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In the news: 8 July 2016

8 July 2016

A look back at some of the week's news

EU nationals must not be used as pawns in Brexit negotiations, says UCU

UCU this week called on the government and Conservative party leadership candidates to make a firm commitment that all EU nationals already in the UK can stay. The union was responding to a refusal from Tory frontrunner Theresa May to confirm that EU nationals could stay, and the suggestion that their status could be up for negotiation as part of Britain's Brexit strategy.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Politicians have been ducking the difficult fallout from the Brexit vote for too long. It is simply not acceptable to try and use EU nationals who have been living, working and paying tax in this country as pawns in any Brexit negotiations. It's time for the government, and those who wish to lead it, to clearly state that EU nationals can remain in this country.'


Forty universities hit by strikes this week with more to come

UCU members at 40 universities were on strike across the UK this week, from Scotland to Plymouth. Thirty-three institutions took action on Tuesday with many joining regional rallies with colleagues in the National Union of Teachers, who were also on strike on Tuesday. Ten institutions will be out next week with Edge Hill and Exeter kicking things off on Monday.

Writing in Public Sector Focus magazine, Sally Hunt takes the employers to task for their failure to close the gender pay gap and refusal to make a fair pay offer. She also says it's a scandal that universities have allowed insecure contracts to become the norm and warns that the more normal they become, the more their existence will lower the bar of acceptable employer behaviour. 


Sainsbury review of technical education

The government must invest properly in colleges and the further education workforce if proposed reforms of technical and professional education are to succeed, said UCU today. The union was commenting ahead of the Sainsbury review of technical education, due to be published today.

The review is expected to recommend significant changes such as young people at 16 being asked to choose between an academic A-level option, or to take one of 15 new technical options. The new technical routes will be delivered through a mix of college-based courses and apprenticeships, with a focus on developing core skills including English and maths, as well as specialist occupational skills.

UCU welcomed the report's emphasis on college-based learning as a key part of each new route, but warned that government will need to invest in colleges and address the falling value of lecturers' pay if it wants to ensure that the new routes are high-quality and delivered by expert teaching staff.

Sally Hunt said: 'These significant reforms can only happen if the government supports college staff. Addressing declining staff pay will be vital if colleges are to attract the best staff to deliver core and specialist training.

'While there are some welcome proposals, the government needs to ensure it does not pigeon hole young people too early. The option to mix A-levels with vocational options like BTECs has been helpful in widening participation, so we need to ensure a broad and flexible curriculum is still available for students, including older people looking to retrain. The key will be delivering proper careers advice so people are making informed decisions that allow them to fulfil their potential.'


UCU and the National Union of Students confirm national demonstration date

UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have set Saturday 12 November 2016 as the date for a national demonstration in central London. The union said the demonstration would take concerns about the cost of education and the worsening pay and conditions of staff right to the heart of government.

Both organisations will be meeting and working with local representatives and members to build support for the November event. Speakers and a route will be confirmed at a later date. Follow the #DemoN12 Twitter hashtag for all the latest news.

Sally Hunt said: 'We announced plans for a national autumn demonstration at our congress in May and can now confirm it will take place on Saturday 12 November. The world has changed a lot in those few months and it is absolutely vital that students, lecturers and supporters of a fair education system join us to take our message to the heart of the government.'


Invest in staff, not just "shiny buildings" says Sally Hunt

Writing in the Financial Times this week, Sally Hunt challenged the idea that students and their parents want, and are impressed by, "shiny buildings". Responding to comments from Higher Education Policy Institute director Nick Hillman, Sally suggested he should revisit his own study that showed students offered a decidedly lukewarm approval of universities' building projects, with half (49%) saying they should cut back and instead invest in other areas such as teaching.

Explaining why UCU members are on strike over pay, Sally says that behind the veneer of shiny buildings, 49% of teaching staff are on insecure contracts, female academics are paid 12.6% less than their male colleagues and staff have seen their pay drop by 14.5% in real-terms since 2009.


The failings of for-profit education: from Socrates' fears to Trump's fraud

Writing in the Guardian, A J Angulo - the author of Diploma Mills: How For-Profit Colleges Stiffed Students, Taxpayers and the American Dream - echoes many of UCU's concerns about for-profit colleges and their attempts to get a stronger grip on UK higher education.

He lists the many failings of for-profit education and says as early as 400BC Socrates had warned that establishing students as consumers would be a mistake. Angulo says recent attempts to detoxify the for-profits' brand are mere cosmetic alterations as changing those at the top does little to address the conflicts of interests that arise when profit motivates owners and shareholders.

He concludes that, like Socrates, we must reject the canard that a university education is just another commodity.


UCU says it's time to look properly at how to fund Scottish universities

A report has found it has become more difficult for Scots to get a university place at an institution in Scotland. In a major review of higher education in Scotland, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland highlighted a 6% real terms cut in the amount of cash universities receive from the Scottish Funding Council.

The BBC reported that the Scottish government provided more than £1.7bn to universities and students in 2014/15 but the study said institutions were "placing increasing reliance on generating income from fee-paying students from the rest of the UK and outside the EU."

UCU Scottish official, Mary Senior, said: 'The report's conclusion makes it clear that public funding is central to our universities' success both in widening access and remaining world-leading institutions. The Scottish government needs to take a hard look at the level of funding it gives to higher education and how it raises that money. We believe the time has now arrived to properly appraise taxation policy and whether we need to use the parliament's new powers.'


University of Bolton criticised for cash and iPad incentive student recruitment scheme

Academics at the University of Bolton are being offered cash rewards potentially worth thousands of pounds if their courses meet or exceed recruitment targets. UCU described the student recruitment incentive scheme, seen by Times Higher Education, as "just wrong".

Leaders of undergraduate courses that recruited 15 or more students last year will be eligible for a reward of £1,000 if they match the 2015 figure this autumn. For courses that signed up fewer than 15 students in September, the target is to hit 15 for the first time. Then, for each additional student beyond the threshold, programme leaders will receive an additional £200, in the case of full-time students, and £100 for part-time students.

Programme leaders will be eligible to share half their total bonus with other academics who have been directly responsible for the increase in student numbers. Under the scheme there are other prizes on offer, including iPads.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said that the Bolton scheme would be illegal in the US. 'We are unhappy with the idea of staff being given blatant financial incentives to help bring in more numbers; this is just wrong. We would rather student recruitment is based on students and courses finding a match that ultimately suits them best and we have faith in professional recruitment staff being best placed to do this,' he said.


Cornwall College principal resigns in salary row

The principal of Cornwall College has resigned following calls from UCU to consider cutting his own £229,000 salary package - a rise of 9% on the previous year - rather than make redundancies. The BBC said Amarjit Basi will leave his post as principal and chief executive of Cornwall College at the end of July.

At the end of May, UCU called on Basi to re-assess his own salary in the light of more redundancies at the college. UCU regional official, Philippa Davey, said: 'Our proposal was that the principal considers a pay cut. It was one of several put forward by the union in response to yet another round of redundancies at Cornwall College.'


South Downs College strikes off as contracts dispute resolved

Strike action planned at South Downs College has been cancelled after an agreement was reached between the college and UCU over new contracts.

Staff were due to walk out yesterday and Tuesday this week following on from two days' action last week. However, an improved deal was put to members, including assurances over salary protection, holiday entitlement and strike pay deductions, which they overwhelmingly voted to accept.

UCU regional official, Moray McAulay, said: 'UCU members have overwhelmingly voted to accept the new deal put forward by the college. Strike action planned for this week is off and the dispute is resolved.'

Last updated: 17 March 2021