Battle to regain respect is vital

As the new union president takes office, he tells John Morgan about his priorities for the future

June 2, 2011

Credit: Geoffrey Robinson/Alamy
Dons, not cogs: UCU president has no time for instrumentalist approach

The new president of the University and College Union warns that academics are being treated as "cogs in an economic machine" and wants to combat "the taking away of professional respect".

Terry Hoad, a Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford and a tutor in English language and medieval literature, started his one-year term at the union's congress.

Mr Hoad was among the UCU representatives threatened with potentially ruinous legal costs by the Universities Superannuation Scheme earlier this year during the union's battle with the employers over pensions.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, he warned that academics are "increasingly having the rights and respect due to them as professionals taken away, being treated as cogs in an economic machine that can be dispatched with when it's convenient for management to do so in the interests of what the management perceive to be the business interests of their organisations".

This trend means that "higher education and further education have less appeal as careers", he said.

Mr Hoad cited "increased workloads and stresses of the job, increased insecurity and the taking away of the kind of professional respect and control over one's work that you could previously count on".

"All of these things are going on, and here you are now with a pension scheme that will give substantially diminished rewards," he said.

He added that the USS' threat of High Court action against UCU representatives who refused to attend key meetings in a bid to force further talks "seemed a wholly inappropriate way to try to resolve a situation that should have been resolved by negotiation".

Mr Hoad defined his role as president as gathering the full range of members' views. "We don't run this top-down, we depend on our members," he said.

He argued that the union could shape debates over higher education through political campaigning and its public profile, adding that he was "optimistic" that the government's policies were not immutable.

"We will need a lot of resolution in the UCU, other trade unions and other bodies in order to fight against it," he added.

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