In the news 15 February 2019

15 February 2019

Deeply unpopular Teaching Excellence Framework not fit for purpose say staff

A UCU-commissioned report released yesterday said the Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) is deeply unpopular, failing students and not fit for purpose. Eight in 10 staff (81%) said they do not believe the Tef helps inform potential students' university choices. While seven in 10 (71%) said it failed to recognise and reward teaching excellence.

As well as being not fit for purpose, the report - by Professor Matt O'Leary, Dr Vanessa Cui and Dr Amanda French from Birmingham City University - also found that the Tef is deeply unpopular with staff, with just one in 10 (10%) welcoming its introduction. 

Writing for Times Higher Education, UCU head of policy Matt Waddup said staff had had enough of TEF-style gimmicks. What we need is practical support to resolve the key issues of casualisation, workloads and pay restraint, which are so damaging to the profession.

While in a piece for Wonkhe, Matt O'Leary said the report highlighted the need for a radical policy review that places greater emphasis on supporting universities to collaborate rather than compete with other to improve the quality of teaching.


Pay report exposes universities regulator as "paper tiger", says union

On Tuesday UCU branded a report from the Office for Students (OfS) into senior pay at universities as lightweight and said it exposed the regulator a "paper tiger". Matt Waddup told the Financial Times the report failed to look at the excessive and arbitrary rises still enjoyed by some vice-chancellors, or tackle the expenses and other benefits in kind that have plagued universities in recent years.

The BBC highlighted that UCU had said that the OfS had failed to keep its promise of requiring universities to justify annual salaries above £150,000. Matt told the Guardian that only four out of 133 institutions paid their vice-chancellors less than £150,000. The Independent led with the revelation that three-quarters of vice-chancellors had seen their pay go up, despite promising restraint. While Matt told the Times that the report sent a message that vice-chancellors who accept such largesse have nothing to fear from the OfS.

All the papers noted that the vice-chancellor who had enjoyed the largest pay rise - a quite staggering 22% - was Dominic Shellard, who had officially resigned from De Montfort University the day before.


Investigation launched at De Montfort as vice-chancellor departs

After a bizarre weekend of speculation, De Montfort University (DMU) finally confirmed at midday on Monday that Dominic Shellard had resigned, although they had originally tweeted he'd gone a few hours earlier and deleted that tweet. There had been much speculation about his position - with the university refusing to confirm or deny if he was still in charge on Friday - as well as confusion over when the chair of the board of governors resigned.

Hours after his official resignation, the OfS announced it was launching a probe into regulatory matters at DMU. The university said it welcomed the move and had that it had drawn the issues to the OfS's attention last year. UCU and Unison members at DMU reacted by passing an overwhelming vote of no-confidence in the leadership.

By the middle of the week, the Times had found a business link between Shellard and the chairman of the committee that awarded his salary. Apparently, the vice-chancellor held shares in a holding company run by Anthony Stockdale, chairman of the remuneration committee which approved the 22% rise for Professor Shellard, from £286,000 to £350,000. 

Matt Waddup told the Independent that the situation at DMU had highlighted the need for "proper transparency of key decisions taken at the top table of universities and who is taking them." He said that to rebuild trust, universities had to put staff and student representatives on key decision-making bodies.


UCU takes Valentine's funding message to chancellor

UCU president Vicky Knight delivered a Valentine's Day card to the Treasury yesterday and urged the chancellor to "show colleges some love", as part of the Love Colleges campaign to improve funding for further education. FE Week said the card was the second time Philip Hammond has been urged to up college funding recently after he was handed a cross-party letter signed by 164 MPs calling for more funding in the upcoming spending review.

Speaking to Tes, the union's head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'Colleges need proper funding so staff can deliver the kind of leading education that is the reason they chose to work in further education. It's such a tragedy because some staff have left the sector already and we want to stop that. We want to feel a bit of love from the chancellor so college staff can carry on doing the job they love.'


Ballots open at two more colleges in pay dispute

As well as lobbying the government for more funding, the union is keeping up the pressure on colleges to secure better pay. Another two colleges - Redbridge College and Tower Hamlets College - launched pay ballots this week.

The ballots close on Friday 1 March and if members back action, they will join colleagues at other colleges in a third wave of strikes over pay and conditions in March. Previously, members at six colleges took action in November and members at 13 colleges walked out last month, including at Croydon, Lambeth and West Thames colleges in London.

Matt Waddup told Tes that when colleges worked with UCU to put staff first, disruption could be avoided. He said: 'Colleges need to understand they cannot hide behind government cuts to shirk responsibility for their staff. Staff have had enough of the excuses for poor pay and conditions.

The latest UCU ballots come as sister union Unison has announced it is running strike ballots in around 20 colleges in England and where their members back action, they would look to co-ordinate action with UCU. Unison


Ballot opens at Coventry University in row over pay

UCU members at Coventry University are being balloted for industrial action in a row over pay. Members are being asked to back both strike action and action short of a strike, which could see them boycott a controversial new appraisal system.

The dispute centres on the university's refusal to adopt a national system for pay increases used by the vast majority of universities. The union says the system, imposed by the university in September, is even worse than its much-maligned previous version that had left academic staff at Coventry among the worst paid in the West Midlands.

Speaking to the Coventry Observer, UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'Strike action is always a last resort, but members at Coventry are furious they have been singled out for detrimental treatment by their university. Staff understandably want the university to use a nationally-agreed way to deal with pay and appraisals.


Strikes off at Queen Margaret University as jobs row settled

A strike scheduled for Wednesday at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University (QMU) was called off at the eleventh hour after the university and UCU reached an agreement on jobs and future working.

The agreement between the two sides ensures there will be no compulsory redundancies, no plans for further staff cuts and commits unions and the university to work together on a number of other workplace issues.

QMU UCU spokesperson, Oonagh O'Brien told Union News: 'This has been a difficult time and staff have been deeply worried about their jobs and frustrated at the way changes have been made. This agreement means there will be no compulsory redundancies and ensures that changes due to reduced staff will be managed. It also allows us to move forward and work together to improve our workplace policies for the future. 


Teenagers say cost puts them off university

The BBC has been speaking to teenagers this week and found that fear of debt plays a big part in the decision of whether or not to go to university. A group of potential students from low income backgrounds said the price of fees could be a deciding factor on whether or not they apply. They rejected the idea that there is a level playing field for people whatever their background and said they see their friends' decisions being strongly influenced by financial worries.

The BBC also spoke to teenagers in Leeds who dismissed the idea that unconditional offers make them lazy. They say it may allow them relax a little, but not to take their foot off the gas. However, Bill Jones, deputy chief executive of the Leeds City College group, views unconditional offers with frustration. He says that no matter how good students' intentions are, they know they don't need to stretch themselves and do an awful lot of extra work.

Jones said he would like to see a system where students apply to university after they receive their results, as advocated by UCU and common in other countries.


International report on adult education a 'wake-up' call for funding

UCU said an international report on adult education released this week must act as a "wake-up call for government" on the need for more investment in further education. The research, from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said that developed countries needed to urgently scale-up their adult learning systems to help people adapt to the changing world of work.

Matt Waddup said: 'This report must act as a wake-up call to the government on the need for urgent investment in adult education. At a time when the world of work is changing rapidly, the funding which supports people to improve their skills and retrain has been slashed.

Last updated: 30 April 2019