PDR Review 2018 – Have Your Say

PDR Review 2018 – Have Your Say

We have now come to the end of the second year of the revised PDR system at Loughborough.  University management are again reviewing the process and have invited the 3 campus unions to contribute to this review.

Last year the University ran a survey on our experiences of the system but management have decided not to repeat this again this year.  We believe this would be a useful exercise to measure progress and so have replicated the key questions ourselves.  The results will be used to inform our input into the PDR review.  You can complete the anonymous survey at


LUCU’s Committee maintain that ratings are generally unhelpful and detract from the rest of the PDR content.  However if we must have them it would be preferable to have three, to reflect the three possible outcomes i.e.

1) Unsatisfactory performance requiring action
2) Expected performance (the vast majority)
3) Exceptional performance warranting an award

The distinction between “Good” and “Very Good” currently seems to be a regular source of contention and distress while being of little value as the outcome is the same.  Do let us know if you agree or disagree with this position or if you have other feedback you would like to provide.

LUCU Committee, 17th August 2018

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LUCU News: July 2018

LUCU News: July 2018

In this month’s newsletter, we report briefly on the University’s recent commitment to discontinue investment in the fossil fuels industry and on UCU’s establishment of a Democracy Commission. Most of this issue, however, is taken up with an interview with Matthew Inglis, who steps down as LUCU Chair on 31 July and reflects here on his time in post and on how he sees the future for the union, both locally and nationally.

Matthew Inglis

In its history, LUCU has had many excellent Chairs (or, as previously, Presidents): indeed, one of them, Alan Bairner, begins another term of office on 1 August. However, we are sure members will join the Branch Committee in acknowledging Matthew’s distinction in the role. The past three years have seen many significant demands placed upon the union locally (from maximising participation in the recent strike over pensions to fashioning an effective response to restructures in Schools and sections) – but, throughout this time, LUCU has remained a relevant and cohesive force on campus, in no small part because of Matthew’s qualities as Chair. He has demonstrated to a very high degree all of the attributes he mentions below as indispensable to good union activism.

Rather than embarrass Matthew with further commendation, however, we thought it would be appropriate instead to hear from him as he steps down as Chair. We are grateful to him for taking the time to answer the newsletter’s questions so fully:

Newsletter: some people seem to be born union activists; for others, however, taking on a union role happens more slowly, perhaps even unexpectedly. Could you describe how, and why, you became actively involved in UCU at Loughborough following your appointment as a lecturer in the Mathematics Education Centre in 2008? 

Matthew: as with most of my career decisions, it was fairly fortuitous. In about 2011 our department rep announced that she wanted to step down and asked if anyone would be interested in taking over. Prior to this I’d only really engaged with UCU during strikes; but, based on the principle that you should normally agree to do things that sound like they might lead to interesting and unusual situations, I volunteered. A year or so after that I was invited to attend a training event for dep reps held by our regional official on campus. I had nothing else on, so went along. Maurice FitzGerald (formally of the Teaching Centre) was organising it. Afterwards he pursued me as I walked back to my office (in a direction that was completely out of his way) and tried to convince me that the only thing the local Committee was lacking was someone exactly like me. Absurd of course, but those who remember Maurice will recall how persuasive he could be.

So, I joined the Branch Committee in 2013, and ended up serving on JNCC and ARSNC, the two main committees where we negotiate with University managers. These turned out to be extremely interesting, for all sorts of reasons. In 2015, when we needed someone to take over as Branch President, I somewhat naively felt that since the President’s main role was to be on these committees, and I already was, I may as well volunteer.

Newsletter: You describe how, over a number of years, your union commitments progressively expanded, culminating in your time in office as President (latterly Chair). During this period, you were also expected, in your academic role, to produce high-quality research, apply for grants, develop as a teacher, etc. How challenging have you found it to combine union responsibilities with those of the day job?    

Matthew: I haven’t found this too problematic to be honest. But I think I’ve been lucky in a couple of respects. First, my School has a reasonably functional workload model. This means that the facilities time I get for my union work has always been taken into account when I’ve been allocated other duties. Second, in my research I’ve been very lucky to have a group of hard-working and intelligent collaborators who are all committed UCU members. So, when there have been periods where my union duties have been unusually heavy (during disputes for instance), my colleagues have always been extremely understanding and supportive.

Newsletter: The previous question might be taken as implying that life as a union activist on the one hand and life as a researcher and teacher on the other are unrelated and unlikely to infuse each other. Does this set up a false division, though? Could you say something about whether, or how, you feel your academic work has been informed and enriched by your union activism (and vice versa)?  

Matthew: That’s an interesting question. I certainly feel that my union role has taught me a lot about how the University management structure works, but it might be a push to describe this as ‘enriching’. I suspect that you are right though: there are definitely similarities between academic and union work. When we represent UCU members during a consultation or negotiation, the main job is to construct a persuasive argument so that the person we’re negotiating with both clearly understands our position and agrees with as much of it as possible. This isn’t too different to what’s needed when writing an academic paper or delivering a lecture. There we want the reviewer/reader/student to both understand our interpretation/analysis and to be persuaded by it. Of course, the range of rhetorical moves available in a negotiation context is much greater than in a research or teaching context, but the basic job isn’t that different.

Newsletter: You indicate here that union work makes demands on the rhetorical skills of union negotiators. What other abilities and qualities would you say are required for effective union activism?

Matthew: There are a great many different aspects of union activism and I think these require quite different abilities and qualities. For instance, when University managers propose a new policy, we need to forensically analyse what consequences it might have for our members and whether it is consistent with various existing national agreements. This is a very different activity to making a speech at a Branch meeting with the aim of persuading members to vote for industrial action. Supporting a member who is distressed by the behaviour of their line manager is a completely different activity again. An effective Branch Committee will have a range of people with a range of skills: some will be good at forensic analysis of proposed policies, some at negotiating, some at campaigning, and some will be good at empathising with members in distress. I’d like to think that, between us, our Branch Committee covers most areas pretty well.

Newsletter: Demonstrated not only by the Branch Committee but by so many of our members at Loughborough, the skills and abilities you mention were strikingly on display in the strike in February and March over the future of our pensions. Several months later, what are your reflections on that four-week period? What was learned?

Matthew: Obviously, the main lesson was that UCU members are willing to stand up to unreasonable managers and that, despite the anti-union laws, when we stick together we win. That’s something that all our members – and all UUK’s members – need to remember.

But there were other lessons too. I think the Branch worked very effectively with local managers to positively influence the national course of the dispute. For example, the Vice-Chancellor’s public letter of early January was one of the first signs that UUK’s line was not going to hold. As he explained at the time, this letter reflected the constructive discussions we’d had in the autumn. To my mind, this is a very clear example of the benefits we can accrue by openly engaging with management. Although we won’t always agree, it benefits us, them, and the University as a whole if we can maintain the kind of constructive relationship envisaged by the Partnership Agreement.

I’m less happy with our failure to achieve an equivalent relationship with the Students’ Union. Although we were supported on the picket lines by students every day, we had no official support from LSU. This was in sharp contrast to the situation at the majority of universities involved in the dispute, and to the position of the National Union of Students. I think we all need to ask some searching questions about why, despite Branch officers’ attempts to engage with them, student representatives were not willing to support their staff.

Newsletter: As you step down from your position as Branch Chair, how would you assess the state of the union, both locally and nationally?

Matthew: Locally I think we are in a fairly healthy state. Our membership is higher than it has ever been, we continue to provide high-quality casework support to members who need it, and we’ve had some notable policy successes (e.g., improvements to the lecture capture policy, defending automatic increments, refunds for unlawful strike pay deductions, defending Tier 2 visa holders from unreasonable monitoring, etc.).

But nationally the picture is not as positive. Recent events at UCU Congress indicate that the union faces serious internal challenges [for a report in Tes on the events Matthew refers to, click here]. My view is that there exist two quite different and possibly incompatible views of what a union ought to be: should it be member-led or activist-led? More precisely, what happens if a particular course of action, or a particular General Secretary, seems to command the support of the majority of members but not the majority of activists (or vice versa)? The union’s decision- making structures (a mixture of votes taken by activists at Congress, votes of committees elected by the wider membership, and all-member ballots) are not designed with such a scenario in mind. Unless people with quite different views are willing to calmly discuss their positions and become much more willing to compromise with each other than currently seems to be the case, then there is a danger that the union may become dysfunctional.

UCU’s Democracy Commission

Members may have seen that delegates to this summer’s UCU Congress voted to establish a Democracy Commission to review the union’s structures of representation and governance, with a view to producing recommendations for national discussion next year. Further details can be found here on UCU’s national website. Each Branch is entitled to nominate one of its members for election to the Commission – and so, if anyone is interested in being considered for what is an interesting opportunity to contribute to thinking about the union’s future, please contact us as soon as possible. The timetable is tight, with Branch nominations to be received at UCU head office no later than 5 p.m. on Friday 10 August.

Campaign against fossil fuel investment

Space allows us only to note briefly here the University’s decision, announced early this month, to discontinue investing in fossil fuel companies and to divest itself of existing holdings within three years. We greatly welcome this new policy, since, as reported in previous newsletters, disinvestment from fossil fuels has been a campaigning priority not only of UCU nationally but of Loughborough students who belong to the People & Planet group.

To be continued

Our next newsletter is scheduled to appear in late August. In the meantime, continue to contact us with your views and suggestions with regard to LUCU activities on campus. The Committee’s contact details can be found here; we hope you will also follow us on both Facebook and Twitter.

LUCU Committee, 31st July 2018

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Anti-Trump and Stand Up to Racism Events

Anti-Trump and Stand Up to Racism Events

There are two political protest events coming up which have wide support from the Trades Union movement including UCU.

The first is on Friday the 13th of July to oppose Donald Trump’s visit.

The second is to oppose racist and fascist groups, with a focus on Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, a former leader of the EDL with links to other vile organisations such as Pegida and the so-called “Football Lads Alliance”. A man even Piers Morgan has condemned as a “a bigoted lunatic”. Since his imprisonment in May “Free Tommy Robinson” has become a rallying cry of the far right.

The Anti-Trump Protest is on Friday 13 July 2pm Portland Place, London W1A 1AA followed by a rally at 5pm in Trafalgar Square. Please be there to show Trump he is not welcome and that we in the UK trade union movement oppose his divisive and racist policies.

There are coaches available from Nottingham, and Derby and further information at the Stop Trump website.

The Stand Up to Racism ‘Oppose the Nazis and Tommy Robinson’ event is on Saturday 14 July 2pm Whitehall, London SW1A. It is vital we mobilise against the pernicious ideology peddled by Tommy Robinson and his friends in the so-called Football Lads Alliance.

Further details on the Stand Up To Racism Facebook page.

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LUCU News: Branch Committee, Casework Training, LGBT Group, Award for David Kerr

LUCU News: Branch Committee, Casework Training, LGBT Group, Award for David Kerr

In our latest newsletter, we introduce the newly elected members of the Branch Committee, including those who will be taking on officer roles. We also highlight a forthcoming Union caseworker training event that we hope will be of interest to colleagues. Other items cover the work of the University’s LGBT+ Staff Group and the award of a prestigious University honour to a long-time Branch activist who will be familiar to many members.

The incoming Branch Committee

Nominations closed several weeks ago for election to the Branch Committee for 2018-19 and so we are now able to name those colleagues who from 1 August will be representing the interests of members at Loughborough. Given that many people may not have found occasion in the past to scrutinise minutely the structure of the Committee, it may be helpful to say a little about this here, as well as to identify the coming year’s incumbents.

Among the Committee’s members, nine are designated as officers, indicating that they have particular areas of responsibility with regard to the Union’s business on campus; these are also the people most likely to represent the Union on committees alongside University managers and representatives of our two sister unions. All of these posts have now been filled for next year. With Matthew Inglis (Maths Education) stepping down as Chair, we are very pleased to confirm that Alan Bairner (Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences) is once more to fill the role. As Vice-Chair, Andrew Dix has been succeeded by his Arts, English and Drama colleague, Mary Brewer.

No other reshuffling of portfolios has been necessary, however, with officers continuing to occupy positions which they previously held. So, David Wilson (IT Services) remains as Negotiating Secretary, Marc Gibson (IT Services) as Admin Secretary, Marie Hanlon (Academic Language Support Service) as Membership Secretary, Dan Towns (IT Services) as Treasurer, Ian Jones (Maths Education) as Personal Casework Coordinator, Thomas Swann (Politics, History and International Relations) as Anti-Casualisation Officer, and Eugenie Hunsicker (Maths) as Equalities Officer.

The officer holders are supported by six ordinary members of the Committee. Andrew will continue to serve as one of these, along with five colleagues who represent a range of sections and roles in the University: Clare Bonham (Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering), Alec Edworthy (IT Services), Mark Murphy (Student Services), Steve O’Sullivan (Academic Language Support Service) and Steven Parfitt (Politics, History and International Relations).

While many advantages accrue to the Committee from people’s continuity of service in these various roles (indeed, for an example, see the last item in today’s newsletter), it is equally important for it to be energised by new members’ ideas and perspectives. We hope that the incoming Committee represents just such an opportune blend.       

Union caseworker training

We have regularly reported in newsletters about the invaluable support offered by caseworkers to members on campus who are facing difficulties or problems of various kinds. Casework is a challenging (though highly rewarding) activity – and so we are pleased to announce that a training session led by UCU’s Regional Official Sue Davis will take place on campus next month. The training will cover all aspects of support for Union members who have workplace concerns that typically include such things as PDR outcomes, bullying, discrimination, and disciplinary and capability investigations. Sue knows the subject extremely well, and similar training sessions she has run at Loughborough in the past have always been stimulating and informative. While the training will be particularly suitable for Committee members and Departmental reps, a warm invitation to attend is also extended to colleagues who are considering becoming more actively involved in the life of the Union on campus. The session will take place on Tuesday 17 July, from 12:30 to 4pm. Please contact the Personal Casework Coordinator Ian Jones at I.Jones@lboro.ac.uk if you would like to come along or have any questions about what will be involved.

News of the LGBT+ Staff Group

Having reported in a previous newsletter on the LGBT+ Staff Group at Loughborough, we are very happy to circulate details of its latest activities. The Group continues to populate its new website and has also just produced its first newsletter, giving details of achievements, initiatives and forthcoming events (which begin with a lunchtime social on 18 July). You can read the LGBT+ newsletter here.

David Kerr and the University Medal

Members may recall that in our newsletter of 3 August last year we interviewed David Kerr on the occasion of his retirement. During a long career teaching and researching in the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, David somehow also found the time to be an indefatigable officer of our Branch Committee. As Vice-President and Negotiating Secretary over many years, he played a key role in advancing all members’ well-being on campus, not least through his painstaking efforts in helping to frame the terms and conditions we all currently work under.

We are delighted to report that, along with his distinguished academic achievements, David’s dedication to UCU members at Loughborough and his commitment to unions’ civilising effect on campus have now been recognised by his being awarded the University Medal. This award, as its description runs, is given to members of staff ‘who have made a distinctive and long-running contribution to the University […] and consistently performed above-and-beyond the call of their duties.’ With characteristic modesty, David says that he believed a mistake had been made when he opened the Vice-Chancellor’s letter, informing him of the award; those of us who have worked with David on the Branch Committee, however, are very clear there is no error here.

David will receive his award at the graduation ceremony of the School of the Arts, English and Drama on 19 July – and he can be assured of an enthusiastic reception from students and visitors at what is always one of the liveliest of the University’s graduations.

To be continued

The next newsletter will appear near the end of July and will include a tribute to Matthew Inglis, our outgoing Branch Chair. In the meantime, do continue to contact us with your views and suggestions with regard to UCU activities on campus. The Committee’s contact details can be found here; we hope you will also follow us on both Facebook and Twitter.

LUCU Committee, 28th June 2018

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LUCU News: Pay, Pensions, TEF, IT Support Review and Fossil Fuel Divestment

LUCU News: Pay, Pensions, TEF, IT Support Review and Fossil Fuel Divestment

This latest issue of our newsletter is largely taken up with coverage of significant national issues impacting upon us: namely the current pay offer, the recent campaign over pensions, and the effects of the Teaching Excellence Framework. More locally, however, we also report on a proposed restructure of IT support and on a motion passed by members at the recent Branch Annual General Meeting that calls upon the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Pay offer

UCEA, the university employers’ association, has made what it describes as a final offer of 2% in this year’s pay negotiations. In March, the various measures of inflation stood at 2.3% (CPIH), 2.5% (CPI) and 3.3% (RPI); so, however you choose to do the maths, the proposed pay increase amounts to yet another real-terms pay cut. The graph below is based on point 38 (the average in the higher education sector), and it shows rather soberingly how absolute increases in our salaries over the last twenty years become much less impressive when they are adjusted to take account of the different inflation indices.

Pay Adjusted for Inflation

On the basis of contributions made from the floor during the Branch AGM on 16 May, it is possible to conclude that members locally are not currently fizzing with enthusiasm at the prospect of another lengthy industrial dispute. The point was made that, rather than agitating at this point for a larger salary increase, it might be wiser to wait and see the outcome next year of the review of our pensions – an issue with much more drastic consequences for our long-term financial well-being. Also: in a moment of squeezed salaries nationally, would a campaign premised on a demand for higher pay have the same resonance with students and the public as the topic of significant pension loss? Nevertheless, a counter-argument was also made at the AGM: that, with the Union buoyant nationally from a magnificent recent show of force, this is precisely the moment at which to address also the creeping, dispiriting corrosion of our salaries.

UCU’s national negotiators have recommended that a consultative ballot be held in June to ask members whether they favour accepting or rejecting the current offer. The national position will be to recommend rejection – with the cautionary postscript that, if we do so, we will need to be willing to take concerted and sustained industrial action from the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year.

For the moment, we would ask members to reflect on the pay offer and to anticipate a national ballot within the next month.

Further reflections on the pensions dispute

We have reflected in recent newsletters on the pension dispute’s galvanising effects upon the Branch. Members may also be interested, however, in reading a detailed national assessment of the campaign and its aims and outcomes which has been prepared by UCU’s Superannuation Working Group (SWG). Depending on your preference, the report is available both in pdf form and in rtf format. Any observations you have on the SWG’s document, including the recommendations it includes, would be welcome.

Teaching Excellence Framework

Members will be well aware of the effects already upon our sector of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) – to give it its full title – which was inaugurated in 2017 and is currently administered by the Office for Students. Now, however, is a suitable moment to offer your views on the scheme. UCU has commissioned a research project ‘on the impact and implications of the Teaching Excellence Framework’, and, as part of this, is very interested in surveying members. The survey is open until 8 June and will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete: it can be found here and we hope that many members will want to participate. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact the research project team at TEFImpact@bcu.ac.uk .

 IT support restructure

Moving from the national to the local, the University is proposing a significant change in the provision of IT support. Rather than Schools having their own designated IT staff, as at present, the plan is for colleagues in these roles to be managed centrally by IT Services though continuing to be spread geographically around the campus. The Branch would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this proposed restructure, and so has prepared a short survey – including a brief outline of management’s plan – that we hope you will find the time to complete (it is even briefer than the TEF survey and will take you only a few minutes). All responses are anonymous.

Please complete the survey by midday on Tuesday 29 May. We apologise for the very quick turnaround time: usually at Loughborough a consultation period would last for a month, but on this occasion IT Services was slow in providing the campus unions with the necessary paperwork.

Divestment from fossil fuels

You may recall that our newsletter of 19 February publicised a campaign being run by People and Planet, a body of highly engaged students on campus. The group has been protesting against the University’s investment in the fossil fuel industry and has produced an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, calling firstly for the withdrawal of any current investments Loughborough has in this sector, second for the release of a public statement committing to complete divestment from fossil fuel within five years, and thirdly for the updating of the Ethical Investment Policy so as explicitly to exclude fossil fuel companies from the University’s potential portfolio. We might add that these aspirations are not only widely shared across the higher education sector (almost 60 UK universities are now committed to a programme of divestment from the fossil fuel industry), but they accord with national UCU policy.

The recent Branch AGM voted overwhelmingly to support People and Planet’s objectives; members are asked therefore to consider signing the open letter. In addition, our Chair has written to the chair of Council about the issue.

To be continued

Do continue to contact us with your views and suggestions. The Committee’s contact details can be found here; we are also on Facebook and Twitter.

LUCU Committee, 25th May 2018

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