UCU Congress: 'We can and must do better on FE membership'

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said more needed to be done to create “a union of equal partners” as FE membership falls by 7 per cent

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FE staff will account for only one fifth of University and College Union (UCU) members by 2022 if membership continues to decline, general secretary Sally Hunt has said.

Ms Hunt, who was addressing delegates at this year’s UCU Congress in Brighton today, said that membership would continue to fall if issues such as casualisation, pay inequality and increasing workload pressures were not addressed. According to Ms Hunt, the union's current FE representation stands at 28 per cent. New figures from the UCU show that between April 2016 and April 2017 the number of FE members dropped from 29,926 to 27,928, a fall of 7 per cent.

“Despite our best endeavours, the contrasting fortunes of FE and HE are changing the union in front of our eyes,” Ms Hunt said. “When UCU was formed in 2007 our aim was to create a union of equal partners. Yet ten years on, our FE membership constitutes just 28 per cent of UCU.

She added: “Congress, if we continue losing FE members at the rate we are going, they will account for only around one fifth of our membership by 2022."

During Ms Hunt's successful re-election campaign this year she told Tes that falling membership was down to a “churn factor”, where funding cuts represented people “walking out the door”.

“We can and we must do better than that…further education is in the DNA of UCU and we can and we must turn it around," Ms Hunt said.

'A difficult truth'

Ms Hunt also told UCU delegates that the union needed to "face a difficult truth" with respect to national bargaining. She said "60 per cent of English colleges" were not abiding by national negotiations and "ignoring" recommendations for a pay increase for staff.

Ms Hunt said. "[...] Our two most prominent sets of national negotiations – covering 95 per cent of our members - are broken. In FE, such increases that we can agree are ignored by 60 per cent of English colleges [...] Congress we don’t need any more working parties on these issues. We need action to tackle them. Now, I said in my manifesto that the union needed to face up to these failures and learn to follow the money. That doesn’t mean abandoning national bargaining."

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