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In the news this week: 13 February 2016

A look back at some of the week's news

Report reveals university heads' pay rises and perks

University bosses received an average salary of £272,432 for the academic year 2014/15, which was an increase of 3% on the previous year, and is 6.7 times the average pay of their staff, according to a report released yesterday by UCU.

The BBC described them as 'inflation busting' pay settlements, while the Times reported that Andrew Hamilton of the University of Oxford received emoluments of £462,000 in 2014-15. The Independent said that there were huge disparities in pay rates and pay rises, while the Guardian led with the revelation that, while VCs have seen their pay rocket by 14% over five years, staff pay had only gone up by 5%.

The Mail said UCU's report exposed why universities were trying to curb freedom of information legislation and the Mirror said UCU was calling for a tightening of the rules after revealing 11% of universities had simply ignored the union's freedom of information request.

You can find more of the coverage, including some regional reports, here.

UCU members, opposition leaders and experts at major education conference

UCU's third annual Cradle to Grave conference took place on Saturday. Speakers included Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Green party leader Natalie Bennett, Channel 4 News economics editor Paul Mason and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

Opening the event, Sally said that, despite the government's austerity agenda, this was not the time to focus on a narrow policy agenda, but time to make the case for alternatives to the government's current direction of travel.

Keynote speaker Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the value and necessity of education and invited UCU members to get involved with shaping Labour's education policy. He also urged members to become more active in the union during a stirring defence of the trade union movement.

Speaking to the media at the event, Corbyn told Times Higher Education that he hoped the Labour party would back his plans to axe tuition fees. He told FE Week that colleges were crucial and needed protection from the cuts and told the TES that he backed UCU's strike set to hit colleges later this month.

Have you rated your job?

The TES features UCU's new rate for the job tool today. The website allows members to compare their pay against staff in other colleges and universities. Users can also check out the gender pay gap and download data sheets. The popular resource has been used by over 20,000 since it launched last week. This week UCU added data from the vice-chancellors' pay and perks report and will continue to develop it.

Poorest students need proper reform to help them get to university, says UCU

UCU said today said that dramatic reform of university admissions is needed to achieve government ambitions on widening participation in higher education. The union was responding to new government guidance that calls for specific action to encourage poor white boys and students with disabilities to apply to university. Research has found that young men from poor white British families are less likely to enrol in higher education than any other group.

Sally Hunt said: 'Warm words from government on university outreach aren't enough to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds get a fair shot at higher education. We know that too many young people don't understand the current admissions system, which is based on highly inaccurate predicted grades. We need a fairer, more transparent system which is based on actual achievement rather than estimates of potential.'

Prime minister should put education at the heart of prison reform, says UCU

Education is the key to reducing reoffending, and governors should work closely with educators to ensure it is at the heart of prison reform said UCU on Monday. Speaking in response to the prime minister's announcement that six new reform prisons would be created this year, UCU said governors need to give learning a strong voice within prisons and invite education staff to sit on boards and senior management teams.

Sally Hunt said: 'We know that there is a clear link between increasing skills and reducing reoffending, and this reform is a great opportunity to put education at the heart of the prison system.

'Prison educators need a strong voice at the top of prison management, working closely with governors to ensure that learning remains a priority within each prison, and that there is a broad and balanced curriculum available.

How casual contracts are ruining universities

This week's anonymous academic tells the Guardian how casual contracts are ruining universities. They tell how since their temporary contract ended last summer, they have been repeatedly asked to work at the same institution as an hourly-paid lecturer, rather than as a member of staff.

They argue that situation means everyone's labour is devalued and students have a poorer experience. They conclude by saying there should not be a battle between full-time and casual staff, or students and lecturers, but that everyone should be pushing for universities to properly value their staff. 

Last updated: 12 February 2016