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In the news 2 August 2019

2 August 2019

Jo Grady is UCU general secretary

UCU general secretary Jo Grady officially started in the role yesterday. Speaking to Times Higher Education, she said that universities had failed to make the most of their staff whose views too often "just get disregarded". She warned that the perception staff just have to put up with these things was challenged by last year's USS pensions strike action.

She said: 'That idea of helplessness evaporated. People would rediscover their courage, or maybe just find courage they didn't know they had and remember what it was that brought them into the sector. Apathy is the oxygen of people who don't want change, and any apathy that had been breeding was just blown away by this tornado of events.'

She also spoke to the Guardian and said the threat of industrial action over pay and pensions in higher education were serious issues that had to be resolved. On the pensions ballot, Jo warned: 'We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because employers are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions USS has demanded.' And on the second ballot, she said: 'Pay has been held down for too long. It is time for a comprehensive deal for university staff on pay, equality, workload and job security that puts staff first.'


Loss of skills minister not good for further education sector

While many working in further education welcomed the government's announcement that the education secretary would oversee further education, rather than replacing the dedicated minister UCU said axing the skills minister was not a positive move.

Last week Boris Johnson said further education was a priority. However, it took the new government six days to announce its plans for the sector, prompting some to suggest that it had in fact forgotten about further education. The new administration has appointed ministers to fill the schools and universities briefs.

Speaking to FE Week, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'We have gone from having a minister for skills last week to not having one now, unlike universities and schools who have kept theirs. We shall have to wait and see if commitments from Boris Johnson in the leadership campaign translate into proper funding. We do not believe losing the dedicated skills minister is a positive step for further education or suggests that the sector is held in high regard by the new administration.'


Controversial for-profit college goes bust leaving students stranded

One of the largest for-profit private providers of higher education in England has gone into administration, leaving students stranded on unfinished courses and staff facing redundancy. The BBC said classes will stop in September and about 3,500 students will be affected with 247 jobs at risk.

GSM was one of the colleges that featured in a recent Panorama expose about fraudulent applications for student loan money. GSM is ultimately owned by the private equity firm Sovereign Capital and awarded degrees validated by the University of Plymouth. Times Higher Education reported that GSM had been awaiting a decision from the Office for Students on whether it would be included on the regulator's register of providers

Speaking to the Guardian, Paul Cottrell said: 'UCU has repeatedly highlighted concerns about the marketisation of education and the rapid increase in poorly regulated private providers. We hope that the government finally takes note and looks again at the funding free-for-all among private providers who enjoy a competitive advantage in being under-regulated, but will always put profit before education.'


Another increase in unconditional offers highlights need for radical change, says UCU

Almost two in five students (38%) received at least one conditional offer this year, compared to a third (34%) last year and just 1% six years ago, according to new analysis from UCAS released on Tuesday. The report also revealed that the total number of unconditional offers made to 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year was 75,845, which represents 7.8% of all offers. This is up on last year's 67,915 (7.1% of all offers) and considerably higher than the 2,985 (0.4% of all offers) made in 2013.

UCU said the time had come to adopt a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system - preferred in the rest of the world - where students apply to university after they receive their exam results.

Research shows that only one in six (16%) university applicants achieve the exam grade points that they were predicted. While UCAS has found that holding an unconditional offer increases the chances of missing a predicted grade by two or more grades by 6.4 percentage points.

Speaking to Tes, Paul Cottrell said: 'Unconditional offers have made a mockery of exams and put teachers under unfair pressure when it comes to predicted grades. The continuing rise of unconditional offers demonstrates the stark failings of our current admissions system. It is time for us to join the rest of the world and adopt a post-qualifications admission system so we can make university offers based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.'


UCU motion on climate an opportunity to support school pupils' efforts

UCU's motion calling for support for the student climate strikes made the tabloid press this week. As per usual at this time of the year, the Sun had a trawl through the TUC Congress agenda to try and find something to attack unions over. This year it settled on our climate motion that calls on workers to take part in a 30-minute climate stoppage. The paper covered how you might expect and didn't contact us to check any of its story.

After confusing the 30-minute stoppage with an illegal all-out strike, and chucking a few lazy insults at unions and the millions of children drawing attention to the climate emergency, its editorial said we did not need to worry about the environment as the government was increasing efforts to limit emissions. Meanwhile the Express stole some of the unattributed quotes from the Sun story and added in some lines from our motion.

A less hysterical take on things - that avoided attacking children - pointed out that, while the new government has pledged to step up efforts to reduce emissions, it is off track to meet existing targets. A UCU spokesperson said: 'Nobody is being asked to do anything illegal. This is an opportunity for people to lend 30 minutes of their day to the most important issue the planet faces. We think dismissing the work done by school pupils in raising this issue, rather than supporting them and the planet, is patronising and irresponsible.'


Lifelong learning must be placed at the forefront of education policy, says UCU

Welcoming an interim report from the Labour party's lifelong learning commission on Wednesday, UCU said the opportunity to learn throughout life was fundamental to society and should be placed at the forefront of education policy.

The BBC said Labour had renewed calls for a "cradle-to-grave" National Education Service (NES), following a "catastrophic fall" in adult learners.The NES - a 2017 manifesto pledge - would be "free at the point of use" and "open to all regardless of age, background or circumstance".

Speaking to Tes, UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said: 'The importance of lifelong learning for both individuals and our society is huge, yet in recent years opportunities have shrunk rather than expanded. The opportunity to learn throughout life is a fundamental right and should be central to any national education service.'


Last updated: 2 August 2019