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In the news: 10 June 2016

A look back at some of the week's news


Next wave of strikes announced in union's pay row with universities

Eight UK universities will be hit with strike action in the next eight days as UCU escalates its industrial action in a row with universities over pay. Members at the University of Winchester will lead the wave of nationwide strikes when they walk out today to coincide with an open day for potential students and their parents.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Members have been left with no alternative but to escalate their industrial action after universities refused to come back to the negotiating table with a fair offer. Targeted disruptions will be taking place across the UK until the employers recognise the anger staff feel at having their pay held down, while a few at the top continue to be handsomely rewarded.'


Students question value of money of degrees and overwhelmingly reject fee rises

Despite high levels of satisfaction with their degree overall, fewer students (particularly in England) say their university course offers value for money, warned new research released yesterday. The vast majority of students (85%) are satisfied with their course, according to the 2016 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey.

However, it also revealed that perceptions of value for money have fallen overall in the UK by 16% since 2012. Students from England are least likely to say their course is good value for money, with just a third (33%) saying it was.

Students are vehemently opposed to any rise in fees linked to controversial government plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef)Just 8% said they thought it was a good idea. When asked to consider ways for universities to save money, students offered a damning indictment of universities' building projects with half (49%) saying they should cut back and instead invest in other areas such as teaching.

Sally Hunt said: 'This report highlights once again the need for proper support for teaching in our universities, and for the people who deliver it. Students remain highly satisfied with their courses, but many more are questioning whether the experience offers decent value for money.

'Half of university teachers (49%) are on insecure contracts and staff pay has fallen by 15% in real-terms. These are urgent areas that universities and government must address. Universities can play their part by prioritising staff over new buildings and make a fair offer to end the current dispute over pay.'


UCU urges Jo Johnson to force universities to come clean over senior pay

Responding to a speech from universities and science minister Jo Johnson yesterday, UCU said he needed to listen to students and staff as he considers changes to university policy. UCU urged Johnson to study the Hepi/HEA survey of students which reveals their vehement opposition to plans for fee rises linked to plans to measure teaching quality as part of controversial government plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef)

The union also urged Johnson to go further with plans to legislate universities to be more open and back its call for full minutes of remuneration committees - the bodies tasked with setting senior pay in universities - to be made publicly available, and commit to making universities reveal the true extent of casualisation among their staff.

Sally Hunt said: 'We all want to see improvements in teaching quality and the student experience. However, any government that is serious about improving things needs to address the numbers of staff on insecure contracts more associated with Sports Direct than a university. The time has also come for staff to be properly rewarded for their efforts after years of pay suppression.

'We welcome the minister's pledge to legislate to force universities to provide better information on students. We would urge him to go further and force universities to reveal the rationale behind the embarrassing inflation-busting pay rises some university leaders have enjoyed while keeping down staff pay. We also want universities to declare the full extent of staff on pernicious zero-hours and other temporary contracts.'


Newcastle University dispute resolved as compulsory target plan scrapped

UCU announced on Wednesday that a long-running dispute with Newcastle University over a "draconian" system of performance targets for academic staff has been resolved. At a meeting on Monday the university agreed to drop its controversial proposal to impose a trio of compulsory targets on academic staff.

The dispute, which flared up late last year when the proposals for new targets were first put on the table, had become so serious that last Friday UCU had begun a marking boycott of students' work. The university has now agreed to withdraw the proposals and to work with UCU on a revised method of maintaining the quality of research.

UCU regional official, Iain Owens, said: 'We welcome Newcastle University's decision to withdraw these draconian targets, which our members felt would have been beyond their control and so inherently unfair.'


Government teacher training reforms will hit teacher recruitment

UCU warned today that the government's proposed teacher training reforms will cause greater problems for teacher recruitment. The union was responding to a new report on teacher training from the Public Accounts Committee, which highlights consistent problems in recruiting teachers to key subject areas.

Sally Hunt said: 'This report reinforces our concerns about the government's planned teacher training reforms. Shifting teacher training places from universities to schools has already led to serious recruitment shortfalls in key areas. Too many students are now being taught by unqualified, non-specialist teachers. These problems will only get worse if the government pushes ahead with its plans to extend school-based teacher training.'


University leaders "fear reprisals" if they speak out over government extremism measures

University leaders are staying silent on "counterproductive" anti-extremism measures introduced by the government for fear of personal reprisals, said Julius Weinberg, vice-chancellor of Kingston University at a UCU event at congress last week. Professor Weinberg, the first vice-chancellor to speak at a UCU congress in the union's history, said that the idea of having to ensure that only "safe" ideas are debated in universities is "frankly barking".

Speaking on a panel with UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, Weinberg said: 'If we stop people speaking in universities they will still speak and will be heard, but not in a place where we can have that clash of ideas that brings forth truth.' He added that the Prevent strategy is not about "counter-extremism", but is "counterproductive" and has attracted critical comments from students.


Jobs threat at Bootle college

As many as 58 jobs could be at risk at Hugh Baird College in Bootle. The college is blaming financial problems and has launched a 30-day consultation with UCU.  UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: 'The information we have is that 58 staff are affected. We were very concerned to receive these proposals, which came as a shock. We will be scrutinising the financial position of the college and will resist any compulsory redundancies.'

Last week's bumper UCU congress edition, which was out a little later than normal, can be found here.


Last updated: 10 June 2016