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In the news: 23 June 2017

23 June 2017

UCU criticises teaching excellence rankings for failing to rank teaching excellence

The much-maligned Teaching Excellence Framework rankings were finally revealed yesterday. Purportedly measuring teaching excellence in universities, the peculiar rankings system gave universities a gold, silver or bronze award - suggesting ministers should not be pulling policy together during the Olympics. Around half the institutions received a silver and a quarter picked up either gold or bronze.

The press made much of the bronze awards for Russell Group members LSE, Liverpool and Southampton. While the vice-chancellor of Southampton made his unhappiness at the results quite clear when speaking to Times Higher Education. The magazine collated the sector's views here.

UCU has been a long-standing opponent of the Tef and does not believe it actually does what it says on the tin - namely measure teaching quality. Responding to the rankings, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'The Teaching Excellence Framework is opposed by both staff and student organisations and these results will have little credibility within higher education itself. The fear is that students, beyond the UK in particular, will use these results as the basis for deciding which UK university to attend, which could damage some institutions. 

'If the government is serious about improving teaching quality it should improve the working conditions of the tens of thousands of teaching staff employed on insecure, often zero-hours contracts and the impact this has on students' learning experience.' 


Unions call for increasing in public sector pay

Sally Hunt was among the union general secretaries who wrote to the Times on Wednesday calling for a change of direction on public sector pay. Writing ahead of the Queen's Speech the letter said that the general election showed that voters are concerned about the funding of our public services and the value that is placed on the staff delivering them.

The unions warn that public services are under incredible pressure and overstretched workers feel increasingly taken for granted. Meanwhile, employers are finding it hard to attract new recruits and hold on to experienced staff.

The letter concludes that if Theresa May wants an economy and society that works for all, it must include fair pay for those who deliver essential services to the public.


Universities warned over golden goodbyes for senior staff

Times Higher Education reported this week that severance payments for departing senior staff must not reward poor performance, while confidentiality agreements should be "the exception rather than the norm", English universities have been told.

New guidance issued by the Higher Education Funding Council for England says that the increasing attention paid to generous pay-offs made in recent years "poses questions over the proper use of funds and assets, and may impact on the reputation" of institutions and the sector as a whole.

The magazine notes that several vice-chancellors have received sizeable pay-offs on leaving office in recent years. Wendy Purcell, former vice-chancellor of Plymouth University, received £45,000 in performance-related pay and another £125,000 for loss of office in 2014-15 as she switched to being the institution's president on her full salary, following significant turmoil. The same year, Martin Hall was paid £110,000 in "compensation for loss of office" when he left the University of Salford.


Two days of strike action at Manchester Metropolitan University

UCU members at both the Crewe and Manchester campuses of Manchester Metropolitan University took two days' strike action this week. They walked out on Tuesday and Wednesday in a dispute over compulsory redundancies. There was a rally in Manchester on Tuesday and an open day at the Manchester site on Wednesday.

The action was featured in the Observer on Sunday as part of a wider piece looking at uncertainty universities were facing from the Teaching Excellence Framework. It described academics at the Crewe site as "being in limbo".

At Tuesday's rally Sally Hunt read out a message of support from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and the strikers got another boost when newly-elected Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith came out strongly in support of UCU members.

Smith is a former MMU student who studied on the Crewe campus. The dispute centres on the fate of the staff who worked at the Crewe site, which will close in August 2019. Speaking to the Crewe Chronicle, Smith said: 'I send my support and solidarity to striking staff at MMU. I know they would not have taken this decision lightly. As the Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich I am especially concerned about the fate of the 160 academic staff who are currently in limbo. I urge management to hold off with the proposed redundancies and engage in a meaningful discussion with trade union representatives to explore all viable alternatives.'

UCU branch secretary Julie Wilkinson told the Manchester Evening News: 'We are losing experienced academic staff, award-winning staff. It's mad. This university is amazing because of the number of students who are the first in their family to go to uni. We transform people's lives and lead them to jobs they never would have dreamt of. We won't have that in Crewe now.'


UCU members walk out at University of Leeds over sacking plans

UCU members at the University of Leeds walked out yesterday in a row over plans to change the institution's dismissal policy. As with Manchester Metropolitan earlier in the week, the one-day strike coincided with an open day and the Yorkshire Post reported that students and their parents would be met by striking staff.

UCU is unhappy that the university wants to amend its terms and conditions to give managers new powers to sack staff. The union says university managers are trying to introduce a catch-all dismissal clause entitled "Some Other Substantial Reason" and said the proposed change was "unnecessary" and could "threaten academic freedom".

Speaking to the BBC, regional secretary Julie Kelley said: 'The new clause could be used by the university to sack a member of staff by allowing third party pressure from an unhappy research funder or a workplace disagreement to become a grounds for dismissal. Staff are understandably wary about how some managers might use this new power'.


Protests at Birmingham Metropolitan College over job cuts

Three of Birmingham Metropolitan College's campuses were hit by protests on Tuesday. UCU members at the Matthew Boulton campus, the Sutton Coldfield campus and the James Watt campus were joined by students for the lunchtime demonstrations against plans that leave 123 staff at risk of redundancy.

The college axed 300 staff just two years ago and UCU says the college should not be back in a position where it is looking for further job losses. UCU regional support official Teresa Corr told Union News: 'We find it astonishing that we are back in a situation where the college says more jobs must go. The whole process is being rushed through with staff being dragged into redundancy meetings. The college needs to halt the process and sit down with us and look at alternatives.'


Protest off at the last minute in Darlington

UCU members called off a pay cut protest at the last minute on Wednesday. Staff from Darlington College were due to walk out in a row over proposals to cut lecturers' wages by up to ten per cent. It was called off after Darlington College representatives agreed to hold new talks with the union.

The protest was the second in a week to be organised in response to plans to slash wages and was due to be staged just days after a proposed merger between Darlington College and Stockton Riverside College was scrapped.

UCU regional support official Joyce McAndrew told the Northern Echo that members hoped the dropped merger would allow college executives to look again at the controversial proposals. She said: 'The governing body of the college has now agreed to meet with a delegation from the union to talk about the issues. We hope to persuade governors to change their plans.'


College of North West London unhappy at Saturday strike action

UCU members at the Willesden and Wembley campuses of the College of North West London are taking strike action again next week. Staff will walk out on Wednesday (28 June) and Saturday (1 July) in a row over the sacking of their colleague.

The action will hit lessons on Wednesday and disrupt an enrolment day for students looking to start courses in September on Saturday. Staff will be on picket lines outside the main entrances on Denzil Road (Willesden campus) and Wembley Park Road (Wembley) from 9am on Wednesday. UCU members at the college have already walked out twice in support of mathematics teacher Indro Sen, who was suspended in October 2016 while representing a former colleague at an employment tribunal.

The news prompted a bizarre response from the college who attacked the union in FE Week for taking action that would cause disruption. In response, UCU regional official Una O'Brien said that while any walk-out is a last resort, effective strike action is supposed to cause disruption. 'The college would be best off focussing its efforts on resolving the dispute, rather than sniping about the action union members feel they have been forced into,' she said.

Last updated: 30 April 2019