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In the news 26 April 2019

26 April 2019

UCU warns against knee-jerk reaction to increase in pension costs

UCU has warned universities against making any knee-jerk cuts to jobs or pension benefits in response to the news that government will not provide funds to help universities deal with increased pension costs. The Department for Education has said that universities will not receive the one-year-long funding that has been earmarked for schools and colleges, despite the risks to their financial stability. By refusing to provide any additional funding, the government has effectively landed a £142m stealth tax on around 70 modern universities.

Writing in the Guardian yesterday, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said the union wanted to work with universities to make the government see how dangerous this proposal is. But universities must recognise that the government's decision does not represent an excuse to cut jobs or pension benefits. He warned that the union would not stand idly by if members' livelihoods or pensions were threatened.

He singled out Cumbria and Winchester universities who have threatened jobs and cuts to staff pensions. Paul warned that if Cumbria opts to step away from the Teachers' Pension Scheme then it risked setting itself up as a pariah institution, as staff would not be able to move their pension across and continue to accrue benefits. He said if that happened, there would be no incentive for anyone to move to Cumbria, but plenty to leave.


Winchester strike ballot as pension costs blamed for cuts

A strike ballot opened this week at Winchester University where the university has said it wants to get rid of 55 posts - around 10% of the workforce - because of the increased costs in the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

The ballot closes on Thursday 9 May and UCU has warned that if the university refuses to rule out compulsory redundancies it is likely to face disruption later in the month. Students have expressed their support for staff and held a demonstration last month. While the university has come under fire for its bungled handling of the process having revealed all the staff at risk of redundancy in an email.

Paul Cottrell said: 'Winchester University faces strike action if it refuses to rule out compulsory redundancies. There is no need for this knee-jerk reaction to changes to pension costs and this strike ballot should act as a warning to other universities tempted to use the changes to axe jobs. Universities need to work with us to get the government to fund pensions for university staff, not put staff jobs or opportunities for students at risk.'


UCU criticises government plans to end staff data collection

UCU has criticised government plans to end the compulsory collection of data on non-academic staff in the key figures on the higher education workforce. Speaking to Times Higher Education, Paul Cottrell said the proposed change would "greatly reduce the transparency of our institutions" and "undermine the government's ability to fully represent the economic and social impact of the sector".

In a letter to universities minister Chris Skidmore, UCU said it was "deeply concerned" by the proposal. The union said non-academic staff play a "crucial role in the success of our universities" and that reliable data about their employment are "extremely important".


More investment needed for further education says Lords

"Much more investment" is needed in vocational education and lifelong learning, according to a report from the House of Lords. Tes reported that the select committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision's report describes post-16 vocational education as "underfunded and poorly managed."

It also says that the dominance of undergraduate degrees in post-18 education "might not be in students' or the country's best interest, and it has failed to create an effective market".

The report concludes that the government should "substantially increase funding for further education and vocational qualifications". It says that many students would be better served by pursuing vocational educational pathways and that we must rebalance the value attributed to higher education and further education.


The Open University turns 50

The Open University received its Royal Charter 50 years ago this week, offering people from all walks of life the chance to study for a degree through distance learning. Since then over two million people have taken up courses in the hope of changing their lives.

There were a host of celebrations and special programmes during the week to mark the occasion and opportunities to hear from people who have benefited from the education the Open University provides with former student Sir Lenny Henry presenting a BBC documentary.


Women with master's degrees paid less than men without them

Women in England with postgraduate degrees still earn less than men with only bachelor's degrees, while salaries for graduate men are growing at a faster pace than for their female peers, according to the latest official data on graduate earnings.

The Guardian said the figures show that women with postgraduates degrees, including master's degrees and doctorates, earn a median pay of £37,000 a year. But men with first degrees earned an average of £38,500 in 2018, while men holding postgraduate degrees were paid £43,000. The BBC said graduates now needed two degrees to get ahead in earnings.

Black graduates across all age groups were the lowest paid, with median earnings of £25,500 compared with the median of £35,000 for white graduates. And while black graduates had employment rates close to those of white and Asian graduates, far fewer were likely to be employed in "high skilled" occupations. Of those aged under 30, black graduates averaged earnings of £22,000 as white graduates earned £26,000 a year.


Cross-party push to extend rights of international students to stay in UK after graduation

Overseas students would be able to work for two years after graduation under a proposed amendment to the immigration bill. The Times says the amendment will be tabled today by Conservative Jo Johnson, the former universities minister, and Paul Blomfield, a Labour MP and co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on international students.

Students were allowed to work for two years after graduation until 2012 and the restoration of the post-study work period would align the UK more closely with competitor countries such as Australia and the US. Writing for the paper today, Mr Johnson and Mr Blomfield say that a new strategy by the government which increases the post-study work period from four months to six is "still not enough".


Last updated: 26 April 2019