Misuse of lecturers’ online recordings – UCU warns of disputes if universities profiteer

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Students and lecturers fight against pension cuts at Brunel University

THE UNIVERSITY and College Union (UCU) has warned all UK colleges and universities that they may face industrial disputes if they misuse recorded lectures by withhold- ing performance rights from staff.

The call comes as three out of five universities have said that most lectures will remain online as they plan for a ‘blend’ of online and in-person teaching during this academic year.
During the pandemic, university and college workers delivered and adapted lectures, seminars and teaching sessions for online use, allowing education to continue whilst campus provision was rolled back. However, the union has now warned education providers that workers must retain control over their recorded performances, preventing their work from being used without their permission either to justify job cuts or to break industrial action.
The union also says that education providers must not get into the habit of storing recordings for later use, as staff must regularly update their teaching work to protect student learning and academic standards. UCU is currently in dispute with the University of Exeter due to its performance rights policy, which seeks to retain control over a worker’s recorded material for five years.
Now, UCU is calling on universities and colleges across the UK to accept that those delivering recorded lectures, seminars and teaching sessions accrue performance rights, as well as copyright of accompanying materials. Giving a lecture is considered a ‘performance’ for the purpose of intellectual property law.
The union wants education providers to agree to an initial licensing period of no longer than one academic year, which can be extended with the express consent of the relevant member of staff. The proposal would restrict the distribution of the recordings to only the relevant students – and would be suspended during disputes so that performances of employees in dispute cannot be used until the dispute is resolved.
The union has produced guidance on staff performance rights and is calling on universities and colleges to explain what plans they have to meet legal requirements over data protection and intellectual property rights, and what additional workload expectations are being placed on staff.
UCU has emphasised the need for universities and colleges to agree a fair system with its local branches to ensure neither teacher pay nor workload are forgotten in the drive for blended learning.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘University and college staff are rightly worried that employers could use the Covid pandemic as an excuse to record lectures and store them for later use.
‘Staff put a huge amount of effort into creating lectures, and regularly update and adapt them in response to recent events and changes in teaching methods. Reusing old lectures divorces the material from the context in which it was created, and has the potential to degrade student learning and academic standards, so providers need to reassure both students and staff that they will not misuse recorded lectures.
‘We are putting employers on notice that staff are prepared to take action if recorded lectures are reused without proper licensing agreements. Every recorded teaching session is the work of that member of staff, and only they can agree how it should be used.
‘Universities and colleges need to work with staff and unions to ensure proper plans are made to meet legal requirements and take account of the additional workload staff face to make sure digital content is fit for purpose. If staff are both poorly paid and overworked then it is students who will inevitably suffer.
‘More students than ever are entering higher education. Employers need to respond by recruiting and retaining staff so students get the best possible standard of teaching, not by holding onto old recordings and outdated content.’

  • UCU says industrial action in universities is now ‘inevitable’ after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to push ahead with its proposals to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff.

At a meeting of the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s (USS) Joint Negotiating Committee employers voted for its package of cuts ahead of considering alternative UCU proposals and calls from the union for a month-long extension to negotiations to allow both employers and pension members to be consulted.
UCU’s proposals would have delivered higher benefits in return for lower contributions than those put forward by employers. For the first time, they would have provided a secure pension for staff on low pay and insecure contracts who are currently priced out of the scheme.
The proposals were intended to be a fair and short-term resolution to the flawed USS scheme valuation – carried out at the start of the pandemic when markets were crashing.
But employers repeatedly refused to agree to a small increase in their own contributions. They also refused to provide the same level of employer ‘covenant support’ for UCU’s alternative proposals as they were willing to provide for their own.
Now, with UUK’s proposals voted through, those members who can afford to stay in USS will face significant cuts to their retirement income. A typical member of the USS scheme on a £42k lecturer’s salary, aged 37, will suffer a 35% loss to the guaranteed retirement benefits which they will build up over the rest of their career.
UCU says the employers’ changes will threaten the viability of the scheme, with more and more staff likely to decide to leave the scheme in the face of cuts to benefits and increases in contributions.
In June, delegates to UCU’s annual Congress voted to ballot for industrial action if employers did not rethink their proposals. The union has now emailed over 50,000 members in USS institutions calling them to a mass member meeting, where the union will outline what next steps will be, and how they should start to prepare for balloting and strike action.
The union says the only realistic way to avoid strike action at this late stage is for employers to carry out a rapid consultation on covenant support and the UCU proposals.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Employers represented by Universities UK (UUK) have voted to implement a set of regressive USS pension proposals that will reduce member benefits, discourage low paid and insecurely employed staff from joining USS, and threaten the viability of the scheme as a whole.
‘Employers have failed to support alternative compromise proposals put forward by UCU, drawn up under the constraints of a flawed 2020 valuation of the scheme. Disappointingly, UUK did not support calls from UCU for a new valuation, despite the overwhelming case for one, and refused to allow for time to consult universities on UCU’s proposals, instead choosing to vote through their cuts.
‘UCU’s proposals were far superior to those of UUK, delivering higher benefits and reducing contributions for staff. They provided flexibility and for the first time in the scheme’s history guaranteed benefits for the thousands of low-paid and insecurely employed staff who are currently priced out of joining USS.
‘But the proposals did not win the agreement of employers, who failed to commit to providing the same covenant support as they did for their own proposals.
‘UCU’s proposals would have provided a safe and equitable stop-gap solution until a new valuation is carried out, which should be at the earliest opportunity. Sadly employers have chosen to use a flawed valuation conducted at the start of the pandemic to rush through cuts to members’ pensions. Unless employers allow for a rapid consultation on our proposals with a view to revoking their decision today, the path looks inevitably to lead to industrial action – and that is the responsibility of UUK.’