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In the news 12 June 2020

12 June 2020

UCU launches "Fund The Future" campaign to secure universities and colleges

UCU today launched "Fund The Future" with a message to the Prime Minister that universities and colleges desperately need a clear and coherent plan from government if the UK is to avoid losing educational capacity at a time when it will be needed most.

Tes reported on UCU general secretary Jo Grady's letter to Boris Johnson, which said the government's limited actions so far had failed to meet the challenges further and higher education face. The Evening Express reported the union also wrote to Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon urging her to back the campaign. Jo Grady hosted a live Facebook Q&A event to mark the launch which included a new campaign video.

UCU is asking its members and the public to use its new campaign website to contact their local MP to make the case for more funding and support. 

Jo Grady said: 'Our "Fund The Future" campaign will demonstrate the importance of education and make the case for investment in our colleges and universities to politicians across the political divide. We have to ensure that education is given the support it needs to lead our recovery from this crisis.'


Ringing endorsement for staff in annual student survey

UCU said on Wednesday that a new report showed how much students value the teaching they receive. The annual Student Academic Experience Survey from Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute surveyed over 10,000 students and found they thought teaching quality, course content and resources provided the best value for money of their university experience. The survey also showed students wanted universities to spend money on teaching facilities, student support and teaching staff.

Speaking to fenews, Jo Grady said: 'It is clear that students value the teaching and support they receive and want to see universities focus resources on staff. Sadly, universities don't seem to be getting the message and have already started cutting jobs.

'The uncertainty brought about by the pandemic risks having huge repercussions for universities, students, staff and the local economies that depend on higher education. Government needs to provide urgent funding guarantees to remove the uncertainty that higher education currently faces.'


Need for government to underwrite universities as report warns of huge loss in income

On Monday UCU called for government to step in and provide universities with urgent financial help. The union was responding to a report from the British Council that said UK universities face a multi-million pound funding shortfall, as foreign students stay away due to the Covid-19 crisis.

UCU said the report was further evidence of the need for financial support from government. A report for the union by London Economics in April warned that universities faced a £2.5bn funding black hole due to lost income from student tuition fees and teaching grants.

Speaking to the Guardian, Jo Grady said: 'There is a crisis unfolding in higher education and the government is refusing to act. This latest report is more evidence of the serious financial hardship that universities will suffer if the government does not step in. The current wait-and-see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk.'


Covid-19 scientists' outcry at Imperial College's plans to axe vital staff

On Monday, members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team warned against plans to cut staff who have made their life-saving work possible. Imperial College had told 281 staff in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that 156 of them were at risk of losing their jobs. Imperial said it expects 75 staff to be made redundant, meaning more than a quarter of the department will go, with the first jobs expected to be axed in July. Imperial says the cuts will save £2m and the restructure will take eight months.

The Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team has been advising government on how to respond to the pandemic. Covid-19 Response Team member Dr Samir Bhatt said: 'It goes without saying that our work is of significant public health importance, both within the UK and around the world, and it would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.'

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Jo Grady said: 'The Covid-19 Response Team's groundbreaking work relies on the crucial support of the very ICT staff Imperial is threatening to sack. We are worried that Imperial may try to cut more than the 75 staff they are admitting they want to get rid of. It is incredible that Imperial would risk undermining the fight against Covid-19 by starting an eight-month restructure to get rid of over a quarter of the staff in such a vital department in the midst of this global pandemic. We want to work with Imperial and make the case for government to provide the funding the sector needs, but we will fight to keep every member of staff.'


Macclesfield College under fire for forcing staff to come in for VIRTUAL open day

UCU yesterday branded Macclesfield College "irresponsible" for telling staff to come into college for a virtual open day. The college is in the North West, which had the highest rate of Covid-19 transmission and where schools have shelved reopening plans due to health concerns.

UCU said the college had failed to follow government guidance over risk assessments, ignored government guidance on limited reopening of colleges and failed to meet its legal duty to consult with the union on health and safety matters.

Speaking to Union News, UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'The health of staff, students and their families has to be the number one priority for every college. We don't know of any other college that is behaving in such an irresponsible way and we are stunned Macclesfield College is trying to force staff to come in for a virtual event to undertake tasks they could safely do at home.


Anger as University of Portsmouth restarts process to slash jobs during Covid-19 crisis

UCU today slammed the University of Portsmouth's decision to axe more than half its English literature department. The university suspended the redundancy process in March saying it wanted to remove worry and anxiety for staff during the Covid-19 crisis. However, it has now said it is now pressing ahead with it because Covid-19 restrictions have eased.
The university's policy about staff working from home has not changed since March, nor have the circumstances of the affected staff. UCU said the case for the redundancies had not been properly made, even before the pandemic, and warned the cuts would leave the department unable to meet the demand from existing students.

Speaking to the Daily Echo, Jo Grady said: 'The only thing that appears to have changed since March is the University of Portsmouth's concern for its staff. The university should have cancelled these unwarranted cuts in March and not left the axe hanging over the department. To try and justify an easing of Covid-19 restrictions to cut jobs in the middle of the pandemic is ridiculous.'

Last updated: 12 June 2020