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In the news: 29 July 2016

29 July 2016

A look back at some of the week's news

National demonstration date set for 19 November

UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have confirmed a November national demonstration in central London. Set for Saturday 19 November, the demonstration - 'United For Education' - will represent a rallying call for free, accessible and quality further and higher education across the UK, and to demand an end to the marketisation of university and college education.

The Independent reports that there will be coordinated education demonstrations taking place in numerous countries around the world, including Canada, France and South Africa. The demonstration will also represent a call for international solidarity and opposition to all forms of racism and xenophobia. Students and lecturers in the UK in particular will be calling for government to ensure that universities and colleges remain open, international and diverse, following the Brexit vote.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Increased university fees and the green light for all sorts of profit-driven colleges to enter UK higher education do not represent a good deal for students or staff. Meanwhile, the government is pursuing a restructure in our further education colleges that risks narrowing choice for students and merging colleges around the country.

'At a time when we need to show the post-Brexit world that Britain remains open and welcoming to international students, we are delighted our event is happening alongside events around the world. Staff and students are united in their defence of high-quality education and we will be taking our message to the streets in November.'


Government warns colleges about excessive pay deals at the top

The government has apparently finally spotted that colleges need to curtail the excessive pay of some senior staff as it prepares guidance for college governors dealing with severance pay or principal appointments following the controversial area reviews.

The TES reports that a draft version of the Implementation Guidance for post-16 Area Reviews explains that the area reviews are likely to result in fewer, larger institutions, with principals taking on greater responsibilities, as well as some principals leaving their role under a severance agreement with financial package.

The guidance says that governors should be aware that high-value packages, whether for new or departing staff, are likely to attract public interest and questioning of whether the decision is in line with the charitable objects of the college, particularly where (in the case of severance agreements) the package exceeds contractual requirements or is being paid to a principal with a record of poor performance.

The document also says that the principal of a newly-merged college should not automatically have been the leader of one of its predecessor colleges.

A UCU spokesman said it was absolutely vital that any process was open and transparent. 'All prospective candidates should have the option to apply and any potential reduction in posts needs to be managed properly with the unions. At a time when staff pay in the sector continues to be held down, colleges inflating salaries for those at the top would look tactless and out of touch.'


'Superficial area reviews aren't the answer for further education'

One college chair writing in the TES who has been through the area review process says that ill-informed, one-off exercises cannot deliver the long-term security that the sector needs. Roger Brown, emeritus professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University and chair of Barton Peveril Sixth Form College in Eastleigh, Hampshire, was involved in one of the first reviews in his capacity as a chair of corporation.

His says that student and staff representatives were conspicuous by their absence on the committee. He says there were seven main committee meetings over eight months beginning in November, and the final report is yet to be released. The overall cost is not known but he believes it must be considerable.

In a damning critique he says that there was a strong sense that policy was being made up as they went along, and that colleges were being asked to take some fundamental (and irrevocable) decisions about their futures with very little up-to-date information or guidance.


Research recommendations must not lead to 'rigid demarcation' between teaching and research roles

The Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework, chaired by Lord Stern, was released yesterday. It recommended that all research-active academics should be entered for the next research excellence framework, the work of academics who have moved should be claimed by the institution where it was carried out, and that a government-commissioned review of the exercise be carried out.

UCU welcomed the move towards greater academic staff inclusion in the REF, but warned it mustn't lead to a rigid demarcation between research and teaching-focused careers. The union said it will be arguing for a more fundamental review of research funding as part of its submission to the government's consultation.

Commenting on the review, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We welcome Lord Stern's findings that we need a diverse higher education sector and that the REF must support excellence wherever it is found across our institutions.

'Any reforms that stop academics making choices based on the need to maximise REF outputs, rather than the contribution they can make to human knowledge, should be welcomed.

'We are pleased Lord Stern has recommended broadening out how impact is measured. Following his call last week for teaching and research to support each other, we would like to see measurements extended to cover the impact on higher education teaching and learning.'

Last updated: 29 July 2016