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In the news: 21 July 2017

UCU report warns of mid-life tax crisis for graduates

High-earning graduates could find themselves paying the equivalent of 51p in the pound into the public purse by the time they hit their 30s and 40s through tax, National Insurance contributions and loan repayments, warned a report published by UCU yesterday. The Mirror said the union's report highlighted a "mid-life tax crisis" for graduates.

In a blog for the Huffington Post, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said there are no winners under the current student funding system and the report exposes the different ways to lose. The report, by respected economic consultancy London Economics, showed how many graduates will have effective tax rates of around 50% during their 30s and 40s.

In a blog for Wonkhe, the report's authors reveal how much different professions can expect to repay over their careers and say that although the student loan repayment system appears progressive, and is regularly cited as so by its defenders, their findings reveal that it can be regressive.

Former education minister and current tuition fees nemesis Lord Adonis described the report's findings as "devastating stuff", while the associate editor of the esteemed Wonkhe blog David Morris said the analysis was "excellent and illuminating".

Jo Johnson calls for pay restraint in universities again

Universities minister Jo Johnson took the unusual step of making a speech on the last day of Parliament ahead of the summer break yesterday. Seen as an effort to draw a line under the Tories' recent turmoil over student funding, his speech was trailed as likely to contain radical measures to curb vice-chancellors' pay. In the end he announced that the Office of Students would open three months early and he wanted them to issue guidance on senior pay in universities.

UCU said yet another ministerial plea for restraint was likely to fall on deaf ears and that Johnson seemed to admit as much last month when pressed on the issue by reporters. Sally Hunt, said: 'When in a tricky spot on university funding, ministers' default setting has been to criticise vice-chancellors' pay, and call for restraint. This is the second time Jo Johnson has employed this tactic in recent weeks and, while we hope he becomes the first minister to curb excessive pay at the top, this looks like an effort to deflect attention from the wider funding crisis.'

Tories try out new tactic to attack Labour over fees

Johnson's speech came just a day after Tory backbenchers put their cabinet colleagues to shame in a show of unity to deliver a consistent line on Labour's plans for student debt in a Commons debate on tuition fees. In a rather tiresome show of discipline numerous Tory MPs stood up and said the Labour party had broken a pledge to wipe out all student debt, rendering serious debate on the issue almost impossible.

Although in one bizarre exchange Tim Loughton MP for East Worthing and Shoreham got himself so confused he blamed the Labour party for the debt his kids accrued under the Conservatives.

Times Higher political reporter John Morgan tweeted that the Tories were trying to paint Jeremy Corbyn's comments in an NME interview as a manifesto commitment. Their approach seemed to work as the BBC coverage of the debate focused on Labour denying they had pledged to wipe out the debt, rather than the current mess around tuition fees.

Teesside University bans UCU from meeting about professors' futures

UCU has been banned from attending a meeting at Teesside University at 12:30pm today (Friday) to discuss the fate of 27 professors at the university who were controversially told earlier this month that they would all have to reapply for their jobs.

Most of the 27 professors are members of UCU, yet the union has been told it is not allowed to join the meeting and that the professors can instead send two representatives. The union said the decision to deny the staff union representation in talks about their futures flew in the face of fairness and decent practice.

Yesterday, Times Higher Education printed a letter from more than 750 academics condemning the university's plans, calling the timing "bizarrely thoughtless and ignorant to the annual work-cycle in academia."

UCU regional official Jon Bryan said: 'Banning UCU from a meeting about the future of 27 professors flies in the face of fairness and decent practice and risks doing serious damage to the university's reputation. The timing of the announcement at the end of the summer term looked cynical and the university should now halt plans that have already been widely condemned in the strongest terms by academics.'

UCU calls for halt to rushed restructure and job losses at Nottingham College

UCU is urging Nottingham College to halt rushed restructure plans, which FE Week reported leaves almost 400 staff uncertain about their future over the summer period. The newly formed college has announced a major restructure which will see at least 153 existing posts axed. Although some new posts will be created, the college has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies as part of the restructure process.

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU regional official Sue Davis said: 'The whole restructure process is being rushed through without proper time for consultation. The college has repeatedly failed to provide us with basic information about the proposed new structure, leaving staff in the dark. We are deeply concerned that the job cuts will lead to fewer opportunities and less support for local people to get the skills they need.'

Rise in number of firsts awarded

Research released yesterday suggested that as the cost of university has risen, so has the number of firsts being awarded. The Independent said that since 2010, when the cap on tuition fees was raised to £9,250 by the coalition Government, the numbers of firsts have risen at almost all universities so that a third of institutions now pass one in four students with top honours.

Is it time for comprehensive universities?

Elsewhere yesterday a paper by Middlesex University vice-chancellor Tim Blackman, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that the university system, through its obsession with hierarchies and rankings, has become a barrier to meritocracy.

The BBC reported how he argues that instead of driving social mobility, the university system has become a mirror to existing inequalities and is amplifying social segregation. Calling for "comprehensive universities" he says the brightest students should be spread across the system, rather than being clustered in a small number of universities crammed with other similar youngsters.



Last updated: 9 May 2019