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In the news 21 June 2019

21 June 2019

81% of vice-chancellors still allowed to attend meeting that sets their pay

Despite calls to improve transparency around senior pay at universities, four-fifths of institutions (81%) still allowed their vice-chancellor to attend meetings where their pay was set last year, and only a third (32%) provided full minutes of the meeting.

UCU said it was shocked the figure for the 2017/18 academic year remained so high following the scandals over senior pay and its governance. Last year the union revealed that 95% of vice-chancellors could attend the meetings in 2016/17, which prompted much criticism and promises to improve the governance of senior pay in universities.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell told the Guardian that the recent pay and perks scandals at universities had been incredibly damaging, but the union's report suggested that the higher education sector still refused to act. Speaking to the Times, Paul said that if the Office for Students wouldn't deal with the issue then the government needed to enforce stronger governance at universities' top tables.


Trinity College faces academic boycott over plan to leave USS

UCU's higher education committee will meet later today in an emergency meeting to decide whether or not to censure Trinity College, Cambridge over its decision to leave the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The Guardian reported how the college was "on a collision course" with the union following its decision to leave. An academic boycott is the union's strongest sanction and has only been used once before, on London Metropolitan University in 2009.

Trinity's decision to leave the scheme is based on a wholly unlikely scenario where the college would have to carry the can for pension liabilities if the rest of the higher education sector collapsed. UCU said Trinity's obsession with such an unlikely risk would result in a scheme exit bill costing millions and untold damage to its reputation if an academic boycott was sanctioned.


USS rebuked by pensions regulator

USS was taken to task by the Pensions Regulator for misrepresenting the watchdog's views in a key document that proposed higher contributions by employers and members into the plan, reported the Financial Times this week.

The regulator told USS that it had used "incorrect" wording to describe the watchdog's position on discount rates, which are used to value pension plans' liabilities. The regulator objected after the USS invoked the watchdog's views to defend its stance on valuing the plan, in a move that served to help justify the scheme's proposals for increases in contributions by university employers and members.

UCU told the paper that the latest revelation would "do nothing to calm the frustration felt by many members" and that it was "essential that members' trust in the scheme is restored and maintained."


Protests in West Bromwich as ballot over sacked UCU activist opens

Protestors will take to the streets of West Bromwich tomorrow to protest against the "heavy-handed" sacking of Sandwell College lecturer and UCU activist Dave Muritu. Crowds will gather at the main Sandwell College campus on Spon Lane from 12:30pm with a march leaving at 1pm. Protestors will make their way to the college's Central Sixth building in New Square for a rally.

A ballot for strike action at the college opened today as Muritu's colleagues vowed to fight for his reinstatement. The ballot closes on Friday 12 July. The row centres on the sacking of maths lecturer Muritu for writing on a poster promoting the controversial Prevent programme. Although Muritu admitted to the incident and apologised for his actions, the college dismissed him at the end of May.

Earlier this week, Dave spoke to BBC West Midlands about his case and said the college should be working with the union to combat racism.


Three-day strike at Bradford College in rows over pay and jobs

UCU members at Bradford College will take three days' strike action next month after staff backed industrial action in rows over job cuts and pay. They will walk out on Wednesday 3 July, Thursday 4 July and Friday 5 July.

The college wants to axe 131 jobs in a bid to save money, but UCU said that the loss of valuable expertise would result in fewer opportunities for local people. UCU members at Bradford College have already walked out for seven days of strikes this year in the row over pay.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley told the BBC that staff should not be made to pay the price for previous failings and the college should be concentrating on providing a fresh start that is built around job security and fair pay.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, she said: 'Bradford should follow the examples of other colleges that have worked with us to improve and pay and conditions. UCU members have made it absolutely clear that they will take further action if needed. Axing jobs will result in fewer educational opportunities for people in Bradford.'


Quarter of prison staff have been recent victim of physical violence

Over a quarter (26%) of staff working in prisons have been the victim of physical violence within the last year, according to new figures from a coalition of trade unions and professional organisations that UCU is part of. The survey, published by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA), found that one in seven (14%) of staff who were a victim of recent physical violence said they have been assaulted more than ten times in the past year.

The Times reported that that over half (53%) of staff had been exposed to psychoactive substances taken by prisoners; 39% said that they had felt unwell from the effects of the drugs, with 97% of those affected reporting symptoms including dizziness and confusion.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, Paul Cottrell said: 'Prison educators play a vital role in rehabilitating offenders and should not have to run the gauntlet of violence and drug exposure when they go to work. This survey shows that not only is violence against staff in prisons shockingly frequent, they are also routinely subjected to the harmful effects of psychoactive substances.'

UCU head of policy Matt Waddup also spoke to Tes about how new governor-led commissioning arrangements for education were reducing incentives for prison governors to address health and safety concerns. He said a failure to address safety concerns would exacerbate issues with recruitment and retention of prison educators, and called for urgent action to address issues raised by staff and unions.


UCU says proper resources are needed to deal with pastoral care for university students

Speaking to Radio 4's You and Yours programme (starts at 31:50) on Monday, UCU said university staff are trying to juggle a huge workload with pastoral responsibilities, and that problems which students ask for help with can leave many staff feeling out of their depth.

The programme was looking at pastoral care for students and UCU said an increased demand for, and expectation of, pastoral care was increasing already heavy workloads for staff. Paul Cottrell said that academic staff on hourly-paid and other precarious contracts don't get paid for much of the time they spend supporting students outside of the classroom.

He called for a more strategic, institution-wide approach to support students with pastoral and mental health issues, as well as properly-resourced student support services and better training for academic staff in how to deal with the issues.




Last updated: 26 March 2020