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Taking action in higher education

In the news this week: 4 December 2015

4 December 2015 | last updated: 15 January 2016

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

Sally Hunt on Radio 4's Money Box programme

Sally was interviewed on Radio 4's Money Box last Saturday to discuss the implication of the spending review, in particular concerns about the changes to the student loan repayment threshold and the negative impact on students.

You can listen to Sally's interview here from about 14 minutes in.

Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee evidence hearing

Sally Hunt gave evidence at to the influential BIS Select Committee this week as part of its inquiry into assessing quality in higher education.

Outlining UCU's concerns about the government's TEF proposals, Sally told MPs, 'Quality teaching is underpinned by the creation of a decent working environment and conditions for teachers themselves and if politicians are serious about the quality of teaching they must act to tackle the widespread job insecurity and endemic casualisation that still blights the university sector.'

Concerns raised at the session regarding the dangers of metrics in assessing teaching quality were reinforced by OECD Head of Education Andreas Schleicher and Dame Athene Donald.

The full evidence session is available to watch online here.

Open University strikes continue against regional centre closures

Staff at Open University regional centres in Birmingham, London, Oxford, Leeds and Gateshead were on strike again this week as part of the ongoing row over the proposed closure of seven regional centres. As OU branch secretary Pauline Collins told local press, the closures 'will lead to chaos for students'.  Regional official Lydia Richards also spoke out in Big Issue North [882kb] saying that the closures were a 'missed opportunity' to make more of the centres and will lead to the loss of local expertise in the affected areas.

Staff at the regional centres in Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester will continue the rolling strike programme next week, with a walkout at the national offices on Friday 11 December.

UCU response to Ofsted annual report

Responding to the Ofsted annual report for further education and skills, UCU said that low further education funding is acting as a barrier to quality, and that the government must put in place a sustainable funding system to ensure that further learners are not cut off from the skills they need to succeed.

Sally Hunt told FE Week, 'As the report rightly recognises, the FE sector has faced massive budget cuts in recent years. It is little surprise that this rapidly changing funding environment is acting as a barrier to quality.'

Aberdeen University ballot

UCU has begun balloting lecturers at the University of Aberdeen on industrial action after the university refused to rule out compulsory redundancies despite having made around £8 million of savings.

In a previous ballot in June 2015 members overwhelmingly voted for strike action but the action was called off after university managers agreed not to make compulsory redundancies over the summer and to continue negotiations with the union to find alternative savings. However, despite finding savings of around £8 million so far and another £1.5 million of savings next year university managers are again looking to bring in compulsory redundancies.

Aberdeen UCU's Dr Andrew Mackillop, told The Scotsman: 'Nobody wants to take industrial action but having had an agreement for no compulsory redundancies, to see university managers now moving ahead with plans to make staff redundant leaves us with no option but to ballot.'