In the news: 28 April 2017

MPs warn Brexit risks damaging international standing of UK higher education

Responding to the education select committee's report on the impact of Brexit on higher education on Tuesday, UCU said the government had to secure the status of EU nationals working in universities and make sure the UK remained, and appeared, open for business.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, told the Mirror that: 'As well as removing international students from net migration figures, the government must guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently working in the UK. Along with international students, overseas staff make a huge contribution to UK society and I call on the government to end their uncertainty or risk damaging the UK's ability to attract staff and students from around the world'

Launching the report, Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: 'Higher education in the UK is a world leader, but Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long-term success of our universities.'

The Financial Times and Guardian were among the papers that highlighted UCU's survey that the report highlighted which showed that 76% of European academics in UK universities said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education as a result of the referendum vote.

Government rushes through dangerous higher education bill

The controversial Higher Education and Research Bill finally completed its passage through parliament yesterday. MPs and peers agreed to a number of watered down amendments to ensure the bill became law before this parliamentary session ended.

The snap general election had put the bill's passage in doubt and Sally Hunt said that in the rush to get it through the government had managed keep its long-term plans to marketise the sector firmly on track. 

Writing for Huffington Post Sally said: 'Following hours of detailed scrutiny at earlier stages in the Lords, a bad bill had been much improved with a series of helpful amendments. These included moves to define what constitutes a university; ensure international students continue to be welcomed; and protect students from unscrupulous 'for profit' colleges.
'How sad then that, yesterday, the government chose to throw out most of these changes and press ahead with plans which seriously risk damaging the global reputation of our universities. One might argue that government concessions wrung from inter-party negotiations in recent days make the bill palatable. In my view, they don't. Rather they ask the government to make a minor detour while allowing them to keep its long-term plans to marketise the sector firmly on track.'

College heads' pay rises an "embarrassment for the sector"

More than half of college leaders received a salary increase last year - at the same time as their staff were subject to a pay freeze, according to new figures in today's TES.

Analysis of new data published by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) reveals that, in the same year, almost 60 per cent of colleges increased their spending on pay for their principal or CEO.

According to the ESFA data, 12 colleges paid their leaders £200,000 or more this year - up by 50 per cent from the previous year. 

With the figures for 11 colleges missing from the data - including Birmingham Metropolitan College, which paid CEO Andrew Cleaves £260,000 the previous year - the total number could rise further. Around one-fifth of colleges spent the same amount on their leaders' pay as in 2014-15, with a similar proportion spending less.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'College leaders who tell staff that the money is not there for a fair pay rise - all while pocketing massive pay rises themselves - are an embarrassment to the sector. These figures shine a light on the seemingly arbitrary nature of pay at the top in further education. With college mergers on the horizon, there may be some senior managers who think this is an ideal time to increase their own pay packets.'

Universities' income and reserves go up, but money spent on staff falls again

Inequality was also the theme of new data released yesterday on universities' income. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that universities' total income increased by 3.6% between 2014/15 and 2015/16. Total income was £34.7bn, up from £33.5bn in 2014/15. The data also showed that universities increased the money they have in reserves, yet staff costs down again.

Sally Hunt said: 'Universities' income is up and so is the amount of money they have in the bank, yet the amount of money they spend on staff is down once again. Universities have no shortage of warm words when it comes to their staff, but they have to stop taking them for granted.

'After years of real-terms pay cuts the time has come for fair pay in our universities and not just bumper rises and first class flights for those at the top.'

Sally Hunt addresses National Union of Students conference

In a speech on the opening morning of the National Union of Students' annual conference on Tuesday, Sally Hunt said that it was NUS that UCU looked to as its ally in the fight against marketisation, casualisation and higher fees.

Describing the current political climate as "dangerous times", Sally said progressive forces had to use the platform of the general election to remake the argument for investment in education, for social justice and against racism.

Delegates at the Brighton conference elected Shakira Martin as only the second NUS president to come from a further education background. The election results for the union's full-time positions voted for this week can be found here.

Manchester Metropolitan University bans union meeting at last minute

It was a bizarre week in Manchester this week after Manchester Metropolitan University slapped a last-minute ban on UCU holding a union meeting on campus. Sally Hunt said that the meeting, scheduled to take place in the university's business school would take place regardless and "under umbrellas if necessary".

Fortunately the umbrellas were stood down when students at the University of Manchester stepped in and the offered the use of their students' union building. UCU members at Manchester Metropolitan University are currently being balloted for strike action in a dispute over job losses arising from the closure of its Crewe Campus.

Merger deals collapse in London and Lancashire

It was a bad week for mergers after Bury College pulled out of a proposed link up with the University of Bolton and a London merger that had previously gone from a three-way link up to a two-way is now not happening at all.

UCU said the collapse of the merger between Bury College and the University of Bolton was welcome news, but the problems with the rushed attempted merger should have been obvious from the start. UCU hit out in June last year at a flawed consultation process and said the merger would not benefit staff or students. UCU regional official Martyn Moss told Manchester Evening News: 'We believe colleges have an important role to play in the local community and are pleased that Bury will still be served by its own institution.'

In London, Barnet and Southgate College and Waltham Forest College had announced plans to join forces in October, after talks with College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London about three-way link up were shelved. But FE Week reported that staff at the two colleges were told earlier this week that the merger had been scrapped.

UCU says universities must be used to deal with teacher shortage

The Guardian reported yesterday that new teachers should have their outstanding student debt wiped out after they have been in the profession for seven years. The policy was one of a number put forward in a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute to help tackle a growing shortage of teachers.

Sally Hunt said: 'Universities have a long history of recruiting and educating excellent teachers in partnership with schools. The recent bias has been towards school-led teacher training and we have seen missed recruitment targets for several years running. It is not acceptable to blithely continue down this road in the face of the evidence and put a future generation of schoolchildren's education at risk.'

North-west mayoral candidates urged to sign up to skills charter

This week UCU and UNISON asked candidates standing in the Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region Mayoral elections to sign up to a skills charter to demonstrate their commitment to further education. The five-point charter calls for accessible high-quality training, education and skills to be available to people across the region throughout their lives. 

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'The mayoral candidates are all likely to make much of their support for education, but we want to see them put their money where their mouth is and sign up to our charter.'

Last updated: 28 April 2017

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