Who We Are

Image from David Harvie.
Who we are

Launched in January 2021, UCU Commons is a broad activist community working within and alongside the University and College Union (UCU). We share a particular set of values and we have intersecting aims. These include: improving the experience of staff and students engaged in post-16 education in the UK; challenging the governance structures of post-16 education institutions; and transforming universities and colleges such that they serve the communities that host them, and society more generally. Participants in UCU Commons share a dissatisfaction with much of the existing practice within UCU and a vision for how to remake it.

The founding members of UCU Commons have diverse backgrounds and experiences both in the union and beyond it. These include: involvement in the 2019 campaign to elect Jo Grady as general secretary, USSBriefs, the Rank and File movement, the International and Broke campaign, and the Indignant Academics network; contributions to the Branch Solidarity Network’s branch activists’ handbook The University is Ours; and a huge variety of activity at local and national levels (as members of branch executive committees, delegates to annual congress and conferences, and elected representatives on UCU’s national executive committee and equalities committees).

We are politically on the left of the union. We recognise the connections between the personal and the structural, and we resist structural violence as expressed through patriarchy, racism, sexism and the destruction of our environment.  We are also committed to a politics of care, practised by looking after each other, our students, and ourselves while recognising the power relations we are subjected to.

Based on our founding principles, we want to harness the power of our immense and extraordinary workforce for the public good. There are over a million staff working in post-16 education sectors in the UK, and 130,000 of them are members of UCU. We can amplify our power by seeking productive consensus, both in our union’s structures, and in wider education communities.

Why ‘UCU Commons’?

Commons can be understood as social systems in which resources are shared by a community of users/producers, who also define the modes of use, production, distribution, and circulation of these resources through democratic and horizontal forms of governance.

So for instance the production of scholarship—teaching and research—is a production in common. Knowledge—the common wealth that we collectively produce—must accordingly be shared. But instead our current academic structures ensure that it gets eroded, stolen, privatised, and monetised through, for instance, exorbitant student fees, digital technologies and platforms owned by large private companies, and journal fees. At the same time the ethic of production-in-common which underlies so much research and teaching is undermined by individualistic appraisals and workload allocation models which pit staff against each other and against students, by consumer-focused evaluation of teaching, by ever-expanding staff workloads, and through ever-tighter connections between financial security and work ‘performance’. By destroying the scholarly commons, public sector education managers and large companies are stifling creativity.

How do we work?

We are committed to working democratically, transparently, and by involving a broad base of UCU members and external allies. UCU Commons is organised into constellations, so it includes a multitude of activities and groups. One of our core priorities is to transform UCU structures and practices, but it is not our only area of activity. Any member can propose a new activity or group, provided it aligns with these values. Members can thus pursue and develop their own specific political interests within our union and the sector. If another member wishes to raise objections—believing that an activity is not in line with the spirit of UCU Commons, for instance—then they can do so and the matter will be discussed in a caucus.

How can I become a member?

Anyone can apply to become a member of UCU Commons. Existing members will be given an opportunity to comment on your application and if no serious objections are raised then your application will be accepted. If you would like to become a member, please email us with a little information about yourself and why you are interested in joining us. If you know one or two existing members of UCU Commons who are willing to support your application please indicate this in your email. We do not charge any membership subscription.

How can I be kept informed?

Please join our mailing list on Substack to be kept informed of our activities. You do not have to be a member of UCU Commons to join this mailing list.

Our Members

In alphabetical order by surname

Emma Battell Lowman, University of Leicester, HEC/NEC Midlands Rep 21-23
Gavin Brown
Gareth Brown, University of Leicester
Amy Burge, University of Birmingham
Nicholas Chancellor, Durham University
Jane Charlesworth, Warwick University
Andrew Chitty, University of Sussex
Francis Clarke, University of Birmingham
Rob Clarke
Tom Cutterham, University of Birmingham
Rohit Dasgupta, Glasgow University
Helen Eborall, University of Edinburgh
Jo Edge, University of Edinburgh and HEC/NEC Women’s rep 20-22
Tilly Fitzmaurice, Durham University
Kirsten Forkert, Birmingham City University and UCU NEC Midlands HE
Chris Grocott, University of Leicester, HEC/NEC Midlands Rep 21-23
David Harvie, University of Leeds
David Hitchcock, Canterbury Christ Church University
Ruth Holliday, University of Leeds and HEC/NEC North East Rep 20-22
Mariya Ivancheva, University of Liverpool
Emma Kennedy, University of Greenwich
Alex Kirby-Reynolds, University of Sheffield
Eric Lybeck, University of Manchester
Sophia Lycouris, University of Edinburgh

Claire Marris, HEC/NEC London Rep 20-22
Keir Milburn, University of Leicester
Chris O’Donnell, University of West of Scotland, HEC/NEC National Rep 21-23
Bijan Parsia, University of Manchester, HEC/NEC National Rep 21-23
Mark Pendleton, University of Sheffield and UCU NEC UK-Elected HE
Ben Pope, University of Manchester, HEC/NEC Casualised Rep 21-23
Nicky Priaulx, Cardiff University
Caroline Proctor, University of Warwick
Ben Purvis, University of Sheffield
Sarah Seaton, University of Leicester
Emma Sheppard, Coventry University
Deborah Toner, University of Leicester
Brodie Waddell, Birkbeck University London

Click here to contact UCU Commons!

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