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In the news: 4 August 2017

4 August 2017 | last updated: 25 August 2017

Vice-chancellors are not paid enough says Bolton's vice-chancellor

The University of Bolton's vice-chancellor George Holmes waded into the row over vice-chancellors' pay this week by declaring VCs were not paid enough. In something of a car crash interview with the Financial Times, Holmes said he owned a Bentley and his high salary should inspire students to aim for a Bentley of their own.

The interviewer reveals that the day after they spoke a backtracking Holmes sent her a text message saying he would donate future pay rises to the student bursary fund, which suggests someone had pointed out to Holmes how dreadful he probably sounded.

Sally Hunt said that vice-chancellors should have their pay negotiated transparently and should accept the same pay award as their staff. She said vice-chancellors who couldn't see the problem with operating outside of that had shown a "real failure of leadership".

Holmes's decision to go public with his views on senior pay is quite a departure from his previous approach to the media. He failed to comment on a story about a £960,000 loan he received to buy a house in Bolton and said nothing about one in the Times about staff away days hosted in Lake Windermere where he moors his yacht. However in a Trump-esque fit of pique he did sack two members of staff he thought had spoken to the press.

Bolton is one of the least transparent universities in the UK. The university failed to provide details of its vice-chancellor's pay and perks in response to UCU's Freedom of Information request. It was one of just eight out of 161 universities who did not respond, and is something of a serial offender having also refused to respond last year as well.

Meanwhile the letters page of the Financial Times for the last three days has seen an exchange of letters between representatives from Oxford and Cambridge universities arguing about vice-chancellors' pay. The one thing they do seem to agree on is that bankers are overpaid. 

UCU says panicked reactions on state of USS pension scheme are unhelpful

UCU said this week that panicked reactions to a snapshot reading of the health of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) would do little to resolve the problems the scheme faced or how best to deal with them.

UCU said that universities needed to continue to provide a pension scheme that would attract and retain high quality staff. Earlier this week, USS announced that it wanted to be the sector's pension of choice. However, UCU warned that analysis of USS and the other scheme for university staff, the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS), shows there are better benefits on offer through TPS.

Sally Hunt said: 'A recent extensive independent study commissioned by USS themselves concluded that the sector will be strong and stable for at least the next 30 years. The problem here is that while the fund is growing and sustainable, the overly prudent approach adopted by USS is leading the fund down a spiralling path of unsustainable benefit cuts.'

College staff face wait for news on annual pay rise

The TES reported at the start of the week that college staff will have had a four-month wait to find out whether the unions' pay claim for 2017-18 will be accepted. A meeting between the unions and the Association of Colleges (AoC) took place on 17 May, but the AoC reportedly said it was not in a position to respond at this point, as there was no clear consensus among its members.

The AoC is expected to respond to the claim at the next meeting on 19 September. A UCU spokesperson said: 'We will be consulting with members in the new term and expect things to move forward when the AoC make an offer.'

Sleeping staff threatened with disciplinary action

Staff at Queen Mary University were warned by the university's management this week that if they sleep in university buildings during the night they could face disciplinary action. The Telegraph reported that the university sent a letter to all staff saying it would punish those who slept overnight as doing so could jeopardise their safety in the event of a fire.

Sally Hunt said: 'Research shows that university staff are regularly among professionals putting in the most unpaid overtime and universities should be working to deal with these problems, not threatening their staff with disciplinary action.'


Simplifying workforce data collection in further education

The TES reports today how UCU is working with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and the Association of Colleges (AoC) to simplify the collection data on staff numbers, terms and conditions, and pay in further education. The three organisations say that collecting a single set of data will significantly reduce the administrative burden on colleges, and increase the integrity of the data available. Previously all three had separately collected similar data through Freedom of Information requests and surveys.

Sally Hunt said: 'UCU proposed a collaborative approach to data collection because credible and consistent data on staffing is essential if we are to respond to the current challenges the sector faces. UCU welcomes working together with the ETF and AoC on this initiative. We believe that having better data can only improve the sector's efforts to ensure appropriate funding from government, and improve the education we provide to learners.'

Universities publish demands on EU citizens' rights

The Russell Group of universities yesterday published 10 demands on EU citizens' rights which they say the Prime Minister must meet to ensure higher education is not damaged by Brexit. The universities warn Theresa May that her current approach is hurting a sector which generates £73bn a year for the economy.

The Independent reported that the universities call on the Prime Minister to scrap her plan to make every single EU citizen apply for a new "settled status" and instead to grant an automatic right to remain to thousands of people already permanently resident here. They also demand she rethinks her plan to strip some EU citizens of the right to remain, if they leave the country for more than two years.

UCU this week launched a survey for international staff. You can complete the survey here, please encourage other international staff to take part.

Government figures reveal largest ever gap between state and private school students

The gap between state and private school students is the largest since records began, revealed figures released on Wednesday. The Telegraph says the gulf has been steadily growing for the past six years, despite universities' widening participation schemes.

In 2008/9, the first year that data was recorded in its current format, there was a 37 percentage point gap between private and state school educated students, which rose to 43 percentage points in 2014/15, the most recent set of figures.