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In the news: 16 June 2017

16 June 2017

Arbitrary nature of university heads' pay back under the spotlight

Almost a dozen universities gave their vice-chancellors a pay rise above the UK average, despite a significant fall in student numbers, according to analysis by Times Higher Education. The magazine's annual survey of vice-chancellors' pay showed that, in 2015-16, university heads received an average package of £280,877, including pension contributions - a rise of 2.2 per cent on 2014-15.

However, although the overall increase was more modest than in previous years, 11 universities awarded larger-than-average pay rises to their leaders even as their student recruitment took a tumble of more than five per cent from 2014 to 2015.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Huge disparities in the double-digit rises for some at the top and the more modest increases elsewhere expose the arbitrary nature of pay in our universities. Greater transparency was still needed in how senior pay was set.'

In an analysis piece looking at the role of the shadowy remuneration committee, the magazine attempts to find out just what is behind the arbitrary rises. Are they looking at the sort of performance indicators that rank-and-file academics tend, rightly or wrongly, to be judged on these days, such as the research excellence framework and the National Student Survey? Or is strong and stable financial management the main driver? UCU believes we would probably learn a little more if universities were forced to provide full minutes of remuneration committees' meetings and reveal whether or not the vice-chancellor sits in on them.


Young people "deeply pessimistic" about the future

Young people are deeply pessimistic about their ability to get on in Britain's "us and them society", suggests a poll from the Social Mobility Commission. UCU described the poll as "depressing" to the BBC as it revealed almost half of people (48 per cent) think where you end up in society in modern Britain is mainly determined by your background.

The poll also found that two-thirds of people (66 per cent) say poorer people have less opportunity to get into a professional career and that three-quarters of people (76 per cent) say poorer people have less opportunity to go to a top university.

Sally Hunt said: 'The findings of this poll make depressing reading and must act as a wake-up call to politicians to do more to encourage opportunity in our country. We believe education can play a crucial role in improving people's life chances, but in order to do that it needs proper government funding and support.


The further education teachers not spending any time on CPD

The TES reports today that figures from the Education and Training Foundation show that almost two-thirds of further education teachers do not spend any time at all on Continuing Professional Development (CPD). According to the Further Education Workforce Data for England report, published by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) in 2015-16, the average teacher spent 15 hours a year on CPD. But that average masks the fact that 60 per cent reported spending no time at all on that kind of formal training.

Sally Hunt said it was vital that teachers were supported to refresh their skills and share knowledge during their careers, so they could remain up to date with industrial and pedagogical developments. She said: 'CPD for staff is an essential part of post-school education that benefits both the recipient and their students. Busy staff already have massive workloads, so colleges need to make time and resources available so all staff have the opportunity to access CPD. Colleges should be looking for ways to share best practice around CPD and work with nearby colleges to deliver it.'

For more on the CPD offered by UCU check out our CPD guide.


Full extent of gender pay gap for new graduates revealed

The Guardian reported on Wednesday how women face a pay gap as early as their first year after university that widens as time passes, according to the first large-scale set of data on the careers of British graduates published by the government.

The figures showed that men were more likely to have higher pay than women who graduated in the same year with degrees in the same subjects, with the sole exception of English - the only subject where women graduates outdid their male peers five years after leaving university.

Women who studied veterinary science experienced the widest gap, earning about half as much as their male counterparts. Even in nursing, a course dominated by women students, men were still earning about £2,000 more just a year after graduation.

Sally Hunt said: 'The data reinforces the fact that graduate outcomes are clearly not just a result of their experiences while students, but are heavily determined by pre-existing factors. Worryingly, the data shows that gender in particular has huge significance when it comes to students' future earnings. Social background and previous education also play a big part in future success. We remain extremely concerned about the use of flawed, proxy metrics as indicators of 'teaching quality' under the TEF.'


Rights for EU citizens in the UK, but how many are leaving?

Looking at the impact of Brexit on universities this week, the Financial Times reported that Brexit secretary David Davis will start talks in Brussels next week with plans to make a "very generous" offer on rights for the 3m EU citizens living in the UK. According to Whitehall officials the UK's offer to EU nationals living in Britain will guarantee them the rights they currently have and aim to treat them as fairly as they have been to this point.

However, today the paper has a less positive story to tell as it reports that UK business schools report that their academics are quitting to work in other European countries. Nearly half of the 120 member institutions of the Chartered Association of Business Schools have been affected by last year's Brexit vote, with 28 per cent saying that a number of their academic professionals have expressed an intention to leave the UK. Twelve per cent of schools have reported some difficulty in attracting teaching talent from Europe and seven per cent say they have lost staff.


UK student loan debt rises above £100bn

The Guardian reported yesterday that student loan debt in the UK has risen to more than £100bn for the first time, underlining the rising costs young people face in order to get a university education. Outstanding debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier, according to the Student Loans Company.

England accounted for £89.3bn of the total. In England, the average amount of debt for each graduate is £32,220. By comparison, student debt in the US totalled $1.34tn (£1.05tn) at the end of March. But average debt at graduation was $34,000 (£27,000), less than for UK graduates.


Open University told "buzzwords mean little in the real world" in budget cuts row

UCU said this week that the Open University must set out exactly what plans to cut the equivalent of a quarter of its budget would mean for staff. Complaining that proposals set out on Tuesday were little more than buzzwords, the union demanded to know how many staff will be affected by the shake-up, and where.

Speaking to the Guardian, Sally Hunt said that staff were obviously concerned about job cuts. She said the plans had no details and would do nothing to reassure staff. She told Times Higher Education that staff wanted more information about how jobs would be affected, and that they had little confidence in the process.

Sally told the BBC that: 'Buzzwords about clouds and digital futures might work well for marketing purposes but mean little in the real world. Staff are understandably worried about plans that really appear not to have been thought through. How many staff will be affected and where?'


UCU members strike at Coleg y Cymoedd

UCU members at Coleg y Cymoedd were out on strike yesterday in a row over working conditions. Picket lines were set up at the college's four campuses in Ystrad Mynach, Nantgarw, Aberdare and Rhondda. Staff walked out after negotiations with management to deal with increasing workloads, over and above normal teaching, marking and preparation workload had failed.

UCU Coleg y Cymoedd vice-chair Kevin Dickens told the local paper that: 'No lecturer wants to take industrial action. However, management must understand that the working conditions of lecturers are the learning conditions of students.'


Protests at Darlington College in row over pay cuts

Staff at Darlington College staged a demonstration on Wednesday outside the college's main entrance in a row over proposals to slash lecturers' salaries by up to 10%. The Northern Echo reported how the protest followed on from a union meeting at the end of last month where members unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in the senior management team at the college.

The college increased teaching hours by 4.3% last year and is now seeking the pay cuts. Lecturers have not received a pay increase since 2012.  UCU regional official Joyce McAndrew said: 'Staff will be protesting outside Darlington College because following an increase in working hours last year, on top of five years without a pay rise, they are not prepared to accept a 10% pay cut.'


Calls for new vision as Salford City College principal quits

FE Week reported this week that the principal of Salford City College quit after just two years at the helm. John Spindler, who joined in April 2015, will leave his post at the end of this month. The college has been dogged with financial concerns and job losses during his tenure. The average number of people employed at the college fell to 589 last year, down from 811 in 2013/14.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'The college has suffered three rounds of major redundancies under the retiring principal's watch.  We want to see a period of stability now and believe the college needs to ensure that local people have the opportunities they need to get on and contribute to the local and regional economy. We hope a new approach at the top will share this vision.'

Last updated: 16 June 2017