UCU head Sally Hunt speaks to FE Week after landslide re-election

The general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) is pledging to put more resources on the frontline after securing a landslide re-election.

Sally Hunt retained the post after defeating her only opponent Mark Campbell by a margin of 6,835 votes. She won 73 per cent of votes cast.

The huge margin of victory is more than five times greater than when Sally was elected as UCU’s first general secretary in 2007, when she won by 1,346 votes, although she faced more opponents during that campaign.

Despite her massive majority, Sally, in her first interview since her re-election last week, said: “On a personal level, it was a relief,” before adding: “It’s not something you ever get used to.”

One of the key themes of Sally’s manifesto was to expand UCU’s employment and legal resources, so members can get “even faster advice and representation”, while also increasing the amount of union staff working in support of negotiators.

A ballot for which, Sally says, will be sent out next week.

To do this, she intends to reduce UCU’s national executive committee from its current membership of 70 to “no more than 40” in the future.

She said: “Improving support for members and branches in the current climate is not an optional extra, it is essential to protect our people wherever they work.

“I stood on a platform of improving services for members and supporting branches, campaigning on what matters and giving members more say in the union’s decisions.

“Achieving this will mean making difficult choices, such as reducing the size of our national executive committee, to that of other unions in order to put more resources on the front line.”

Another key theme of her manifesto was for UCU’s membership to have a “greater participation” in union activities.

Sally wants members to have a “direct say” in what UCU does and cites the recent ad-hoc ballots, on issues such as membership to the Institute for Learning (IfL), as an example for how they can build on this in the future.

She said: “Any union that wants to function, and function well, has to have a way of encouraging its members to engage in key decisions.”

However, despite the plea for greater involvement in key decisions, the election itself saw just a 12.8 per cent turnout.

Sally said: “I wasn’t surprised (by the turnout).

“I would have liked it to be larger, but I wrote to members four times by e-mail and every member got the option to see the manifesto.”

Another priority for Sally will be the sale of Britannia House, in North London.

As previously reported by FE Week, the building was proposed for sale at an estimated price of £12 million after the merger of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to form the UCU in June 2006.

However with the building unsold, concerns have been raised about the union’s ability to pay of its debts, while UCU insists it is “unwise” to gauge what the financial situation is with the union until the sale has been completed.

Sally said: “It’s coming along at the speed of a snail, but it’s coming along. It’ll take as long as it takes.

“It’s been frustrating, but I can’t make the market move any faster than it is.”

The results for UCU vice-president and other elected officials are to be available this week.

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  1. JohnG14

    Interesting the number of people who deliberately made the decision not to vote, despite being active members of the UCU. The choice was an invidious one, between a career bureaucrat who wants to turn UCU into a ‘service based’ union and a leading member of a undemocratic, self-interested sect, the SWP. The serious challenges facing FE require a robust and principled response, and ideally a genuinely independent radical contender for the position of General Secretary. Given the poor response of the AoC to the attack on the very idea of an FE rooted in the public domain (eyes on the entrepreneurial lucre among its membership, I imagine), there can be no doubt that the UCU will be central to putting together an effective coalition in its defence. Roll over, Sally and move over Mark …