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In the news 3 July 2020

3 July 2020

Latest government support package for higher education fails to put students and staff at the centre of recovery plans

On Saturday, UCU said a government package of grants and loans targeted at research-focused universities did not go far enough. The union said that, while any new money was welcome, higher education needed a package that prioritised the needs of students and staff and guaranteed all universities' survival.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the Financial Times that the proposals barely mentioned students, other than to make clear that universities who focus most on teaching will receive little of the new money now available.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Jo said: 'We desperately need a package that prioritises the needs of students and staff across our diverse higher education sector and guarantees all universities' survival. This is why we are calling on the government to properly underwrite the sector and fund the future.'

More on UCU's Fund The Future campaign can be found here.


UCU accuses minister of putting students off university

UCU said on Wednesday that a speech from universities minister Michelle Donelan risked turning students away from university. The minister had argued that too many courses failed to improve student's life chances whilst speaking at the annual summit of the National Education Opportunities Network.

Speaking to the BBC, the Guardian and the Telegraph, Jo Grady said: 'Instead of making the case for education, the minister appears to be trying to turn some students off university by saying it is expensive and substandard. Universities using contextual data to increase opportunity for students from the poorest backgrounds should be applauded.

For the minister to say students have been left indebted and let down is quite remarkable when the Conservatives are responsible for increasing tuition fee debt and letting the private sector squeeze more and more money out of higher education.'


Disadvantaged students could lose out under latest exam guidance

UCU warned on Tuesday that disadvantaged students who are unhappy with their results could still miss out under new plans. The union was responding to guidance from Ofqual on the appeals process for A-level, AS and GCSE results received over the summer, and decisions on how exams will be run in the autumn.

Speaking to the Guardian and the Telegraph Jo Grady said: 'Research has shown that disadvantaged students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be predicted lower grades than their more affluent counterparts. Therefore, any appeals process that does not take this into account risks entrenching these structural inequalities.

'The only option for students who are unhappy with their results is to spin the roulette wheel with high-stakes exams, which will not be the right fit for all and may disadvantage those with special educational needs. We urge colleges and universities to make greater use of contextual data so students progress according to their achievements and, crucially, their potential, rather than their background.'


Two-thirds of Scots would put off going to university if tuition fees were introduced

Almost two-thirds of university applicants living in Scotland (63%) said they would defer going to university in the autumn if tuition fees were introduced in Scotland, warned polling released by UCU yesterday. The survey also found that a quarter (26%) of those who gave reasons for not going to university said fees would make it too expensive.

Speaking to the National, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'As well as it being morally wrong to charge students for tuition, we can also now say with confidence that it makes no economic sense. Bringing back tuition fees - either upfront or after graduation - would damage Scottish universities' finances.

'Universities across the UK are in crisis with forecasts of a catastrophic fall in the number of international students. As well as the Scottish and UK governments stepping in to help, the key to keeping universities going is maintaining student numbers and not deterring potential applicants. This poll highlights how charging tuition fees for students in Scotland would lead to a further reduction in the number of students, rather than provide additional income for universities.'


Introduce a better system to eliminate unconditional university offers, says UCU

UCU said today that it was time for a fairer university admissions system to bring the whole of the UK in line with the rest of the world and eliminate the need for controversial unconditional offers. The union was responding to news that the Office for students has banned so-called "conditional unconditional offers" - where an offer becomes unconditional if a student puts the institution as their first choice.

Speaking to the Guardian, Jo Grady said: 'It is time we joined the rest of the world and moved to post-qualification admissions system, where students receive offers after their results. It would eradicate the problems associated with unconditional offers, end the gamble of predicted grades and be much fairer for students.'


Portsmouth University pushing ahead with cuts to English literature

The BBC reported on Tuesday that the University of Portsmouth was still planning on cutting its English literature department, despite calls to halt the process in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students and a local councillor have backed the fight against the cuts and an online petition to save the department now has over 12,000 signatories.

The university had originally told staff in March that it would sack eight English literature lecturers but paused the redundancy process, saying it wanted to remove worry and anxiety for staff during the Covid-19 crisis. However, despite nothing having changed, the university announced last month that it was restarting the process.

Portsmouth News reported on Monday that local Councillor, Cal Corkery, has written to the university urging it to put the planned redundancies on hold and that he didn't think they were a pressing financial necessity.


Last updated: 3 July 2020