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In the news 12 October 2018

12 October 2018

UCU warns further education fighting its life ahead of funding protests

Ahead of next week's march through London and lobby of Westminster MPs, UCU said colleges are remarkable places which transform lives and, if given the chance, could help transform the country too. The union warned that, while the sector had faced and dealt with many crises over the years, further education is currently fighting for its life.

Writing for Tes, the union's head of policy and campaigns, Matt Waddup, said it was no wonder staff were walking away from careers in colleges. He said that those moving out of the sector weren't doing so because they wanted to, but because low pay was affecting serious life choices like whether to try to save for a house or how many children to have. 

Looking ahead to Colleges Week, he said that, while UCU was ready to stand alongside the rest of the sector in calling for extra investment, the union was also clear that colleges must do more to support their greatest asset -staff.


Student petition for better funding for colleges

Students have thrown their weight behind the Colleges Week campaign and some this week launched a parliamentary petition calling for college funding to be increased to "sustainable levels". FE Week reported that the petition - started by learners at Brockenhurst College - says 'a decade of almost continuous cuts and constant reforms have led to a significant reduction in the resources available for teaching and support for sixth formers in schools and colleges; potentially restricted course choice; fewer adults in learning; pressures on staff pay and workload, a growing population that is not able to acquire the skills the UK needs to secure prosperity post-Brexit.'


College heads spell out need for greater funding to MPs

The government should focus on increasing core funding and staff pay, college heads told MPs this week. Speaking to the Commons' education select committee, Alison Birkinshaw, principal of York College and former president of the Association of Colleges, said new funding was often channelled into the "revolutionary aspects" of further education, but that core funding was at an all-time low.

Tes reported that James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said too much of policymaking started with a press release and worked backwards, which was damaging to the sector. He said: 'We just need a higher level of funding'.

Kewin and Birkinshaw also called for support in funding better pay for staff. Ms Birkinshaw said her staff were frequently approached with more lucrative offers from universities and schools. She said: 'They cannot afford to stay in FE. The big difficulty we have is paying our staff'.


Lawyers advise universities to meddle in UCU pay ballot

On Monday Research Fortnight reported that UCU had hit out at "extraordinary" advice from a law firm, which suggested universities advised staff to abstain or vote no in the pay ballot.
In a blog post for, a news and guidance site run by legal firm Pinsent Masons, industrial relations specialist Sarah Ashberry encouraged universities to urge staff to abstain or vote against strike action. She wrote: 'Employers should be looking to influence the outcome of the ballot at their centre while they still can. This means a direct appeal to affected staff to abstain or vote against.'

In an email to union members, Matt Waddup labelled the advice "extraordinary" and "dangerous". He wrote: 'We believe that universities should be defending democratic values not seeking to discourage their own staff from participating in a democratic vote. The best response to this dangerous campaign is to ensure you take part and encourage others to do likewise.'


UCU campaign to tackle period poverty at Newcastle College

Students at Newcastle College will be able to receive free sanitary products discreetly if they cannot afford them, thanks to a new UCU campaign against period poverty launched this week. The union said no student should have to miss college or disrupt their education because they have their period.

Newcastle College UCU branch secretary Anya Cook told Tes:  'It is appalling that we have students who are in such a position of financial difficulty that they need this help. Having your period should not be a barrier to coming to college.

UCU head of equality Helen Carr told FE Week: 'Free sanitary products will help address period poverty issues, as students in particular face financial challenges while they are studying. Tampons and sanitary pads are not luxury items, they are essential for women. The initiative by the UCU branch at Newcastle College provides women with dignity and respect and should help address the taboos around periods.'

In August, the Scottish government announced that students at schools, colleges and universities across the country would have access to free sanitary products to fight period poverty.


University technical colleges "ineffective, unpopular and have high dropout rates"

University technical colleges (UTCs) have been described as ineffective and unpopular in a report that found more than half their students dropped out. Of those who remained at UTCs, many made poor progress, with even previously high-achieving students performing less well in their exams, according to the Education Policy Institute.

About 60 UTCs have opened since 2011, after being championed by the Conservative Lord Baker and the then prime minister, David Cameron, enrolling students aged 14 to 18 and designed to encourage the study of science, technology and engineering.

The Guardian said that, despite official encouragement and lavish funding, they have failed to generate enthusiasm among parents, and 10 have subsequently closed or converted into conventional schools.

Last updated: 12 October 2018