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In the news: 8 June 2018

"Woefully inadequate" voluntary code on vice-chancellors pay

On Wednesday UCU described a new voluntary code from the Committee of University Chairs aimed at tackling senior pay and perks in universities as "woefully inadequate".  Sally Hunt told the Today programme (1:35:32 in) it was unacceptable that vice-chancellors would still be able to attend the remuneration committee that sets their pay - the code states they would only have to leave the room when it was discussed.

The union's damning critique made the headline in coverage by the BBC and the Independent, who also referenced UCU's work earlier this year that found that 95% of vice-chancellors could sit on the remuneration committee. The Guardian said the code had been watered down from its original draft published in January so the highest paid vice-chancellors would not have to justify their salary.

CUC Chair Chris Sayers told Times Higher Education that he was confident the new code would promote more transparency and improve the public's understanding of, and confidence in, how decisions around pay are made.

However, Sally Hunt said it was nothing more than another plea for restraint to a group of people who have ignored every previous request and a "bizarre gentleman's agreement" where vice-chancellors stepped outside of the meeting when their pay came out would do nothing to resolve the problems. The pair also debated the issue on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire Show where Sally twice asked Sayers if staff and students would be put on remuneration committees. He did not answer.


Report "demolishes" claims vice-chancellors are paid based on performance

Elsewhere this week, a comprehensive study into vice-chancellors' pay demolished claims that their huge rises are based on performance. The Telegraph reported that economists have shown that instead it is the vice-chancellor equivalent of "keeping up with the Joneses'" as the lower-paid race to close the gap with the best-paid.

The researchers found no evidence for a causal link between vice-chancellors' pay rises and the performance of their universities. They analysed the performance of 154 universities' vice-chancellors over a decade on everything from the quality of their university's research to increasing student participation.

They concluded that it was not a better performance of the vice-chancellors what causes a higher pay, but it was a benchmarking behaviour where those universities with below average pay increase their vice-chancellor's pay quicker than those with average pay.


Controversial Bolton University head pockets 30 per cent pay rise

Acting as a perfect example to the research that showed vice-chancellors' pay increases were not related to strong performances, Times Higher Education revealed that the controversial vice-chancellor of Bolton University, George Holmes, enjoyed a £66,000 pay rise in the last academic year.

Holmes, who made headlines in January when he attended the all-male Presidents' Club dinner was paid £290,215 in 2016-17, up from £224,300 in the previous year - a rise of 29.4 per cent. The University of Bolton was outed by UCU as one of the country's least transparent universities last year when it failed for a second year to reply to a Freedom of Information request from UCU asking about the vice-chancellor's pay and perks.

Sally Hunt told the Times that while Holmes had made the headlines again this year, it was not in a manner that one would expect to be handsomely rewarded for. The Guardian highlighted Bolton's lowly position in league tables and its high drop out rates. Sally Hunt told the paper that in accepting such a huge rise the vice-chancellor was doing nothing to combat the idea he was utterly out of touch.


Strikes off at some London colleges as UCU secures deal on pay and contracts

Strikes at City and Islington College, the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London and Westminster Kingsway College were called off this week after UCU struck a deal with the Capital City College Group over pay and contracts.

Tes reported that staff will receive a £500 one-off payment on top of the national 1% pay increase this year and hourly-paid staff will receive fractional contracts after three years' service. The college has also said it will enter into talks on pay without prejudice when the new CEO starts.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'UCU members took action after being told that there was no extra money available for pay and the issue of fractional contracts was not a priority for the college. Members have secured a deal on pay and a decent agreement on fractional contracts. These are a result of the action taken by UCU members.'

Rounding up the recent spate of strikes, FE Week highlighted that UCU members at Havering College took a sixth day of strike action this week in their fight for fair pay.

Hull College finally publishes accounts showing £13m deficit in 2015/16

FE Week has got Hull College to finally publish its accounts for 2015/16 which reveal it generated a deficit of £9,329,000 before taxation. In addition to pension liabilities this left it with an overall deficit of £12.8 million. Local MP Emma Hardy, who is a member of the commons education select committee said the college had to explain how it got into such a mess and what safeguards or checks had failed.

Last week UCU announced seven more days of strikes at the college over plans to axe staff. The walkouts will begin on Monday 18 June. It was also revealed last week that the college had received a £54m bailout from the government. However, neither the college nor the government will give details of the payment or if there are any strings attached.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley told FE Week: 'The only thing they will say is that a condition of the grant is that they have to get their staff costs under control. But because we don't know what the underlying financial issues are we have no clear picture of how the college has gotten into the state that it's gotten into.'


UCU says home secretary should look urgently at international student targets

UCU has called on home secretary Sajid Javid to prioritise a review of how international students are counted for immigration targets. When asked about including students in the net migration figures, the home secretary said he empathised with the view that the policy did not look very welcoming. He said it was not his most urgent priority, but that he would like to look at it again.

UCU welcomed his commitment to revisit the issue, but said he should do so immediately. The prime minister has insisted on keeping international students in the figures since she was home secretary, but has looked increasingly isolated on the issue.

Sally Hunt told Times Higher Education that it was "encouraging" that Javid appeared to recognise how unwelcoming the current policy was. 'However, we need that policy looked at again as a priority,' she said. 'Our universities' international student recruitment is a huge success story because overseas students are attracted by the quality of higher education available. International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education both educationally and economically.'


Legacy of the Home Office's "hostile environment policy"

It was another bad week for Javid's department. On Tuesday the Guardian featured UCU's concerns that foreign staff striking over USS could have risked deportation because of uncertainty over whether or not striking would be counted under unpaid absences. A new campaign group said that was just one way that the Home Office's "hostile environment policy" makes life uncomfortable for staff and students.

While Times Higher Education reported that universities are being urged to review their attitudes towards foreign staff and students, following fresh reports of visa holders being "unfairly monitored" and even threatened with home visits by nervous administrators.


Universities benefit from teaching excellence framework (Tef) resubmission

Durham and York universities were among the universities to benefit from resubmitting to the teaching excellence framework (Tef) after it was announced yesterday that they now had gold awards. Fellow Russell Group institutions Liverpool and Southampton moved from bronze awards to silver. The results leave only the LSE out of the Russell Group with a bronze, but the institution chose not to resubmit.

The Independent said that of the 40 institutions that were reassessed and given awards this year - the second year of the rankings - half of them (20) saw their rating go up, two went down and the rest stayed the same.

The Tef was devised to highlight teaching excellence in universities. UCU has raised concerns that the metrics used cannot actually measure teaching quality. Writing in Times Higher Education Guy Nason from the Royal Statistics Society raises his concerns about the Tef's statistical shortcomings.


But major student survey raises serious questions about Tef

Analysis of a major survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) also released on Thursday showed that students at universities that were rated gold in the Tef are more likely to feel that they are getting good value for money but do not necessarily feel that they are being taught any better than students at silver or bronze institutions.

Times Higher Education said the findings would question whether students at gold universities perceive that they are getting better value for money because they feel that they are being taught well, or because they have been told that they are.

The survey found that 40 per cent of respondents from institutions that were gold-rated last year felt that they were getting "good" or "very good" value for money, compared with 33 per cent and 34 per cent at silver and bronze providers, respectively. However, when students were asked about eight specific aspects of teaching quality, there was no clear link between gold ratings and high scores. In fact, bronze institutions scored highest in four areas.

Union News reported that the survey also showed that overall students said teaching quality and course content are the two top factors when asked what makes a course value for money. They also called for greater investment in teaching and staff.


Universities minister in a pickle over poor value for money

The BBC reported on universities minister Sam Gyimah's speech at the launch of the Hepi report. Speaking of the age of the student and referring back to the importance of "value for money". Gyimah warned universities against running low quality, "threadbare" courses just to get "bums on seats". He said there were a "clutch of underperforming degrees" where students would have poor job prospects when they graduated.

Gyimah did not mention the findings in the Hepi report that the number one reason students gave if they thought their course was poor value for money was high tuition fees.

Lord Mandelson also spoke at the launch. Times Higher Education reported that he warned left-wingers that growing opposition to tuition fees in England has been "seized upon" by right-wing opponents who would restrict access to higher education to an elite few.


Economic and medicine degrees bring greatest rewards, but background plays a major part

The Guardian reported an Institute for Fiscal Studies report that found students studying economics and medicine are likely to gain the largest financial benefits from their degrees, outstripping even the considerable advantages enjoyed by private school students or people from the wealthiest backgrounds, a study has found.

The report showed the higher pay for graduates in a small group of subjects remained even after adjusting for student background and school type. However, it also found that when comparing students with similar prior attainment who attended the same institution and studied the same subject, independent school students still earn 8% more.


Overworked Cardiff lecturer commits suicide

The pressures of marking were brought into sharp focus this week following reports of the suicide of a Cardiff University lecturer who had complained about a heavy workload. Dr Malcolm Anderson, a 48-year-old accounting lecturer, fell through a glass roof soon after arriving at work on 19 February this year and died of his injuries, Wales Online reported.

An inquest at Pontypridd Coroner's Court heard of Dr Anderson's "rigorous" approach to work and his tendency to respond to questions from his students at any time of day or night. He had been asked to mark 418 exam papers in a 20-day period, the hearing was told.

Colleague Louis Vallis said that Dr Anderson had "complained to management a number of times about the allocation" but "received the same response year after year". Times Higher Education's main feature this week looks at the pressures of marking and asks seven academics for their advice on how to deal with the pressures of this time of year. 

Last updated: 8 June 2018