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In the news: 15 September 2017

15 September 2017

More pressure on colleges ahead of Tuesday's pay talks

Writing in the TES ahead of the further education pay talks on Tuesday, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said that what first attracted many people to teaching in colleges was the difference they felt they could make for their learners.

Andrew said the sector has a problem when people like that - people who want so much to teach in FE - feel they can no longer afford to. He cites the most recent Association of Colleges college workforce survey which found that 95% of colleges said they had difficulty filling posts during 2015/16.

The report also highlighted the problem of low pay; just one in 20 colleges said they did not have difficulty recruiting to posts, and two-thirds (64%) cited low pay as a reason for recruitment difficulties. Andrew says there are consequences to the sector's pay going backwards and that further education needs leaders that are prepared to offer more than warm words to their staff.

His article comes on the back of a TES report last week that revealed how staff in further education colleges in England have seen their pay drop by 24% in real-terms since 2009.


VC pay is not going away

The pay and perks of vice-chancellors continued to make headlines this week. The Guardian looked at how vice-chancellors are playing the system to better feather their nests in retirement. Before changes to the final salary element of the scheme, vice-chancellors had benefitted from a big pay hike towards the end of their tenure. The Guardian suggested that now they were using lump sum payments and salary supplements to set themselves up in retirement.

Sally Hunt told the paper that vice-chancellors had failed to understand a growing sense of anger in universities and that the time had come for all vice-chancellors' remuneration deals to be set out in detail with the reasoning behind any rise or change to pension arrangement.

Times Higher Education went back through pay data of recent years and highlighted how vice-chancellors had done far better than their rank and file staff. Looking at data where vice-chancellors had remained in post for five years (so as not to skew figures with large pay-offs or salaries paid to more than one VC), it found that their pay had shot up by 15 per cent, or 7 per cent in real terms. In comparison, pay for all academic staff dropped in real terms by 2.8% and by 3.1% for professors.

This week's THE also has a special feature on the debate over tuition fees and carries Sally Hunt's blog on why vice-chancellors need to stop focussing on themselves and spare a thought for their staff. There is also a debate on the THE website between former education ministers and tuition fee architects Andrew Adonis and David Willetts.

Over on Wonkhe, a former Reading University and Department for Education communications professional sets out six ways to address the issue of VC pay. His ambitious programme suggests vice-chancellors show some humility over their pay and that there is far greater transparency. While a former Wonkhe writer picks up on Sally's THE blog points and says the time has come to stop talking about VC pay because there are many greater injustices in our universities that need addressing.


Government search for student debt policy takes on fresh urgency after Commons defeat

The Sunday Telegraph suggested last weekend that the government is desperately trying to cobble together some sort of package on student debt to win back young voters. Options on the table apparently include reducing the 6.1% student loan rate and naming and shaming universities where students do not go on to earn lots of money.

The report suggests plans could be unveiled at Tory party conference at the start of next month or in November's budget. The paper's cartoon picked up on Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson's comments about safe spaces on campus and not being paid as much as a footballer.

It was a bad week for the government on its student policies. On Wednesday Conservative MPs were told not to vote in an opposition day debate on university fees after it became apparent that DUP MPs would back a Labour motion calling for a halt to government plans to increase university fees to £9,250.

Although the vote was non-binding, Labour complained that the government was ignoring the will of Parliament. Pulling no punches, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who secured the debate, told the Guardian that the government had no mandate to increase fees to begin with and if it did not now reverse the fee hike, it would be "defying the will of parliament in blatant disregard for our democracy".


UCU tells TUC that "Immigrants do not depress wages, employers do"

Immigrants do not depress wages, employers like Sports Direct do and immigrants are not destroying the NHS, they are saving it, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told TUC congress on Sunday. Speaking in the opening debate on Brexit, Sally said she had no time for the argument that immigrants take British jobs, depress wages and undermine workers' rights. Views shared by Jeremy Corbyn when he spoke to the conference on Tuesday.

She said that it was "beyond condescending" to tell people who want to lift themselves out of poverty that they should stay in their own country and in effect were not welcome here. She said it was "bordering on racism" to blame people from other countries for depressed wages in the UK.

Writing for Left Foot Forward before the debate, Sally said the answer to Brexit wasn't to look the other way while the government tells lies about immigrants and sets one group against the other. The answer is to argue for the principle of free movement backed up by fairer labour laws and higher wages.


"Huge honour to be elected TUC president" says Sally Hunt

After kicking things off in Brighton at TUC Congress, Sally ended the conference on Wednesday by being elected as the new president of the TUC. Her year at the helm coincides with the 150th anniversary of the TUC.

She told TES that it was a "huge honour" to become TUC president, especially as the organisation prepared to celebrate its 150th anniversary. She intends to use her year to make the case for education and said that as we attempt to deal with the Brexit fall-out, making sure people have a chance to learn new skills has never been more important.

Sally also penned an article for the Morning Star from TUC setting out details of the union's huge offer of free membership to young and hard to reach staff in colleges and universities. A full report of UCU at TUC Congress 2017 is available here.


Apprenticeships "used as cheap, subsidised labour"

One in six apprentices is not paid for their off-the-job training, reported the TES today. The survey, carried out by the National Society of Apprentices, also showed many work fewer than their contracted hours, and one in six are not paid for off-the-job training.

A fifth of apprentices in the survey did not feel that they received any training on the job, and an NSoA spokesperson said the results suggested that many employers were using apprenticeships as "cheap, subsidised labour without any obligation to train or develop the apprentices".

Only 71 per cent of respondents said they were paid for the time they spent training. Some 17 per cent claimed they were not paid at all for time spent in off-the-job training, with a further 12 per cent saying they were unsure.


How Leeds University plans to make sacking staff easier threatens academic freedom

Writing to the Guardian yesterday, representatives from the University of Leeds, where UCU members are currently taking industrial action in a dispute over plans to give managers new powers to sack staff, set out how the plans threaten academic freedom.

They said that a fundamental presupposition of academic endeavour is the freedom to propose and test new or controversial ideas and theories without the fear of losing one's job. Imagine the effect on research at Leeds if staff at the cutting edge have to look over their shoulders under pressure from a multinational corporation because their research findings may undermine its financial interests.


University of Manchester strike ballot opens

A strike action ballot opened at the University of Manchester on Monday where there are plans to make up to 140 staff redundant. The ballot closes on Wednesday 4 October. The Manchester Evening News reported that in its initial letter to the union announcing the redundancies, the university cited new government legislation and Brexit as underlying reasons for the cuts. But then six days later it denied Brexit was a factor.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: 'These job cuts are on an enormous scale at a university that is not currently experiencing financial difficulties. We do not believe creating "financial headroom" is a valid justification for laying off such large numbers of professors, senior lecturers, lecturers and non-academic staff. The university has already u-turned on the reasons behind the cuts.'

Last updated: 15 September 2017