In the news 7 December 2018

UCU dismisses colleges' "insulting" pay offer

UCU yesterday described a pay offer of just 1% from the Association of Colleges (AoC) as a wholly inadequate response to the pay crisis in further education which has left teaching staff being paid £7,000 a year less than school teachers.

FE Week reported UCU's warning that the AoC risked becoming an irrelevant voice in the further education sector. Capital City College Group (CCCG) has agreed a 5% pay deal for over 1,700 staff and less than half of colleges followed the AoC's previous pay recommendation.

UCU members at six colleges walked out for two days last week in the first wave of strikes over pay. Ballots are now open at another 26 colleges and will close on Wednesday 19 December.

UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup told Tes: 'This insulting pay offer is a wholly inadequate response to the crisis in our colleges and will annoy staff who need their employers to be fighting their corner as the pay gap between them and school teachers widens further. It is not right that staff at one college can receive a 5% increase while their colleagues down the road get nothing for doing the same work.'

UCU takes on Facebook's video ban

As part of the union's Get The Vote Out campaign for fair pay in further education, UCU has put together a video that it wanted to promote on Facebook. However, the social media giant is refusing to let the union promote the video saying UCU's Facebook page is not authorised to run ads of this nature.

The union has spent a lot of time this week trying to point out the impossibility of verifying its page due to Facebook's ineffectual checks and that promoting a legal ballot shouldn't really be controversial.

A spokesperson for UCU told Tes: 'It is quite ridiculous that we can't promote a video for a legal ballot on Facebook. We have spent the past few days trying to point this out to Facebook, but with no joy. Hopefully, they will now see sense and we can play our fair pay video. We have contacted the TUC, as this is a problem other unions will encounter but shouldn't have to.'

You can see the video in all its glory here.

Universities minister resigns over state of UK science post-Brexit

Sam Gyimah resigned from his post as universities minister on Friday evening via the Daily Telegraph. He said a row over involvement in the EU's Galileo satellite-navigation system showed the UK will be "hammered" in negotiations over a Brexit deal. He became the 10th member of government to resign over Brexit, which he dismissed as a deal "in name only". The UK's interests "will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU for many years to come", he said.

Matt Waddup told the BBC that his resignation showed that there were clear concerns about the impact of Brexit on research and innovation. "Those concerns are shared by our members in colleges and universities who have clearly signalled that they want a referendum on any final deal", he said.

New universities minister appointed

It took the government until late Wednesday morning to find a replacement for Gyimah, eventually settling on Tudor historian Chris Skidmore. Skidmore studied at Bristol Grammar School and then Oxford University. Greg Clark remains the only one of the five universities ministers (all men) appointed since 2010 who didn't go to Oxford - he went to Cambridge.

Matt Waddup told Research Fortnight that the new minister arrived in post at a crucial juncture for higher education. 'In the face of much political uncertainty, what the sector needs is a champion who understands the huge contribution universities make to our economy and society', he said.

Some commentators have suggested the government employed the same rigorous background checks it used when appointing Toby Young to the Office for Students as by Wednesday afternoon stories of his Oxford days in a band who sang songs called "God Hates Puffs" "I Wanna be Fellated in Public", "I've Gotta Big Willy" and "Women are Crap" had emerged.

"Unacceptable" ethnic minority pay gap must be tackled, says UCU

Universities must make tackling the "unacceptable" race pay gap a priority, UCU said today. The union was responding to a BBC report which revealed that black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff at Russell Group universities face an average pay gap of 26% compared to their white colleagues.

UCU said its own research had shown that nine in ten (90%) of BAME staff in colleges and universities reported facing barriers to promotion, while more than seven in ten (72%) of university staff said they had experienced bullying and harassment. The union called on universities to work with trade unions to tackle barriers faced by BAME staff.

UCU head of equality Helen Carr said: 'These findings show we still have a very long way to go in closing the pay gap for black and minority ethnic staff in our universities. It is absolutely unacceptable that BAME staff continue to be paid less and are under-represented at higher levels within our universities. Institutions must make it a priority to address the concerns of BAME staff and work with trade unions to tackle the barriers to progression they continue to face.'

Eight schools send as many pupils to Oxbridge as three-quarters of all schools

Eight schools and colleges sent as many pupils to Oxford or Cambridge over three years as three-quarters (2,900) of all schools and colleges, according to a report released today by the Sutton Trust. Responding to the "Access to Advantage" report, which also found high-flying pupils from state schools were less likely to apply to Oxbridge, UCU said that universities should make better use of contextual data in the admissions process. The union also said that students needed better advice and guidance when applying to university.

Matt Waddup told the Guardian: 'This report demonstrates that many talented youngsters will never get into some universities simply because nobody is pushing them to consider applying to them. Universities need to help students from backgrounds and schools that don't traditionally apply to some universities by looking at contextual data.'

Ulster University bans UCU member from governing body

Ulster University is to review a decision not to let a UCU member stand for election to its governing body. UCU member Goretti Horgan, who is a lecturer at the university, wanted to stand for election to the university's council. In a letter, Ulster University said she would not be allowed to go forward for election because of a "conflict of interest" caused by her union membership.

After protests from Goretti and UCU, a spokesperson for the university told the BBC that it was reviewing the decision.

UCU Northern Ireland official Katharine Clarke told the Belfast Telegraph that barring Goretti was discrimination and that the university would face legal action if it did not reverse its decision. 'UCU will not stand for this appalling treatment of our representative. The university's position is not sustainable. UCU has three activists who sit on the council at Queen's, where no such conflict of interest has been identified. One wonders what Ulster University has to hide that it is so determined to exclude trade unionists.'

UCU welcomes Ofsted chief's calls for better funding

UCU welcomed Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman's calls for better funding as she launched the inspectorate's annual report on Tuesday. Speaking to Tes, Matt Waddup said: 'Ofsted has rightly recognised that a failure to invest in further education risks undermining colleges' ability to deliver for students. Colleges are increasingly reliant on the goodwill of staff who go above and beyond despite having seen the value of their pay tumble.

'The further education sector has a crucial role to play in delivering the skills this country needs, but it can't keep doing more for less. If we are to succeed we need stronger government support for colleges, their staff and their students.'

Devastating analysis of government's further education funding failures

While the sector calls for better funding, Polly Toynbee delivered a coruscating analysis of the government's funding failures in the Guardian on Tuesday. She says Brexit could have been an opportunity to better skill the UK population, but that the government has never had any intention of doing that. She says students in further education colleges have been largely ignored, or blessed with sporadic fits of failed, evidence-free policymaking being tested out on "other people's children".

Exposing the prime minister's fraudulent claims on the importance of skills, Toynbee says if May was sincere in her immigration policy, she would have hammered on about skills training, reversed education cuts and poured resources into further education. Instead, the prime minister mentions training only as a last-resort excuse, a respectable disguise for anti-immigrationism.

Last updated: 7 December 2018

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