Strike action in higher education

In the news 12 July 2018

UCU wins Home Office guarantee that strike days won't jeopardise workers' immigration status

The government is changing the rules to ensure migrant workers can participate in legal strike action without any fear of it impacting on their right to remain in the UK, home secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday.

The news is a great win for UCU members who lobbied their MPs as part of the union's campaign to ensure that migrant workers can participate in strike action following uncertainties during the USS pension strikes earlier this year.

The issue related to an annual 20-day limit for unpaid absence from work, which applies to migrant workers on Tier 2 visas. UCU wrote to the Home Office in March to seek clarity on the matter. However, the response failed to provide any reassurance, simply saying "full regard will be given to the circumstances" when making decisions about immigration status.

Writing in the Independent during the campaign, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt and shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the right to strike was "fundamental" and it "shouldn't be left to the discretion of Home Office officials whether engaging in strikes will lead to deportation."

Speaking to Times Higher Education Sally Hunt: 'International staff make a vital contribution to our country and we are delighted that they can now play a full role at work without fear of reprisal. All workers should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights. Strike action is never taken lightly, but the previous lack of clarity meant migrant workers who needed to take unpaid leave for other reasons could not risk taking part for fear of risking their right to remain in the country.'

 

UCU writes to government calling for more money ahead of pay talks

The government must release funding to improve pay for staff working in further education, UCU said yesterday. Sally Hunt wrote to skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton ahead of today's pay talks saying staff will not put up with another shoddy pay deal.

The union says that after a decade of real terms pay cuts, senior lecturers are now earning around £9,000 a year less than they would if their pay had simply kept pace with inflation. UCU says that even in colleges that have honoured the pay recommendations from the AoC, staff have suffered a real terms pay cut of 25% since 2009.

Writing in Tes Sally Hunt said the ball was in the employers' court and it was it was time for them to bring a sensible offer to the table. While she told FE Week that UCU members would not put up with another shoddy deal.

 

UCU backs #LetThemTeach campaign

UCU said it was delighted to add its support to the Tes #LetThemTeach campaign. The campaign aims to stop non-EU international teachers from being turned away from Britain. It came about after a Tes investigation revealed that desperately needed international teachers were being forced to quit their jobs and leave the country at short notice because they cannot renew their visas.

#LetThemTeach calls for the entire teaching profession to be added to the "shortage occupation list", which gives higher priority for visas each month. Currently only teachers in four subjects - maths, physics, computer science and Mandarin - are on the list.

Speaking to Tes, Sally Hunt said: 'UCU is delighted to back the #LetThemTeach campaign. Restricting people's right to work here obviously puts extra pressure on international teachers, but it also has a real impact on other staff and students who are faced with rising workloads and a lack of continuity. The best way to deal with the recruitment crisis in further education is to make the job an attractive one, and that starts with proper pay and conditions.'

 

Brexit white paper debated in chaotic Commons

The BBC says that the government has left the door open for EU students to come to UK universities after Brexit, according to its plans for the UK's future relationship with the EU. However it also acknowledged that the language of the Brexit White Paper, debated amid chaotic scenes in Parliament yesterday, leaves much vagueness for interpretation. It says that, for a report about the movement of people, it is much more about a direction of travel than a destination.

Taking an in-depth look at the 98-page paper this morning, Research Fortnight says that it is unlikely to be accepted by the EU as it "contains numerous instances of magical thinking, cherry-picking, exceptionalism, reliance on technology not yet invented, and attempts to simultaneously possess and digest any available cake".

Looking at the example of Britain trying to maintain key links with the EU, it considers Galileo, the EU global navigation satellite system, Research Fortnight asks if having to pay to reproduce a satellite system that you have already contributed to, in a leading way, financially and scientifically, while complaining about being excluded as a result of your own decision to leave, provides one of the quintessential "opportunities of Brexit".

 

Universities urged to make better use of contextual offers

Students' backgrounds should be taken into account when awarding places, to improve equality of opportunity at university, said the Office for Students this week. Chris Millward, the Office for Students' director of fair access and participation, said A-level grades are a "robust measure" of potential only if the applicants' context is also considered.

Millward told the BBC: 'We are a long way from equality of opportunity in relation to access to higher education. An ambitious approach to contextual admissions must be central to our strategy if we are going to make progress on access at the scale and pace necessary to meet the expectations of government, students and the wider public.'

 

Sam Gyimah exaggerating the censorship on campus issue

We return this week to Sam Gyimah's lack of evidence for his recent shocking tales of censorship on campus. Three weeks ago the Independent reported that the universities minister found himself in a spot of bother after King's College flatly denied a story he told about a student reporting a lecturer for hate speech.

Two weeks ago the minister told the Times that when he spoke at a university recently they read out the safe space policy, which took 20 minutes. Gyimah did not name the institution on this occasion. However, that did not stop Research Fortnight last week contacting all the eight universities that Gyimah has visited so far on his tour and asking if the incident, as described by the minister, had taken place during his visit to campus. All eight said no such incident had occurred on Gyimah's visit to their institution.

Research Fortnight's investigation prompted the Guardian this week to ask if the minister is exaggerating the problem, or is he right about censorship on campuses? The general view seemed to be that the minister was exaggerating the problem.

 

UCL under fire for draconian immigration checks

Staff and students at University College London (UCL) have accused senior management of pursuing draconian and discriminatory policies in relation to international students, the Guardian reported yesterday. The dispute comes after UCL advised lecturers to carry out random spot checks on students' identity documents, and one of the university's leading faculties warned that staff who fail to report those in breach of the terms of their visa and immigration requirements "may be liable to a £20,000 personal fine per case".

A survey published on Wednesday by UCL's student union found 83% of 400 international students who responded felt the university's visa compliance regulations were discriminatory.

A spokesperson for the local UCU branch at UCL said staff and students had written to the president and provost, Prof Michael Arthur, expressing their dismay with the tough immigration controls. UCL said that the email about the fines was sent in error and a retraction of and apology for the policy has been sent to staff.

Last updated: 13 July 2018

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