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In the news: 28 July 2017

28 July 2017

Supreme Court rules employment tribunal fees unlawful and barrier to justice

Fees introduced by the government in 2013 payable by those bringing employment tribunal claims were ruled unlawful on Wednesday and the BBC reported that the government will have to refund £32m to claimants.

Our sister union Unison secured the landmark victory at the Supreme Court, which also ruled that the fees were indirectly discriminatory to women. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt described Unison's victory as a huge win for workers everywhere and said it strengthened employees' hands in their fights for justice against unscrupulous bosses.

Following the introduction of the fees, which were as much as £1,200, the number of claims dropped by 79%. Unison argued that the fees prevented workers getting access to justice.


Sally Hunt says UCU report exposes the lie that student loan system is progressive

Following on from last week's report from UCU and London Economics that found high-earning graduates could find themselves paying the equivalent of 51p in the pound into the public purse by the time they hit their 30s and 40s through tax, National Insurance contributions and loan repayments, Sally Hunt wrote a blog for Times Higher Education that said the unfair student loan system must be reviewed.

She says the report exposes the lie that the current system is progressive and concludes that if we are being generous, we can say that politicians defending the system as progressive cannot understand it. However, the middle-aged squeeze on incomes is a largely unforeseen consequence of the current system and that isn't fair to the young.


Open University under fire for Cuban student ban

UCU this week wrote to both the vice-chancellor of the Open University and universities minister Jo Johnson to call for a ban on Cuban students attending the Open University to be overturned. The university says its policy is justified on the basis of concerns about repercussions from the United States.

However, as UCU points out in its letter to Peter Horrocks, that puts it directly at odds with the UK government's position on Cuba. The 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the United Kingdom and Cuba says there should be improvements in the links between universities in the two countries.

Sally Hunt told the Telegraph that: 'There is no justification for not accepting Cuban students on a course, and any move to stop anyone would be directly at odds with current UK government policy on cooperating with Cuba on higher education issues, particularly around teaching English.'

For more information please visit the Cuba Solidarity Campaign website.


Ulster University boosts senior pay whilst sacking staff

Ulster University has been criticised for handing out some of the biggest salaries in the UK whilst sacking academics and cutting student numbers. In June 2015, Ulster University confirmed that 1,250 student places and around 210 staff posts would be lost following funding cuts.

Yet in 2015-16 Ulster University's managers, directors and senior officials received an average salary of £89,414 - more than one and a half times the UK average - and almost exactly twice as much as the average salary of a lecturer at the university.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, UCU branch president Tracy Irwin said: 'The university's senior management should be ashamed of themselves. These figures are from a year when they made unnecessary cuts that saw over 140 of our colleagues lose their jobs. At the same time, management were being paid on average twice as much as a lecturer, and our vice-chancellor was putting in place an extra layer of senior managers.'


Why the Tef is flawed and why staff need to better rewarded

In a piece analysing the teaching excellence framework (Tef), Prospect magazine says the exercise has had some positive effects and shined a light on the high standard of teaching in many post-92 universities. However, it concedes that its many shortcomings are quickly apparent when you dig a bit deeper.

Interviewed for the article, Sally Hunt says that there needs to be a shift in how universities are funded and organised, along with staff entitlement to high-quality training, support and professional development in teaching, a promotion system that genuinely recognises and rewards good teaching as well as research and a push for small class sizes.

In conclusion the author says that there can still be oversight over teaching without the Tef. He believes we must empower the voices of the academics on the frontline, rewarding them with better wages and more secure contracts, trusting them to carry out their jobs sufficiently when those conditions are met.


One academics many reasons for leaving the UK

One Scottish academic is off to Germany and has detailed in Times Higher Education exactly why he has had enough of academia in the UK. His reasons for leaving include the loss of his summer research periods and attacks to his pension. He also cites how real wages of academics have fallen by 13 per cent since 2008, one of the largest sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World War, and that university teachers are doing the most unpaid overtime.

Last updated: 2 August 2017