Week in news: 3 February 2017

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backs UCU FE campaign

The TES reported this week that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has released a YouTube video backing UCU's campaign for better funding in further education. In the message he praises UCU's FE Transforms project, describes further education teachers as "unsung heroes working so hard to provide vital opportunities in our society" and says that investment in further education is "vital for our society".

He encourages viewers to sign the union's letter to skills minister Robert Halfon, which has already attracted around 2,500 signatures, calling for additional investment. It demands that the government allocates funding for the recruitment of an additional 15,000 teachers.

 

UK's most secretive universities named and shamed

This week UCU named and shamed the UK's least transparent universities. A total of 13 institutions refused to provide details of the vice-chancellor's pay and perks in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. The union has written to the universities and reported them to the Information Commissioner's Office.

The union said greater sanctions were needed to ensure universities justified some of the largesse that has embarrassed higher education in recent years. UCU said that universities should not escape the spotlight by refusing to answer legitimate questions about their finances and how they spend public money.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Freedom of Information legislation is important in holding universities that spend millions of pounds of public money to account. It is not acceptable that some universities simply refuse to comply with the law by dodging Freedom of Information requests. We believe the time has come for a national register of pay and perks in our universities. We want to see greater sanctions on those universities that blatantly ignore these requests or try to wriggle out of their responsibilities with exemptions.'

 

UCU leads protests against Donald Trump's travel ban

Sally Hunt was among the speakers at a demonstration outside Downing Street on Monday night opposing US President Donald Trump's executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. Speaking to thousands of protestors, Sally condemned attempts to demonise and divide human beings based on their nationality or religion.

She said: 'As educators and trade unionists we condemn Donald Trump's attempt to demonise and divide human beings based on their nationality or religion.' UCU encouraged people to sign the petition withdrawing the invitation of a full state visit to Donald Trump and asked members who have been affected by the travel ban to get in touch with the union.
 

Drop in university applications from EU students and slump in nursing applicants

Commenting on UCAS figures this week that showed a decline in the number of EU students applying to university and a drastic drop in people applying for nursing degrees, Sally Hunt, said: 'This drop in EU students strongly suggests that Brexit is damaging our universities' recruitment. Students from the EU need clarity and guarantees on costs and funding stretching into the future or naturally they will think twice about coming to study here. EU students have contributed to our universities' success and deserve better than to be used as pawns in negotiations about Britain's future.'

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Sally said: 'Such a drastic slump in applications to nursing courses shows the damage removing vital support for students can do. When the NHS is in crisis, the government is pursuing policies that are going to lead to fewer nursing graduates. The government must now accept its changes have had the opposite effect that it promised and bring back the support students need.'

 

UCU members back strike action plans at Manchester Metropolitan University

UCU members at Manchester Metropolitan University have overwhelmingly backed a motion that will trigger a strike action ballot if a dispute over the future of its Crewe campus and the staff who work there cannot be resolved reported the BBC.

The local paper said 400 staff faced an uncertain future ahead of a board of governors meeting next Friday (10 February). UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'UCU members from across Manchester Metropolitan University have made clear their opposition to the university's plans. We want to continue to work with the university to explore alternatives to compulsory redundancies, but UCU members will trigger a strike ballot if the university refuses to rule out compulsory redundancies.'

 

Campaign to reinstate sacked trade union activist at University of Liverpool

UCU has mounted a campaign to reinstate a union activist who was sacked just before Christmas by the University of Liverpool after working there for 28 years. In December Dawn Holdman - the equalities officer of the University of Liverpool branch of UCU - was dismissed from her role as school administrator in the school of medicine. Although the university said this was part of a restructure, a job very similar to Dawn's was advertised externally during the process. UCU believes she was dismissed for her union activities.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss told UnionNews: 'In a restructure involving hundreds of members of staff, Dawn Holdman, an active trade unionist, was the only one made compulsorily redundant. After 28 years' service to the University of Liverpool it is quite shocking that the institution decided to sack her just days before Christmas.'

A petition calling for Dawn's reinstatement has been launched.

 

College employs finance director under police investigation for fraud

The deputy chief executive of Hackney Community College who abruptly left his post last summer over financial irregularities has been appointed the finance director of Epping Forest College, which insists it had full knowledge of the situation when it hired him.

May 'Dare left his job at Hackney Community College while on annual leave in August after he spent £338,000 of its money on IT supplies from a company which he owned. New City College Corporation (which incorporates Hackney Community College) said he left after "routine desk-based checks" found that the huge sum had been spent on equipment from his company, Newton Rachel Limited. The college said it had not sought to recover the £338,000, because the goods it was used for had been received. The college referred the matter to the police who are dealing with it as an alleged fraud and possible abuse of public office.

A spokesperson for UCU told FE Week that the episode involving May 'Dare and computer supply contracts exposed the need for rigorous checks in colleges: 'Concentrating so much power in so few hands is not healthy and we are also unconvinced that outsourcing these types of roles is always necessary.'

 

Why education is so vital for prisoners

Writing in the TES, a serving prisoner at HMP Grendon says that to make sure that ex-prisoners are rehabilitated and become useful to their communities, we need to do more than just hope that a 'long-enough' stint in a 'bad-enough' place will stop people who stole previously will not do it again the moment they are released. He says that education is a way back into the light, a way of understanding what it means to be part of the world and a way of learning what is at stake when people are not.

Last updated: 3 February 2017

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