In the news: 1 July 2016

UCU writes to Sajid Javid demanding assurances from government on Brexit fallout

On Monday UCU wrote to business secretary Sajid Javid seeking urgent assurances on the government's support for further and higher education following the result of last week's EU referendum.

In the letter, the union's general secretary Sally Hunt says the result has a number of implications for universities and colleges, not least in terms of the financial impact. She points out that UK colleges and universities receive significant funding from EU projects, and students from across the EU support thousands of jobs in the education sector.

TES reports how Sally warns warns that further education faces "a period of considerable political and economic uncertainty" and that the sector needs assurances that the government will support colleges and "mitigate any negative impact of EU withdrawal."

Strikes continue in universities across the UK

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 51 universities were on strike across the UK this week as part of the higher education dispute. From capital walkouts at the start of the week to north-east open day disruptions today and tomorrow.

There are more strikes through next week with 32 branches due to walk out on Tuesday alone. Follow Twitter for live updates.

The problem of casualisation in further education

FE Week reported this week on UCU's call to make casual staff who have been working at an FE provider for at least two years permanent. The call was one of the elements of the union's 2016/17 national pay claim.

A report commissioned by the UCU demonstrated that 30 colleges in the UK are employing more than 50 per cent of their staff on precarious part-time or hourly contracts. Writing in the paper on the problems of casualisation, Sally Hunt said: "The entrenched insecurity of many FE contracts causes real issues for the affected staff - and their students. The most common complaint we hear from staff on casualised contracts is that they are not paid properly for their work planning and preparing lessons or assessing students' work.

"Staff who struggle to fit lesson preparation or marking into their paid hours have even less time to provide the help students need outside of their contact hours. Too many teaching staff find themselves stuck in a cycle of short-term, precarious contracts."

New report warns increase in tuition fees would stop poorest from going to university

If university fees go up, young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds would be most likely to be deterred from going to university, warned a UCU-backed report released yesterday. Does Cost Matter?, produced by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) and supported by UCU, found that an increase in fees would see young people who are eligible for free school meals most likely to reconsider going to university, followed by non-white young people.  

The Independent warned that the findings come at a time when the government is seeking to increase fees. The report also found that non-white young people and free school meal recipients were most likely choose low-cost university options if tuition fees were variable. Non-white students were also more likely to live at home and choose to study near home. Those with at least one university-educated parent were the least likely to consider this.

Sally Hunt told Times Higher Education that there was a "very real danger" that higher fees would "damage progress made by widening participation initiatives".

"When they do choose to go on to degree study, young people from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to put cost at the forefront of their decision-making, opting for institutions close to home which offer cheaper study, that can be combined with part-time work," Ms Hunt said. "The worst-case scenario is a polarised university system of 'haves' and 'have-nots'."

UCU warns against allowing private equity companies to buy out colleges

FE Week reported this week on a leaked document from BIS which includes plans to allow private companies to buy FE colleges. The document, which looks at due diligence in further education following area reviews, includes a section considering the potential impact of a private sector organisation taking over a college.

Responding, UCU said that the government needs to learn lessons from America, where private equity firms have been "shown to offer derisory rates of graduation, crushing levels of debt and dubious value." The union added that there was "little merit in allowing [private equity firms] greater access to the UK education sector."

 

Last updated: 1 July 2016