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In the news 27 July 2018

27 July 2018

UCU calls for end to unconditional offers after massive increase

UCU has called for an overhaul of university admissions after it was revealed that almost a quarter of students applying to university received at least one unconditional offer in 2018, compared to just 1% five years ago. Yesterday's report from UCAS also revealed that the total number of unconditional offers made to 18-year-old students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013 was 2,985 (0.4% of all offers), compared to 67,915 this year (7.1% of all offers).

UCU told the BBC that unconditional offers made a mockery of exams and put students under enormous pressure to make snap decisions about their future. The Guardian led with UCU's call for an overhaul of the entire system and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the Telegraph that the proliferation of unconditional offers was detrimental to the interests of students and the UK should join the rest of the world in basing university offers on actual achievements instead on guesswork.

She warned Times Higher Education that unconditional offers can also encourage talented students to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence.


USS announces changes in contributions and releases annual report

The USS pension scheme announced details on Wednesday morning of what it believes members and universities must pay to ensure the scheme is funded while UCU and Universities UK (UUK) attempt to resolve the dispute. 

UUK had announced plans to get rid of guaranteed pensions (defined benefits) in January 2018. In response UCU members went on strike, which led to that plan being scrapped and the two parties agreeing a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to assess the scheme's valuation and deficit.

The JEP is due to report in September and UCU told Times Higher Education that its priority remained resolving the dispute as promptly as possible and protecting members' pensions. The union said it expects the JEP report to form the platform for resolving the dispute.

USS originally announced at the start of May that it would introduce increases in contributions for USS members and universities known as "cost sharing". This means there will be no changes to members' benefits, but there will be phased increases in how much people pay.

The Financial Times reported that members will initially see their contributions go up by 0.8% to 8.8% from April 2019 and universities' contributions will go by 1.5% from 18% to 19.5%. If the JEP report does not lead to a negotiated solution then contributions will go up further for both members and universities in subsequent years.

USS also released its annual accounts on Wednesday afternoon. They revealed that member satisfaction with USS had fallen to 48%, compared with 66% the year before and that USS chief executive Bill Galvin's salary and benefits rose by 12.2 per cent during 2017-18, from £566,000 to £635,000. Galvin also announced that USS would be reviewing how it managed the early stages of the valuation process.


Students remain satisfied with university

Students continue to be satisfied with university, according to results of the National Student Survey released today. Overall, 83% of students said they were satisfied (down slightly from 84% last year). A similar proportion (84%) said they were happy with their teaching (also down slightly, from 85% last year). While four-fifths (80%) said they were happy with academic support (no change from 2017).

Times Higher Education reported that several leading universities have been hit by a significant drop in their scores in the UK's National Student Survey, as others re-entered after a boycott that forced their omission last year.

More than 320,000 graduates completed the survey, up from about 300,000 last year, when the National Union of Students targeted the exercise in a bid to damage the teaching excellence framework, which uses NSS scores for some of its core metrics.


Student accommodation bosses hiking up rents and picking up huge pay deals

Times Higher Education revealed this week that Richard Smith, chief executive of the UK's largest student accommodation provider Unite Students, received a total remuneration package of £1.4 million in 2017. Joe Lister, chief financial officer, picked up a total remuneration package of £1.3 million, and there was £1.2 million for former property director Richard Simpson.

Another major accommodation provider, UPP, saw its highest-paid director pick up a total remuneration package of £553,000. A survey of student accommodation costs by the National Union of Students and non-profit provider Unipol found that, in 2015-16, the average weekly rent for purpose-built student accommodation (across universities and private providers) was £146.73 - up 18.4 per cent since 2012-13.

Sally Hunt said: 'These huge salaries are being funded by public money and student debt. The government's review of student finance needs to look at the best way to support students while they are at university, but they need that money to help them study, not to fund further rent hikes'.


Universities minister signed off £550,000 golden goodbye

The £550,000 pay deal for the departing head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) was signed off by universities minister Sam Gyimah, the chairman of Hefce at the time said this week.
Madeleine Atkins received a deal totalling £554,648. Former Hefce chair Tim Melville-Ross said the deal was approved by the Department for Education and that, while the overall package was signed off by the Treasury, the process required Gyimah to approve a bonus payment. Speaking to Research Fortnight, Melville-Ross said ultimately it was signed off by Sam Gyimah.

Gyimah has been critical of high pay within universities, saying that the Office for Students would "focus laser-like" on the issue of vice-chancellors' pay, in order "to bring it under control". He has also described the powers given to the Office for Students around publishing details of pay deals as "concrete action to address excess pay".


Hefce's £3m grant to fund former footballers' for-profit university academy

Times Higher Education said this week that England's higher education funders are facing questions over a grant of nearly £3 million to support the development of a for-profit university academy established by former Manchester United footballers.

Just weeks before it was wound up, the Hefce approved a payment of £2.9 million to Lancaster University to subsidise curriculum development for Trafford-based University Academy 92, which is being set up in partnership with ex-internationals Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.

Sally Hunt said: 'Instead of doling out public money to grease the wheels of for-profit enterprises at a time of record student debt, the government should be supporting our public institutions and students.'


Staff sign letter calling for action on workloads at Cardiff University after lecturer's suicide

Hundreds of university staff have signed an open letter to the Cardiff University vice-Chancellor and university authorities demanding action over workloads following the suicide of a lecturer.

Wales Online reported that the letter warns that there are many others at serious risk of physical and mental injury because of workloads that are too much.

The letter, which is still open for more to sign, was drafted by the Cardiff University UCU branch after business tutor Malcolm Anderson was found dead outside his office. An inquest into the father-of-three's death heard he had been "silently struggling" with his workload.

Last updated: 27 July 2018