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In the news 26 October 2018

26 October 2018

Trade union laws frustrate national support for strike action on pay

UCU members in colleges and universities delivered the biggest ever turnout in the union's pay ballots, but most were frustrated by Conservative anti-union laws brought in to make it harder for trade unionists to take strike action.

Despite 85% of members in English further education colleges and seven in 10 members (69%) in UK universities who voted backing strikes, only 10 universities and four colleges met the required threshold for action.

In Welsh colleges nine in 10 (91%) of UCU members who voted have backed strike action over pay, while a similar proportion (90%) voted in favour of strike action over workload. The turnout of 54% means that 12 colleges in Wales could face walkouts.

UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said: 'The national ballot results show clear support for action over pay. However, pernicious ballot restrictions which single out trade unions for special treatment mean this can only be taken forward in some institutions.'


Home Office reverses decision to force Newcastle family to move back to Australia

UCU member Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips will not be forced to move back to Australia to keep her family together following a UCU campaign to force the Home Office to reverse its decision not to grant her husband a residency permit.

The Atkinson-Phillips had been living in Newcastle after Sunderland-born mum Alison took up a research post at the university in January. Australian husband Jeff came initially on a tourist visa and then in August applied for remain to leave in the UK.

However, his application was rejected on the grounds that there were no "insurmountable obstacles" to the family returning to Australia. The family appealed the decision and UCU wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid asking him to intervene to ensure the family could remain together in the UK. This week the family's MP Nick Brown and the vice-chancellor of Newcastle University Professor Chris Day also wrote to the Home Secretary.

Alison Atkinson-Phillips told the Sunderland Echo: 'I am so grateful to everyone who helped raise the profile of our case. It has been a stressful time, but I am so pleased we can now all get back on with our lives. No one wants to be in a position where they have to choose between their career and their family.'


The state of pay across UK further education

The Tes main feature this week says that although the UK may have four separate further education systems, college staff are shouting with one voice about low pay. The magazine looks at the impact on workers who are struggling to survive and the bubbling discontent that risks fomenting industrial action across the home nations.

It profiles a single mother who does not know how to make ends meet, despite working long hours teaching. An experienced lecturer whose workload became so overwhelming that she reduced her hours to part-time. An engineering teacher who could earn significantly more by working in industry, but lives "month to month". A lecturer who, after 16 years in the sector, knows that her students' experience is adversely affected by high staff turnover.

Howard Stevenson, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Nottingham is quoted extensively throughout the piece and he argues that a growing public profile for further education, combined with the "upsurge" in the pay expectations of college, could well mark a turning point. He says the sector is getting much better at presenting itself publicly, which should challenge politicians who have previously got away with just using warm words to pacify colleges.


UCU says vice-chancellor changes are an opportunity to address unfair pay

The Times reported this week that a number of vice-chancellors are either resigning or retiring, which UCU says presents an opportunity for governing bodies to show that they are heeding calls for fairer pay.

The news comes after UCU members at the University of Southampton launched a petition insisting their new vice-chancellor must commit the university to paying the real living wage to staff and receive a salary no more than 20 times greater than the lowest paid employee.

Matt Waddup told the Times that changes at the top should provide some universities with the opportunity to show they have understood the anger over spiralling senior pay and perks awarded while staff pay was held down and student fees shot up.


Principal calls for colleges' funding campaign to keep up the pressure

Following last week's march through London, rally and lobby of MPs, one college principal tells the Tes that the sector must remain united to secure the funding further education so desperately needs.

Andy Forbes from City and Islington College said he became a principal to change students' lives, but the reality has been reducing staffing, managing redundancies and offering paltry pay rises. He says he has spent more time trying to find ways of stemming the leaks in college income than looking at widening participation.

He sees the Love Our Colleges campaign as a remarkable and unprecedented attempt to secure greater funding and that the sense of anger and frustration is palpable. He concludes that love is not enough and that we need a big rise in core funding. He says the campaign is only just starting and it won't go away.


BBC investigation finds no evidence of freedom of speech clampdowns

The universities minister Sam Gyimah is among the critics who say free speech is being threatened at by a culture of offence among certain university students. The minister has regularly been called out for a lack of evidence to back up his claims, but stories of universities failing to uphold free speech regularly appear in the press, albeit without many solid examples.

At the end of last year, Gyimah's predecessor Jo Johnson claimed that books were being removed from libraries, "undermining the principle of free speech". BBC Reality Check asked for evidence of this under the Freedom of Information law. The Department for Education shared letters referring to books by Holocaust denier David Irving being moved from history to another section of two university libraries. Nobody provided evidence of books being banned.

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to every UK university to find out about changes to courses, books being removed from libraries and speakers being cancelled and found only a small number of incidents.

Last updated: 26 October 2018