My name is Ewan McGaughey. I believe in fair pay, democracy, equality, a living planet, free public education, and that our union needs a fundamental change to improve our members’ lives. I’m a law professor at King’s College, London, specialising in labour, pensions, corporate and public service law. As KCL UCU branch president, serving from December 2020 to September 2023, we transformed our branch, and collectively bargained for, and won, the highest London Weighting in the capital (a 42% local pay rise), among the highest paid parental leave levels, more staff elected to our governing Council, the first written collective agreement in a decade, and among the highest ballot turnouts in the UK. We need a clear plan to improve our workplaces, and I’d like to ask for your vote and support to serve as UCU’s General Secretary. So please join us and say:
Eight point platform: how we’ll transform UCU + UK education
If you vote for our platform, I promise you that UCU will become a working union with these goals:
- Fair pay: pay back to real levels before 2010, not more waste on fancy buildings or management bureaucracy
- Democracy: university governing bodies must be majority-elected by staff, not have self-selecting cronies
- End the gender, race and disability pay gaps with structural reform, and that includes raised and equalised paid parental leave to 26 weeks, not more gendered childcare
- Job security for every worker in written collective agreements and zero tolerance for discrimination
- USS board two-thirds elected, and a shareholder voting policy for clean, pro-labour investments
- Boost our legal department, and back UCU staff and branches, with facility-time buyouts, to defend all workers’ rights
- 100% clean energy at UCU, USS, in all universities, investments and endowments, not more toxic gas, oil or coal
- Restore public education funding, with fair tax, not forced fees, and equality and respect in further education
UCU needs to become an organised union with a vision to get results. We must support our brilliant UCU staff and expert negotiators and be the most inclusive union. UCU members have continued to witness the worst pay declines in the sector’s modern history, down 13% in real terms since 2019, and down 21% since 2009. We must have fair pay and we must restore our dignity. So, we need structural change and we need leadership change. If you vote, we will restore fairness and democracy in UK education with a strategy that works. I will work with all branches and all members of our National Executive Committee to ensure that we have a credible labour relations strategy. We will negotiate from a position of strength, and we will win because our claims are clear and fair.
Eight point platform in detail
1. Fair pay: pay back to real levels before 2010, not more waste on fancy buildings or management bureaucracy
Since 2019, pay has fallen off a cliff, down 13% in real terms (by the Consumer Price Index), and down over 21% since 2009, even though universities are sitting on piles of cash from tripled home student fees, and limitless international student fees. The money is being squandered on management bureaucracy and fancy buildings without caring about the people inside, and it has been poured into the vortex of escalating USS contributions, up from 20.35% of salary in 2009 to 31.4% today, even as failed USS directors were attempting to slash benefits. A similar fiasco is looming in TPS. Worse, in some universities, colleagues have seen experience-based increments frozen, in clear breach of contract.
If you vote, we will restore fair pay, and we will do it through common sense reason, collective action, legal action, and targeted publicity of wrongdoing. At KCL, we succeeded in getting the highest London Weighting in the capital, a 42% rise from £3500 to £5000 in 2 years. People need to want to work in UK universities, so we need to become internationally competitive again, particularly by raising salaries for early-career scholars. In Further Education, staff must be paid equally to teachers, not less, and all teachers’ pay must go up. We need to reduce inequality overall, and help restore the right to fair pay across the UK. We need a fair progression system for professional service staff. Where a small group of institutions are struggling financially, UCEA and UUK need to get their act together and discipline and delayer members with wasteful management, not attack front-line staff. If you join our platform, UCU will end wage theft, completely. As we restore pension rights, and transform USS for the long-term, every university must use the savings from reduced contributions to raise pay: that is our money, not theirs. Our universities can be so much better, and working together we will do it.
How we do it
Our strategy will be to get a multi-year deal, as we had before 2009, and win through:
- sector-wide bargaining, aggregated ballots, and simple system reform to never lose a ballot again,
- restoring sectoral bargaining in FE, with at least equal pay compared to teachers – that’s 20% up,
- leading by example at UCU itself: every penny of reduced USS employer contributions back to staff,
- lobbying the government to roll out sectoral bargaining for fair pay and restored labour freedom.
2. Democracy: university governing bodies must be majority-elected by staff, not have self-selecting cronies
Most UK universities have a majority on governing bodies that are selected by the incumbents behind closed doors. They set our pay, equality policies, job security, appoint senior managements, and then they appoint each other. Though there are many good individuals, together they have overseen the worst decline in UK universities in modern history. That must change. University governing body members usually have two, three, four other directorships or jobs, they are accountable to nobody but themselves, and often have little understanding of universities except their own undergraduate degree, and quarterly board meetings. University staff understand our institutions because without us they would not exist. We have the world’s leading experts in finance, innovation, arts, and knowledge, and we understand what is good for students and our academic community.
If you vote, we will restore democracy in education. Every university and college must have a governing body that is majority-elected by staff. We already see majority-elected bodies in Cambridge and Oxford, since the 1850s. We see some staff-elected members in Scotland under the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016. We see them in London, including at UCL, and at King’s where we led a petition and a strike ballot and negotiated two more staff- elected members pending a full governance review. We are currently seeing another branch-led campaign throughout Wales that UCU should back in full. We must go further, not least because the UK is among the dwindling minority of poorer OECD countries that have no general law for the right of workers to be elected to boardrooms – and at universities we must spread best practice and pave the way. From England, to Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland we must fight for your right to vote at work, because with democracy we will protect fair pay, equality, security, productivity, and innovation.
How we do it
Our strategy will be to combine collective bargaining with lobbying for legislative reform, through:
- bargaining and action across the sector for majority-elected governing bodies, and backing all campaigns in full, including the current one in Wales,
- lobbying the Scottish, Welsh and Westminster governments to create democratic governance fit for the 21st century in the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016, the Education Reform Act 1988 section 124E and Schedule 7A, and all royal charters.
3. End the gender, race and disability pay gaps with structural reform, and that includes raised and equalised paid parental leave to 26 weeks, not more gendered childcare
Across UK universities the gender pay gap is 14.8% in 2022, even worse than the appalling UK-wide gap of 11.3%. More than 50 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970, we need to fulfil the universal human right of “equal pay for equal work”. The same goes for the race pay gap, and the disability pay gap. For the gender pay gap, the core structural problem is gendered child care roles. The pay gap soars around the age people begin having families. As endless research shows, the pay gap will only end once we have equal parenting responsibility. The structural causes of gender pay gap (beyond child care), the race pay gap, and the disability pay gap, are multiple but most important are hiring, promotion, and pay practices, and the continuation of outright discrimination.
To address the leading cause of the gender pay gap, we need to raise and equalise paid parental leave from the current sector standard of 2 weeks paternity, and 18 weeks maternity, to at least 26 weeks for everyone, without gender divisions. Equal paid parental leave at 26 weeks costs about the same as an increase of just 2% rise in total salary, and the benefits a more equal society are universal. If you vote, we will get equal paid parental leave. At King’s we got a deal to raise paid parental leave to 6 weeks paternity, and 20 weeks maternity, with a view to further rises and equalisation in future years. Universities must be a model for the rest of the UK, Europe and the world, and stop falling behind even private firms that are doing 26 weeks equal paid parental leave already, and Unicef UK that does 52 weeks equal paid leave regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
To undo structural inequality for the gender, race and disability pay gaps, there are a host of further measures. First, we need to ensure that university and college departments aren’t blinded by so called “market” rates that often embed bias, and make sure new appointments and promotions contribute to lowering the pay gaps, not increasing them. Second, we need to ensure interview panels, and representative bodies, look like the communities we live in, not a rerun episode of Dad’s Army. Third, and above all, we need to end the pay gaps by reducing inequality of pay and security overall: the gender, race and disability pay gaps are all higher when pay inequality is higher, and will lower when we replace hierarchy with a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
Three more points are important. Number one: shared parental leave does not work. First, every child deserves to have two parents, not one parent for them, and the other for the employer. Second, you don’t have to trade your holidays with your partner. You get to take them together because they are individual rights. Third, we know that private choice in sharing leave perpetuates social stereotypes: in Sweden where there is 2 years shared, men take one-third, and women two-thirds of shared leave. This keeps the gender pay gap in tact, and we want to end it. We need equal rights, not “shared” rights that are not really rights at all.
Number two: we need free child care. At King’s we campaigned and balloted for free child care subsidies, and as we did the UK government made the surprise announcement that it would introduce 15 hours free in 2024, and 30 hours free in 2025. We must hold the government to this, and ensure there is reform to prevent waste and get fair wages at the 69% of nurseries that are still in the private sector. At King’s we got a deal for 20% child care subsidies at Ofsted registered providers, and UCU should support all local branches to get arrangements on or off campus that work for them.
Number three: existing rights in the Equality Act 2010 are often not enforced. I am horrified by the continued cases of women, often on fixed term contracts, who apply for maternity leave and are told they are redundant. Already in this campaign, I have heard of more stories from supporters who have had this happen to them, and are doing their best but has a union too distracted, and a legal department too under-resourced, to fight for them. At King’s we reversed (at least) two sexist dismissals, and one disability-related dismissal, getting our colleagues’ jobs back after they were told they were fired, and transformed the HR department and the horrific practices that had allowed this to happen. I’ve also acted through the Free Representation Unit in complex race discrimination cases, winning at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and that is the commitment and knowledge I will bring. If you join our platform, this will end, because I promise UCU will pursue every case necessary to protect our members’ rights, and pursue individuals responsible for discrimination.
How we do it
The concrete measures to achieve change we will take are:
- sector-wide bargaining for 26 weeks paid parental leave, regardless of gender, and local bargains on top,
- leading by example through UCU as an employer, raising parental leave to at least 26 weeks regardless of gender (up from the current 24 weeks maternity, and 5 weeks paternity),
- UCU getting organised, ranking and publicising workplaces that fall behind our equality goals,
- bargaining university by university, college by college, to overhaul hiring, pay and promotion panels,
- making full use of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation powers wherever we find patterns of systemic discrimination – particularly sexist dismissals, structural racism, and ablism,
- lobbying the government to raise and equalise paid parental leave in law, and strengthening the Equality Act 2010 according to our goals.
4. Job security for every worker in written collective agreements and zero tolerance for discrimination
UK universities can be the best places to work, but in many cases are becoming the worst for job security, particularly through casualisation of early career colleagues. Every “zero hours contract” is a scar on our sector, because they should be considered not just unlawful but immoral. We are plagued by fixed-term contracts driven by a defective research funding model. Discriminatory dismissals are rife. Failed managements threaten redundancies when they have messed up, and try to drive through restructures without proper negotiation and consultation. On top of this we have gender, race and disability pay gaps, showing a growing inequality in our workplaces.
All of this must end, and we must win back our job security through collective bargaining and full enforcement of our legal rights. At King’s, we had no written collective agreement for over a decade, to codify management and union duties for negotiation, consultation and information, or set out a dispute resolution process. We wrote it, and sealed the deal with our partners at Unison and Unite, to re-establish a working relationship of mutual trust and confidence. No university, no college, should be without a written collective agreement. So as we restore a functioning national system of sectoral collective bargaining, we will also restore enterprise bargaining on top of our nationwide sectoral bargaining, to raise rights locally, experiment, and build up best practice. We will support every branch to ensure every university and college abides by its duties of consultation and information for restructuring or proposed changes to contracts: no change without consent. We will enforce these rights, and if some university or college managements aren’t used to negotiating, or don’t feel like it, we will impose statutory fines upon them, and trigger every rule in the book, for every violation. We will support every university branch that aims to restore meaningful powers to elected Academic Boards or Senates, as they should have, to protect security and innovation. Above all, we will restore collective bargaining on the basis of good faith.
One more point: security and equality are personal to me. Like most other people entering the UK workforce, I worked on successive part-time, fixed-term contracts before and after my Ph.D., having to reapply for my job each year, not being sure if I could pay the rent and the bills. I worked through agencies throughout school and university. Too many of my friends, family and colleagues have faced discrimination, and I have worked my whole career on combatting sexism, racism, ablism, anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice, xenophobia and for equality, including winning in the employment tribunals. We need uphold the promise of universal human rights with fair pay, equality and justice for everyone, and become a model of equality and security for the whole country.
How we do it
We will protect job security using every tool in the box – collective, legal and public action by:
- bargaining for every workplace to have a written collective agreement, enshrining job security rights,
- bargaining for better job security through Academic Boards and Senates, to restore tenure,
- enforcing every employer’s statutory duties of consultation and negotiation, and anti-discrimination,
- defending every single member who suffers discrimination to the law’s full extent, and pursuing personal responsibility for wrongdoing, under the Equality Act 2010 section 110,
- lobbying the government for better statutory dismissal protection, in a new deal for working people.
5. USS pension board two-thirds elected, and a shareholder voting policy for clean, pro-labour investments
The Universities Superannuation Scheme has an expert body of staff who have secured good returns, but has been dragged down by a recent history of bad managers and directors. USS has a board with 4 members appointed by UUK, 3 by UCU, and 5 by the incumbent board. This lack of worker representation, lack of elections is even below the Pensions Act 2004 minimum for one-third member-nominated trustees at most funds. The USS board has been captured by the City and fossil fuels, including a people from JP Morgan, Citibank, Schroders, Rio Tinto, and chair from the coal industry. They’ve overseen predictions of fund “deficits” on the nonsense assumption that there would be 0% asset growth for 30 years, and then they argued pay and security in retirement needed to be cut. They still refuse to divest fossil fuels, or develop an ethical investment strategy, despite losing £450m of our money in Russia. They’ve failed to develop any credible shareholder voting policy to ensure our votes in companies are cast to get 100% clean energy and fair labour rights. The pensions minister could change this with the stroke of a pen, by raising elected or union directors to one-half, and we need to reach the standard recommended in the landmark Goode Report that where members take investment risk (“defined contribution” funds) two-thirds of directors must be chosen by us, not employers or City asset managers.
The 5 USS directors now chosen by the incumbent board must be elected by us, and we will apply the same principles for TPS and SAUL. We will do everything to secure a transformation, through bargaining and through legislative reform to uphold good standards for pension governance. When the USS directors announced the cuts to pension benefits, we organised the largest legal crowdfund in UK history to sue the directors personally to reverse the cuts, and divest fossil fuels. We had the overwhelming backing of the UCU National Executive Committee, but the leadership refused to follow. Our legal action shone a torch on the nonsense valuation for every university management to see. Just after we won leave to go to the Court of Appeal, UUK and USS announced they would reverse the cuts they had fought tooth and nail for – what a coincidence! We know that we need to use every tool in the box to defend workers’ rights, and that means collective action, legal action, and clear, rational persuasion to win.
Finally, it is imperative that our money, our worker’s capital, is voted for good, according to our preferences, not the preferences of the City and Wall Street. If you support our platform, we will make sure USS has a credible shareholder voting policy to get to 100% clean energy in generation, transport, and buildings, and uphold labour rights in every company that USS invests in: that means recognise the union, pay fair wage scales, get workers on boards, and uphold equality and security, everywhere. No more zero or low growth investments, and no more apathy in using our £80 billion fund for good. We will protect our pensions by having the most advanced policy in the world for clean energy and labour rights.
How we do it
We will transform USS – and do the same for TPS and SAUL where it’s the same – by:
- only appointing new UCU directors to USS that commit to a two-thirds elected board, divesting fossil fuels, and a credible shareholder voting policy for 100% clean energy and pro-labour rights,
- collectively bargaining with UUK for democratic governance reform in the USS articles of association,
- legal action, and personal responsibility, for USS directors who squander our money and future on toxic fossil fuel investments, and break their fiduciary duty to vote our shares by our preferences,
- lobbying for legislative change for majority-elected pension directors through Ministerial order under the Pensions Act 2004 section 243.
6. Boost our legal department, and back UCU staff and branches, with facility time buyouts, to defend all workers’ rights
UCU has among the most talented and professional permanent staff in the field, with expert negotiators, campaigners, organisers, but a lack of resources and strategy holds us back. UCU used to have a proactive approach to fighting and winning cases, including up to the Supreme Court to protect members’ rights, but since 2019 there has been nothing. Many of our members’ branches have no written collective agreement, and no facility time (that is, the legal right to a work buyout to do trade union representation work). Worse, despite calling an aggregated ballot over late 2023, UCU failed to reach the statutory 50%-threshold, because there was a total absence of a voter-turnout strategy coordinated with branches.
If you support our platform, we will say loud and clear: we don’t negotiate over legal rights, we enforce them. Our UCU legal department will get the funds to fight for all members’ rights, and we will have a strategy for litigation across the sector. We will make an example of rogue employers who evade labour rights, tax or social security. Sham self-employment will end. Wage theft will end. Violations of the Equality Act 2010 will end. At King’s we helped our members file legal action, even where UCU provided no help centrally, and we reversed three dismissals, transforming HR in the process. We got the legal right to facility time enshrined in our collective agreement, which was made available for our union representatives and caseworkers. As a labour lawyer for nearly 20 years, I guarantee that UCU will empower all branches with the resources and training they need to fully back their members, including bringing cases to Tribunal. Finally, we will never, ever, call a ballot again that we do not win. At King’s, we went from being a branch that missed ballot thresholds to getting among the highest turnouts in the UK, and we will do it for the whole of UCU. The vote is the most powerful right we have, and a duty that we owe to one another to use.
How we do it
The core of restoring a functioning union is to actually defend members rights, to the law’s fullest, by:
- hiring more staff in our UCU legal department, paying better, for a real sector-wide litigation strategy,
- devoting more resources – including from the over £30 million “cash on hand at bank” reported in UCU accounts – to actually fight claims, and making a public example of law-breaking employers,
- securing facility time (that’s time off for union work, e.g. 0.2 FTE or 0.5 FTE), which is a statutory right, in written collective agreements at every workplace for our brilliant branch representatives,
- overhauling our voter data systems so that central staff and our branch reps will win every ballot.
7. 100% clean energy at UCU, USS, in all universities, investments and endowments, not more toxic gas, oil or coal
We have a climate emergency, and it’s not enough to declare it, or change consumption habits as individuals. We need a rapid, structural and global revolution for 100% clean electricity, transport, heating and buildings. We need “now zero”, not “net zero by 2050”, 2030, or other useless delay tactics and greenwash. And it’s not enough to have a good pension in retirement. We need a living planet to go with that pension. All of our workplaces, all of our universities and colleges, all of our capital funds need to go into action as a moral imperative, but also because the financial cost of inaction is so huge. Solar, wind and batteries are already cheaper than toxic gas, coal or woodburning stations. Electric vehicles are already cheaper than petrol or diesel overall, and will be upfront by 2025. Heat pumps, induction and insulation cut bills more than gas. And more than money, toxic air pollution in the UK costs the NHS £6 billion every year. As a union movement, we must lead the way for a “just cessation” of fossil fuels, and revolution to win a clean, democratic economy.
If you vote, we will transform UCU itself to have “now zero” fossil fuels, we will make every university and college follow our example, and we will enhance our pensions and endowment funds by making them a global force for the clean energy revolution. Like Harvard’s endowment fund or the Dutch pension funds, we will divest toxic gas, oil and coal. And even more crucially, we will lead the way in ensuring all shareholder rights at USS and university endowments are voted to make every company go clean. We will shift markets, and join the lobby for legislation to make all UK funds do the same. Our members want their savings for a fair retirement, not to be squandered in a fossil fuelled vortex that enflames the planet. We will take legal and collective action against universities and individuals who don’t get it, and throw around distant targets, whether at USS, or in university boards. We will win our future back.
How we do it
We will only win back our future and a living planet with swift action. So we must:
- lead by example, investing in UCU first to cut our future bills and turn all electricity renewable, all heating clean, and all vehicles electric, as well as crafting a comprehensive green-employer policy,
- take robust action to divest USS and SAUL from fossil fuels, and write 100% clean energy voting policies,
- collectively bargain for every university and college to go 100% clean, divest its endowment fund, vote clean, and reject fossil fuel money – and rank and publicise their scores for students to choose.
8. Restore public education funding, with fair tax, not forced fees, and equality and respect in further education
The universal human right to education, and in particular free higher education accessible “on the basis of merit”, has a proud history in the UK, but has been vanishing today. With the removal of grants, the £9250 forced fees for home students, and unlimited international student fees, a generation of workers is loaded with debt before they start. This failed model, exported from private school boys in politics to universities, increases anxiety, disrupts study, and creates clear incentives for discrimination to favour high fee-payers. It makes no economic sense when 47% of student debt is projected to not be repaid anyway. Awash with other people’s money, university managers act like countries with a resource curse, augmenting their power, and hoarding capital for vanity building projects. They are completely divorced from the public and student interest, let alone academic ideals of the Enlightenment. In further education, starved of proper funding, wages have fallen off a cliff just like in universities.
If you support our platform, we will restore public education funding, because we know the evidence is on our side, for education to run on fair tax, not forced fees. We will be part of building a National Education Service, free at the point of use, and with fair pay, that guarantees the universal right to education throughout our lives. We will do this in the UK, and we will begin replacing the failed “global market in higher education” with global merit, by pushing for an international treaty that enables free movement and social rights across democratic states. Education is at the core of rebuilding our public services, just as much as in the NHS, rail, mail, energy, water, communications and media. Education is at the core of a 21st century system of universal public services that are the rights of every human being, and a duty we owe to one another, to build a just society. If you believe in our democracy, if you believe in our society, then you believe in justice, and we invite you to join our campaign for a better world.
How we do it
We get restoration of public education funding by:
- having absolute moral clarity, and showing the economic evidence that the forced-fee system has failed,
- lobbying government to replace forced-fees with a new settlement for the future of education.
About Ewan + why we’ll win
My name is Ewan. I’m a law professor at King’s College, London, specialising in labour, pensions, corporate and public service law. I grew up in Luton, Milton Keynes, and Sydney, and after dozens of casual jobs through school and university, I worked my whole adult life in education, also acting through the Free Representation Unit for workers in employment tribunals. When I was elected branch president of KCL UCU, serving from December 2020 to September 2023, we re-established a system of workplace relations based on trust and confidence, because we built a long-term strategy of collective action, legal action, targeted publicity, and positive proposals. We succeeded in:
- raising paid parental leave to among the highest levels at a UK university, with a view to equalising child care rights and ending the gender pay gap,
- getting more worker-elected members on our university governing body,
- sealing the first written collective agreement in over a decade, codifying our colleagues’ rights to job security according to the law,
- raising London Weighting from £3500 to £5000 a year (a 42% local pay increase) that from December 2023 is the highest among the capital’s universities,
- going from a branch that missed the ballot thresholds to getting among the highest results in the UK,
- protecting our members during Covid from threats to work in person or be fired, pre-vaccine, working with other branches so management understood corporate manslaughter liability,
- reversing at least three unjust, discriminatory dismissals – including two colleagues’ fired when they applied for maternity leave, and one colleague fired for disability, getting their jobs back – and then we oversaw a transformation in HR operations;
- we crowdfunded a case against the USS pension fund directors, overwhelmingly backed by the UCU NEC, to shine a spotlight on the nonsense valuation, and when we got leave to appeal, UUK and USS said they would reverse the pension cuts.
If we can succeed in local branches, we can succeed across the UK – for fair pay, democracy, equality, security, and a living planet. If you vote for our platform, together we will transform our union, and we will restore a public higher and further education sector that we believe in, based on merit, not markets and failure. We will negotiate from a position of strength, and we will win because our claims are clear and fair. But above all, we will win because you have the power to join us and we can do it together.
Your voice matters, join us to transform UK education, and sign up here!