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In the news: 5 August

UCU warns of damage abolishing maintenance grants

UCU said on Monday that the abolition of the student maintenance grant for the poorest young people, combined with increasing tuition fees, could set back widening participation and deter those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from going to university.

As of Monday, students from low-income homes applying to go to university are no longer entitled to a maintenance grant to support their living costs, but will instead have to borrow the money in the form of an additional loan, further increasing their debt.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, told the Guardian: 'Cost does matter and there is a very real danger that raising tuition fees combined with the ending of maintenance grants will damage progress made by widening participation initiatives. The continued squeeze on students risks creating a polarised university system of haves and have-nots where costs determines young people's choices.'

She said recent UCU research showed that when young people choose to go to university, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to put cost at the forefront of their decision-making, often opting for institutions close to home that offer cheaper study that can be combined with part-time work.


Number of state school students going to university down

UCU's fears about the impact of the abolishing of grants seemed all the more pertinent on Wednesday when it was revealed that the number of state-educated students going to university and colleges fell by four percent in the first year tuition fees were increased to £9,000.

The drop from 66 percent to 62 percent between the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 academic years was part of a nine percentage point drop in state school pupils carrying on into higher education since 2009/2010, Department for Education figures revealed.


Politicians using a graduate premium to sell university should be charged with gross mis-selling

Politicians should stop using higher graduate earnings to justify raising student fees, as having to pay back student debts will wipe out any graduate premium for most professions, claimed a report released this week.

Angus Hanton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation who produced the report, told the BBC that politicians who overplay any graduate premium should be charged with gross mis-selling.

The report focuses on tuition fee rises in England pointing out how successive governments have used the graduate pay premium to justify them and any rises.


UCU wins £55,000 for woman "sacked twice"

A Belfast woman has been awarded £55,000 after she was "both constructively and unfairly dismissed" by Belfast Metropolitan College (BMC). Patricia Flanagan told the BBC she was effectively sacked twice by the college. In April 2016, an industrial tribunal ruled in Ms Flanagan's favour, but the level of compensation she was entitled to has just been decided.

A previous appeal hearing at the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) in August 2014 also found that Ms Flanagan, represented by UCU, had been unfairly dismissed from her role at the college.

As well as ruling she had been unfairly dismissed, the LRA ordered BMC to reinstate Ms Flanagan to her senior role as creativity and innovation lead "with immediate effect". However, BMC failed to do that.

The industrial tribunal also found that BMC had continually breached Ms Flanagan's contract of employment over a period of 18 months until her resignation. Ms Flanagan said she had not received an apology from her former employer.

UCU Northern Ireland official, Katharine Clarke, from said Ms Flanagan's treatment by BMC was appalling: 'It suggests to me that Belfast Met haven't learned any lessons if they still consider that an apology is inappropriate for the way Patricia has been treated.'


Why students and staff are demonstrating in November

Speaking about the importance of the 19 November demonstration organised by UCU and the National Union of Students, NUS president, Malia Bouattia, said students and staff members in higher and further education are facing the most serious challenges to the future of education in a generation.

Writing in the Independent about the central London protest, she warned that unlimited fees, private businesses entering and exiting the sector, job losses, and the closing down of institutions are all real threats we need to face together in the years ahead.

Last updated: 5 August 2016