The University and College Union (UCU) is a British trade union that defends the rights of institutions of higher learning. It the largest further and higher education union in the world.

UCU was formed on 1st June, 2006 with starting number of 120,000 members.

According to their website info, the union represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

UCU is a product of the 2006 merger of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education(NATFHE).

By 2007, it had fully set off into operations. UCU was set up to defend the rights of casualised researchers and teaching staff as well as permanent lecturers. Casualised academics form the largest category of staff and UCU members.

Workforce Casualization

Casualisation in the workforce means the process of turning permanent staff to casual/contract staff. Likewise they are against the use of temporary contracts to employ tutors, lecturers and project researchers.

They are of the view that researches should be conducted by grounded and stable professionals who are not functioning on a temporary basis. It proposes that these researchers be assigned to projects internally as they come up as in most non-university project-based organisations.

On the salary basis, the researchers will be paid for their bench time– a time spent in between research engagements. Contract staff are paid hourly but not compensated for the bench time.

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Industrial Action


In times of remuneration discrepancies between higher education staff and the government, UCU gives the fight a face by stirring industrial actions.

For instance, on its very first day of existence, UCU organised a ‘day of solidarity’ by its higher education members. The industrial action included a demonstration in London which ended with a lobby at the headquarters of the employers’ body, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA).

Aside the industrial actions, UCU offers professional advice to its members. It supports the move for adequate training and professional development for sector staff and UCU members.


The Union strongly voices out against other issues like privatization and for-profit education. They organize campaigns against private finance initiatives and joint ventures with universities.

While it has its reservations with joint ventures, it campaigns for proper funding for the educational sector.

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Global Works

Internationally, the union which has members from all over the world is committed to the principle of academic freedom in the global context and the protection of trade union rights and human rights.

“As the largest post school union in the world we(UCU) believe we have a responsibility to nurture these twin principles in our engagements with international organisations, governments and our solidarity with fellow trade unions.”

UCU’s policies are ultimately made during the annual congress.

Represented on a number of educational bodies, the union makes regular representations to the government departments; sector government agencies and non-departmental government bodies.

It has a pivotal role “in shaping policy and action on behalf of academic and academic-related staff in Education International (EI) and the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE)”.

In all, UCU is committed to:

  • Promoting and protecting the academic freedom of its members and of UK higher education institutions, and campaigns locally, nationally and internationally against threats to such freedoms.
  • The principle of academic freedom in the global context and the protection of trade union rights and human rights.
  • To women and abortion rights: UCU believes legal abortions will be beneficial in saving and upholding the health of women. In addition it supports sex-selective abortion and condemns the fact that it is illegal in the UK.

Pro-life activists have found sex-selective abortion, as was practiced in China, as an extreme act of gender discrimination.

UCU has built a wealth of experience and active participation in defending human rights, and rights and welfare of the higher educational system. They function on both local and international scenes.

The University and College Union is a member of the global union federation Education International (EI), which represents more than 30 million teachers, researchers and education workers around the world.