Leaked document show that Russell Group universities are concerned over ‘reputational damage’

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Joanne Krus
News Editor

The report shows that the Russell Group felt pressured to “show leadership” over the casualisation issue.

A leaked document containing minutes from a virtual meeting of Russell Group universities revealed that they are concerned over their reputation if they do not solve the casualisation issue.

The Russell Group is an association of 24 high-ranking UK universities, of which the University of Glasgow is a member. Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are currently on strike for the third time since 2018 because of disputes over casualisation, pay, equality, workloads and pensions. This round of strikes has been the largest wave of strikes on UK university campuses, with staff from 74 universities taking part.

The striking revolves around two issues. The first is on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), run by UUK, of which Glasgow University’s Principle, Anton Muscatelli, is on the board of. The second issue is over the deteriorating working conditions, pay, ethnic and gender pay gaps, increasing workloads and casualisation, referring to the rising number of staff on short-term contracts or are employed on a causal basis.

This leaked report would suggest that this round of UCU strikes seems to finally be forcing senior management in universities to find a solution to the casualisation issue. The report shows the Russell Group are cautious that more “funders and politicians” are voicing their concerns over casualisation in higher education and research.

The report shows that universities seem to be divided on the casualisation issue and how to resolve it. It adds that there is not enough public information “explaining the need for different contract types and where and how often they are used.”

The report also said that the lack of information could mean that “university critics could be left to shape this agenda”, as well as the “solutions to it”.

Additionally the report states that “Russell Group universities need to show leadership in this debate, both as part of their duties as responsible employers and in order to avoid further reputational damage with key stakeholder groups, including staff.”

The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said in response to the leaked report: “This secret report shows some universities do understand the extent of casualisation in our institutions, and the serious damage it does to the health of staff and education of students. Sadly, it looks like it is fear of reputational damage, rather than concern for staff or students, that has prompted universities to act on casualisation.

“These minutes show how divided universities are when it comes to dealing with the issues at the heart of the strikes. Our message to all university vice-chancellors is simple: speak out. Make it clear to the people negotiating on your behalf that you want them to do more to deal with the key issues in these disputes.

“We are ready for serious negotiations to try and stop the strikes and end the disruption at our universities.”

The UCU, student unions and the National Union of Students have also recently written letters to the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, to ask her to put pressure on university employers to do more to resolve the strikes.

The UCU said in their letter that they had approached negotiations with employers in good faith but “the employers have so far refused to engage meaningfully on the key issues of pay and member contributions to the USS pension, which has been a major barrier to finding an agreeable solution.”

Donelan has yet to respond to the letter.