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In the news 24 July 2020

24 July 2020

Universities to cut thousands of academics on fixed-term contracts

On Monday, the Financial Times reported that UK universities are cutting thousands of academics on fixed-term contracts due to a fall in income caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The paper referenced cuts to fixed-term contracts at the Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths, King's College London, and the universities of Sheffield, Reading and Liverpool.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 33% of academic staff in the UK were on fixed-term contracts in 2017-18. UCU analysis shows that of these, black and minority ethnic staff were disproportionately affected, with 42% on fixed-term contracts, compared with 31% of their white counterparts.

UCU president Vicky Blake said higher education was "propped up by casualised labour" and that by cutting non-permanent staff university leaders were "pulling the rug out from under their own institutions".


Westminster government must follow Welsh lead in supporting colleges and universities

On Wednesday, UCU welcomed a support package for Welsh universities and colleges worth over £50m, but said the Westminster government must now step up and provide emergency support to safeguard universities and colleges across the whole of the UK.

Speaking to Tes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'This announcement is a welcome recognition of the problems that both further and higher education face. It is important that colleges and universities use this funding to protect jobs and expand opportunities for students.

'Ministers in Westminster now need to step up their game and deliver more than the piecemeal funding with problematic strings attached that we have seen so far. Universities and colleges across the UK need urgent support so they can continue to function, and are in a position to lead our recovery from the current crisis.'


No pay rise for college teachers could see pay gap reach £9,000

On Tuesday, Tes reported that the pay gap between school teachers and further education lecturers could reach £9,000 per year after the government announced a pay rise of 3.1% for school teachers.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'Nobody would begrudge our brilliant school teachers a pay rise. The education secretary talked up the government's commitment to further education recently, but the pay gap highlights again that further education needs more than warm words if it is going to play its vital role in our economic and social recovery.'


Decolonisation begins with protecting BAME jobs

Yesterday UCU said universities must protect black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff if they are serious about decolonising higher education. The union was responding to a report from the Higher Education and Policy Institute, which said decolonising higher education is vital to tackling discrimination, hostility and unconscious bias in UK universities.

Jo Grady told the Morning Star that universities need to "do more than pay lip service to tackling structural inequality".

Speaking to Union News. Jo said: 'UCU is ready to work with universities to progress this agenda, but it must start by ensuring BAME staff are able to progress in their careers. We know these staff are currently more likely to be on the casual contracts most at risk of being cut as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Universities also need to do more to challenge the hostile environment and welcome scholars from the global south, including by paying visa fees and other immigration charges.'

UCU held a 'Decolonising our institutions' webinar on Tuesday that discussed how to liberate education from the UK's imperial past.


Labour Party's seven tests for higher education and demand for government support

Yesterday UCU welcomed calls by the Labour Party for the government to ensure no university is allowed to fail, but said that more needed to be done now to protect the jobs of precariously employed staff.

Jo Grady said: 'The Government needs to provide a serious support package for universities to protect jobs and safeguard students' futures. Anything less would be a betrayal of the staff and students that have worked so hard during the current crisis, and leave the sector ill-equipped to help lead the country's recovery.'


Local MP calls on University of Portsmouth to save "important jobs" threatened by cuts

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan called on the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth to think again over plans to axe 11 staff in the 13-strong team at the English literature department. In a letter to vice-chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith, Mr Morgan urged him to recognise the implications his proposed job cuts would have on staff, students and the university's reputation.  

Jo Grady said: 'The University of Portsmouth has shown how little it values its staff by merely pausing the cuts at the start of the Covid crisis and then restarting the process whilst we are still in the middle of the pandemic. The vice-chancellor needs to listen to politicians, staff, students and campaigners and halt these cuts. The university needs to work with us to pressure the government to financially support the sector during Covid-19, instead of making cuts that would damage its reputation.'

Campaigners held an online rally yesterday where staff and students were joined by colleagues from across the UK and speakers included Jo Grady, Labour Councillor Cal Corkery and author Graham Hurley whose novels include the DI Joe Faraday books which are set in Portsmouth. A petition against the cuts has reached over 12,000 signatures.

Last updated: 24 July 2020