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In the news: 30 June 2017

30 June 2017

UCU criticises government's plans for EU citizens

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt this week criticised government proposals for EU citizens' rights post-Brexit, claiming that they added confusion and failed to guarantee academics' future in the country. Sally was speaking after the Independent reported a survey by Deloitte found that half of highly skilled workers from the EU were considering leaving the UK in the next five years.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Sally said 'EU citizens have been left in limbo for 12 months already and the government's plans add confusion for those who may have to apply twice for citizenship. We don't believe this approach will fill many with confidence that the UK wants them to stay, which is particularly worrying in light of new polling that suggests tens of thousands of workers are planning on leaving the UK. The prime minister should show leadership and send a strong message to the EU, and the rest of the world, by offering a unilateral guarantee for EU citizens who work in this country and call it home.'


Former minister criticises vice-chancellors' pay

In a rather bizarre piece in Wednesday's Times, former education secretary Lord Adonis defended his policy of top-up fees, but lamented the fact that universities had formed a cartel and all charged the maximum £3,000 fee. He also bemoaned the fact that this was one of the factors behind the massive pay rises vice-chancellors received.

What made his piece so bizarre was his criticism of ministers for not doing anything to smash the unholy cartel, or reign in senior pay. As Sally Hunt pointed out in her reply on yesterday's letters page, as education minister from 2005-2008 he was in a better position than most to do something about both issues. She also pointed out that the problems with the flawed university funding system had been pointed out at the time, but he chose to ignore those concerns.


Current minister criticises vice-chancellors' pay

Senior pay was also a theme at yesterday's #HEFestival. Universities minister Jo Johnson, who spoke at the event, was quizzed by journalists about the issue after his speech. Although offering tough words about the huge increases university heads have enjoyed in recent years, when pushed on what he might do about it (perhaps hit with a touch of Adonisititis) he said there was little he could actually do. He laughed at the suggestion that pay be linked to an institution's performance in his controversial Teaching Excellence Framework.

His comments were picked up in the Independent and Telegraph today. They both cite UCU's recent report on VC pay and perks and both draw attention to the fact that Johnson singled out the Southampton vice-chancellor's salary in his comments about senior pay.

In a clear reference to Sir Christopher Snowden, he said: 'There's one institution on the south coast that's seen its vice-chancellor pay rise from £227,000 in 2009-10 to £350,000 in 2015-16. That's really quite a sharp increase.' Snowden was highly critical of the Teaching Excellence Framework last week, although some in the sector have suggested he should have made his criticisms before his institution was given a bronze ranking.


Debate on the profit motive in higher education

Sally Hunt also spoke at the HE Festival yesterday, debating the role of the profit motive in higher education. Sally argued that for-profit education is bad for students, higher education and the taxpayer.

She cited the appalling examples from America including at BPP University's sister institution, the University of Phoenix, where the graduation rate for its online programmes is just 4 percent. Around 25 percent of University of Phoenix students default on their loans within three years of leaving school. The University of Phoenix spends nearly three times as much on marketing as it does on teaching.

She concluded by pointing to the failings of some for-profit colleges closer to home, exposed by the Guardian, and warned that we must not allow those circling our higher education sector to exploit our higher education system, our students or the taxpayer.


George Osborne takes on role at University of Manchester

Following news that the University of Manchester has appointed George Osborne as an honorary professor of economics, UCU said it thought the university's decision to axe 171 jobs puts it at direct odds with another of George Osborne's roles, as chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, told the Guardian that: 'The University of Manchester is currently planning to axe 171 jobs and around 1,000 staff don't know what their future holds. None of them will be reassured by the university's decision to offer a man with five jobs something else to do. We hope that Mr Osborne will question how plans to slash local jobs and reduce the opportunities for students, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, fits in with his vision for a strong Northern Powerhouse.'


FE staff say long hours and heavy workloads are their greatest challenges

Over half of further education teachers said that working long hours was one of the biggest challenges they faced in their roles. The report, by YMCA Awards, reveals that 54 per cent of teachers surveyed felt working outside of their regular teaching hours was a major challenge, while two-thirds (62 per cent) said that resource issues, such as having a heavy workload, was one of the most concerning aspects of their role.

Sally Hunt told TES: 'Many staff in further education work unreasonable and excessive hours, and feel that their workload is often unmanageable. Many are not given adequate time to do preparation and marking on top of their face-to-face teaching hours with students. Add to that a growing administrative burden and you get a long-hours culture that's not sustainable for people in the long term."


Report lays bare government's social mobility failings

Two decades of government efforts to improve social mobility have failed to deliver enough progress in reducing the gap between Britain's "haves and have nots", warned a report from the government's own Social Mobility Commission on Wednesday.

The report highlighted the role further education colleges played in educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds and UCU warned that colleges needed more investment to improve students' skills, especially post-Brexit. The union also said that students should be allowed to apply to universities after they got their results to help improve access. This follows UCU research that revealed that the grades of the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds were most likely to be underestimated.

Speaking to TES about the role colleges should play in improving social mobility, Sally Hunt said: 'The opportunity to improve social mobility is provided on a plate through our further education colleges, which, as the report says, are used by up to 80% of disadvantaged students before the age of 24. But successive governments have failed our colleges, and the students that rely on them, seeing them as easy targets for cuts and the austerity agenda. Colleges must be given the chance to flourish and deliver for people who want to get on in life, especially as we seek to improve people's skills post-Brexit.'


Workforce report must afford flexible workers better protection

Responding to a speech by Matthew Taylor at a TUC jobs conference reported in the Guardian on Monday, Sally Hunt said the increase in self-employment and insecure contracts had been a boon for exploitative employers and bad news for workers.

Sally said 'When it comes to flexibility, too often it is a one-way street. I don't see examples of two-way flexibility. I see people exploited and with no option for recourse. If it is to genuinely be a two-way street then employees need to have clear rights and a contract, not just the option to ask for one.'


Strike at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College in row over job cuts

Staff at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College took strike action yesterday in a row over job losses. The dispute centres on the college's refusal to rule out compulsory redundancies as it makes cuts in the computing & IT, access, and business departments where 14 staff at risk still do not know what their fate will be.

The local paper reported that UCU was told by the college that redundancy deals being offered to staff would be withdrawn unless it cancelled its strike ballot. UCU branch secretary Matthew Cookson told TES: 'Instead of threatening staff, the college should rule out compulsory redundancies and work with us to explore other options, such as redeployment. We will stand together to defend our members who face losing their jobs, as well as standing up for the education our local community deserves.'


College of North West London strike action

UCU members at the Willesden and Wembley campuses of the College of North West London are taking strike action again this week. Staff walked out on Wednesday and will disrupt an enrolment day for students looking to start courses in September tomorrow. Staff 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.


Protests at Birmingham Metropolitan College on Tuesday

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 said: 'UCU members will be out protesting again this week because they are not prepared for more colleagues to lose their jobs. Birmingham Metropolitan College got rid of 300 staff just two years ago, so we find it astonishing that we are back in a situation where the college says more jobs must go.'


Protests planned in Bolton as students react angrily to job cuts

Protests are planned at the University of Bolton following fears that lecturers at the institution could lose their jobs. University management said a consultation process was under way but no decisions had been made. Students have already set up a petition opposing the cuts.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss told the Bolton News: 'For the university to make this announcement while attention was focused on the teaching rankings is disappointing and an insult to the staff who worked so hard to achieve a credible result for Bolton University. You do not improve the student experience or the quality of teaching by sacking staff or reducing their standing. We want to speak to the university to get clarity behind what exactly their plans are and the rationale.'

Last updated: 30 June 2017