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UCU politics monthly - May 2013
Monthly political news from UCU around the UK
Welcome to the monthly political activity briefing bringing you news from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Westminster parliament.
This briefing is to keep you up to date with things that are going on both inside and outside the parliaments and assemblies focusing on the post-16 sector.
We would also like to give you a flavour of how the different parties, individuals and pressure groups operate. There is no better place to see than how they represent themselves through blogs and online communities.
UCU marks Adult Learner's Week
FALNI Conference - May 23rd
As part of the Forum for Adult Learning NI (FALNI - the umbrella group representing organisations involved in adult learning), UCU marked Adult Learners' Week 2013 with a conference at NICVA (NI Council for Community and Voluntary Action).
Attended by the Chair of the Committee for Employment and Learning Robin Swann, the conference was a backdrop for FALNI to call on the Stormont Executive to support adult education.
The theme of the conference was 'Where now for adult education in Northern Ireland?'
DEL has withdrawn direct funding for voluntary organisations that deliver adult education programmes to concentrate on funding for FE colleges.
Keynote speaker was Mark Ravenhill of NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) , whose research into lifelong learning indicated that lifelong learning had a positive effect on health, well being and happiness. It demonstrated that part time education can increase household income from £2,500 - £5,100.
The conference was attended by the Chair and members of the Committee for Employment and Learning
Review of Teacher Education in Northern Ireland - Farry Highlights the 'Way Forward'
The Minister for Employment and Learning made a statement to the Assembly on 21st May - coinciding with the publication of the first stage of his Study of the Teacher Education Infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
It assessed and benchmarked the cost of teacher training and the ongoing sustainability of the two main providers - Stranmillis and St Mary's.
The proposed merger of Stranmillis with Queen's University has been put on hold, pending the outcome of these three-tiered teacher education review.
Politically teacher education remains a terse issue, with most primary and secondary schools segregated. The integrated education sector remains embryonic but developing.
Both written and oral Assembly Questions regarding Stranmillis, St Mary's and teacher training are constantly tabled, reflecting the political drivers involved.
UCU has branches at both Stranmillis and St Mary's university colleges.
*Also in May, the First and Deputy First Minister published their good relations strategy 'Together: Building a United Community'. It includes the creation of 10,000 one year placements in a new 'United Youth Progarmm' offering young people in the NEETS category structured employment opportunities. It also includes the creation of ten shared education campuses - to be built within the next five years. An all-party group with an independent chairman is to be established to deal with contentious issues like flags. However the First Minister came under attack during a fractious Assembly debate
New chairman appointed to Stranmillis
The Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry MLA, announced the appointment of Professor Sir Desmond Rea as Chair of the Governing Body of Stranmillis University College.
A Level fiasco - education minister takes on Michael Gove
Changes to the A level system in England and Northern Ireland will inevitably lead to a split, following a public difference of opinion between England's Education Secretary Michael Gove and Northern Ireland's Education Minister John O'Dowd.
Gove said it was time for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to go their separate ways in GCSEs and A levels - he said the differences were becoming so great that there must be a split.
NI's Minister O'Dowd announced changes to A levels in Northern Ireland following a local consultation into the examination system, in response to the proposals announced for England last year.
He has decided to retain the current AS/A2 modular structure and there will be no January resit for new A llevel students from September 2013.
In relation to the proposed formation in England of a group set up by the Russell Group of Universities to determine the content of A levels there, the Minister said 'I do not agree with any decision to allow the Russell Group of universities to take the lead in this matter.
'I will await further developments in relation to this proposed group before making any definitive decision on their involvement in A levels set here... I will continue to allow the operation of an open qualifications market here. However I full expect that any awarding organisation that wishes to continue to offer A level qualifications here will fully comply with my policy decisions. I will keep this matter under review'.
Open University funding transfers to DEL
Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry announced that funding for the Open University in Northern Ireland will transfer from HEFCE to his Department.
'The transfer of funding from the beginning of the next academic year comes as the Open University becomes a full component, along with Queen's University, the University of Ulster and the two University Colleges, in the Northern Ireland Higher Education system. The Open University plays a key role in providing distance learning provision to almost 4,500 part-time students in Northern Ireland currently studying over 5,000 modules.
'Distance learning is a fundamental feature of the Open University which aligns strongly with the Higher Education strategy to provide more flexible learning environments. It is my objective that, by 2018, modular and distance learning will be expanded to all students in higher education in Northern Ireland.'
All departments are bracing themselves for the spending review on 26 June. George Osborne has been asking departments for 10% cuts and is optimistic he will get them. In BIS this could lead to the decimation of the FE budget and the only places left to raid in HE are the research budgets and widening participation. We will continue to oppose all cuts to further and higher education.
We now have over twenty organisations supporting the campaign to increase spending on further and higher education. We plan to have an EDM up and running soon.
The political team recently met the Lib Dem peer Sal Brinton who is leading their review of post-16 education. The completed reveiw will determine a motion to their national conference in September. Sal heard our priorities on public investment in post-16, against for-profits and privatisation, and protecting academic freedom. We made clear our opposition to the new 24+ fees in FE and our concerns for protecting adult and community learning.
BIS put out draft guidelines for designating courses in early May. While we were pleased that some of our campaigning points had been taken on board such as the record of the parent company, there were still areas of concern for us. We were particularly concerned about the lack of preapproval for any change to corporate form which could possibly lead to asset stripping. We also questioned repayment rates if courses failed. There is no doubt that if all these guidelines are implemented there will be effectively a two-tier system. UCU put in a robust response and have enlisted the help of Labour backbenchers to start another parliamentary campaign through parliamentary questions to highlight these discrepancies.
Another successful women's network was held which looked at the influence of 'lad culture'. Kelly Temple from NUS told attendees about their new report 'That's what she said' which looked at lad culture in universities. Kat Banyard from UK Feminista and Sophie Bennett from Object also contributed to a fascinating debate.
Post-16 Education Bill
The Post-16 Education Bill has passed the second stage of the parliamentary process with significant amendment and will now be approved by Parliament at the third stage.
The second stage started 14 May where amendments were considered by the Education Committee over three sittings. UCU has met with the bill team to discuss amendments which increase participation of unions and clarify the powers of Ministers to intervene in Universities.
UCU has also given the amendments to MSPs. On 9 and 14 May we met with the Labour members of the committee with the STUC to discuss amendments. They agreed to include amendments which ensured institutions and the SFC consult unions and students over outcome agreements. Macro Biagi of the SNP also laid down a similar amendment. There were many amendments laid to clarify access arrangements and one from Jenny Marra, Labour, which puts a duty on governing bodies to have a least 40% of either gender. The Bill team also introduced an amendment to reduce the Ministerial powers to intervene in course provision and to instead include consultations with staff and student unions over any review of provision undertaken by the Funding Council.
The Bill has been considerably improved by including most of these amendments but the proposals on gender equality were deemed reserved matters.
Evidence session on Draft Code
The committee took evidence on the draft Scottish code of good Higher Education governance in a special session on 7 May. UCU was called to give evidence on the code due after members contacted MSPs.
The first panel was Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski and Professor Russel Griggs on their respective reports in relation to the draft code. The second panel was
In opening Prof. Griggs stated that more work was required on outcome agreements as they were presently too detailed and were too much about targets but this was challenging for the SFC.
Prof. von Prondzynski said that the draft code was not a substitute for legislation and wasn't perfect but met the objectives of good governance. He was then challenged by Neil Findlay who quoted an open letter sent to the committee by three members of the review panel. He understood those concerns but felt that the code could be amended to meet his own concerns.
In further questions he stated he was in favour of an inclusive approach to the code and that there should be a high degree of public trust and confidence in governance. When specifically asked if the code watered down staff and student participation, he said his report was better but that the code should be amended.
On equality of governing body membership, he felt that legislation was required and gave the example of Ireland.
In the second panel Lord Smith opened by saying the code faithfully reflects the evidence collected. The convener asked UCU to comment and Mary stated concerns about the evidence process, the lack of minutes and that despite requesting meetings with the steering group in September this was the first time NUS and UCU had met them.
When challenged about the make-up of the steering group, they stated they were independent and that Principals and other bodies were also not represented.
Colin Beattie, SNP stated that the code had not addressed representation of staff and student representatives. While Lord Smith defended the code pointing to increased consultation, he also hoped to close gap after the consultation. NUS stated that the code was a self regulation process and that consultation was not involvement. Mary stated that it was insulting to trade unions that they can't be representative.
On the draft code consultation both NUS and UCU stated their fears that the draft code would not be amended to meet their concerns. Lord Smith was challenged to meet with unions and NUS.
Lord Smith agreed to change references to selection of chairs when asked about issue of the elected Rectors within UCU written evidence.
On the status of the UK code, they stated that it was superseded by the Scottish code but the convener pointed out that issues such as estate management and student unions were covered in the UK code but not the draft code.
He was finally asked the about views of the Cabinet Secretary and Lord Smith stated he wanted a stronger code with increased inclusion.
Labour Party Conference
UCU attended the labour party conference which took place in Inverness from 19-21 April. Hugh Henry, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning addressed the conference stating it was wrong that colleges were cut while universities received funding and that degree students were obtaining the benefits without having to pay. Special guests also questioned the funding for universities and the need for half the population to be admitted to higher education. In the following discussion two students defended the policy of no tuition fees and questioned the emphasis on colleges.
Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband said 'Let's reject the culture that says university is always best and vocational education second best.'Then in her speech, Johann Lamont talked about her history of being able to go to university as Labour made that possible. She went on to say 'we will not pay for opportunity for some while denying opportunity for others. The savaging of the college system to fund universities has been a disgrace. A con for people wherever they are learning - at school, college or university.'
UCU took part in a breakfast meeting with the Shadow Cabinet Secretary organised by Centre for Scottish Public Policy, CSPP, which mainly concerned the Commission on School Reform though issues around further and higher education were discussed. This gave an excellent opportunity to build links at a time when Labour is portraying universities as elitist.
Cross Party Group
The Cross Party Group CPG on Scotland's Universities and Colleges meet on the 9 May with the topic of workforce development/workplace learning. Both Napier and QMU presented projects that offered work place practice. In QMU's case this started with S5 and S6 students who could undertake extra-curricular study to obtain an HNC which included employer placements and gave entry to 2nd year. For Napier the scheme was about vocational education and practice. In neither case was it clear there was much employer involvement. NUS also presented calling for greater workplace learning and more vocational study. Gordon Watson called for greater sponsorship from employers for students to undertake courses while working.
There was a better than usual turnout by MSPs as the convenership of the group was challenged but those present insisted the present system was working and dismissed the concept of co-convener from the SNP MSP George Adam, who wasn't present.
UCU also attended a networking reception organised by the Liberal Democrats with Scottish Leader and Secretary of State for Scotland in attendance.
Further and Higher Education Bill (Wales)
The F/HE Bill was published at the end of April, to which UCU Wales have submitted a written response. The Bill is currently undergoing scrutiny by the Children and Young People's Committee and UCU provided oral evidence to the committee on 5th June.
The main concerns are that the Bill will lead to the slow privatisation of the FE Sector in Wales and has the potential to damage the All Wales Pay agreement and Contract Negotiations. Questions will also be raised over the necessity of the Bill, as it is debatable that it will prompt the ONS to reclassify the FE Sector as Non-Profit Institutions Serving Household (NPISH), which is one of the main purposes of the Bill.
The Government published the HE (Wales) Bill 2014 technical consultation on the 20th May for a response by 29 July 2014. The first draft of the response has been circulated to HE branches for their feedback. The Bill will establish regulations to ensure that the Government in Wales will be able to require HE institutions, via HEFCW, to address their policy agenda in the use of public funds via the student Assembly Learning Grant. The main thrust of the bill will be to ensure that HEFCW can retain some control of the quality and delivery of the HE curriculum in Wales.
DfES are hosting briefings to explain the workings of the new funding methodology for post 16 education and training. The new methodology will provide core funding for colleges in three year cycles with adjustments for students numbers being made in year. The model as we understand it will be based on the Welsh Baccalaureate where it is the programme that attracts the funding and not the various different qualifications which make up the programme of study.
We are currently at version 25 of the draft contract and version 10 of the draft national workload agreement. We have grave concerns that the progress we've made on these two matters could be undermined if the FE bill goes through the Assembly in its current form.
Sustainable Development White Paper
UCU Wales is currently collating responses from branches on the Sustainable Development White Paper.
Proposed changes to Estyn Inspection Cycle and timings for post inspection action plans
The consultation set out options to change the notice periods that schools and providers receive before inspections take place and to the period of time that schools and providers have following inspection to prepare their post inspection action plan.
Much of this consultation was geared towards the schools sector, with the emphasis being on the length of the inspection cycle; however UCU Wales responded by saying that we disagreed with the inspection cycle being increased to up to once every nine years and added, we would welcome a review of the inspection regime as a whole, as members have raised concerns about how meaningful and constructive feedback is, from assessors who do not necessarily have up to date teaching experience.
There are no key events in the political diary.
This update is put together by the UCU political team specifically for UCU members so tell us what you want to know. If we sent you every little morsel of political gossip, all of the goings on and every scheduled event this would be a very long bulletin and not many people would read it! So let us know what you think is relevant, what should be added or what we should get rid of entirely. There is no point in us writing it if you don't want to read it. Email any of the above with your suggestions.