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In the news: 31 March 2017

Staff dissatisfied with how universities are run and don't feel respected

More than three-quarters of university staff are dissatisfied with the way their institution is run, according to early data from the National Senior Management Survey seen by Times Higher Education.

Only one in 10 respondents is satisfied with the way their institution is managed, while just 16% said they felt respected and valued by senior management. Four out of five said that they regularly worked at evenings or weekends to fulfil their academic roles and more than two-thirds said that their university did not give them enough time to be able to support their students' needs.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said the results offered an alarming insight into how badly supported and under pressure many university staff are. 'It is very worrying that more than two-thirds of respondents did not believe they have adequate time for such fundamental elements of their teaching responsibilities as supporting students and providing good quality feedback to them. Universities have turned the screws on their staff, and their excessive workloads mean too many feel they are short-changing their students', she said.

How student surveys could damage staff career prospects

The career prospects of Scottish university lecturers are being dictated by student surveys, UCU warned the Herald week. The union warned that Edinburgh University students evaluating individual staff members, with the resulting data linked to promotions, could lead to lecturers marking work mindful that a poor grade could impact on their career.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'Universities have used student questionnaires for some time and as learners within universities students absolutely should have their voices heard. However, there is a real danger that we're moving to a position where we see students as consumers and customer satisfaction surveys are being used to make decisions on the careers of university staff, with scant regard for academic standards.

'University lecturers need to be able to make decisions on student's work based on academic merit and not with one eye to how they might be scored in a later survey, particularly if employers then use student surveys to manage them out of the door.'

The impact of Brexit

As Theresa May triggered article 50 and started the two-year countdown clock to Britain leaving the EU this week, Nature spoke to eight people whose lives have been changed by the leave vote to see what their experiences say how science will progress, post-Brexit.

Their concerns are many and varied including losing jobs, anti-European and anti-immigrant abuse, losing funding and the impact of Brexit on the next generation.

 Dutch ownership of English for-profit college prompts call for scrutiny

Calls have been made for greater scrutiny of the ownership of for-profit higher education providers after Times Higher Education revealed that BPP University is owned in the Netherlands by its US parent.

The disclosure means that all three of England's for-profit universities are owned in the Netherlands, which is known for its attractive corporate tax regime. Apollo Education Group has owned BPP since 2010 and was recently bought by two US private equity firms. BPP has benefited from £26.6 million in tuition fee payments via the public Student Loans Company over five years since 2011.

English university fees are the highest in the world

University tuition fees in England are now the highest in the world, claimed the Independent this week. It reported that new analysis showed that the average annual cost of £9,188, makes it significantly more than higher education in the US, where the average student pays $9,410 (£7,518). 

Students in England are also paying significantly more than their peers in other European countries.  In France, annual fees amount to the equivalent of just £346, while universities in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Austria also charge less than £1000 per year. 

Unions accuse Cheshire colleges of "reckless behaviour"

UCU and UNISON have today accused Mid Cheshire College and Warrington Collegiate of "reckless behaviour", putting jobs at risk in an ill-advised merger. The colleges had the opportunity to join a Cheshire-wide college merger through which they could have secured government funding under the national Area Review programme. However, they opted to pair up ruling themselves out of government funding and had to apply for a bank loan.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: 'Mid Cheshire College and Warrington Collegiate have behaved recklessly, putting jobs at risk by failing to access secure funding and a sustainable future through joining the Cheshire-wide merger.

 UCU members at University of Brighton walk out today

UCU members at the University of Brighton walked out at 1pm today in a dispute over job losses, plans to limit promotions and downgrade teaching staff, reported the BBC. The Argus said that as well as the half-day strike they begin working to contract from today with further two days of strike action planned for Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 April.

The dispute has arisen after the university breached longstanding agreements negotiated with UCU about the working conditions of all academic staff. The union said that the multiple and persistent nature of these breaches threatened the status of the UCU as the union that is recognised to negotiate on behalf of academic staff at the University of Brighton.

UCU regional official, Michael Moran, said: 'Staff are walking out in protest at the university's plan to downgrade teaching staff, make others redundant, and refuse promotion opportunities. These plans are an insult to staff at the University of Brighton and a serious threat to the quality of education on offer at the institution.

Jobs at risk again at Salford City College

Teaching staff across a number of subject areas are at risk at Salford City College in a third year of cuts. Last year 30 teaching jobs were lost, following a cull in 2015 which saw other senior managers, department heads, IT and support staff go. Subjects likely to be affected in the next round of cuts include business, services and skills, healthcare and support, performance, arts and media, science, engineering and construction and academic studies.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss told the Manchester Evening News: 'This is the third year running that Salford City College has announced major redundancies causing anxiety and poor morale amongst staff. We will be scrutinising the basis for these proposed job cuts and will want to work with the college to avoid compulsory redundancies. We want Salford City College to ensure that students in the area still have the opportunities they need to try and get on and contribute to the local and regional economy - the last thing they need is job cuts and course closures at their local college.'

University of Leeds forced to try defend attack on academic freedom

The University of Leeds has been forced to try and defend controversial plans to the Yorkshire Post that will make it easier to sack staff that UCU has warned could end up with industrial action. Staff at the University of Leeds are threatening to ballot for industrial action over changes to terms and conditions as part of proposed new university statutes.

The university's statutes set out dismissal procedures which already contain many grounds such as redundancy, capability, ill health and conduct, but the university wants to introduce an additional catch-all dismissal clause, "Some Other Substantial Reason" (SOSR), which it says could include conflict of interest, breakdown in trust and confidence, third party pressure, mistake or ignorance of law. UCU argues that these grounds contain serious threats to academic freedom and to freedom of speech.

UCU equality officer wins top Guardian award

Karma Nabulsi from the University of Oxford has won the Inspiring Leader Award in the Guardian University Awards. Karma is a fellow in politics at St Edmund Hall, who researches and publishes on the political history of revolutions and social movements in the 19th century, and Palestinian representation. She is also the director of undergraduate studies at the university's department of politics and public relations, as well as being UCU equality officer and a member of the staff BME network.

Further education sector unites behind save adult education campaign

The further education sector has united behind FE Week's #SaveOurAdultEducation campaign. Sally Hunt said: "If the government really wants to put skills at the heart of its industrial strategy, adults must be able to learn throughout their lives." The Labour party also added its backing, while the leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron confirmed his support with a personal comment. The campaign was launched in February at parliament and has three simple demands.

·         The government to consult on a proper adult education strategy, one which won't disappear under the political weight of apprenticeships and devolution

·         The widespread introduction of FE maintenance grant loans for adult learners, to make retraining easier for older people by covering living costs while studying

·         Advanced learning loans debt to be written off where adult learners are unable to complete courses if training providers go bust.

Last updated: 31 March 2017

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