Grady faces three challengers in bid to lead UCU

The top job candidates all work in the university sector

The top job candidates all work in the university sector

17 Nov 2023, 10:00

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Three candidates have emerged to rival Jo Grady in her bid for a second term as general secretary of the University and College Union. 

Grady announced her intention to stand for a second term earlier this month. She was first elected to the position in May 2019.

She will compete against three other nominees, all from universities: Saira Weiner, a Liverpool John Moores University lecturer and member of UCU Left, Vicky Blake, a past president of the UCU, and law professor Ewan McGaughey.

Each will have received at least 50 nominations to stand for the role, which has a five-year term. It is advertised with an annual salary of between £111,723 and £125,745, plus £5,058 of London weighting.

UCU members will be balloted between January 25 and March 1, 2024.

Jo Grady

Grady was an employment relations lecturer at the University of Sheffield when she ran for the job in 2019. She won after securing 64 per cent of the vote, almost double that of Matt Waddup, UCU’s national head of policy and campaigns, who received 33 per cent of the vote in second place.

Jo McNeil, president of the University of Liverpool UCU branch, also ran in 2019 but was knocked out in the first round of voting.

Prior to Grady’s election, the UCU had positioned itself alongside college leaders in the fight for more funding for the sector, specifically in campaigning to close the widening pay gap between school and college teachers.

Since then, relations with college employers have soured as annual pay awards offered to teachers and lecturers fell far short of the union’s demands.

Most recently, the UCU balloted 89 colleges over strike action this month, but members at just eight made it to the picket line. Half of those balloted failed to reach the legal turnout threshold, while many others secured pay rises of around 6.5 per cent, to match what is being offered in schools.

In a video posted on X, formerly Twitter, Grady said UCU members “need and deserve [her] full attention” and that she would set out her manifesto in “due course”.

“I will set out my vision for the next five years, and I will campaign on the basis of being the best candidate possible to lead our union,” she said.

But first she said she needs to “be on picket lines with our further education members”.

Saira Weiner

A senior lecturer in education early childhood studies at Liverpool John Moores University and secretary of her university’s UCU branch, Weiner threw her hat into the ring soon after Grady announced her intention to re-run.

She is also vice-chair of the union’s regional committee for the north-west of England, and used to be a member of UCU’s national executive committee.

She criticised Grady’s decision to suspend university strikes in February after the UCU said it had made “real progress” in negotiations with employers over pay, conditions and pensions. 

Weiner told FE Week that members “need a union that ensures that, when members take industrial action, they are in control of disputes”.

She also said she would push to “scale up our industrial democracy for multi-institution disputes” rather than just sticking to local strike committees.

Vicky Blake

A widening participation officer at the University of Leeds, Blake put herself forward as an independent candidate after finishing her term as president of the UCU in June 2022. She is currently honorary secretary of the university’s UCU branch and is a former branch president.

In comments on her website, she said “mixed results” in FE balloting had left many members “disenchanted and dissatisfied with the distance between the rhetoric used during campaigning and what actually happened”.

She added: “I believe that we need an urgent change of approach. When we obtain reduced turnouts or even miss a ballot threshold at branch or aggregated level, we need to ask serious and thoughtful questions.” 

Ewan McGaughey

McGaughey, a law professor at King’s College London, has pledged to “reverse the real terms 13 per cent pay cuts in further education since 2019” in his bid for the top role at UCU. 

He was president of the UCU branch at his university from December 2020 to September 2023.

He also committed to bringing “democracy to every workplace with governing bodies majority-elected by staff”, and to boost the UCU’s legal department “to defend all workers’ rights”.

He has also backed equal-paid parental leave of 26 weeks after his campaigning boosted parental leave at King’s College, and committed to banning zero-hours contracts which he called a “scar on our sector”.

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  1. If I could vote , which I can’t, I’d go for Vicky Blake.

    The rest appear to have succumbed to organisational ego. A willingness and capacity for introspection ensures continuous learning, which is the most powerful argument an education sector can make.