Jo Grady re-elected as UCU general secretary

Incumbent run close by King’s College London professor Ewan McGaughey in poll

March 1, 2024
Jo Grady
Source: Alamy

Jo Grady has been re-elected general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU).

She narrowly defeated Ewan McGaughey, a professor at King’s College London, in the third round of voting under the single transferable vote system, by 7,758 votes to 7,576.

Saira Weiner, the UCU Left candidate, was the first eliminated, with 2,580 votes. She was followed by Vicky Blake, a widening participation officer at the University of Leeds, who secured 4,821 votes after two rounds.

Dr Grady, who, with 5,990, won the most first-preference votes overall, needed the second and third preferences from these eliminated candidates to get over the line, faced with a strong challenge from Professor McGaughey, the only one of the four candidates who had not held a high-ranking position in the union previously.

The turnout was 17,131, which was lower than the 23,638 members who voted in the last election five years ago.

Reacting to her victory, Dr Grady thanked voters for endorsing “my strategy for our union’s future”.

“We have achieved so much in the past five years, including further education’s biggest pay award in a decade and the greatest pension win in UK trade union history,” she added.

“But there is still much to do. Under my leadership, UCU will continue to be a fighting union that will stand up for education. We need a fair funding settlement for higher education and binding national bargaining in further education.

“I look forward to working with our incredible members to push employers and government to invest in our sector’s staff and students.”

A lecturer at the University of Sheffield, Dr Grady became just the second ever general secretary of the union when she was elected in 2019. Her first five-year term was characterised by repeated industrial action as members fought a bitter battle over cuts to pensions provided by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which were eventually reversed this January.

Under her leadership, the union made less progress on its other key dispute – known as the “four fights”, which has sought to improve pay, workload, equality and casualisation in universities.

Union members participated in a six-month-long marking and assessment boycott last year, which delayed graduations and disrupted the studies of tens of thousands of students but failed to move employers into offering a higher pay rise.

One of the first tasks of Dr Grady’s second term will be taking part in the latest round of pay negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) and the other higher education unions, which start this month.

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive, was quick to send his congratulations to Dr Grady after her victory was announced. 

“I look forward to working with Jo to build a constructive relationship for the good of our sector,” he said. 

“We all have a responsibility to set aside recent disagreements and disputes and employers are eager to overcome the annual cycle of disputes and explore with UCU and other trade unions how best to achieve this.”

Ms Blake, a past president of UCU, also congratulated Dr Grady on securing another term.

Posting on X, she said: “I want to send my thanks to everyone who supported my campaign, and to the other candidates for fighting the election in a spirit which has allowed us to debate the future of our union properly.

“I’m glad that my campaign gave voice to those who believe that change within UCU is both urgent & necessary. I’ll continue to be an advocate for a UCU that is democratic, inclusive, and capable of winning on behalf of our members. We have a lot of work to do together.”

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Reader's comments (4)

UCU Left need to start to support more mainstream candidates, rather than the outlier ones they seem to chose lately.
The only winner in this election was UUK. Good bye UCU - not prepared to be out on strike for another 5 years to achieve nothing. ( Be honest - economic forces got our pension benefits reinstated)
SL-in-Post-92 and kjk: There is a reason why UCU Left candidates are not 'mainstream' and for the 5 years of HE strikes that resulted in no tangible benefit to members. Please see my and John Kelly's Jan 16 Opinion piece in THE, "UCU Left’s Trotskyist politics are driving UK HE’s perennial strikes" , and the longer online blog it's drawn from, And please don't allow UCU Left's distortion of trade unionism to put you off membership of UCU.
Thanks Adam I had read your article and had commented on it in the original post. It wasn't UCU left that led to myself and colleagues leaving UCU it was Jo Grady's re-election.