Week in news: 6 January 2017

Report warns HE bill plan for alternative providers is 'a risk too far'

Government plans to expand the number of alternative providers are 'a risk too far' and will leave many scam operators outside of regulation, a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) warned this week.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the BBC that the report should 'sound alarm bells in government', adding in the Guardian that we can't 'ignore the lessons from the US where the for-profit higher education sector has unravelled, taking billions in taxpayers' money but failing the majority of its students.'

Speaking in the Financial Times and Independent, she added that 'we must have more rigorous quality measures applied before any new provider is allowed to access either degree awarding powers or state funding via the student loans system.'

The bill, due to be debated again in the House of Lords on Monday, also came under criticism from peers earlier in the week, with Lord Patten describing the reforms as 'ham-fisted'. Read UCU's latest bill briefing here.

Spiralling vice-chancellor pay rises exposed

Russell Group vice-chancellors enjoyed an average pay rise of 6% in 2015/16, new analysis from Times Higher Education revealed on Thursday. The Huffington Post reported that the average vice-chancellor earns 12 times the average staff wage. Speaking to the Times, Sally Hunt highlighted that the Russell Group institutions were some of the worst offenders for use of insecure contracts, adding to a 'sense of injustice that there is one rule for those at the top and one for everyone else.'

The Telegraph also noted on its front page today the huge 'golden goodbye' awarded to the departing vice-chancellor at Southampton which took the university's total vice-chancellor pay bill for the year to a whopping £697,000. Responding, Sally said: 'It's clear that the minister's calls for self-restraint in vice-chancellor remuneration have fallen on deaf ears and we need more transparency in how these bumper pay deals are agreed.'

Predictions for higher education in 2017

This week the Guardian featured predictions for higher education in 2017 from across the sector. Sally Hunt outlined concerns about a 'Brexit related brain-drain of academics' unless EU staff and students are guaranteed the right to remain, and highlighted the need to avert the decline in international undergraduate recruitment by adopting a more welcoming approach and removing students from the net migration target.

Finally, Sally reinforced UCU's commitment to fighting the gender pay gap and casualisaton, saying: 'After three decades of them ignoring these issues, it would be rash to predict that 2017 will be the year when higher education leaders finally get to grips with this problem. However, with the exploitative nature of the employment model in higher education now front page news, employers' cards are marked.'

ESOL funding needed to support integration

A new report from MPs on Thursday suggested that migrants should be enrolled in English language courses to support integration, but Sally Hunt warned that more funding for ESOL was required for all immigrants to be able to access the language learning they need. She said: 'Substantial cuts have seen ESOL classes up and down the country forced to close, depriving immigrants of the opportunity to learn English. Only by resurrecting ESOL courses with decent investment can we hope to encourage language learning for immigrants and improve integration and social cohesion in 21st century Britain.'

Last updated: 31 January 2017