10 steps

10 steps to take in solidarity with precarious higher education staff

So much education and research is done by staff on precarious contracts who are paid less and receive worse benefits for the same work than their more securely employed colleagues. For years, UCU members have been campaigning to improve job security in post-16 education. Now more than ever, we all need to get behind precariously employed staff.

Employers everywhere are cutting budgets for sessional staff and refusing to renew fixed-term contracts, when they should be extending them for the whole duration of this crisis. In higher education, thousands of fixed-term contracts are not being renewed and tens of thousands more are at immediate risk of being cut before the start of the next teaching year.

We can’t trust our senior managers to look out for precarious colleagues, so we have to take their security into our own hands.

These ten steps range from simple actions that take no more than thirty seconds, to more sustained, organised and visible forms of support. Some of them can be done with the support of UCU branches or head office; others we can do on our own or by getting organised with colleagues. Many of them can be done even if you’re not a UCU member yourself.

By signing this statement, we pledge to spare as much time and take as many of these steps as we can.

Our ten steps

  1. Share your pledge to take these ten steps. We want thousands of other UCU members to stand up and say, publicly, that they have their colleagues’ backs – no matter what kind of work they do or what kind of contract they are on:

    I pledge to take the ten steps in solidarity with precarious higher education staff

    404 signatures

    Share this with your networks:


  2. Watch and share UCU’s video on casualisation. UCU has created a video using interviews with UCU members in all our sectors, on all kinds of contract. They talk about the scale of the problem of job insecurity and how it fits in with broader changes in post-16 education over the last decade and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic:
  3. Write to your MP about the need for the government to step in and guarantee funding for post-16 education to secure all jobs in the sector. UCU has updated its template letter to MPs to reflect the latest information on job cuts. Thousands of UCU members have already written but we need more to help us really emphasise the scale of the attack on our colleagues and put our sectors at the top of the government’s agenda.
  4. Change your email signature to advertise these ten steps and encourage your colleagues to take action. This is an easy but very helpful way to create noise and momentum for our campaign.

    Here is a template signature for you to use:

    I have signed this pledge to take ten steps in solidarity with precariously employed colleagues in higher education: https://fundthefuture.org.uk/10-steps. Thousands of fixed-term contracts have been lost already during the coronavirus crisis and tens of thousands more could follow. Cuts like these are likely to have an extremely detrimental impact on the workloads of those of us who remain in employment.

    If you are on a more secure contract please join me in taking as many of these ten steps to support precarious staff as you can manage.

    If you are precariously employed, please consider joining the University and College Union to increase UCU’s power to negotiate on your behalf. Joining can be free or cost as little as £1 per month. You can find information about UCU’s free and low-rate membership options here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/precarious-unemployed-membership
  5. Support anti-precarity campaigns on social media. UCU has created public lists of Twitter accounts for UCU branches and for anti-precarity campaigns – and you don’t even need a Twitter account to keep up. Follow UCU’s Facebook page or our Instagram account, which will continue to highlight these campaigns over the coming weeks. And have a look at the #PrecarityStories hashtag on Twitter, too.

Taken the first five steps? These ones take more time but are well worth it:

  1. Get involved with your branch. Any branch in an institution making significant cuts to precarious staff will be campaigning on this issue on top of their normal workload and they will need any help they can get. There might be an anti-precarity working group you can join; there might be vacancies for committee posts; there might be a need for another UCU rep in your department. Pitch in wherever you can to build capacity in your branch.
  2. Get involved with UCU’s national campaign. As part of the Fund the Future campaign UCU is putting on a series of online events involving UCU staff and members. These will provide a space for different parts of the union to come together, learn from each other and discuss how the crisis is changing post-16 education and what we can do to place it on a secure footing. Have a look at the programme, in particular the event on protecting casualised staff, register your interest for upcoming events, and watch recordings of past ones on our YouTube channel. Have a look at the ‘Resources’ section of UCU’s campaign website, too.
  3. Grow the union. Every member we gain increases our power in the workplace and our ability to negotiate to defend jobs and improve working conditions for all staff. The more we grow, the louder our voice and the harder it gets for employers to ignore it. Click here to find out about UCU’s generous terms for precariously employed members. These terms are linked to in the email signature provided in Step 4, but there’s nothing to stop you being a more proactive recruiter. Set yourself a target of talking to one precariously employed colleague who isn’t currently a member and convincing them to join.
  4. Get together with colleagues in your department, whether or not they are UCU members, to discuss and quantify the impact of cuts to precariously employed staff on your workload. How will you cope without the staff who do so much of the department’s teaching and research? Which modules will it affect? How will it change your research activities? Will the remaining staff be instructed to take on extra administrative duties? Start a shared spreadsheet, set up an informal working group and feed whatever information you can to your UCU branch.
  5. Join forces with colleagues in your department or institution to write a collective letter expressing your concerns about the equality impact of cuts to precariously employed staff. UCU’s research shows that women and BAME staff are disproportionately affected by casualisation, and we need to highlight that inequality wherever cuts to casual contracts are taking place. The appropriate route for this will depend on your sector or institution: for example, you could write to your department’s Athena SWAN rep, your institution’s EDI lead, or both. Make sure you copy your letter to your UCU branch. Read this article by Goldsmiths UCU for a good example of how to do this kind of work.
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