In the news 20 July 2018

Autumn strike warnings as UCU says staff need decent pay offer

UCU said it was disappointed that the employers' representatives, the Association of Colleges (AoC), failed to provide a concrete pay offer at talks on Friday. The AoC said any pay increase was contingent on increased government funding.

UCU said it welcomed the fact that the AoC recognised staff needed a pay rise and would work with anyone to campaign for more money for the sector, but the pay issue needed to be resolved now if colleges wanted to avoid strike action in the autumn.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'This bizarre offer does nothing to address the fall in pay that members in further education have suffered in recent years. We welcome the fact that the AoC do recognise staff need a pay rise. UCU will work with anyone to call for more funding but as the employer body, the AoC cannot abdicate its own responsibility for improving staff pay.'

Last week UCU wrote to skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton setting out the case for extra funding for further education staff.

 

Minister channels Gerald Ratner to talk down T-levels

Anne Milton was in front of the education select committee on Tuesday. When asked about staff pay, she said it was a matter for the AoC to sort out. She also said she was uncomfortable with the discrepancy between what staff are paid and the huge sums some college leaders are given.

The minister bizarrely said she would not advise one of her children to take up a new T-level during its first year. Milton is the minister tasked with introducing the controversial T-levels. Sally Hunt told Tes that the government needed to ensure quality is at the forefront of any new qualifications, even if that meant taking longer to get them right. She told FE Week that if the person in charge of T-levels doesn't want her own children taking one up then it is probably time for the government to "take stock".

In May the department for education's permanent secretary publicly called for a delay in the start of T-levels, but that plea was rejected by education secretary Damian Hinds. Tes said that legal action announced this week by the Federation of Awarding Bodies' could jeopardise the 2020 introduction of T levels and end up in the High Court. Hinds told FE Week that he was deeply disappointed by the move.

 

Hefce chief executive received £550,000 golden goodbye

The chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) Professor Madeleine Atkins received a pay package worth £554,648 last year, according to accounts released on Wednesday.

At the height of the scandal over vice-chancellors' pay Professor Atkins said that, while Hefce published guidance on how governing bodies should approach the setting of senior pay, it had no power to set pay levels in universities. She also said that she did not think the debate about pay in higher education was "going to go away any time soon".

Sally Hunt told HuffPost: 'Higher education has been beset by scandals over senior pay and expenses this year. While much was made of the pay cut taken by the Office for Students chief executive, less has been said about this extraordinary golden goodbye sneaked out in the accounts at the end of term. University staff have once again been offered a shoddy pay deal that will do nothing to arrest the decline in their pay, yet they see those at the top begin rewarded with massive pay deal once again.'

 

University principal's "deep regret" at failing to mention £12million Irish castle link

Robert Gordon University principal Ferdinand von Prondzynski and vice-principal Gordon McConnell failed to mention that they were co-directors of a firm which owned a £12million castle in Ireland when McConnell was appointed in January.

Von Prondzynski expressed "deep regret" after an internal probe concluded that there was no deliberate attempt to conceal any information and that failure to disclose his business relationship with the newly-appointed vice-principal did not have a bearing on the recruitment process.

However, UCU told the Times that the affair was "disappointing". Speaking to the Press and Journal, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'It is important that universities operate with the highest levels of openness and transparency at the top, so it's disappointing that this situation arose. This underlines the importance of good university governance, and the sooner RGU implements fully the 2016 higher education governance act and the transparency that brings the better.'

 

Sam Gyimah's censorship obsession

Universities minister Sam Gyimah's obsession with a supposed culture of censorship on campus is in the news again this week. The government said it committed to calling out a monoculture on campus and claimed that some people feel unsafe or threatened if they speak out. The government made the comments in its response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights' report into freedom of speech in universities.

The original report published in March, said: "Any inhibition on lawful free speech is serious, and there have been such incursions, but we did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested."

Times Higher Education said the government adopts a different tone in its response. And some of the government's statements - about expecting disciplinary action from universities if protests "shut down" free speech - are likely to raise concerns about potential impact on institutional autonomy. The magazine's Twitter feed spent a fair bit of Wednesday morning retweeting academics calling out the lack of evidence supporting the government's position.

 

Student loans and fiscal illusions

The Times warned on Wednesday that changes in the accounting treatment of student loans could cost the chancellor his £15 billion Brexit war chest and leave his fiscal rules in tatters. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the European statistical authorities are reviewing the way that the government accounts for the student loan book amid concerns that the present convention is a "fiscal illusion" that is creating "perverse incentives".

A decision by Eurostat is expected shortly on whether a different treatment should be applied. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, a preferred option would to increase the deficit by £15 billion.

Writing for Wonkhe, Andrew McGettigan takes an in-depth look at how student loans are treated for the purpose of the public finances. While the Guardian reported this morning on a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) that questions whether the government achieved value for money in the sale of student loans and whether the Department for Education followed the appropriate processes. The NAO identifies £600m in lost income from expected loan repayments.

Consumer finance expert Martin Lewis told Times Higher Education this week that the government needed to use the funding review to rename student loans a graduate contribution. He said: 'If people want to criticise a change that improves communication and transparency and lets people make the right decisions, because they call it a political spin - well, they can fuck off. And you can quote me on that'.

 

UK slips to third choice for international students

Australia is poised to overtake the UK as the second most popular global destination for international students, according to a new analysis from the Centre for Global Higher Education.

Times Higher Education reported that the research, based on international student enrolment figures from across the world, shows it is likely that Australia has already outstripped the UK in terms of the number of overseas students from outside Europe and suggests that the UK's position as the top destination for continental European students is "about to be decimated by Brexit". The BBC reported that the study had prompted the British Council to say that the UK needed to look again at its policies towards overseas students.

Writing in the Times, Nicola Brewer vice-provost international at UCL said that if the UK wanted to continue to have influence on the global stage then the government had to protect  the autonomy and independence of the higher education sector by only regulating where it is essential and by developing an immigration system that allows us to continue attracting and retaining the most talented students and staff from anywhere in the world.

 

Unconditional offers are "letting down students"

Writing for TES, Kirsti Lord from the AoC argues that unconditional offers are "letting students down". She says the increase in unconditional offers has been swift and significant, with fewer than 3,000 recorded in 2013, rising to more than 50,000 in 2017. 

She says much has been made of pupils who "take their foot off the pedal" when they receive an unconditional, but that some students drop out of college altogether once they receive an unconditional offer. She believes this is because they feel their time would be better spent working to save up because their help is needed at home caring for siblings or other family members, or sometimes, because they have become so used to underachieving.

 

Cost of failing University Technical Colleges

FE Week reports today that government spent more than £90 million on university technical college (UTC) and studio school projects that went on to fail. Analysis of the data shows that, since 2010, £63,983,295 has been spent on eight UTCs that went on to close or announce closure.

The report also reveals that the government handed over £10million to a university after a UTC closed down. Overall, the government has spent more than £407 million on UTCs and studio schools since 2010.

Last updated: 20 July 2018

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