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Taking action in higher education

In the news this week: 15 January 2016

15 January 2016 | last updated: 28 January 2016

A look back at some of this week's news.

If you want teaching excellence, then you must respect university teachers

Writing in the Guardian this week, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt argued that with more than 100,000 teaching staff (more than half of the total) in insecure employment and tens of thousands on hourly paid contracts, it was time for the government to finally address underlying issues such as casualisation, the lack of a defined career progression and inadequate funding.

Considering ministers' plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework, Sally said that although there are many great teachers within the workforce, their achievements are in spite of, rather than because of, the system that employs them.

Government scraps student grants without debate

The Tories have pushed through legislation that will axes university grants for the country's poorest students. Opposition MPs have been blocked from debating the changes as the Government pushed them through the measure via an obscure Commons committee.

From September half a million students in England and Wales from the poorest households will no longer get a grant of £3,387 to help them with their studying costs. Under the new system, first announced by chancellor George Osborne in last year's budget, poorer students will have to take out loans, meaning they will end up paying more for their university education than those from well off families.

Part-time student numbers hits record low

Numbers of part-time students starting degrees at UK universities have hit a new low, according to figures released yesterday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The number of first-year students studying part time in 2014-15 fell by 6% on the previous year. Overall, the number of part-time first years has fallen by 38% in five years - from more than 428,000 in 2010-11 to below 266,000 last year.

Sally Hunt said: 'The people who benefit from part-time study are often mature students with existing family and work commitments. Too many people are being priced out of university because they don't want to saddle themselves with massive debts to fund their study or pay back their fees.'

Universities may be let off FoI hook

The Times this week warned how universities may be exempted from freedom of information (FoI) laws in an effort to stop people accessing information from public bodies. Ministers in the department for business are consulting on whether universities, which receive nearly £4 billion a year in taxpayers' money, should be removed from the Freedom of Information Act.

UCU's annual report looking at vice-chancellors' pay and perks will be released next month and relies on FoI requests to scrutinise the pay rises and expenses enjoyed by vice-chancellors. Sally Hunt said: 'We need to see proper scrutiny of vice-chancellors' pay and perks, including full details of the rationale behind large pay rises. It is particularly worrying that ministers are considering proposals to exempt universities from freedom of information requirements, which would make the job of scrutinising these sorts of pay deals even harder.'