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In the news 2 November 2018

2 November 2018

Ministers urged to back universities after bankruptcy fears

Yesterday the i led with the news that three English universities were on the "brink of bankruptcy". It didn't name the institutions, but said one was in the north-west and the other two were on the south coast.

UCU said it was difficult to overstate the importance of a university on its local economy. UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup told the Mirror that a university going bust would have a "devastating impact" on the local area. Following the story up today, the i led with UCU's call for ministers to publically back universities, not "anticipate their demand".

A more forensic look at English universities' finances by Times Higher Education revealed the institutions that had the biggest deficits as a percentage of their income. There was no institution from the south coast in its top 10 and University of Bolton issued a statement denying it was the institution in trouble from the north-west after being listed in the Times Higher's deficit top 10.


Budget missed opportunity

UCU described Monday's budget as "yet another missed opportunity to properly address the urgent financial challenges facing our education system". Despite protests in London last week demanding extra cash for further education, no money was forthcoming and the chancellor was widely criticised for an offer of "little extras" for schools.

Matt Waddup told Tes that while the chancellor spoke of the importance of skills for our economy, instead of investing properly in further education he had kicked the pressing issue of college pay and funding into the long grass of next year's spending review.


UCU warns of reballots over pay in colleges

Ahead of the budget, UCU announced it could be reballoting some college branches for strikes over pay. Tes reported that, at a meeting of the union's further education committee (FEC), it was decided to consult college branches about whether to reissue a ballot in cases where the original turnout was higher than 35 per cent, but didn't meet the new 50% threshold requirement.

Writing in Tes, UCU's FEC chair Sean Vernell said: 'If these thresholds were applied to a council or board of governors' election, there would be many empty places and seats. The new laws were never designed to bring about more democracy. These laws were introduced to prevent working people using their human right to withdraw their labour when they feel that an injustice is taking place.'


Axing unconditional offers demonstrates need for system overhaul says UCU

St Mary's University in London will no longer offer unconditional university places saying students with a guaranteed place didn't achieve the grades they were predicted. UCU said the news should prompt a complete overhaul of the system of university applications following the huge increase in unconditional offers in recent years.

Matt Waddup told the BBC the decision by St Mary's demonstrated "the desperate need to overhaul our failing admissions system". The Independent led with Matt's comments that unconditional offers had "made a mockery of exams and led to inflated grade predictions".


Liverpool scraps plans for a Cairo campus

The Guardian reported this week that the University of Liverpool has scrapped controversial plans to open up a campus in Egypt in the face of opposition from academics, students and others. Leaked documents from the university's senior executive warned that it faced "potential risk/exposure to reputational damage" if it went through with the idea.

Earlier this year the Guardian published a letter from 200 prominent academics and others opposing the collaboration against the backdrop of unanswered questions about the abduction and murder of the Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni. 


Dodgy data on app for students

UCU today questioned the government's decision to plough another £300,000 into developing digital tools that use questionable data to help students make choices about where to study. Earlier this year, the Department for Education said it would share £125,000 among tech firms that proposed the best ideas for using the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data on graduate salaries by institution and subject as part of an app or web tool for making study choices.

UCU has highlighted how there are a host of factors that determine future earning potential and that key attributes such as background, prior attainment and environment are beyond the control or influence of universities.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Matt Waddup said: 'What students repeatedly say they want is for proper investment in staff and resources. We would like to see a government measure that details the mass casualisation of staff and its impact on students.'


Strike threat at Northern Ireland college

UCU members at the North West Regional College in Northern Ireland have warned they will take strike action after the principal and the governing body of the college flouted the contractual rights of lecturers and refused to meet with UCU representatives.

UCU Northern Ireland official Katharine Clarke told the local paper that UCU was also "appalled" at the treatment of part-time lecturers, who have been denied travel time and travel costs. She said that timetable changes and cuts to working hours had been imposed without the right of appeal or the right to a redundancy payment.


Southampton merger

Two Hampshire colleges are set to merge in a move that will affect 28,000 students. It comes after a government review identified skill shortages in a number of areas. The colleges say the merger will not make any changes to courses being taught this year nor to those on offer for September 2019.

UCU regional official Moray McAulay told the Southampton Echo: 'The merger needs to be a success to ensure people in Southampton and Eastleigh continue to have access to a broad range of educational opportunities. The timeline for merger is tight and we want to work with the colleges to ensure that disruption for staff and students is kept to a minimum.'

Last updated: 2 November 2018