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University and College Union

Full name University and College Union
Founded 2006-06-01
Members 116,000 (on formation)
Affiliation TUC, ICTU
Key people Sally Hunt (General Secretary)
Office location London, UK
Country United Kingdom

The University and College Union (UCU) is a British trade union. The union has around 116,000 members and is the largest further and higher education union in the world.

UCU is a vertical union representing casualised researchers and teaching staff as well as "permanent" lecturers. Definitions of all these categories are currently rather grey due to recent changes in fixed term and open-ended contract law. In many universities, casualised academics form the largest category of staff and UCU members.


UCU was formed by the merger on 1 June 2006 of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). For its first year, a set of transitional rules was in place until full operational unity was achieved in June 2007. During the first year of the new union the existing General Secretaries (Sally Hunt and Paul Mackney) remained in post, managing the union’s day-to-day business jointly. Paul Mackney did not stand for General Secretary of UCU owing to ill-health and Sally Hunt was elected General Secretary of the union on 9 March 2007, and took office on 1 June 2007.

File:The march.jpg
Striking teachers and public sector workers march down the Kingsway, London, flanked by police on June 30, as part of the 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests.[1][1]


Privatisation of education

UCU is campaigning against private finance initiatives and joint ventures, such as those proposed by INTO University Partnerships.

Stopping casualisation

UCU campaigns heavily to reduce academic casualisation, including the use of temporary contracts to employ tutors, lecturers and project researchers. UCU's view of project research is that research is performed more efficiently by professional and stable career researchers, based in researcher pools and assigned to projects internally as they come up, as in most non-university project-based organisations. As in industry, researchers between projects should be considered "on the bench", paid our of Full Economic Costs from previous grant income, and use their bench time to manage new project bids and fulfill their continued professional development quotas. Hourly paid bank workers on zero-hours contracts have also been represented by UCU, and in Universities such as Edinburgh these positions have been replaced by full-time jobs as a result.


UCU supports Abortion Rights[2] which campaigns "to defend and extend women's rights and access to safe, legal abortion"; among its statements it opposes the criminalisaton of sex-selective abortion.[3]

Industrial action

2006 HE industrial action

File:Ucu day1.JPG
the demonstration on the first day of the new union

Until the merger, AUT and NATFHE members in higher education were involved in ongoing 'action short of a strike' - including boycotting setting and marking exams, and 'Mark and Park' where members would mark coursework but did not release marks and this action was continued by the UCU. Lecturers were taking industrial action over issues of pay, and the gap that has grown up over the last 20–30 years between their remuneration and that of other similarly qualified public-sector professionals. Prime Minister Tony Blair promised that a significant percentage of new monies released for universities would be put towards lecturers' pay and this had not happened.

AUT and NATFHE rejected an offer of 12.6% over three years which was made on the 8th of May[4] and a further offer of 13.12% over three years made on 30 May.[5][6]

Concerns grew that students would not be able to graduate in 2006.[7] The National Union of Students' leadership supported the lecturers' action and although the matter was raised at various meetings NUS support for lecturers was never successfully challenged. In response to feedback from a group of students' unions NUS advised AUT/NATFHE (UCU) that their support for action could not be indefinite and was wholly dependent on seeking a fast resolution. Many students' unions from around the country went further and openly condemned the action taken by the lecturers' unions as holding the students to ransom.

To support the industrial action the new union, on its very first day of existence, organised a 'day of solidarity' by its higher education members. This included a demonstration in London which ended with a lobby at the headquarters of the employers' body, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (Ucea).[8][9]

Following further talks on 6 June between UCU and UCEA, sponsored by the TUC and Acas, the UCU agreed to a ballot of its members on the 13.1% offer (with an increase of around 15% for lower paid members of non-academic university staff) over three years, with the important proviso that any monies docked from striking lecturers would be repaid and that an independent review would consider the mechanisms for future negotiations and the scope of funding available to universities for future pay settlements. The pay increase will be phased over the three years, with the final year's figure subject to further increase in line with inflation. The boycott of assessment was suspended on 7 June.[10][11][12]

2013 UK higher education strike

UCU members took part in industrial action across the UK on 31 October 2013.[13]


Israeli boycott

Since 2007, the UCU has been involved in controversy for its policy of boycotting Israeli academia. Some Jewish members resigned following claims of an underlying institutional anti-Semitism.[14]

In July 2011, the UCU was notified of a Jewish member's intention to sue before the Employment Tribunal for violation of the Equality Act 2010.[15] This case was filed under the Equality Act with the Employment Tribunal in September 2011 and was heard in the Summer of 2012.[16] In March 2013, the complaint was rejected in its entirety. The Employment Tribunal stated that "we greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means".[12]

Consultation and use of online surveys

The union has been criticised for its use of e-surveys when determining policy. Such a survey was used for the General Secretary’s proposal to Congress in 2012 that the size of the National Executive Committee be reduced from 70 members to a maximum of 40, to save money on expenses. E-surveys were challenged at Congress on the grounds that they ‘encourage people to vote without hearing the debates first’.[17] In its recent campaign against compulsory membership of the Institute for Learning (IfL) UCU came under criticism for this an online survey which, it transpired, was open to the general public and could be completed by non-members without any membership validation. Former deputy chief executive of the IfL, Lee Davies, called this 'slapdash' and said that it 'undermined the union as a democratic voice, especially given a low response rate’.[18]


UCU Left caucus

UCU Left is a group of left-wing activists within the union which calls for democratic accountability of union officials. It supports strikes, demonstrations and other actions in support of pay, jobs and pensions. UCU Left opposes "all forms of racism, sexism, oppression and imperialism".[19]

Anti-casualisation network

UCU Anti-casualisation network is a group of activists within the union who are focussed on reducing casualisation. Its voice has increased in recent years, including calls to national UCU to strike over casualisation issues instead of, or as well as, over pay.


  1. ^ a b "Union put brave face on strike turn out and insist walkout was 'best ever' response". Daily Mail (London). 30 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Who we are". Abortion Rights. Retrieved 9 December 2014. We are delighted to have the support of ... UCU 
  3. ^ "Statement on sex-selective abortion". Abortion Rights. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  4. ^ AUT members reject employers' final offer, UCU News, May 15, 2006.
  5. ^ AUT seeks two-year pay deal and full review into finances for the third year, UCU News, May 31, 2006.
  6. ^ Lecturers reject latest pay offer, BBC News, May 31, 2006
  7. ^ Students 'not able to graduate', BBC News, May 13, 2006
  8. ^ Members mark UCU launch with HE pay solidarity events, UCU News, 1 June 2006
  9. ^ Lecturers stage march over pay, BBC News, 1 June 2006
  10. ^ University pay talks reach deal, BBC News, June 6, 2006.
  11. ^ Deal reached in university pay talks, UCU News, June 6, 2006.
  12. ^ a b "UCU cleared of harassment in landmark tribunal". University and College Union. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  13. ^ "University strike expected to go ahead on Thursday". BBC News. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "Lecturer tells UCU: change or I'll sue". 7 July 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Academic suing University and College Union over antisemitism vote". The Jewish Chronicle. 1 July 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "Fraser determined to fight University and College Union". The Jewish Chronicle. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ UCU Left website

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