.

You have a stark choice. Overturn your Council, or let it threaten the sustainability of the largest private pension scheme in the country: a scheme that provides a good, guaranteed retirement income for you and hundreds of thousands of your colleagues.

Your College will not benefit from the decision to exit. There is no plausible scenario in which USS will need to call on Trinity’s assets. In fact, Trinity’s £1.4bn endowment faces more risk of being wiped out by sudden, unexpected economic downturns and other adverse changes than USS’s globally diversified, £64bn fund, which is backed by many more sponsors, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The reports commissioned by the Council so far are incoherent, inadequate, and often inaccurate. They have not explained or weighed up the risks that actually face the College and the Scheme. You have not been given the kind of expert advice you need if you are to evaluate the Council’s plans properly.

The sum which Trinity is expected to pay to leave USS – thirty million pounds – is a waste. It includes a very large insurance premium. It is twice as much as the amount that would be due to Trinity’s pensioners if the College remained in the Scheme, even on the overly cautious assessment of the liabilities that has been roundly criticised by the Joint Expert Panel (JEP).

The waste of the College’s money will not be the only detrimental effect. As Fellows, you will almost certainly suffer personal losses. If you move to a smaller, College-specific scheme, its trustees and sponsor will encounter far fewer obstacles to reducing Fellows’ benefits than USS employers do at present.

The events of the last 18 months have taught us all the value of sticking together. As a Union, we protected our pension scheme last year by going on strike. Members of your College joined us on the picket lines, from the New Museums to West Road and Sidgwick Avenue. Students occupied the Old Schools, met with the Vice Chancellor, and successfully pressed him to change the University’s position on the USS valuation. If we had not acted, all of us would already be on a vastly inferior ‘Defined Contribution’ scheme. We cannot forget the value of collective action in defense of institutions like USS, that bind our sector together and guarantee a good standard of living for university staff, no matter where they work.

Hundreds of Cambridge academics have already threatened and UCU’s Congress has just resolved that if the College does proceed to sever itself from the rest of the sector, you will be on the receiving end of a boycott. This boycott will target your dependence on the rest of Cambridge and the wider academic community. Along with many other UCU Congress delegates, I voted to make that boycott UCU’s official policy and will pursue it vigorously as General Secretary. Do not let your Council hurt your students and your research by continuing on its current course of action.

My understanding is that at the time of writing, you may still be able to call a meeting of enough Fellows to reverse the Council’s decision, or take other measures against its poorly-informed, irresponsible, and destructive choice. In the meantime, please email me if you have any questions about the decision your Council is taking, or about the Union’s policy regarding USS and your College.

Please do whatever you can in the time you have left.

Yours,

Dr Jo Grady

General Secretary Elect

University and College Union

If I ruled the higher education world: an article on metrics for Research Professional

Below is the text of an article I published this morning (Monday 20 May) with Research Professional, reproduced here with their kind permission. For the original article, click here.

The General Secretary candidates were each asked what they would change if they could change on thing in the Higher Education sector. Here is my answer:

Self-reflection is fundamental to higher education. Those of us who work in the sector and provide or support teaching and research know the value of good, constructive feedback. This comes from students and junior colleagues as well as peers. The notion that higher education staff resent accountability is a fiction.

What we resent is being measured and managed by harmful proxies that don’t reflect the real value our work can have for society. The measurements of performance that the government and other external bodies impose on universities are a Frankenstein’s monster, the product of a system that is neither public nor private.  

Metrics exist partly because public expenditure is regarded as a loss that must be accounted for in the short term, as opposed to a form of investment. One of their purposes is to make higher education function, or appear to function, like a market. But at the same time, metrics thrive because the market is so incomplete. Public funding mechanisms and price controls still prevail. Metrics are used as a substitute measure of “value for money” because prices, in the form of tuition fees and research funding, are strictly regulated. 

The need for diversity

But who decides what constitutes “value for money”, and what are the consequences of their decisions? The people who decide are far less diverse than the actual higher education workforce or student body, in terms of their viewpoints, life experiences, and areas of expertise. This is as true of the Office for Students as it is of the compilers of world rankings and of university ministers.

Representatives of these bodies are overwhelmingly white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied and from the global north, and very few of them have deep roots in higher education. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that for most of them, the true “value” of higher education lies in reproducing the world they have benefited from. Thus, the value of undergraduate teaching lies in the number of management consultants it produces, the true “value” of research in the development of new drilling technology for fossil fuel companies. 

What are the effects of the hierarchies of value handed down to us from above? Take, for example, the perspective of an academic who teaches and conducts research on colonialism and aspires to “decolonise” the curriculum and the university itself. What place do our current metrics of success in higher education assign to this person? At worst, very little. A “decolonial” undergraduate curriculum in their subject area might struggle to compete with other subjects in terms of recruitment, or to ensure that its graduates earn enough after leaving to perform well in the Teaching Excellence Framework. In research, papers grounded in intellectual practices hailing from the global south, rather than canonical western theorists, might receive fewer citations and thereby degrade the author’s chances of promotion and the university’s performance in global rankings. 

Best-case scenario?

What is the best-case scenario for this scholar in our current system? If they are lucky, their curriculum will recruit well, and their research will succeed. They will generate money for the university and be rewarded with promotions. They may even ascend to the ranks of senior management. None of this will necessarily have fulfilled their purported intellectual and pedagogical ambitions. The students recruited could all be white and could all go on to work in the worst sections of the private sector. The research might not change minds or have any of its intended consequences. Meanwhile, the university might use the cash generated from that scholar’s recruitment and research income to open a foreign campus, hoovering up international student fees while lending an aura of legitimacy and cultural prestige to the world’s most oppressive governments. 

I could suggest similar examples to illustrate the plight of those working in feminist theory, or disability or transgender studies. What is the alternative? Fund education publicly, open tertiary education up to anyone who wants it, and let the whole community of university staff and students determine what they want to do for society. As general secretary of the UCU, I will lead the resistance to management by metrics, on the basis that something better is possible. Whether the government of the day is hostile or receptive to my ideals, I will create spaces within our union for staff who aspire to work in the right place, to strategise, and develop campaigns for a truly public, social education system. 

Just 48 hours left to elect Jo Grady!

This is an email sent to subscribers of the #Grady4GS mailing list on Sunday 19 May 2019 (some subscribers may have received this later). To subscribe to our GDPR-compliant list, please fill out your details here!


Dear Colleagues

48 hours of this campaign to go

We’re in the last, crucial 48 hours of getting ballots in the mail. This coming Friday, when the results are announced, we want to hear that Jo Grady is elected our union’s next General Secretary. If she wins, she will be the first UCU Gen Sec who has worked in tertiary education.

Round up those ballot papers

If previous Gen Sec elections are anything to go by, there are still many more unused ballot papers around than have been returned. We’re asking you today and tomorrow to contact your colleagues and friends who are UCU members. Check that they’ve voted. If they haven’t, tell them why Jo Grady should become the next Gen Sec.

Very last chance to order a replacement ballot

Order a replacement ballot here. That option closes, we understand, later this afternoon (ie this Sunday, 19 May).

Speed those ballot papers on their way

Say to colleagues you’ll post the ballot paper for them – and will add a first class stamp – on Monday morning. (If so, make sure you or they cross out the pre-paid envelope’s ‘2’ and the barcode with a pen.) Make sure ballot papers go directly in a Royal Mail post box – and are not left in an institution’s ‘out box’ or mail room.

Another future

#Grady4GS has inspired members up and down the country and across all parts of our sector. The endorsements list goes on and on – from the most precariously employed staff to those with senior jobs. If Grady wins, we can transform our union and make another future for tertiary education.

The polls close on Thursday 23 May at noon.

High Noon – for our campaign, and maybe for the future of tertiary education in the UK.

We’re relying on you. One more push.

The Grady4GS campaign team

Endorsement: Susanne Hakenbeck, University of Cambridge

Endorsement from Dr Susanne Hakenbeck, University of Cambridge

I wholeheartedly support Jo Grady’s candidacy for UCU General Secretary. I consider Jo Grady to be the candidate with the clearest vision for what we need in our sector right now. She is standing on an ambitious platform that is supported by concrete aims.

I got to know Jo Grady well through our work on the USS National Dispute Committee that was created following the strike last year. In our monthly meetings, I found her to be exceptionally collegial and comradely, and always willing to consider any idea on its merits. I believe that with Jo as General Secretary we can move from our current trajectory of managed decline to real, positive change in our sector.

Since I joined UCU in 2006, I’ve only ever seen UCU react to the increasing pressures in our working conditions, be they pay, pensions or casualisation. In Jo we have a candidate who is proactive, and who understands that collective bargaining can be more than simply trying to stop a further turn of the screw.

Her manifesto is full of ideas; I particularly support her stance on climate change and on sexual harassment.

The ballot is only open for a few more days. I hope you will support Jo Grady. Please post you letters right away!

Endorsement: Fabian Frenzel, University of Leicester

Endorsement from Dr Fabian Frenzel, University of Leicester

It is genuinely exiting to see Jo Grady running her inspiring and powerful campaign for a stronger and more democratic UCU, and for a better further and higher eduction sector. I am convinced by the power of UCU to transform the sector towards the genuine public institution it should be. Successive governments have nearly crippled the sector, creating layers of useless higher management on vastly inflated salaries, while students are burdened with huge debt and staff experienced years of redundancies, reduced pay and benefits and increased precarity. The pension strike has shown the spirited nature and potential of our collective power. Jo Grady stands for this spirit and this is why I endorse her as the best candidate for UCU General Secretary.

Endorsement: Catherine Oakley

Endorsement from Dr Catherine Oakley, UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee 2018-2019, co-author, The Precarious Postdoc report

I’m no longer a member of UCU, but Jo Grady has my heartfelt endorsement for General Secretary. Jo recognises the issues which have led so many people like myself to leave the profession, and understands the need for the union to transform itself from within to address them. I’ve experienced a toxic mixture of these issues first hand, and I know many others experience them too.

Between 2018 and 2019, I served on the UCU’s Anti-Casualisation Committee. Union members have been working incredibly hard on that committee for many years for genuine recognition and proper resourcing from UCU HQ to support them in tackling casualisation.

Attending the eventful UCU Congress in 2018 as a first-time delegate, I heard senior execs on the podium refer to casualisation as an issue now “at the heart” of the union’s agendas, while knowing from my work on the inside that this is not the case.

If elected, Jo will appoint national branch coordination officers for anti-casualisation to develop this infrastructure. She understands the importance of a democratically-led national union in ensuring that local branches can organise effectively and in protecting individual members from burnout.

Jo is an independent, grassroots candidate with the knowledge, skills and background to lead UCU into a new era. Her manifesto gives me real hope for the future of our universities at a critical time for their futures. She’d have my first vote, with Jo McNeill as second.

Transgender rights and UCU

I am an unequivocal supporter of trans rights and the right to gender self-definition under the law. This will not come as a surprise to anybody who knows me or has followed my public pronouncements in the past. The rights of trans people are under constant attack in this country, in the mainstream press, in workplaces, and, unfortunately, in our colleges and universities. They suffer disproportionately from numerous forms of discrimination and violence. They are among the most vulnerable targets of the far-right ideologies that are becoming increasingly visible and influential in society. No candidate for General Secretary should be able to claim that they care about equality unless they have vocally and publicly defended transgender rights.

Our Union has policies upholding trans rights, updated most recently at its 2018 Congress, as well as academic freedom. To the best of my knowledge, nothing I have said or done is inconsistent with these policies. I will continue to uphold them if I am elected General Secretary. I hope that the other candidates in this election will also commit to doing so.

People sometimes ask me why I began using a service known as ‘TERF Blocker’ on Twitter last year, which provides an easy mechanism for blocking large numbers of accounts that have been identified as articulating transphobic views. The reason is that I was receiving an enormous volume of personal abuse for expressing my opinions about transphobia and trans rights. The right to freedom of speech or academic freedom is not a right to level unlimited personal abuse, in public, at individuals with whom you disagree.

I stopped using TERF Blocker after I stood for election to UCU’s National Executive Committee earlier this year, by which point the abuse directed at me had subsided. At no point did my use of TERF Blocker prevent anybody who was blocked from viewing my tweets, either by using a different account or by browsing Twitter while remaining logged out. Throughout this period, I have continued to receive and, when appropriate, respond to emails from individual members of UCU who disagree with me about this issue.

Endorsement: Daniel Davison-Vecchione, University of Cambridge

Endorsement from Mr Daniel Davison-Vecchione, University of Cambridge

I’m a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Cambridge and I’m pleased to say I’m backing Jo Grady for UCU General Secretary.

In an education sector where those of us beginning our academic careers are on the knife edge of marketisation, expecting to spend the years ahead on insecure contract after insecure contract, we need a General Secretary who will fight tooth and nail against casualisation. Jo plans not only to convert local claims against casual labour into a viable national strategy, but also to make the voices of precarious staff heard within the union’s channels. In other words, Jo is not only committed to making our union fight for us: she’s committed to making us feel a vital part of the union itself.

I’m also extraordinarily impressed by Jo’s assertive stance in favour of migrants’ rights. She keenly understands the horrific role thrust upon education workers to act as de facto border guards. This is an issue of which I became vividly aware back when I was Branch Secretary of Surrey UCU and on which I wrote during the USS Strike, when many UCU members on Tier 2 visas feared that missing consecutive work days would put them at risk of being reported for ‘unauthorised absence’. Jo will commit the union to resisting our forced complicity in the sprawling, violent apparatus of the immigration system and to helping migrant workers fight for their rights by organising in the workplace. She knows that we should push not only to protect our EU colleagues and students in the current context of Brexit, but also to extend the limited benefits presently enjoyed by EU staff and students to all international staff and students. I therefore trust Jo as a General Secretary who can make the slogan ‘Build unions, not borders!’ mean something palpable.

Lastly, it is an incredibly positive sign that Jo does not shy away from bigger political issues. She is upfront about the risks of simply leaving a socialist or social-democratic party ‘to do the right thing on the issues that matter to us, like immigration and border controls, Brexit, or direct funding of education and research’. She understands keenly that we need to build our own power as organised labour so that we can tackle such national and international matters ourselves, even during less politically hospitable times for the labour movement.

I therefore call upon my fellow UCU members to vote for Jo Grady.