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In the news 10 July 2020

Gavin Williamson speech response: Road to recovery must not involve cutting access to education

Yesterday UCU slammed the government's latest plans for further and higher education. The union was responding to a speech from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that ditched the 50% target of young people in England going to university and put forward plans for a "German-style" further education system.

Speaking to the Guardian, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Further education is in dire need of funding, but that is because the Conservative governments of the last decade have decimated it. Promising to scrap the 50% target of young people going to university might secure a headline but the road to our recovery from the current crisis does not involve cutting the proportion of young people accessing education.'

Jo told the Times that hearing Gavin Williamson lament the lack of funding for colleges was as astonishing as it was to hear the universities minister Michelle Donelan complain last week about record student debt levels on the back of £9,250 annual tuition fees. Speaking to Tes, Jo said: 'The government should be encouraging people to attend all forms of education, not picking artificial winners in a market it has created, nor denigrating university education at a time when the sector desperately needs support.'

 

Government must back universities as report warns of financial crisis

On Monday, UCU again called for the government to step in with a comprehensive support package to protect universities. The union was responding to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies  that warned universities will lose billions of pounds in income due to the Covid-19 crisis, leaving some struggling to survive.

Jo Grady told the Financial Times, the BBC and Times Higher Education that the government needed to "step in and guarantee lost funding for universities so they can weather this crisis and lead our recovery on the other side".

Speaking to the Guardian, Jo said: 'Universities are already seeking to sack staff, with casual staff and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds suffering the most. We need a comprehensive support package that protects jobs, preserves our academic capacity and guarantees all universities' survival.'

Writing for City AM Jo Grady set out the case for a bailout by highlighting UCU's research, which showed the extent of the damage lost funding will cause the sector. She warned that if we don't support our universities, we would actively be weakening the very institutions that we will need to help lead the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

 

Higher education is a key driver of economic recovery in Scotland

Writing in The Herald on Tuesday, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior set out the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 crisis on Scotland's universities. She outlined the financial costs facing Scottish universities from the pandemic and set out the importance of UCU's Fund The Future campaign, which calls for government support to safeguard universities.

She argued that universities need to be protected because they will have an essential role to play in Scotland's recovery from the pandemic and are a key driver of economic growth.

She said the support offered to universities so far has been underwhelming, and called for a support package from both the Scottish and UK governments that properly underwrites the sector.

 

Bonfire of casual contracts "a huge setback" for racial equality

Times Higher Education reported yesterday that black and ethnic minority (BAME) academics are more likely to be in the insecure jobs that universities are trying to cut due to Covid-19. It said that Goldsmiths plans not to renew 500 fixed-term contracts, of whom 75% are BAME according to campaigners, while the University of Warwick is proposing to cut its sessional teaching budget and has 60% of its BAME academics on fixed-term contracts.

Several hundred staff at the Royal College of Art are at risk, where 90% of staff are employed on casual contracts. The secretary of the college's UCU branch told the paper that this "will lead to a significant decrease in the diversity of staff".

The report referred to UCU's analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency data which shows the percentage of white staff on a permanent contract is 69%, compared with 58% of BAME staff. Jo Grady said the exposure of BAME staff to the cuts made "a mockery of institutions' professed commitment to equality."

University of Birmingham professor of education and social justice Kalwant Bhopal said that the effect of the job cuts on racial diversity "will be a huge setback and may take many years to recover from."

 

Private Eye lambasts Sussex, Bolton and Royal Holloway universities

This week Private Eye pilloried the goings-on at the University of Sussex, the University of Bolton and Royal Holloway University.

The magazine suggested the University of Sussex was rushing to "penny pinch" by axing casual staff, and reviewing student bursaries and fee waivers, because of a bond repayment deal. It said the £100m bonds are due to be repaid in the 2040s and are projected to cost around £2.75m a year in interest, which it said has restricted the university's ability to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

The Eye reported that Conservative MP Sir John Hayes has been hired on a lucrative contract by the University of Bolton whilst staff worry about pay and job insecurity. It said the MP has been appointed as a part-time Professor in Political Studies picking up £38,000 a year in exchange for 20-30 hours work a month, even though there is no Political Studies Department at the university.

Private Eye also reported that the UCU Royal Holloway branch is fighting efforts by the university council to cut the number of elected staff representatives on its board. The council is chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and the Eye pointed out that the council's proposed changes fly in the face of the Labour party's policy in the last election to push for more elected reps on boards.

 

University of Portsmouth's English Literature staff "utterly betrayed" over proposed job cuts

Portsmouth News reported on Saturday that staff felt "utterly betrayed" by proposals to cut eight out of the 13 members of the English Literature department.

The university had originally told staff about the cuts in March 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.

The paper reported that a final decision is expected on 27 July, but that the department feared the worst. One lecturer said: 'It has been a pretty horrific experience and to lose jobs now with all the economic uncertainty created by coronavirus could well be career ending. I have worked in the department for over 10 years and under the current circumstances it will be very difficult to get a job at another university.'

Last updated: 10 July 2020

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