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UCU reaction to universities minister Jo Johnson speech

9 June 2016
  • Union says dealing with "Sports Direct-style" contracts in universities and improving pay key to improving teaching
  • UCU backs pledge to legislate for greater accountability, but urges minister to force institutions to reveal rationale behind senior pay hikes and number of staff on insecure contracts


UCU said today (Thursday) that universities and science minister Jo Johnson needed to listen to students and staff as he considers changes to university policy.

In response to his speech at the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) conference this morning, UCU urged Johnson to study a new survey of students which reveals their vehement opposition to plans for fee rises linked to plans to measure teaching quality as part of controversial government plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef).

The minister said the government would legislate to force universities to provide better data on students' backgrounds. UCU welcomed the move and said Johnson should go further and back its call for full minutes of remuneration committees - the bodies tasked with setting senior pay in universities - to be made publicly available. Freedom of Information requests by the union demonstrate how few universities release the information.

The union said it backed plans to improve teaching quality in universities, but argued the best way to achieve that was to improve pay and conditions for the staff delivering the teaching. Figures suggest that half of university teachers (49%) are on insecure contracts and the union said the minister should commit to making it a requirement for universities to reveal the true extent of the problem.

UCU is currently embroiled in a dispute with universities over pay and conditions with a wave of strikes targeted at open days and graduation ceremonies set to kick off tomorrow (Friday). The dispute has arisen following a pay offer of just 1.1% from the universities' employers, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, despite the fact that staff pay has fallen by 15% in real-terms. The squeeze on staff salaries comes at a time when vice-chancellors have enjoyed a 6.1% pay hike.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Fewer than one in 10 students support government plans to link tuition fee increases to controversial measures of teaching quality and I would urge Jo Johnson to study the student survey out today.

'We all want to see improvements in teaching quality and the student experience. However, any government that is serious about improving things needs to address the numbers of staff on insecure contracts more associated with Sports Direct than a university. The time has also come for staff to be properly rewarded for their efforts after years of pay suppression.

'We welcome the minister's pledge to legislate to force universities to provide better information on students. We would urge him to go further and force universities to reveal the rationale behind the embarrassing inflation-busting pay rises some university leaders have enjoyed while keeping down staff pay. We also want universities to declare the full extent of staff on pernicious zero-hours and other temporary contracts.'