On his blog, Stuart will share his thoughts and the perspectives of University colleagues and partners on key issues at Warwick and in the Higher Education sector. He is keen to hear your comments on these topics too.
Please note: offensive or inappropriate comments may be removed by the administration team.
Green Week is our annual celebration of the environment, and a time when we work with partners in the region to promote some of the great activities that are happening to help us all to be more sustainable, in our day-to-day lives. It’s also an opportunity for us to focus on the future courses of action that we need to take as individuals, as communities, and as organisations. Indeed in the period since we declared our Climate Emergency we’ve seen the emergence of a number of important initiatives which include de-carbonising our electricity usage and increasing re-use and recycling through initiatives within Campus and Commercial Services.
There is a huge range of activities to take part in over the course of Green Week – from ‘swap shops’ where you can exchange clothes for new ones, to a Green Fair at the end of the week. There really is something for everyone, so make sure to get involved and book onto events happening across our campus this week.
With all this activity on campus around all things sustainable, there couldn’t be a better time to start talking with you about some changes to our travel policy and to our investment policy. Both of these changes have been encouraged by the Climate Emergency Task Force which met for the first time in January. Its role is to provide advice and facilitate better co-ordination of the University’s actions to address a climate emergency, and business travel was one of the first things it considered. Whilst we are still working out specific details, I’d like to give you a feel for what’s coming up.
Upcoming changes to our Travel Policy
We are moving to a situation in which the normal expectation would be that train is used for journeys that are within Great Britain or are around six hours. This would encompass destinations such as Paris and Brussels, as well as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
We also plan to introduce our own internal offset mechanism for flights. To enable us to do this quickly, we will be introducing a simple system. There will be two levels – one for flights within Europe and one for flights beyond. An internal charging mechanism will be put in place and the funds collected will be used to support on-campus initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint. The aim would be to implement this at the start of May (the beginning of Q3 of the financial year), but in terms of train travel, the new arrangements can start straight away for new bookings. You’ll be hearing more about this soon.
Upcoming improvements to Socially Responsible Investment
We are looking to move to a more proactive approach to the management of our investments so we more actively target our investments in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) arena where companies are seeking to have a more positive impact on the environment, and where there is a commitment to more socially responsible practices. The Investment Sub Committee keeps the University’s Socially Responsible Investment policy under review, and is in the process of finalising the new approach and agreeing the details.
This all represents a good start to fulfilling our Climate Emergency Pledge, but there is a great deal more to do. I greatly look forward to working with our community to fulfil our responsibilities to help combat climate change through our individual actions, our research and teaching, and how we run and develop our university.
As colleagues will no doubt be aware, the UCU recently announced that there will be further industrial action taking place from 20 February. The strikes will escalate over the course of four weeks:
- Week one - Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February
- Week two – Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February
- Week three – Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March
- Week four – Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March
This will be the second period of industrial action in the last six months, and my previous blog back in November outlined the various ways in which Warwick shares an agenda – from our work with the ‘Pay Action’ and ‘Warwick Anti Casualisation’ groups, through to paying the Living Wage Foundation rate for all of our staff.
One of the key elements of the dispute at the moment is around the future valuation of the USS scheme. This is complex, and vital work. My view for the past several years has been that it is very important to secure the defined benefit element of the scheme. Currently, a series of proposals around governance are under discussion, following a detailed and excellent report by the ‘Joint Expert Panel.’ We as a sector need to secure the implementation of those recommendations. That is one central reason why compromise on all sides is necessary.
Recently UUK, UCU and USS have met in tripartite talks to consider the options. Even though we have the immediate prospect of industrial action, it is vital that there is space for discussions and for compromises to secure this vital strategic goal of a USS pension scheme with a major defined benefit element. I am doing whatever I can to support that goal.
It is regrettable that we are setting out with further action that will impact our students’ experience of university life – something which we can all agree is so important. It is particularly concerning to me that action is continuing into term two where it will be felt all the more keenly by our students as they prepare for their exams and for life after university.
In addition to our responsibility to our students, we have an important civic role in our region as a large employer. We are a much-needed regenerating force that stimulates our local economy, and we are one of the most respected HE institutions in the UK.
I will continue to respect the legal right for industrial action from union members and, while I will always remain impartial, I understand the significant frustrations involved. But I once again urge for swift resolutions to this prolonged dispute and for UCU, UUK, USS and UCEA to come to agreement for the sake of our students, our standing in the community, and for the public’s faith in the UK’s HE sector.
Tomorrow, at 11pm, the UK will be leaving the EU.
It is not the outcome that I wanted personally. But it is to be our new reality, and we must do all we can to make the best that we can of that new reality.
We must have a firm resolve that, while Brexit may appear to threaten decades of partnership with our European neighbours, we remain European at heart and are actively planning decades of future proactive partnership.
The first element of that is to continue to be open to our staff and students that we are entirely committed to that future as a European focused University. I can announce today that we will establish a new programme of funding so that staff faced with visa or other immigration costs following Brexit, for themselves or their immediate family, can claim up to £5000 in support. More detail will be available in the coming days.
Our student numbers from the European Union are very encouraging, and we must continue to be open to those students in the future. And of course, we must back Erasmus+ fully while also preparing for how we can not only maintain exchanges, but increase mobility options in the future for students across Europe even if the government eventually decides that the UK should not remain in Erasmus or its successor.
Second, we must find ways to support research across the continent. Research is of course not national, it is global. We have enormously strong research links across the continent, and we will continue to ask government to associate with Horizon Europe or, if not, to create straightforward funding schemes to be able to work closely with our partners across Europe. This is particularly important for our early career researchers. We have around 200 such colleagues here at Warwick and they deserve to have access to these networks and research links in the future that so many of us have had in the past.
Third, of course we are deeply embedded in the new EUTOPIA alliance. This is not to overturn existing links in departments and schools, but is instead a way of growing a partnership across the whole university in mobility, joint education, and joint research. EUTOPIA is one of the three European University Alliances with a British partner. It is an important platform for our future.
Brexit is a highly emotive moment for many of us. The past three and a half years of uncertainty have been difficult for everyone, whichever side of the Brexit debate you stand on. But not a day has gone by when I haven’t been reliving the memory of when a public group in Stratford-upon Avon asked me not to abandon Europe and the Europeans that call our university and our region home. And I can assure you now that I have no intention of doing so.
Although I recognise the inevitability of the UK’s departure from the EU tomorrow, I also know that we have to make the best of this situation for our university and all of our staff and students, and also for our city and our region, and that is where I will be focussing my efforts in the future. It is possible to be a European university in a country outside the European Union and we are going to prove that.
We have known about climate change for decades, we’ve talked about it for decades but there is now a very real pressure on all of us to act. And a very clear message that it is the next decade that will be crucial if we are to stem the global rise in temperature. Back in September 2019, the University of Warwick joined other universities and organisations locally, nationally and globally in declaring a Climate Emergency, and highlighting the role we must play as an organisation, as a community and as individuals.
We’ve committed to zero net carbon from direct emissions and from the energy that we buy by 2030. We’ve also committed to zero net carbon from our direct and indirect emissions by 2050. Our new buildings are low energy and more space efficient and we recycled building materials where possible. And while it may not be very visible, we have already reduced our carbon emissions from energy usage by 33% per staff and students FTE, and by 40% by unit of floor area since 2005/6. We have also reduced water consumption by 27% per staff and students FTE over the same period. But we’ve also grown over that period and so the impact on overall energy and water consumption is less dramatic. As we look to 2030 our challenge is to reduce our carbon footprint while still enabling planned growth.
We are delighted to see so many staff and students changing behaviour and processes to support the University in reducing our carbon emissions, but there is much more we need to do. The next national Global Climate Strike is scheduled for Friday (29 November), and for members of our community that are motivated to get involved with others from around the world to combat climate change, there is much that you can get involved in.
We are taking part in an amazing new national recycling competition called Recycle League, competing against 11 different UK Universities to see which of us can improve our recycling rates the most during November. We’re reducing food waste through TooGoodToGo and trialling BorrowMyCup with the SU to reduce the waste from disposable cups.
Our ‘Cut the Flow’ ambassadors are running a photo competition on Instagram to raise awareness of water and energy consumption. You can take part by uploading an image or creative poster that illustrates your efforts to save water or energy (or, indeed, both!) using #CutTheFlow2019 and if you win, you’ll get £20 on your Eating at Warwick card.
And on Thursday 28 November 2019, staff and students from across the University that have a passion for sustainability are coming together at a sustainability Summit event. Joel Cardinal, Head of Energy and Sustainability at the University, will be joined by other groups at Warwick to explore different strategies – technical, organisational and behavioural – to underpin the carbon targets for 2030 and 2050.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the volunteers that collected eight tonnes of food surplus from halls of residence as students moved out, and donated it to local food banks. The group also collected other leftover items and held a ‘pay as you feel’ sale at the start of term, which raised a fantastic £3,596 which was donated to a local environmental charity.
In addition to these student and staff led initiatives, we also have a responsibility in combating climate change through our research and teaching, and how we run and develop our university. We continue to work with partners and colleagues outside the university to embed ambitious innovative sustainable development into our region, utilising more efficient fuels, transport and energy generation methods.
Just this week, WMG welcomed industry speakers and academics to campus to attend the Very Light Rail Conference. Very Light Rail is a lower cost, zero emission option for sustainable transport, that we believe could create modal shift and encourage people to leave their cars at home.
And in September we launched our Institute for Global Sustainable Development; Warwick’s hub for transdisciplinary research on global sustainable development that will enable transformative change in global sustainable development. This Institute sits with our Global Sustainable Development degree programmes which offer a multidisciplinary curriculum that addresses sustainability in its broadest sense.
Sustainability is vitally important to the University, and that there is a lot of work under way to progress us towards the commitments we have made. But so much more is needed if we are going to meet the challenge we have set ourselves. Some actions may be easy and obvious (though not necessarily cheap) – buying green energy, reducing the use of cars, increasing use of public transport. Some interventions will be more of a challenge – changing consumption patterns or reducing the amount of space we use. And while it may sound clichéd it will be something that requires a commitment and a willingness to change from all of us.
As colleagues and students will know, we have been through a series of national ballots about industrial action. Legislation requires trades unions that wish to ballot about such action to achieve an absolute majority and a turnout above 50%. Both Unison and Unite did not achieve that threshold in terms of turnout, but UCU has done so over two separate issues: pensions and pay.
UCU has now confirmed that they will hold strike action on 8 consecutive working days from 25 November – all of week 9, and most of week 10. They will also take action short of a strike from the 25thon an ongoing basis, that is, without an end date. UCU also reserves the right to take further industrial action in the new year.
This national industrial action will affect 60 universities across the country at the same time. We at Warwick are not directly involved in the negotiations on any of the issues over which there is strike action. Over pensions, we are represented by UUK. On pay, we are represented by UCEA.
The pay issue is a wide ranging one. UCU nationally asks universities to take action on pay gaps – across a range of characteristics, including gender. At Warwick, we have a Pay Action Group that is working hard to find ways of closing gaps that have arisen around the country (and more widely) for long term structural reasons and this group has already engaged with UCU locally. UCU also ask for more work to be done on casual contracts. At Warwick, we are working closely with UCU and with Warwick Anti Casualisation on a framework which responds to this for implementation in 2020. Nationally, UCU asks Universities to do more on addressing differentials in workloads, and absolute workloads. Everyone acknowledges that this is difficult in the context of an increasingly highly regulated environment, where additional work is created by external bodies such as the Office for Students. At Warwick, we have begun work on a workload framework that is comparable across the university. On pay, UCU argues that levels are too low and that universities have not matched the cost of living rises. At Warwick, where we pay the Living Wage Foundation rates, we have argued for higher national rises than those that have been achieved in negotiations.
None of this is of course to say that at Warwick we are perfect. It is to say that there are shared agendas and that some progress is being made.
On pensions, we at Warwick have argued strongly for the maintenance of the defined benefit scheme in USS, and indeed our voice was a lone one for some time amongst universities in the last dispute. UCU now argues that the pension contributions that have been increased by USS in order to retain defined benefits should not be met on the long agreed formula of 65:35, employer to employee. Instead they argue that the totality of the increase should be met by the employer.
I have tried to set out all the issues openly and without any attempt at judgement. Industrial action has been called and has been called legally. I regret it greatly. It will impact on our students in a negative way. It will impact on staff pay in the run up to Christmas in a negative way. It risks bringing rancour to our campus.
We would all very much like to see a shared agenda, such as that I have set out above, become the basis of negotiation between UUK, UCEA and UCU. Industrial relations disputes always end at some point: it would be good to focus on that end point as soon as possible. We are constrained in what we as a university can deliver on our own; because we must work through joint bodies such as UUK and UCEA where there are a range of opinions, and where some universities are struggling financially. But also, because to act alone, to break out of national frameworks, would be also opposed by UCU. That does not mean that we are powerless. We can and must seek to work with all those involved, including UCU, UUK and UCEA to come to agreement. I hope that others will take that view seriously.