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In the news 17 July 2020

UCU accuses ministers of using looming financial crisis to try and impose severe restrictions on universities

Yesterday UCU attacked the government's most recent "so-called bailout" of universities. The union was responding to government guidance which said any money would come in the form of a loan with severe restrictions attached and that universities might be allowed to go bust.

Speaking to the Guardian, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "Higher education is one of the few things we remain a world leader in, yet the government is prepared to exploit universities' financial difficulties to impose evidence-free ideology and reduce the diversity and strength of university courses & research".

Speaking to Research Fortnight Jo said: "This third so-called bailout in a matter of months suggests the government has recognised there is a serious crisis, but would rather use it to try and impose severe restrictions on universities than ensure their survival."

She also criticised the government's obsession with graduate earnings as the sole measure of quality, as picked up by BBC News.

 

Voters in marginal seats fear local damage from university cuts and want government to intervene

On Wednesday UCU called on the government to listen to voters and support universities after polling showed they backed emergency funding to deal with fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.

UCU commissioned YouGov to poll voters in the 30 most marginal "university seats", where at least 10% of voters were students. Over three-quarters of those polled said their local university was important in creating local jobs (76%) and important to the local economy (79%).

Speaking to iNews, Jo Grady said: 'Voters in some of the most marginal seats in the UK rightly fear the impact that universities' worsening finances will have both on their own jobs and the local economy.'

She told Times Higher Education: 'The message from voters across the political divide is crystal clear on this issue. They want politicians to campaign for their local university to be safeguarded, and they want the government to step in and guarantee lost funding for universities so they can weather this crisis and lead the recovery.'

 

College survey highlights need for immediate government help

Today UCU called for the government to step in after a report in Tes from the Association of Colleges warned almost half of colleges said they planned to make redundancies by the end of the calendar year. It also reported that three out of four colleges said they would need additional resources to fund free college meal vouchers for current eligible students over the summer.

Speaking to Tes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Student hardship is up, colleges are unable to provide the equipment students need to access learning and many will struggle to provide free college meal vouchers over the summer. Ministers can reach for platitudes and promises to do more for further education, but the sector needs more than words right now.'

 

Poor working conditions at heart of university brain drain, warns report

Yesterday UCU said that poor working conditions are behind PhD students leaving academia. The union was responding to a report from the Higher Education and Policy Institute that found that two-thirds of PhD students said they want a career in academic research, but that 70% had left academia within three and a half years. PhD students who said they may leave academia gave "lack of job security", "mental health", and "a poor work-life balance" as their reasons.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Jo Grady said: 'Even though academia is PhD students' number one career choice, 70% have left the sector within three and a half years. 'Universities need to make sure that higher education remains an attractive career choice; but insecure contracts, low pay and long hours leave staff facing mental health issues and struggling to pay the bills.'

 

New UK immigration system could harm Covid-19 recovery        

On Monday UCU warned that the government was creating barriers to migrants who will be vital to the UK's recovery from Covid-19. The union was reacting to the government's new points-based immigration system.

Speaking to the Voice, Jo Grady said: 'Instead of simplifying our immigration system and reducing the barriers faced by migrant workers, these proposals show that the hostile environment is alive and well in the UK.

'The crude, metrics-based approach being set out shows that this government clearly values earnings over ethics. The system would prioritise those in higher paid jobs with better education over workers who earn less, while many of those we have clapped and celebrated throughout the Covid-19 pandemic would be deemed "unskilled" and kept out of the country.'

 

High student satisfaction shows dedication of staff

On Wednesday UCU said students' continued satisfaction with their education was a testament to the incredible work of staff, particularly in such a challenging year. The union was responding to the National Student Survey, which found that the majority of students remain satisfied with their course. Overall 83% said they were satisfied with their course, compared to 84% in 2019.

This year has seen up to 22 days of strike action by UCU members in disputes over pensions and pay & conditions, and interruption from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Jo Grady said: 'While the National Student Survey has many flaws, the findings do indicate that the unprecedented events of the past academic year have not shaken students' appreciation for the work staff do'.

 

Jo Grady interviewed by The World This Weekend

On Sunday Jo Grady spoke to BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend about the government's lacklustre response to the crisis facing UK universities. She pointed to research commissioned by UCU that warns of a £2.5bn funding black hole for universities due to Covid-19 and a recent poll which showed 23% of prospective students fear their institution could go bust.

Jo said the government had refused to take these warnings seriously and its approach, including comments by the education minister last week about restricting access to university, had left staff and students at newer universities worried they will be left behind.

She said the important teaching and research that is done at the newer "post-92" universities will suffer if the government does not support the whole sector, and that the local communities those institutions serve will also be worse off.

 

Coventry University cutting senior academic jobs

Yesterday the Coventry Telegraph reported that Coventry University is cutting senior academic jobs. The university would not confirm how many senior staff will go but UCU warned that around 50 are at risk.

UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'These plans would result in Coventry University losing around 50 of its most senior academic staff with a similar number forced onto inferior contracts with lower pay and increased workloads.

'Staff will be meeting shortly to decide to respond to these proposals but this approach is certainly not in the best interest of staff or students. We understand that universities face problems from the Covid-19 crisis but Coventry needs to work with us to secure funding from Government to defend its academic capacity, rather than this type of knee-jerk reaction which will harm the university's long term prospects.'

 

Educate and empower event

UCU hosted an online "Educate and Empower" rally on Tuesday looking at how to transform education in a post-Covid world. The rally was part of the union's Fund The Future campaign seeking to win funding from government to secure universities' futures and defend members' jobs.

Jo Grady welcomed guests including Billy Bragg, Sonia Adesara, Grace Blakeley, Dalia Gebrial, Charmaine Brown, Ann Pettifor, Faiza Shaheen and Gary Younge, who spoke about their education and experiences to a live audience and to those who have caught up since. Over 20,000 had watched the event in the first three days and the full list of forthcoming events and how to sign up can be found here.

Last updated: 17 July 2020

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