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Raising the Bar withdrawn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  As a consequence, the marking and assessment boycott will be withdrawn.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

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:

Thank you!

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Why we are Boycotting Assessment: A Message for our Students

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Assessment Boycott: A Briefing Note for Staff

From Friday June 3, 2016 UCU members at Newcastle University will be asked to take part in a comprehensive boycott of student assessment and examinations activity. This briefing note includes information about why we are doing this, and responses to questions about exactly what the boycott includes. We will update this page with responses to additional questions as they come in.

Who should take action?

All members (excluding clinical academics and heads of institutions), employed by Newcastle University, who have assessment-related duties, including duties relating to the administration of assessment. Continue reading

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Assessment Boycott: A Briefing Note for Students

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at Newcastle University will begin a boycott of the marking process from 3 June 2016 unless a resolution to the dispute over performance management can be reached before then. We know that students will be concerned about the impact the boycott is likely to have and we want to explain what is happening and why.

What is a marking boycott?

Under a marking boycott, UCU members will cease to carry out tasks relating to marking, course work assignments, examinations or any other formal assessment of students’ work. Continue reading

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