We are international – Let’s keep it that way

As part of the We Are International Campaign, UCU Newcastle and Northumbria are holding a Brexit event in support of EU nationals.

Jason Hussein from the Newcastle Law Centre will give advice and answer questions in regards to EU resident rights and Brexit. In particular Jason will focus on what EEA citizens living in the UK should do now. Jason will talk through the procedure of EEA residence and permanent residence document application and answer any questions you may have.

All UCU members and non-members are invited to attend.

Where: Daysh Building Lecture Theatre 3 [room 1.29]
When:  Friday 7th April; 2-4pm


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Recruitment Week: Newcastle University UCU

Newcastle University UCU are running a number of local events during the week from Monday 27 February until Friday 3 March, 2017. All University staff and students are invited to come along to discuss their concerns with UCU members and about the role and activities of UCU (both nationally and locally) and learn about the benefits of membership. The past year has already shown how a strong local UCU branch can positively impact on the the work environment at Newcastle University and joining the union is one important way to contribute to that.

At a national levelUCU is the largest post-school union in the world: a force working for education that employers and the government cannot ignore. It understands the work you do, and the problems you face. And, of course, the more members UCU has, the more effective the support and protection we offer will be. Whether you are an academic, lecturer, trainer, instructor, researcher, administrator, manager, computer staff, librarian or postgraduate from a university, college, prison, adult education or training organisation, UCU is the union for you, so come along to work of the local recruitment events below to find out more.

For more information on UCU visit the national UCU website.

  • Monday 27 February
    • 12.30-1.30pm School of Marine Science and Technology: MAST conference room Armstrong Building 1.53B
    • 1.15-2.15pm School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials: Bedson Building 1.19
  • Wednesday 1 March
    • 12-1.00pm School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Agriculture Building 3.05
  • Thursday 2 March
    • 1-2.00pm School of Chemistry, Bedson Building 2.76
  • Friday 3 March
    • 1-2.00pm All SAgE staff, Merz Court L202.
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A Local Victory of National Significance: Branch secretary’s report, 2015-6

This year, the branch secretary’s work has been principally concerned with our campaign against quantified research expectations that were elaborated in Research and Innovation Performance Expectations (RIPE/RTB) documents. All academic staff with a research element in their contract were to be measured against research outputs, grant income and PhD completion. It became apparent from our members in various schools that this would be a punitive process and opened the door to bullying with the ‘encouragement’ to accept teaching and scholarship contracts, more frequent performance meetings, retirement or capability procedures.

After discussion at our extended UCU Committee meeting on 7 October, we solicited members’ views, and Joan Harvey (our branch president) received around 200 responses. Most were negative about, afraid of, or angry at RTB; several offering biting critiques. The comments provided quotes for the posters that we then circulated. The Vice-Chancellor at this time organised a series of Town Hall meetings to explain RTB. These were well attended with voices of criticism being raised at each.

The Campaign Begins: The Grassroots Speak

An action committee encouraged members to participate in the campaign. This helped to encourage a creative grassroots response from our membership and beyond. One example of this creative approach beyond usual trade union practice was the launch of a major research project about the effects of RIPE. This project passed the University’s ethical approval process and constructed an impressive international advisory board. There were too many initiatives to be mentioned here and nobody has the full picture of what was done. I think there was lots of behind the scenes lobbying done and we ought to pay tribute to those at Head of School level and above who did this.

In late October-November, we organised meetings in at least a dozen schools to discuss RIPE, and these meetings generally drew at least half of the academics in the schools and often more. We circulated newsletters and posters against RIPE. Branch recruitment surged at this point. From late October, at least half a dozen Schools submitted open letters to the Vice-Chancellor against RIPE signed by a majority of school members, likewise Early Career Staff wrote their own open letter and over a hundred of the University’s professors signed a protest letter. The VC felt it necessary to meet with the Professors to explain his case. We gained favourable coverage for the campaign in The Courier and in the THES.

Our autumn General Meeting on 28 October 2015 had the largest turnout for such a meeting in this branch in memory. We overwhelmingly passed a motionfor the immediate withdrawal of the RIPE documents, the organisation of a vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor, an indicative ballot for industrial action over the RIPE policy. The branch then organised a well-attended public meeting inviting Liz Morrish (Nottingham Trent University) to speak on ‘Raising the Bar? Why we should resist target culture’. In December, we lobbied Council about RIPE and received a fairly positive response from several Council members who were unaware of the opposition that the policy had created. There were also spirited interventions from our sympathisers at Senate.

Negotiations, Thorough Consultation and a Democratic Mandate for Action

Days after the General Meeting of 28 October, the university management, though hitherto uncommunicative, requested talks with the union over RTB/RIPE. Between November and February (10 November, 30 November, 11 January, 24 February), four sessions of talks took place with the management elaborating a Memorandum of Understanding to attempt to mitigate the effects of the RIPE documents given management refusal to withdraw RIPE.

The result of our indicative ballot for industrial action was announced on 3 February: 77.9% voted for action short of strike and 63.8% voted in favour of strike. This provided a strong mandate to consider to a formal ballot for industrial action.

A General Meeting on 9 March resolved to reject the Memorandum of Understanding in its entirety, to call for a formal ballot for industrial action over the management’s refusal to withdraw this policy, to call for a vote of no confidence in the University’s Executive Board, and to put a motion to national UCU Congress to designate our campaign a local dispute of national significance. This General Meeting was as well attended as the one in October, with staff members from across all the faculties of the University, and that no more than five people voted against any of these motions.

The UCU National Executive Committee sanctioned the ballot for industrial action during the last week in April. The ballot opened on 3 May for a fortnight. Posters and leafletting sessions sought to maximize the vote. A resounding 65.1% voted for strike action and 71.7% voted for action short of a strike. The turnout was 40.6% of members (higher than the national dispute).

On 23 May, our Emergency General Meeting voted to reject the MoU (that had been arrived at in ACAS negotiations on 11 May), and to move immediately to an assessment boycott, roughly 2 to 1. The NEC approved the marking boycott on Tuesday 24 May, and the local UCU branch gave University management official notification.

The marking boycott was set to begin on Friday 3 June. In late May-early June, another wave of school meetings took place for members as well as meetings for students to explain how a marking boycott would affect them. Engaging with students was vital and we tried to diffuse their anxieties about the boycott based on our past experience of such action. We produced a Youtube video for students and a leaflet. Generally speaking, students were supportive of our action. A student Facebook group and petition supported us. Many students emailed the VC. We kept a line of dialogue open with students throughout the campaign. The school staff meetings indicated that members were determined to carry out the marking boycott, despite the prospect of pay docking. A couple of days before the marking boycott was to begin, a petition that had branch support calling for a bottom up approach to research planning was posted on change.org. Within a couple of days, it had over 2,000 signatories: our students, staff, academics across the world. With branch committee backing, this proposed an alternate way of planning research entitled Improving Research Together.

Marking Boycott Begins

On Friday 3 June, the day that the marking boycott began, the VC held a meeting at short notice with Heads of Unit. At this meeting, an open discussion indicated the serious concerns across the university at that level about RTB. During the week before the marking boycott, the university management contacted UCU requesting talks. These talks took place on Monday 6 June and included the UCU’s senior national negotiator, Michael MacNeill. Raising the Bar and RIPE were withdrawn with management seeking to restart from scratch the research planning process along collegial, inclusive, school-level lines. We would therefore encourage members to be involved in this process in their schools to ensure that the vision of bottom-up research enhancement materialises.

RIP to RIPE, RIP to RTB: Life after RTB

This victory would not have been possible without all those in the academic community, union and non-union, staff and student. I thank all of you who made this possible. Though RTB did not directly affect academic-related or academics on T&S contracts, it was a victory for all staff against bullying and top down pressure. It allows us to move forward to address the concerns of all staff. It is giving confidence to those outside Newcastle University to resist similar pressures.

The common response to the news of the withdrawal of RTB/RIPE is that it is ‘unbelievable’. We perhaps ought to have more confidence in ourselves and our union. Equally, we should not rest on our laurels. This campaign allows an opportunity to increase our membership, to better represent staff interests and revitalise our rep and caseworker structure. We want to do more to address the concerns of the casualised, of those on T&S contracts, of academic related. We cannot do it without you. Ask your colleagues to join. Put up a union poster on your door or in your staff room. Contact us if you want to get involved.

Matt Perry, Branch Secretary, Newcastle University UCU.



How to join 03332070719 or https://join.ucu.org.uk

Working the Metricised Academy’ – www.rtbresearch.org

Liz Morrish ‘Raising the Bar? Why we should resist target culture’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1thgkQWV8t8

Her blog is Academic Irregularities: https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/

The RTB research project: https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/nick.megoran/HTML/rtb.html

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Successful end to dispute

The AGM of Newcastle University UCU on 8 June voted to accept the agreement negotiated on Monday 6 June between UCU and the university management, and to end the assessment boycott with immediate effect.

Members applauded and cheered as branch secretary Dr Matt Perry emphasised that this  victory resulted from the courage, hard work, and willingness to take action of UCU members across the university, as well as the widespread opposition to the Research Performance Expectations policy among both members and non-members of the union. Without the strategy of building towards industrial action when faced with this serious threat to our profession, the management would not have given way and agreed to withdraw Raising the Bar.

Over the summer and into the autumn the union will be focusing on ensuring that the university management sustains its commitment to a non-coercive, consultative, inclusive approach and process to research improvement.

Reports of the end of the dispute have appeared in the Times Higher and the Newcastle Chronicle. Committee members have received letters of congratulations from around the world–we hope to publish some of these on the website in the next few days.

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Raising the Bar withdrawn

Negotiations between the University management and UCU took place yesterday, 6 June 2016. Newcastle UCU President Joan Harvey reported to members via email after the negotiations, as follows:

Significant progress was made, including the withdrawal of the research performance documents at both University and Faculty levels. UCU reaffirmed our commitment to this institution being a world-class civic University. A dispute resolution document is attached. This will be considered by UCU’s Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 8th June. It is the unanimous view of the UCU negotiating team (Bruce Baker [Branch Vice-President], Stacy Gillis [UCU branch committee], Joan Harvey [Branch President], Iain Owens [Regional official], Michael MacNeil [UCU national head of bargaining and negotiations], and Matt Perry [UCU Branch Secretary) to recommend [that the members accept] the agreement.  As a consequence, the marking and assessment boycott will be withdrawn.

I look forward to seeing you all on Wednesday 8th June at the Branch Annual General Meeting at 1:00 pm in G5 Daysh Building, when after the official business, we will explain more.

With best wishes and I would like to thank Michael Macneil, UCU head negotiator, for coming up to Newcastle today, and also all my UCU colleagues through these complex and often difficult times.


The agreement to be voted on at the AGM on Wednesday 8 June reads:

Academic Framework for Research Improvement

The Key Principles

The University and UCU are in agreement that:

  • we reaffirm our commitment to being a world-class civic University
  • as a University we want to make a difference through our research by focusing on, and addressing some of society’s most pressing challenges
  • we want to work in a University that has an excellent reputation and can attract and retain the best people (staff and students)
  • We develop a common understanding and collegial approach to improving research

To do this we recognise that:

  • performing well in key metric exercises such as the REF is important even if some of the rules are problematic
  • it is problematic to focus exclusively on quantitative targets
  • we want to succeed within certain policy environments and funding structures
  • we have a diversity of subjects, with specific research cultures
  • it is necessary to continue to improve the research performance of the University
  • any work in this area must be integrated with our planning for REF 2020 and the outcomes we need to achieve so that we retain our reputation as a world-class University
  • aligned with this we need to focus at the collective level on academic disciplines, research groups and REF Units of Assessment in our planning so that we can effectively evaluate and address our performance
  • we need to establish a non-coercive culture and approach

Delivering Research Excellence

To achieve this we should encourage staff to participate in establishing appropriate subject and Unit of Assessment academic frameworks to improve our research performance. We aim to have these in place by 31 December 2016 (in so far as there is more clarity by then on REF 2020).

The University and UCU will monitor and review the implementation of the academic framework for research improvement as necessary and this will be a standing item at JNC. We will also use this to identify and address any issues that impact on staff members.

This will be via a process:

  • of collaborative working with academic disciplines, research groups and future REF units of assessment at its core
  • that is consultative and inclusive.

To work together effectively to achieve this UCU and the University would both agree to the withdrawal:

  • from the current Industrial Action
  • of the Expectations for Research Performance documents (University and Faculty)
  • of the ‘Raising the Bar’ terminology.

Professor Tony Stevenson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Michael MacNeil, UCU National Head of Bargaining and Negotiation
Iain Owens, UCU Regional Official
Dr Joan Harvey, UCU Newcastle President
Dr Bruce Baker, UCU Newcastle Vice-President Operations
Dr Matt Perry, UCU Newcastle Honorary Secretary
Dr Stacy Gillis, Branch Officer

6 June 2016

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Words used so far to describe Newcastle University’s ‘Raising The Bar’ target-based performance management scheme

Unhelpful. Pointless. Terrifying. Stressful. Demoralizing. Counter-productive. Pernicious. Awful. Destructive. Unrealistic. Arbitrary. Unreasonable. Short-sighted. Ill-informed. Unethical. Bullying. Poisoned. Flawed. Unfair. Regressive. Coercive. Unsustainable. Immoral. Ineffective. Meaningless. Damaging. Outdated. Crude. Catastrophic. Narrow-minded. Madness. Risible. Big-Brother. Antithetical. Heavy-handed. Appalling. Vulgar. Absurd. Unacceptable. Wrong. Inappropriate. Ridiculous. Divisive. Reductive. Abominable. Bullshit. Neoliberal. Aggressive. Disgraceful. Erosive. Punitive. Scary. Perverse. Disastrous. Crass. Unjust. Outrageous. Concerning. Dreadful. Facile. Simplistic. Stupid. Irrational. Egregious. Shameful. Ignorant. Useless. Ill-thought. Harmful. Idiotic. Brutal. Contemptuous. Reductionist. Unhealthy. Demeaning. Discriminatory. Detrimental. Unworkable. Irresponsible. Corrosive. Unproductive. Anti-academic. Anti-human. Insane. Crushing. Draconian. Foolish. Quasi-Stalinist. Negative. Toxic. Unilateral. Offensive. Inequitable. Noxious. Witless. Managerialist. Distressing. Obscene. Uncollegial. Inimical. Philistine. Ludicrous. Impracticable. Misguided. Anti-democratic. Myopic. Clueless. Ill-conceived. Intimidating. Ill-considered.

From comments on the UCU petition, as of 4 June 2016. If you haven’t already, sign, and add yours!

Thanks to the Newcastle University UCU member who pulled these together for her original facebook post.


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Petition hits 2000 signatures

By Friday, only two days after it was launched, our petition had already reached 2000 signatures. Many signatories have left powerful comments about why our fight matters. There are comments from across the UK and the world, including many from Newcastle University staff and students.  Here are a selection:

The members at Newcastle University deserve all our support. Solidarity to you all.

Sally Hunt, London, United Kingdom

As a Professor emeritus of Newcastle University I view with dismay this deeply damaging and wholly unnecessary dispute. The UCU proposal is reasonable and constructive. It should be welcomed and acted on without delay.

R I Moore, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom Continue reading

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Improving Research Together

A Proposal to Newcastle University Management and the  Newcastle University Community


Newcastle University exists to further human understanding of the universe for the benefit of humanity. The UCU recognises that in order to do this, performing well in key audit exercises such as the REF is important as a means to this end. UCU shares the management’s aspiration to do this by improving research. We recognise that Raising the Bar (RTB) was intended to improve the research environment and output of Newcastle University, but the difficulties arising in its conception and application make it unlikely to succeed.

UCU asks the management to (1) withdraw RTB’s Research Expectations documents, and instead (2) to enter into a collaborative process called ‘Improving Research Together’ (IRT). Continue reading

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Striking for Fair Pay in Higher Education

Newcastle University UCU had an active picket line on Wednesday 25 and Thursday 26 May in support of our strike for #fairpayinhe.

Pickets and student supporters outside King's Gate

Pickets and student supporters outside King’s Gate

We got support from students and joined colleagues at a regional rally on Thursday lunchtime.

Newcastle University members en route to the regional rally

Newcastle University members en route to the regional rally

The campaign continues: all members are asked to work to contract and resign from any external examiner posts you hold.

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Petition to Chris Brink at change.org

UCU has set up a petition calling on Chris Brink to say no to coercive performance management at Newcastle University. We are asking him to withdraw the Research Performance Expectations documents and instead sign up to a new, collegial, process, Improving Research Together.

Please sign the petition and share it widely. The link is: https://www.change.org/p/chris-brink-say-no-to-coercive-performance-management-at-newcastle-university

Thank you!

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