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In the news: 8 March 2019

Vicky Blake wins national union presidency

The president of the University of Leeds UCU branch, Vicky Blake has been elected UCU national president. She will serve as vice-president from May and chair the union's higher education committee (HEC). She will be president-elect from May 2020 and become national president of the union in May 2021. 

Vicky is a key campaigner in the fight against casualisation and the drive to secure better contracts for university staff. She was one of the leading lights in last year's strikes against plans to slash pensions for university staff.

Speaking to Union News, Vicky Blake said: 'I'm delighted to have been elected president of UCU. The union was my lifeline during ten years of exploitative casual contracts. The fight for secure work and fair pay and conditions will be at the heart of my time as president.'

UCU has set out the timetable for the election to succeed Sally Hunt, who resigned last month due to health reasons, as general secretary:

  • Nominations open today 
  • Nominations close on Monday 8 April
  • Ballot opens on Monday 29 April
  • Ballot closes on Thursday 23 May


Twenty year wait for equality in Scottish universities

It will take Scottish universities more than 20 years to break the glass ceiling which is holding back female academics, new figures show. The Herald splashed its findings on its front page today to coincide with International Women's Day. It found that at the current rate of progress it will be 2040 before the number of female professors is representative of the number of women academics overall.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'The small number of women professors is deeply disappointing and only serves to entrench the gender pay gap that exists in our universities. Considering the number of women working in universities, it is scandalous that so few occupy the top positions and universities will continue to miss out on these talents unless they take serious steps to address the problem.

'Employers need to tackle the barriers that can prevent women from progressing more quickly, such as long hours and the overly-competitive research environments, and take positive measures to support women's career progression.'


Newcastle College UCU celebrates expansion of free sanitary products initiative

There was betters news on International Women's Day at Newcastle College where UCU members are celebrating their pioneering initiative to provide students with free sanitary products will be rolled out across the college's seven campuses from April.

The campaign was originally launched in October by UCU members who bought products to be handed out by student mentors and encouraged staff to donate products to support the campaign against period poverty.

UCU branch secretary Anya Cook said: 'To have moved from UCU members providing sanitary products for students to combat period poverty to the initiative being rolled out across the college in a matter of months is phenomenal.'

Shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Dawn Butler MP said: 'It's absolutely fantastic news and I want to thank everybody at Newcastle College who have secured funding for free sanitary products at the college. Providing these free products will transform women's lives as it takes away the worry and stress. I really hope this initiative will continue at colleges around the UK.'


University of Surrey staff say controversial plans to axe jobs are unjustified

UCU members at the University of Surrey have demanded a transparent examination of vice-chancellor Max Lu's controversial plans to axe staff in an effort to make savings. In a letter to Professor Lu, UCU said the reasons presented for the drastic cuts are "too vague" and calls for an evidence-based case to "justify such swingeing cuts".

UCU has also demanded an assurance that no staff will be compulsorily dismissed in 2019 and that no staff on a fixed-term or hourly-paid contract will suffer a drop in hours as a result of the proposed cuts.

UCU regional official Michael Moran said: 'Staff are unconvinced by the case put forward by the university to justify these swingeing cuts. We are demanding a full transparent examination of the university's case and we want assurances in place now to remove the spectre of uncertainty hanging over staff.'


Students back bailout plans for struggling universities

While most students (83%) are confident their university is in rude financial health, over three-quarters (77%) believe the government should step in if their institution were threatened with closure, according to a report released yesterday.

Responding to the report, UCU said universities are often one of the key employers in the area and their impact on the local economy was difficult to overstate. In November the Office for Students (OfS) chair Sir Michael Barber said the OfS would not bail out universities in financial difficulty.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell told the i: 'Allowing a university go to the wall has consequences far beyond just education - universities are often one of the key employers in the area and their impact on the local economy is difficult to overstate. The true cost of closure would be graduates holding degrees from a defunct institution, thousands of students unable to complete their course and the very real threat of all sorts of legal action.'


More criticism for beleaguered Teaching Excellence Framework

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) has attacked the way in which teaching standards are measured in universities in England through the Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) - calling it "invalid". Urging the statistics regulator to intervene, the society said it was "likely to mislead students who use TEF to inform their university choices".

The RSS attack is the latest criticism for a beleaguered Tef that is currently undergoing a review. Times Higher Education reported that university mission groups have called on the government to "seriously rethink" implementing the subject-level assessment in the teaching excellence framework, with the Russell Group calling for it to be scrapped outright.

Last month, UCU led the way with a report that highlighted staff concerns over the Tef and found it to be deeply unpopular and not fit for purpose. While the government's own research has revealed that revealed fewer than half of students were aware of the Tef when they applied to university. That study also found that two-thirds of students did not understand how the Tef worked, and only 15% said they used it to help their decision-making, despite "better informing student choice" being one of the Tef's stated objectives.


Poorer students now even more likely to drop out of university than richer peers

The Independent reported today that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are even more likely to give up their university courses within 12 months than their more advantaged peers.    

The gap in drop-out rates between rich and poor students under 21 in UK universities has widened in the space of a year, figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show.

In some universities, more than a fifth of young students from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds dropped out in their first year, the statistics for 2016-17 show, while over half of students at one for-profit college did not go on to a second year.

Last updated: 8 March 2019