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In the news this week: 6 February 2016

5 February 2016 | last updated: 7 March 2019

A look back at some of the week's news

UCU report finds high levels of discrimination in colleges and universities

Nine out of ten (90%) black staff members report having faced barriers to promotion in colleges and universities, according to a report released yesterday by UCU.

The survey of 631 black union members working in post-16 education also found that over two-thirds (71%) said they had 'often' or 'sometimes' been subject to bullying and harassment from managers.

The report is published ahead of a national day of action against workplace racism, organised by UCU, on Wednesday 10 February when union branches will hold events in workplaces and encourage members to share their experiences. The union will also release the film 'Witness', which documents the experiences of black members in colleges and universities which Sally Hunt introduced on the Guardian website.

Times Higher Education quotes some of the stories from the report in its coverage, describing how one university teaching assistant said they were frustrated that it is assumed that a person with a black face is foreign and not British, while an associate tutor was annoyed by consistent and persistent misspelling of their name.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It's clear that too many institutions, be it through caution or complacency about discrimination and racism, have not made any structured attempts to monitor or investigate what's happening on the ground. Of course they are well aware that black staff are dramatically under-represented at higher levels but for too long they have let it slip under the radar.'

UCU names and shames UK's least transparent universities

UCU today named and shamed the UK's least transparent universities. A total of 24 institutions refused to provide details of their bosses' pay and perks in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

UCU will be releasing its full pay and perks survey on Thursday and said that universities should not escape the spotlight by refusing to answer legitimate questions about their finances and how they spend public money.

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 share this information.

'To exempt universities from freedom of information legislation at a time of increased costs for students does not make sense. We want to see greater sanctions on universities that blatantly ignore these requests or try to wriggle out their responsibilities.'

Cameron race remarks

Prime minister David Cameron waded into the row over university admissions this week with a piece in the Sunday Times that asked if there was something ingrained, institutional and insidious that stopped black people from getting on in modern Britain. The armed forces, FTSE 100 companies and universities were all taken to task for their lack of diversity.

In response, UCU argued that the PM did have a point, but that if he wanted to consider really radical ideas to shake up university admissions, he should back a system where students apply to university after they have received their results.

Writing for Wonkhe, UCU policy officer Angela Nartey set out the case for a post-qualifications admissions system and outlined why the current system favours the rich and privileged. She also pointed out the contrary notion of the prime minister urging more people from disadvantaged people to apply to university while axing student maintenance grants.

Staff to strike in further education colleges on 24 February

UCU members will be joined by colleagues from UNISON on the picket lines when staff in further education colleges in England take strike action on Tuesday 24 February in a row over pay. Staff are angry that the employers' representatives, the Association of Colleges, recommended a pay freeze, despite staff suffering a real-terms pay cut of 17.1% in the last five years.

Three-quarters (74%) of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the union's ballot end of last year. Last week UNISON members also backed industrial action with two-thirds (66%) of their members who voted backing the walkout.

UCU head of bargaining, Michael MacNeil said: 'Staff in further education colleges are understandably sick of the employers' refusal to deal with the real-terms pay cuts that blight the sector. Our members demonstrated in November that they are prepared to take action on this issue and are delighted that colleagues from UNISON will be joining them on the picket lines.'

Strike action suspended at the Open University

Strike action has been suspended at the Open University following negotiations between the university and the University and College Union (UCU).  UCU said discussions were ongoing, but that it had suspended Tuesday's action this week as a gesture of good faith.

In November the Open University approved controversial plans to shut regional centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford. That decision led to a wave of national and regional strikes in November, with three-quarters (72%) of UCU members who voted backing strike action.

UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: 'We feel that significant progress has been made in the negotiations. As an act of good faith we have cancelled tomorrow's strike action to build on what has been achieved so far.'