In the news: 4 June 2016

UCU CONGRESS

In its preview of Sally Hunt's speech, the Times set out possible action to come over the summer and into the new academic year, warning that delegates would debate a programme of escalation. They quoted her strong call to arms: 'I don't believe in half-hearted action. And I don't believe in so-called demonstrative action. If we ask members to take action, it should have meaning. It should hit the employers hard and fast and it should be used to leverage negotiations, not further political agendas.'

Recognising that academic salaries have not improved for years in an accompanying leader, the Times said that while academics may not garner sympathy like, say, junior doctors, most successful countries have thriving and well-resourced universities. For that to happen the nation's academics have to be rigorous, hard-working and relatively contented.

Reporting on the debate, the Mail said delegates did indeed back plans to escalate the union's action in its fight for fair pay. Sally Hunt told the BBC that branches were already coming forward with details of their summer strike action.

In her speech Sally called on universities to hand over every penny docked from striking staff in the row over pay to their student hardship funds. Speaking about the area reviews in further education she described the government's proposals as a 'leap in the dark'. She also announced plans for an autumn demonstration with the National Union of Students.

Afterwards she gave a wide-ranging interview to FE Week who also reported outgoing president Liz Lawrence's address to congress where she criticised ministers for the ignorance of the further education sector.

Times Higher Education reported on the findings of a UCU report released at congress that revealed how the average academic is working unpaid for the equivalent of two days every wseek. Academic staff work an average of 50.9 hours per week, according to UCU's workload survey Workload is an Education Issue. The findings come as a separate report warns how academic stress could have implications for universities' finances and student experience scores.

Kingston University vice-chancellor Julius Weinberg told a packed meeting at UCU congress that the government's prevent duty to tackle extremism on campus was 'more counterproductive than counter-extremism'. He said that his fellow vice-chancellors are largely a liberal bunch, but they are under a lot of pressure and that is why so few had spoken out forcefully against the controversial new rules.

Talking to the Telegraph ahead of the event, Sally Hunt warned that some lecturers fear being in a position where they are no longer trusted by their students and therefore radical ideas go unchallenged.

 

Plans to axe 400 jobs at risk at London Metropolitan University

Congress opened to the news that more jobs - around a third of the total total - were to be lost in plans from London Metropolitan University to get rid of 224 clerical jobs, in areas like student support, 159 professional roles, which are mainly academic positions, and 12 managerial posts.

UCU regional official Barry jones told the Independent that UCU would make the case for an alternative approach during the forthcoming consultation. He told the Guardian that the union would continue to fight for the interests of the university's staff and students.

 

University heads' salaries going up three times faster than rank-and-file academics

Average salaries paid to senior university staff are rising three times as fast as the pay awarded to rank-and-file academics. Analysis of official pay data shows that the pay of senior university managers is also growing much faster than that given to academics. The average pay of full-time senior academic staff, which includes heads of school, pro vice-chancellors and other senior managers, rose by 3.9 per cent for 2014-15. Meanwhile, the average salary of a non-professorial academic inched up by just 1.2 per cent last year.

Sally Hunt said that blatant double standards in university pay are being felt acutely by staff across the sector. 'Yet again,' she said, 'we have seen those at the top enjoying bumper pay rises of around 4 per cent while increases for rank-and-file staff are held down at barely a quarter of that.'

 

Essex University applauded for efforts to close gender pay gap

One piece of good news on university pay for staff came at Essex where female professors are to be awarded a one-off salary hike in an attempt to eradicate the gender pay gap. In what is believed to be a sector first, the university will move female professors up three newly created pay levels, effectively raising their average salaries to the same as their male counterparts. 

Sally Hunt told the Independent that Essex should congratulated for taking a stand and publically addressing the problem. 'Closing the gender pay gap is a key part of our current battle for fair pay in higher education,' she said. 'It is disgraceful that we are still seeing such shameful levels of pay inequality 50 years after the Equal Pay Act came into force,' she said. 

Sadly it seems we are some way off other universities following Essex's lead. On Thursday, Times Higher Education editor John Gill tweeted asking if any vice-chancellors would commit to a similar move. None responded.

 

External examiners resignation debate continues in the Guardian

Last week the Guardian reported how more than 1,000 academics had already resigned from their roles as external examiners in universities across the UK, with thousands more expected to join them in coming weeks. UCU has been inundated with academics saying they have quit their post(s) since then and the debate over fair pay continued on the Guardian's letters page this week after 50 professors wrote to the paper saying why they had resigned.

 

Sally Hunt challenges marketised future of universities

Elsewhere on the Guardian's letters page this week, Sally Hunt takes Rafael Behr to task for his defence of tuition fees and proposals for the Tef. She says he glosses over serious over problems, such as yet another bureaucratic burden on staff and the issue of precarious contracts many are forced to endure, and that his vision of higher fees, market-driven university policies and students as consumers is far from utopia. Other letters pick up the theme and discuss the value of university education.

 

South Downs College staff balloted for strike action in row over new contracts

UCU members at South Downs College are being balloted for strike action in a row over new contracts that the union says would lead to worse pay and conditions for staff. The ballot opened on Thursday and closes on Monday 13 June.

The college has threatened to dismiss staff who refuse to sign up to new contracts, which would see cuts to staff pay, as well as reductions to annual leave and redundancy notice periods. UCU regional official, Moray McAuley, said: 'These are deeply damaging proposals, and staff are understandably angry at plans to dismiss staff who refuse to sign away a significant chunk of their salary and annual leave entitlement.'

 

Unions oppose plans for merger between Bury College and University of Bolton

UCU and UNISON have rejected plans for Bury College to merge with the University of Bolton. In their formal response to the college's public consultation over the proposed merger with the University of Bolton, the unions also warn any tie-up with the University of Bolton would pose a serious threat to future of further education provision in Bury. 

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss said: 'Bury College rightly has a proud reputation for excellence and we do not believe serious questions about the future of education in Bury were answered in the flawed consultation process.'

Last updated: 10 June 2016