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Taking action in higher education

In the news: 18 October

Black and minority ethnic staff face double whammy in promotion and pay stakes

Black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in universities are less likely to hold senior jobs and are paid less than their white colleagues, according to new UCU analysis released on Tuesday. BME staff suffer a pay gap of 9% compared to white academic staff. Staff from a black background suffer the greatest pay gap (14%), compared to their white colleagues.

The Guardian reported that BME staff are also underrepresented in top roles. One in nine white academic staff (11%) are professors, compared to just one in 33 (3%) black academic staff. One in 15 (7%) of Asian academic staff are professors.

The Independent said the analysis comes as UCU members are being balloted for strike action over pay and conditions. The union said it was an outrage that it had to threaten strike action to get universities to address their failings when it came to equality.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told Times Higher Education that the figures lifted the lid on the extent of the race pay gaps in universities and the lack of representation of BME staff at the top level. 'It is quite shocking that we are having to ballot our members to get universities to start seriously addressing the issue of unequal pay and progression in higher education,' she said.

Meanwhile, FE Week reported today that the Education and Training Foundation is to roll out a diversity in leadership programme to tackle the worryingly low number of BME college principals.

 

Whistleblower sacked as USS pension scheme refuses to reveal evidence

A whistleblower who raised concerns about the governance of the Universities Superannuation Scheme has been fired from her position on the fund's board. Jane Hutton, a UCU-appointed trustee was told that she had breached a number of her director's duties owed under company law and contract.

Calling on the pension scheme to release its evidence for removing her, UCU said Hutton deserved the support of USS members for her attempts to highlight serious issues about governance and the pension scheme's valuation. USS stipulated that anyone who wanted to see the report had to read it (250 pages) in a secure room under observation without being able to take notes. They were also forbidden to discuss, disclose or use any part of it.

Jo Grady said: 'We have concerns about how the whole process has been conducted, especially as Jane Hutton was not given proper access to all the evidence used against her, nor afforded the opportunity to appear before the board to put her case. We now call on USS to release the evidence in full for us all to study.'

The Times Higher Education reported that the work and pensions select committee is probing the sacking and the committee chair has written to the Pensions Regulator about Jane Hutton's removal from the USS board.

 

Local politicians slam Nottingham College's handling of lecturers' strikes

Councillors from across Nottingham have criticised Nottingham College for its handling of the dispute with staff over the imposition of new contracts. UCU members have already walked out for 16 days of strikes this year, with 14 more planned for next month.

In a highly critical letter, 32 local politicians said the dispute over new contracts at the college risked putting community cohesion at risk. Calling for an urgent meeting with the college board, the councillors said they had been made aware of a "staggering lack of trust" by staff in the college, which they said could only have a "deleterious impact" on how the college functioned.

UCU welcomed the councillors' support and said the college's intransigence was behind the unprecedented number of strike days.

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU's head of further education Andrew Harden said that councillors were 'right to say that the college is putting opportunities for local people at risk. This is not a dispute caused by staff, it was triggered by the college threatening to sack lecturers unless they signed new contracts that cut pay, holidays and sickness protection.

The union added that it had received support from many quarters during the dispute, including from students and that over 4,200 people had signed a petition calling for staff to be given the contracts they deserve. Last week staff delivered a unanimous vote of no confidence in the college's CEO and board.

Private Eye also reported on the ongoing dispute, highlighting the recent staff vote of no confidence in the college CEO and describing as a 'bizarre move' the college's decision to offer free tea and parking spaces to staff not on strike.

 

Love our colleges, fund our colleges

This week has been Love Our Colleges week as the campaign for extra government funding to support fair pay and funding in further education pushes it case.

Further education colleges are an essential part of the education system. Whether it's through top-class technical education, basic skills or lifelong learning, colleges help people of all ages and backgrounds to make the most of their talents and ambitions. Rooted in local communities, they are crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills to boost local and regional economies.

Between 2009 and 2019, college funding has been cut by around 30%. In September, the government said it would be investing an additional £400m in further education. While UCU welcomed this investment the union warned it fell short of the funding needed and called on the Chancellor to dig deeper and make closing the pay gap a top priority.

 

Hostile environment impact on universities

More news of how the hostile environment is hitting people working in universities in the Guardian this week. The paper told the plight of Furaha Asani, a young academic at Leicester University, who faces deportation to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although she has a Congolese passport, she has never been to the DRC, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. She does not speak the main language and knows no one there.

Last month the Guardian reported that an American music historian, Dr Elizabeth Ford, who was about to start a fellowship at Oxford University, was given two weeks to leave after eight years in the UK. Also last month, the Home Office refused visas for the young children of Prof Amber Murrey, a second American academic at Oxford, to live with her in the UK.

The paper also reported this week that the Home Office had also refused to admit the nine-year-old son of another Oxford academic, Dr Wesam Hassan, a GP from Egypt. However, that decision has now been reversed. Meanwhile it was revealed this week that Home Office errors with Biometric Residence Permits are causing havoc in universities.

Last updated: 18 October 2019