In the news: 14 July 2017

Tuition fee architect's efforts to abolish tuition fees

Tuition fee architect Lord Adonis continues to ensure he is involved in the current debate about what should happen to them. After sounding off in the Times a couple of weeks ago about how terrible the modern fees are, he took to the pages of the Guardian to continue his efforts to bring down a regime he started.

He also took his crusade to the House of Lords this week and had a pop at vice-chancellors' salaries. He did not mention that senior pay in universities was even bigger under his watch, but it did allow UCU to call once again for a proper register of pay and perks in universities.

Responding to his Guardian article, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt was quick to point out that anyone who remembers the introduction of his fees will remember the warnings about the very things Adonis is now railing against - all courses costing the maximum amount and the original fee level being the thin end of the wedge with rises inevitable.

Meanwhile, the fees debate rumbles on
As Lord Adonis continues his crusade against fees, other commentators have started to question the state of the current funding system. One constant throughout the debate has been the turmoil the government finds itself in on the issue.

This week it was education secretary Justine Greening's job to defend the status quo. The Times Higher reported how she used the same strange line as Michael Gove last week by saying there was a debate to be had, but then shutting down debate by defending the current system and attacking Labour's plans to scrap fees. Her defence was a definite improvement on one government source's effort on Monday who defended the loan system to the Times by saying it's not as bad as Wonga.

Elsewhere, writing in the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley said a debate over fees was all well and good as long as it was intelligent and wide-ranging. The Guardian featured a recent graduate who is £69,000 in debt and was shocked to discover that she had been accruing thousands of pounds of interest on her loans while she was studying. Times Higher also reported that one in three (out of just 25 surveyed) vice-chancellors backed Labour's plans.

Yesterday the much-maligned Student Loans Company confirmed that it had suspended its chief executive, and another senior official was on "gardening leave." The Guardian said that since its inception the senior leadership of the SLC has been dogged by disputes and management turnover, with the top spot in particular "something of a revolving door."

Drop in UK and EU students applying to university

Figures for university applications by this year's June deadline, released yesterday, revealed a 4% drop in UK applicants and EU applicants down by 5%. Sally Hunt said: 'These figures are bad news and should serve as a timely reminder that our current system of funding is in need of urgent reform. The time has come for a grown-up debate on how we fund our universities. The government needs to understand that our Brexit woes are viewed dimly on the continent and if we are to continue to attract staff and students to our universities we must send a far more welcoming message.'

Speaking on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, Sally said that the government had to look at ways to make sure all beneficiaries of education paid their fair share, including business. She also urged newly-elected chair of the education select committee, former skills minister Robert Halfon, to put the issue at the top of his agenda.

Colleges uniquely placed to deliver social mobility, says UCU

Commenting on the Sutton Trust's report into social mobility released on Wednesday, UCU said that education was key to improving social mobility. The report said that improvements in social mobility could boost GDP, which promoted UCU to highlight how further education colleges are uniquely positioned to achieve that.

Sally Hunt, told the Morning Star that: 'Colleges are key to providing technical education and apprenticeships, and are used by 80% of disadvantaged students before the age of 24. But successive governments have failed them, seeing them as easy targets for cuts and the austerity agenda. Colleges must be better funded to deliver vocational routes and professional qualifications, especially as we seek to improve people's skills post-Brexit.'

Leader of troubled Midlands college is one of highest paid college heads in the country

The TES reported that Birmingham Metropolitan College's CEO Andrew Cleaves was the second best-paid college leader in England in 2015-16, which means the leader of a troubled college that received £16 million in "exceptional financial support" from the government is one of the highest-paid college leaders in England.

According to the college's financial statement, Birmingham Metropolitan College chief executive Andrew Cleaves received £266,000 in salary in 2015-16 - the same as for the previous year. Last month, UCU staged protests at the college over proposed job cuts. According to the college's accounts, Birmingham Metropolitan reduced its workforce by almost 400 between 2014-15 and 2015-16. This included around 150 non-teaching and 240 teaching staff.

Unions disappointed with modern working practices report

Responding to Matthew Taylor's report looking at modern working practices, officially released on Tuesday after days of leaks, UCU said insecure workers needed rights not sympathy to end the abuse of exploitative working practices.

Sally Hunt said: 'This report offers warm words for people on casual contracts, but it's tinkering around the edges of the problem. Insecure workers don't want sympathy, they need real change that gives them proper rights at work and ends exploitative contracts. For people who live in daily fear that their hours will be cut if they even speak out, such a right is quite meaningless and makes this review a massive missed opportunity.

'Zero-hours and other exploitative contracts stop people from being able to plans their lives on a monthly, or even week-by-week basis. It is quite shocking in this day and age that we allow these kind of practices to persist, and for bosses to pretend that employer and employee benefit equally from flexibility.' UCU was not the only union unimpressed with Taylor's efforts, as this round-up on Union News proved. 

Last updated: 14 July 2017