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In the news: 16 December

UCU and NUS issue statement and guidance on boycott of National Student Survey

UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have issued a statement and advice to members ahead of a planned boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) by students in January.

Both organisations are concerned that government plans to link rises in tuition fees to how universities perform in the controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) will lead to a worse deal for students. They believe that the introduction of the Tef in its current form will accelerate the marketisation of higher education, entrench inequality and damage the UK's academic reputation.

The statement encourages local UCU branches and students' unions to work together in support of the NUS boycott of the NSS and to defend the right of staff to express a position of support for the NUS action, so long as they fulfil their contractual duties in respect of the NSS.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'UCU and NUS have a proud history of working together to defend education. We believe the government's plans for the Tef will damage our education system and support NUS's plans to boycott the NSS. We are encouraging our members to work with students locally to support the boycott.'


UCU takes universities to task over insecure contracts figures

Writing for the Wonkhe blog this week, UCU's bargaining and negotiations officer Jonathan White said the furore that greeted the recent publication of UCU's analysis of data on precarious employment saw the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and several universities set about attempting to trash the union's use of the available numbers, and presented an image of a sector in strenuous denial.

UCEA's public statement repeated a tired claim that the 'atypical academics' counted by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) are 'skilled professionals contributing specialist teaching on specific courses'. In this parallel universe, atypical academics are a reserve army of 75,000 barristers, composers, business gurus and investment bankers turning out en masse to spice up university courses.

Jonathan outlined how, for a sector that likes to boast about its transparency and workforce data, we know precious little about the extent of precarious work in higher education he stated that UCU would 'continue to point students, staff and the wider world toward the available data on our universities and we will continue to press for greater workforce transparency.'


Higher education budget cuts in Scotland

UCU this week condemned the decision by the Scottish Government to cut revenue budget for higher education by 1.3% in cash terms.

Speaking in the Herald, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'It's disappointing to see another cut to higher education revenues in this Scottish Budget. We're already seeing job losses in universities across Scotland and there is a limit to the sector being able to call itself world-leading whilst continually cutting the staff who make it so.'


International students numbers under threat

The Guardian warned this week that the Home Office is considering cutting international student numbers at UK universities by nearly half. The paper said the threat is being greeted with dismay by university heads, who say some good overseas applicants are already being refused visas on spurious grounds.

Senior university figures say they have seen Home Office plans that model slashing overseas student numbers, with one option to cut the current 300,000 to 170,000 a year. The Home Office says a rumour it had modelled even more severe cuts of two-thirds, to 100,000 students a year, are 'categorically untrue'.

Sally Hunt has argued that instead of looking to stop people coming to the UK to study, international students should be removed from the net migration target, and called on the government to demonstrate that it values the contribution those from abroad make rather than viewing them as a political problem.


EU migrants and right to remain

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC this week echoed calls from UCU and others for EU migrants to be given the right to remain in the UK in a piece written for the Huffington Post. Describing the 'great anxiety' that had been caused by the Brexit result she said: 'The moral stance has to be that we in the UK should immediately make a declaration that all persons living in the UK currently who are from other EU states will be entitled to acquire special permanent residence.'

Last updated: 9 January 2017