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In the news 9 November 2018

9 November 2018

UCU challenges MPs over possibility of universities going bust

After days of fatalistic headlines for universities covering the quality of degrees, funding cuts and the possibility of bankruptcy, the sector's regulator decided to start the week by saying he would happily see universities go to the wall.

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students (OfS) said the body would not bail out universities in financial difficulty. UCU responded by writing to all MPs with a university in their constituency asking if they backed plans to allow their local institution to go bust.

UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup told the Guardian that Barber's speech demonstrated just how out of touch those in charge of universities are. He said that you can't protect students' interests by bringing about the demise of their local university. In the Independent Waddup pointed out that in places like India and China they are opening new universities and asked if Barber really wanted to voluntarily reduce our country's intellectual, social and cultural capital.

Writing for Times Higher Education, Waddup said it was not good enough for Barber to tell universities to "adapt or die" under the new regime. He said the OfS should be supporting universities to excel, not washing their hands when things don't go to plan.


Overwhelming votes of no confidence at City College Plymouth

Staff at City College Plymouth (CCP) have this morning delivered damning votes of no confidence in their principal, board of governors and management of the college's finances. The college has been under pressure to explain the rationale behind appointing and then defending principal Garry Phillips after a damning government report exposed serious failings at his previous college Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College (EHWLC).

UCU said the vote demonstrated that staff have no confidence in Phillips and that someone with his track record should not be in charge of the college. The union said ministers now had to step in to deal with the mess. Earlier this week Phillips wrote to staff asking them to ignore "hearsay, speculation and rumour" about his past.

The report cited a failure of governance and leadership at EHWLC. Under Phillips' leadership, the college went from a £5.7m surplus in 2015/16 to an £8m deficit in 2016/17. The college is now in administered status and Phillips is under pressure from UCU members there to repay £100,000 of bonuses and apologise for the mess he left behind.


Deal with student debt as well as current funding issues says UCU

Responding to plans from Danny Dorling on how to deal with student debt, Matt Waddup wrote to the Guardian this week saying the Oxford professor was right to identify current students and recent graduates as big losers following the coalition government's decision to triple university fees in England.

He concluded that if the UK was to have a future as a high skill economy, rather a tax haven for the rich, we need an increase in investment and an acknowledgement that education is integral to our society and economy, not an optional extra.


Pay dispute resolved at Lewisham and Southwark colleges

Staff working at Lewisham and Southwark colleges - part of the NCG group - will receive a pay rise and NCG has agreed to change the way it calculates strike pay deductions in the future. UCU members took a total of four days' strike action in May and September this year. NCG originally deducted 1/260th of members' annual salary, but has now agreed to take just 1/365th in future and repay the difference on previous deductions.

UCU regional official Iain Owens said: 'UCU members at Lewisham and Southwark colleges have accepted the new package on offer and we now want to work with NCG to get them onto the pay progression system enjoyed by NCG employees elsewhere in the country.


College gives £16.5m in three years to mystery subcontractor

Brooklands College in Kent has refused to explain to FE Week why it has given £16.5 million over the last three years to a subcontracting partner that employs fewer than 10 people. The college uses on SCL Security Ltd, a private provider run by Andrew Merritt, to deliver hundreds of level-three IT apprenticeships every year, for mostly 16-to-18-year-olds.

FE Week found no evidence of the company advertising for apprentices, or of who the employers are, raising questions as to how it recruits learners. SCL only employed eight people in 2017, according to its most recent company accounts, and seven the year before.


Adult learners at 20 year low

The number of adults in learning is at its lowest level since records began back in 1996. Tes has analysed data from the Learning and Work Institute which reveals a steady decline from the high point of 2001, when 46 per cent of respondents reported taking part in some form of learning, to a record low of just 36 per cent last year.

Last updated: 9 November 2018