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President's Weekly Update

19 April 2018

I hope you saw my message last Friday which stated: “I am pleased to hear the news that the University and College Union (UCU) has voted to accept the latest proposals relating to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and will therefore suspend industrial action with immediate effect.  This means that strike action proposed for the week commencing Monday, 16 April will not now take place and strikes planned for the exam and marking period are also suspended.”

The proposals outline the UCU and UUK establishing a Joint Expert Panel of actuarial and academic experts to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach to the valuation of the USS fund. This Panel will review the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests.  

The fact that strike action has been suspended is extremely welcome news, especially for our students, as we move into this critical exam and assessment period.  I would like to reiterate my commitment to ensuring that all eligible students progress and graduate as planned. We will now make all the necessary arrangements, working in partnership with the Students’ Union, to ensure that funds from pay deductions due to industrial action are used for the benefit of students. The ballot result is also an encouraging step forward in resolving the difficulties relating to the future benefit structure of the USS. 

Of course many of our students remain concerned about the impact of lost teaching and reduced access to staff for advice and support. Some staff have told us that they have been ‘making up’ for lost teaching but this is not a requirement and any such actions are for individuals to decide. We are working with the Students’ Union to consider how we best ensure that any funds relating to the strike action are used for student benefit – though there is a range of views from students on this.

I held open meetings with staff and students in three Schools this week.

In the School of Social Sciences (SoSS), senior colleagues and I met with students who were upset and angry about loss of teaching as a result of industrial action. They mostly wanted cash compensation for loss of teaching. We explained the challenges in doing this and that there are ongoing discussions with the Students’ Union. Staff asked about improving staff engagement in University decisions, the University’s position on the pensions issue and strike action and our position on Brexit.

Students in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (SALC) also asked about compensation and were joined by a number of students who had been at the SoSS meeting. Students also asked about what we are doing about racial harassment and hatred and said we needed to provide more support for disabled students. Staff in SALC asked if we could pay visa costs for international staff, about decisions on grade entry for undergraduate students, our Presidential Fellowships and of course about pensions.

In the School of Biological Sciences, views on how we could use funds to benefit students affected by the strike were more mixed as some wanted direct compensation, while others wanted money to be used for student mental health. Staff raised issues about EU funding after Brexit, that we do too much assessment of students and how we might improve the sense of disengagement from the University felt by some staff.

I spoke at another two conferences at the University. I gave a presentation on my career to the International Society of Nephrologists and welcomed the Association of British Physicians at an event in Manchester Museum.

It was a pleasure to welcome the many attendees to the installation of the new High Sheriff of Greater Manchester in our Whitworth Hall. This was particularly important because the High Sheriff is one of our own staff, Dr Robina Shah, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health. It was an impressive ceremony, parts of which date back many centuries and was attended by the High Commissioner for Pakistan.  Robina is the region’s first female Muslim to hold this office.

At a meeting of the North West Business Leadership Team meeting (we are members), I heard a great deal of detail on Brexit and what needs to be done. While depressing in some senses, we also received some reassurances about progress in negotiations.

I opened an Alliance Manchester Business School Vital Topics event at which Carolyn Fairbairn (Director General of the Confederation of British Industry) and Sir Richard Lambert (Chair of the British Museum) were interviewed by Andy Bounds from the Financial Times on regional industrial strategies and the North-West’s role in the UK economy.

I attended another of our groups of staff taking part in our Inspiring Leaders Programme (ILP) and talked about how we engage staff more widely, how we focus more and stop doing things (or do less of them) that add little value and whether we could make decisions more quickly.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor


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