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Week in news: 10 February 2017

Education community needs to "take back control" in the world of post-truth politics, says Sally Hunt

Ahead of tomorrow's Cradle To Grave conference in London, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has set out what she believes the education community must do in response to challenges posed by the vote to leave the European Union. Writing comment pieces for both Times Higher Education and the TES, Sally said that if Trump and Brexit are part of the post-truth problem, then universities and colleges must be part of the solution.

In the Times Higher she said that instead of being "cowed by the Brexiteers' clarion call of take back control, progressives should make it their own". She said that victories for Brexit and by Donald Trump demonstrate the need to fight for the right of expertise, evidence and critical argument to be heard again.

Sticking with the theme of experts fighting back in the TES, she said there is "a revolt against expertise" and that education is under attack. She says that in a time when "knowledge and education have somehow become dirty words, we need to arm ourselves with the arguments and get out there and make our case".

 

UCU urges politicians to back EU nationals' right to stay in UK

Ahead of Wednesday's controversial vote in Parliament, UCU urged the Prime Minister and MPs to guarantee the rights of EU workers to remain in the UK after we leave the EU. The union said it was disappointed by the Prime Minister's lukewarm commitment so far to supporting EU workers, including the thousands that work in UK universities and colleges.

Sally Hunt said: "Theresa May has spoken warmly about the contribution EU nationals make to our economy and wider society. However, actions speak louder than words and we urge her to guarantee their right to stay in the UK after we leave the EU. Not only would this demonstrate her commitment to hardworking EU nationals, it would send a much-needed message to the world that Britain remains a welcoming country still open for business."

 

Government loan book sale plans trashed

On Monday UCU led the opposition to government plans to once again try to sell off the student loan book. The union pointed out that this is a government who has already moved the goalposts on loan repayments to sting graduates with higher charges.

Sally Hunt told the Guardian that the government had tried to sell off parts of the student loan book before, but not gone through with it because it didn't feel the taxpayer would get a good deal. "You can forgive our scepticism when Jo Johnson, the minister for universities, says people with student debts have nothing to fear", she added.

The Mirror reported that the government could make £12m from the sale, but is refusing to guarantee that any of the money would be spent on education. Sally Hunt told the paper that she did not believe another attempt to bring private companies into the higher education sector could represent a better deal for students or the taxpayer.

The Financial Times ran a scathing editorial attacking the plans saying they "made next to no sense" and urging the government to rethink the move. The Economist said the plans are risky and in the pursuit of a quick buck the government is unlikely to get a good deal. It warns that Jo Johnson may be remembered as a "dupe who sold government assets at bargain basement prices, swapping a lucrative future income for upfront cash today". While former business secretary Vince Cable said he had rejected the plans as a bad deal when he was in government and did not think anything had changed.

 

Data on alternative providers proves government plans are based on "very limited information"

UCU said on Wednesday that the lack of data on alternative providers of higher education exposed how government plans to make it much easier for new "competitor" universities, many of them for-profit institutions, to enter UK higher education were based on very limited information.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) covered just 97 out of more than 700 alternative providers of higher education and does not detail the success rate of students on courses at alternative providers.

Sally Hunt told THE: "The sheer scale of what is unknown highlights how the government is basing major decisions on the future of higher education on very limited information. We do not believe that plans to increase the number of alternative providers can go ahead until we can quantify the risk to public finances and our universities' global reputation from a rapid expansion of private for-profit education."

UCU says scandals in the US, including the recent problems with for-profits such as Trump University, should act as a warning to the government on the importance of maintaining the UK's global reputation for excellence.

 

"Education cuts are killing social mobility and shutting poorest out"

 As part of its Road to Wigan Pier 2017 project, 80 years on from the publication of George Orwell's essay, UCU's Rhiannon Lockley tells the Mirror about the effect of catastrophic education cuts. She says for her students in Birmingham, further education should be a way of improving their situation but social mobility doesn't really exist for them now.

She says that since 2009, we have lost about a million adult learners across the UK and in 2015, funding for further education was reduced by 24 per cent, forcing colleges across the UK and Birmingham to lose lecturers, teachers and support staff.

 

"We want effective national bargaining", UCU tell colleges

As the colleges' representative body the Association of Colleges (AoC) asks members if they are satisfied with the current national negotiation procedures, and whether the AoC should continue with them, UCU has said it remains committed to national bargaining, but only if that commitment is shared by colleges.

At present, if an agreement is struck between the AoC and unions it is down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement it. In 2014-15, just a third of colleges implemented the pay rise negotiated by the AoC on their behalf.

UCU head of further education, Andrew Harden, told TES that: "UCU remains committed to national bargaining, but that commitment must be shared by colleges. We want proper and effective national bargaining where colleges abide by what is agreed at a national level."

Elsewhere in TES, Ian Pryce, principal at Bedford College, said it was time for change and suggested colleges could afford to pay more. "A membership body cannot risk upsetting members and will only agree pay awards that are satisfactory to the vast majority of the membership, so well below what the average member might afford."

 

Manchester Metropolitan University lobby over future of Crewe campus

This morning UCU members at Manchester Metropolitan University lobbied university governors as they arrived for a meeting to decide the future of the institution's Crewe campus and its staff. The university confirmed it was consulting on plans to withdraw from the Crewe campus at a board of governors' meeting in November. A final decision on the future of the university in Crewe is expected today.

Around 400 members of staff are faced with an uncertain future due to the proposed withdrawal as the university has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. Sally Hunt was among the speakers at the lobby and said she was there to make clear the national union's opposition to compulsory redundancies.

She reminded the university that members have backed plans to trigger strike ballots if they do not rule out compulsory redundancies.

 

100 jobs at risk at Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group

Around 100 staff at Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group risk losing their jobs after the college announced plans to save £2m. UCU said the college's plans would have a devastating impact on educational opportunities in Staffordshire and called on the college to give full details of any outsourcing plans.

Local UCU rep Steph Tague told the local paper that some rationalisation was expected, but as the college already has ambitious growth plans in place these proposals seem to make little sense. She said that the college should focus on offering local people a broad range of courses, not increasing class sizes or narrowing the curriculum.

 

£9m Greater Manchester college closes after three years due to lack of students

A £9m state-of-the-art technical college that opened to great fanfare less than three years ago is to close its doors because it has been unable to recruit enough students and is no longer financially viable. The Guardian reported that Greater Manchester University Technical College in Oldham is to close at the end of the academic year.

The college was opened with the promise that it would be "a centre of excellence for sustainable engineering and science for the region", but as well as poor pupil recruitment it has also suffered poor GCSE results and has been branded "a wholesale failure" by local politicians. Not a single pupil achieved a grade A*-C in both maths and English GCSE last summer. It is the seventh University Technical College to shut.

Last updated: 11 March 2019