In the news: 27 April 2018

College accounts reveal bumper pay rises for principals in 2016/17

Seventeen college principals earned over £200,000 in 2016/17, while over a third enjoyed a pay rise of 10% or more, according to figures released yesterday. UCU told Tes that college principals looked "hopelessly out of touch" on pay and said that mergers were no excuse for inflating leadership pay.

The union told FE Week that the fact that several colleges - including the likes of Hull College Group which is planning huge job cuts - were not included in the data raised serious concerns about accountability.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'College principals who pocket huge pay rises while pleading poverty on staff pay look greedy and hopelessly out of touch. We urgently need much greater transparency in how senior pay is decided to ensure that leaders at all colleges can be held to account.'

Latest figures show increases in universities' income, surpluses and reserves

Also released yesterday were figures looking at universities' income and expenditure. The data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that universities' income increased by £915m (2.7%) between 2015/16 and 2016/17. During that time they made a surplus of £2.3bn and now have total reserves of £44.27bn.

Since 2009/10 the proportion of expenditure spent on capital projects has increased by 34.9%, while the proportion spent on staff has gone down by 3.4%. UCU said that the figures also suggested universities paid no attention to what students wanted most from their education, as they have called for investment in staff over buildings*. Staff pay has fallen by around 20% in real terms since 2009, while senior pay and perks scandals have embarrassed the higher education sector.

Sally Hunt told the Times: 'While universities' income rises and they hoard huge reserves, it seems the only people to benefit are vice-chancellors whose pay and perks have long been a source of embarrassment for higher education.'

Members strike at Sunderland College over pay as two London colleges announce further strikes

Members at Sunderland College were out on strike on Monday as part of the dispute over pay. Sunderland was one of 15 colleges where UCU members took strike action at the end of February.

The dispute centres on a disappointing pay offer of 1% from the employer representative, the Association of Colleges, in September. Speaking to the Sunderland Echo, local UCU rep Kevin Lynch said: 'College employees have been awarded 1% over two years which is way below inflation and means a pay cut in real terms. We have offered to negotiate and provided alternatives but management have, so far, not responded.'
Seven colleges took action at the end of last month and UCU members at Tower Hamlets College and Hackney Community College announced this week that they will walk out on 11, 14 and 15 May. Writing in Tes this week, the vice-chair of UCU's further education committee, Sean Vernell, says that national pay bargaining mechanisms are failing the further education sector.

Strike dates announced for Hull College Group in jobs row

UCU members at the Hull College Group announced this week that they will walk out on strike for an initial three days in May in a row over plans to axe hundreds of staff. The Hull Daily Mail said staff at all three sites (Hull, Harrogate and Goole) will take strike action on Wednesday 9 May, Thursday 17 and Friday 18 May.

The row centres on plans to cut 231 full-time equivalent posts across the college's three campuses. UCU says the plans would lead to around a third of the workforce being cut and fewer learning opportunities for local people. Last week UCU members delivered a damning vote of no confidence in chief executive officer Michelle Swithenbank. It took Hull College Group four days to give its backing to the beleaguered CEO.

In its coverage of the strike dates, the BBC said that last year, the college's financial management was criticised in a report by the further education commissioner, which said it had "significant failures" and its leadership and governance needed to improve.

UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: 'Staff at the Hull College Group feel they have been left with no alternative but to take strike action. The proposals would be deeply damaging for the college, its students and the local community.'

UCU warns that workload and funding hold back staff training in colleges

Analysis from the Education and Training Foundation released today shows most further education staff are engaging in training, but that workload and budget constraints are the biggest barriers to professional development. The report also identifies gaps in leadership and management, English and maths and digital skills, and calls for more investment to ensure the workforce is properly trained for the future.

Speaking to Tes, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'This report clearly shows that further education staff have a huge appetite for training, but too often workload and budget constraints stand in the way of their professional development. If the government wants a well-trained professional workforce to support its technical education reforms, it must invest in colleges to ensure all staff can access the learning they need.'

Labour forces debate on Office for Students

Labour forced a final debate and vote on the Office for Students (OfS) in the Commons on Monday night. Writing in the Times ahead of the debate, which was lost by 291 votes to 211, shadow education sectary Angela Rayner pulled few punches when she said it was hard to see the OfS as anything other than a "puppet body intended to push government ideological and political agenda, without the proper debate and scrutiny that should go with it".

The OfS came into being at the start of the year, but is still reeling from accusations of cronyism over senior appointments, especially that of Toby Young.

Universities minister appears before education select committee

As well as closing that debate, universities minister Sam Gyimah was in front of the Commons education select committee on Tuesday. It was a wide-ranging session as different media picked up on different elements.

The Telegraph went with him backing UCU's call for vice-chancellors to be removed from the committee that sets their pay. The Guardian reported him saying he was the minister who would definitely do something about senior pay and perks. Times Higher Education went with him saying three-year degrees should not be the norm.

iNews looked at his comments about drop-out rates. FE Week reported him backing representation for further education at the OfS. The Times focused on his call on Oxbridge to do more with younger pupils to widen participation, while the BBC picked up on him saying he might have been kicked out of uni for rent arrears.

Last updated: 27 April 2018