Taking action in higher education

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In the news 12 April 2019

UCU members at three colleges in West Midlands strike over pay

UCU members at three West Midlands colleges were the most recent to take strike action over pay this week. Following three waves of strikes in November, January and March, members at Coventry College, City of Wolverhampton College and the Warwickshire College Group walked out.

City of Wolverhampton College members were out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Members at Warwickshire College Group were out on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday they headed to Coventry for protests with members at Coventry College who were out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'Strike action is always a last resort, but if colleges won't work with us to prioritise staff then we are left with no other choice. Colleges who engage with us on the pay and conditions of their staff will receive a positive hearing, but those who refuse should not be surprised at the anger of their staff. Pay in further education is a problem, and it is time for colleges to get serious and do something about it.'

 

Government rejects calls to back university pensions

Universities face paying an extra £142m in annual pension contributions from September, after the government rejected calls for additional state support to top up employer contributions for staff. In a consultation response released on Wednesday, the Department for Education recommended that an extra £830m be earmarked by the Treasury to cover increased employers' contributions to the Teachers' Pension Scheme for state-funded primary and secondary schools in 2019-20, and an additional £80m be set aside to cover further education colleges and other publicly funded training organisations. However, it did not provide any extra funding for post-92 universities who face an annual bill of around £140m.

Speaking to the Financial Times, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'It is deeply worrying that the government has decided not to extend support to universities affected by increased Teachers' Pension Scheme costs. The government is wrong to be relaxed about the potential financial problems that its decision will cause. We are seriously concerned about the impact the decision could have on staff and students, especially as many of these institutions are crucial drivers of social mobility.'

 

Terribly slow pace of change on gender pay

Universities are making slow progress in their bid to close the gender pay gap, latest figures show, with male employees' advantage having widened even further at one in five institutions. Last year, university leaders came under fire after the first official gender pay gap data showed that women in UK universities were paid a mean hourly wage that was, on average, 15.9 per cent lower than their male colleagues.

One year on, analysis by Times Higher Education shows that figure has changed little, with it now standing at 15.1 per cent. The median average gap, which tends to reduce the effect of outliers, was 14.8 per cent for 2018, widening from 14 per cent the previous year. Of the 228 higher education institutions to have published data for the 2018 year, 46 were shown to have widened their gap since the first reporting exercise.

UCU head of equality Helen Carr said: Simply reporting on the gap is not enough. The terribly slow pace of change will only be sped up when universities publish action plans that set out how and when they will reduce the gap. Until everyone is prepared to really tackle the issue, we will remain some way from gender equality. For years we have heard enlightened rhetoric in higher education about the issue of unfair pay for women, what we really need are clear commitments on how institutions will reduce the gap and when.'

 

Unions say latest offer fails to deliver on pay or equality issues

UCU and the other higher education trade unions met with the employers yesterday to discuss pay. The employers' represented presented a slightly improved pay offer of 1.5% (up from 1.3%) and failed to address the key other elements of the unions' pay claim. The final round of talks is scheduled for Tuesday 30 April.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: 'The pay claim has a keep up and catch up element to addresses the years of wage suppression. This latest offer from Ucea does nothing to address that problem, nor does it commit to meaningful action on the gender pay gap, casualisation and workloads. We are incredibly frustrated that the employers have not come back to us today with a sensible offer that starts to seriously address the pay and equality issues that blight our sector. They need to return at the next set of talks with something that properly addresses members' concerns.'

 

Ruskin College told to reinstate UCU rep or face dispute

UCU has told Ruskin College that it needs to reinstate a union rep if it wants to avoid a dispute. Lee Humber was told to stay away from the college shortly after he helped to organise a vote of no confidence against its principal. Speaking to the BBC, Lee explained how he was being victimised. The college has not given any meaningful reason for Lee's suspension, which came just after a vote of no confidence in principal Paul Di Felice.

A UCU spokesperson said: 'The absence of any meaningful reason from the college suggests to us that it must be down to his trade union activities and the no confidence vote in the principal. That is unlawful and to avoid a dispute the college must now immediately reinstate Lee.'

 

New NUS president elected

Zamzam Ibrahim has been elected as the National Union of Students (NUS) president for 2019. The Independent reported that Zamzam wants to tackle racism on campus and "extortionate" tuition fees during her presidency.

The former president of the Salford University students' union, who pledged to lead a national student strike, was chosen from a list of five candidates at the NUS conference in Glasgow this week. The proposed strike would call for free education, a better Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and a reintroduction of a post-study work visa for international students, her manifesto says.

Zamzam will take over from current president Shakira Martin in the summer. The other elections saw Juliana Mohammed Noor returned as vice-president further education, Clare Smith as vice-president higher education, Eva Crossan Jory as vice-president welfare and Erica Ramos as vice-president union development.

 

Last updated: 12 April 2019

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