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In the news 31 May 2019

1 June 2019

UCU congress 2019

It was a busy bank holiday weekend in Harrogate for delegates at UCU's annual congress. The three-day conference covered a whole host of policy areas across further and higher education. UCU president Vicky Knight opened the conference and delegates also heard from the union's general secretary-elect Jo Grady on a busy first day. Jo Grady also spoke to Tes and Times Higher Education over the weekend about her appointment and plans.

Sunday saw delegates split into the further and higher education sector conferences. In the further education conference, delegates discussed the freshly-submitted joint annual pay claim which calls for £1 extra per hour for all staff, the living wage to be the minimum wage in further education and an additional five days' annual leave per year. Tes reported that UCU head of further education Andrew Harden told delegates that colleges could not shirk their responsibility to their staff and hide behind government cuts when it came to pay and conditions. Tes also reported on a motion to fight class sizes where delegates described students standing around the room, using windowsills as desks, because they physically cannot fit all of them in the classroom.

Over in the higher education conference, Times Higher Education warned that universities could face industrial action on two fronts following a series of motions on pay and pensions.


Long-awaited report on education funding finally released

The long-awaited review of education funding by Philip Augar was finally released yesterday. UCU said the review had missed an opportunity to explore radical alternatives to the status quo and risked delivering an even worse version of the politically toxic system it was supposed to improve.

Writing in the Guardian, UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said the recognition of more funding for further education was a rare positive in the report, but that playing a zero-sum game in which investment in further education results in cuts to higher education would lead only to less cohesion, more cuts and a worse deal for students.


Ballot opens at Nottingham College in row over new contracts

UCU members at Nottingham College started balloting for industrial action on Tuesday as part of a row over new contracts which the college is threatening to impose on staff. The ballot closes on Friday 7 June.

UCU has accused the college of holding staff to ransom after it announced plans to dismiss anyone refusing to sign up to new contracts. The proposals would leave over 80 staff more than £1,000 worse off, and comes despite staff not receiving a pay rise since 2010.

Staff staged protests over the plans at the college's sites in the Stapleford, Clarendon, Basford and the city centre last week, with further protests planned next week. Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU regional official Sue Davis said: 'We have been negotiating with the college in good faith but it has refused to address our concerns and we have been left with no choice but to ballot for industrial action.'


Cutting staff leads to increased workloads and stress levels

Ahead of the Augar review, Radio 4's You and Yours looked at data concerning universities cutting staff numbers while increasing the number of students. The programme said this raised questions about value for money for students.

Interviewed for the feature, UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said that if you cut staff then you are increasing pressures and expectations on those who remain. He warned that as well as increasing workloads, these types of cuts and pressures could also increase stress levels and impact on people's mental health.  


"Charlatan" Farage attacks universities

Times Higher Education warned this week that universities could increasingly find themselves in the firing line as Nigel Farage aims to build a wider right-wing populist movement in the wake of the European elections.

The Brexit Party leader has repeatedly attacked UK universities and their staff, accusing them of "huge left-wing bias" and of "brainwashing" students, and claiming that Brexit-supporting students had been "marked down" and abused by their lecturers. He targeted universities before a cheering crowd at one of his party's rallies earlier this month, in an appearance on Fox News earlier this year and on the LBC programme he hosts.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'Critical thinking and challenging ideas are the cornerstones of a university education, and it is no wonder that charlatans such as Nigel Farage fear this kind of scrutiny.'

Last updated: 17 June 2019