UCU top-job candidates set out stall

December 8, 2006

Three hopefuls are on their marks as the race to become general secretary begins, writes Tony Tysome

The race is on to determine who will become the first sole general secretary of the world's biggest lecturers' union.

Elections for the most senior paid post of the 120,000-strong University and College Union will be a three-horse event, it emerged after nominations closed last Friday.

The going is expected to be heavy over a testing course as the three jostle to get a nose ahead in the forthcoming hustings before a ballot of the membership closes in March next year.

The three confirmed candidates are: Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the UCU and former Association of University Teachers general secretary; Roger Kline, UCU's head of equality and employment rights, and former universities head of lecturers' union Natfhe; and Peter Jones, a Natfhe/UCU activist and hourly-paid lecturer at Deeside College in Wales.

All three will be required to submit their manifesto and election statements by December 15. Voting will end on March 7, and the results of the election are expected to be announced in the same week. The successful candidate will take up their post in June.



Odds: even (supplied by ladbrokes)

Ms Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, has more than 17 years experience as a senior union official, including spells as general secretary of the Association of University Teachers and four years at the Nationwide Group Staff Union. She says she has "broad support" across the union. Ms Hunt, 41, lives in Brighton with her daughter.

Why are you the best person for the job?

I have the experience, vision and commitment to lead the UCU. As AUT/UCU general secretary since 2002, I am the only candidate with experience of running a union. I ensured the AUT prioritised member services, campaigning and support for negotiators and led the AUT-Natfhe negotiations to create UCU. My parents were teachers, my brother is a lecturer. I am completely committed to our profession and to building a modern, progressive union that speaks with authority.

What is the most important issue facing the sector?

We have to address the relationship between universities and the Government. Ministers have increasing control, using targeted funding and increased regulation. Funding via the Higher Education Funding Council for England etc leads to greater central direction; this has an impact on every aspect of university life.

The UCU must promote the principle of universities as institutions of learning that contribute to the health of civil society rather than as qualifications factories and we must defend academic freedom as the bedrock of a democratic society.

What is the most important issue facing academic staff?

Workload dominates every conversation I have with staff. We have more students, more regulation, more administration and less time to do our core jobs. The pressure is enormous, and it is growing. Overseas unions have persuaded employers that all academics have a basic right to a minimum amount of "self-directed time" for research and the new union must come up with new ways, such as this, of protecting members because excessive workload is having a major impact on members' lives.

What is your greatest achievement in your career?

Supporting a member through a problem is the greatest thing any of us in the union can do - and I have done my share of that. But as general secretary of the AUT I set out to bring AUT and Natfhe together by 2007.

Both unions had fine traditions, but I helped create the UCU because I believe we can do better together - better services, better support and better, more effective lobbying. This is my greatest achievement so far.

Was the 2006 pay deal the best that could have been achieved?

Yes. The only way to get a better offer would have been local bargaining.

Ten per cent on salary points over two years compares well to other increases, such as 2.5 per cent for teachers and a probable 1.5 per cent for doctors. Even my critics accept that the final offer was double what the employers wanted to give. I will never use members as cannon fodder and those who think we could have got a better national settlement need to demonstrate what further action would have achieved. In a ballot, members supported the deal.



Odds: 6/4

Mr Kline, UCU's head of equality and employment rights, was head of universities at Natfhe. He has worked for five trade unions (including Unison). His backers include UCU joint general secretary Paul Mackney. A letter of support has been signed by 60 UCU activists, including many members of UCU Left. Mr Kline, 58, lives in London with his wife and two daughters.

Why are you the best person for the job?

Years of putting my negotiating skills into winning real gains for members on pay, terms and conditions - especially on equality - makes me feared and respected by employers. My experience in health and the private sector is invaluable in a sector facing private sector management practices and foolish government policies. I have demonstrated the ability to be tough when facing aggressive employers or challenging government policies and to build broad alliances when persuasion is needed. I work collegially and democratically. My previous merger experience will be invaluable for a new union.

What is the most important issue facing higher education?

Gaining government and public respect for the work of our members and translating that into better funding. The Government will allow the sector to fragment into competing institutions and sectors in which many institutions become in effect teaching only institutions with even poorer funding than at present. Higher education is slipping off the Government's priority list. That means even greater workloads, downwards pressure on pay and a climate of fear as the sector becomes more financially unstable - unless we challenge government policies.

What is the most important issue facing academic staff?

Stopping the undermining and erosion of the professional role and autonomy of academic and academic-related staff by excessive workloads, inappropriate management and pointless targets. This concern is exacerbated by the excessive reliance on casual contracts and the Government's apparent determination to break the link between teaching and research as a byproduct of the research assessment exercise. Unless we protect staff against burgeoning bureaucracy, overwork and micromanagement, then the fantastic work staff do will decline as they leave in droves.

What is your greatest achievement in your career?

A toss-up between getting union recognition for pilots at easyJet in 2003 and developing a radical new successful approach to defending jobs, services and pay for health visitors and community nurses a decade earlier.

Was the 2006 pay deal the best that could have been achieved?

Apparently Alan Johnson doesn't think so, so why should we? On the surface, the 2006 settlement was a disappointment but closer examination shows strategic mistakes. The employers claimed in April that we would settle for 11-14 per cent, and on May 10 set out that belief in writing. We could have discussed more carefully what sanctions we were applying, been better prepared for the employers' punitive sanctions in response and talked six weeks earlier when we were hurting the employers more than they were hurting us.



Odds: 3/1

Mr Jones, an hourly paid lecturer at Deeside College, has been a member of Natfhe and latterly of the UCU since he became a student teacher in 1986.

He has represented members of both as branch chair and branch secretary. He has held national lay positions. He claims backing from some National Executive Committee representatives and officers from ex-Natfhe and ex-AUT branches. Mr Jones, 56, lives in North Wales with his partner and her twin girls.

Why are you the best person for the job?

I am the only candidate who has any real experience of working in higher, further and adult education. I understand the worries, issues and problems facing those of us who work in the post-16 sector. That experience has not been gained from the comfort of a union office but from daily casework, leading disputes, fighting on picket-lines and giving members what they want.

My record more than stands up to either of the other candidates, and I have the management and leadership qualities that are demanded by this post.

What is the most important issue facing the sector?

The acceleration of the commodification of education is being bent towards the needs of industry rather than students, resulting in the narrowing of the knowledge base. The shutting of science departments is an indication of that. The whole country, and beyond, will be affected by the "academic deficit" that seems to be the only thing left growing in the Petri dishes of the lab. If the Government and universities don't listen now, it'll be too late. Art without science, Leonardo must be spinning in his grave!

What is the most important issue facing academic staff?

Academic and support staff are becoming victims of a system that is changing for the worse. Having learnt the lessons from colleagues in further education, higher education management is applying its new-found knowledge on UCU members. Neo-managerialism is being used to rip the heart out of an academic process in which ownership was largely in the hands of people who would nurture it, and is handing it over to the bean-counters. The result is demoralised and demotivated staff.

What is your greatest achievement in your career to date?

I've been a shop steward since I was 18. During that time, I have been involved in casework for individuals and groups, fighting management in engineering, transport, textile and lecturing unions. And it's got me the sack on several occasions. I've also fought fascism and racism.

I lead from the front, not a desk. I make the lives of individuals change for the better and my achievements as a trade union representative allow members to put their trust in me.

Was the 2006 pay deal the best that could have been achieved?

No. The AUT and Natfhe showed an amazing lack of tactical awareness. There was a will to continue among many members, as there was a fear among many others that to continue would have been worse than useless. Anyone working in education will tell you that taking action in spring, as the academic year hurtles to a close is like, leaving the trenches while a full bombardment is taking place.


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