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In the news: Friday 29 June 2018

Unions submit 5% pay claim ahead of July pay talks

On Wednesday the trade unions representing staff in further education colleges in England submitted a pay claim for 5% for to the employers' representatives the Association of Colleges (AoC). The unions want a guaranteed minimum increase of £1,500 for the lowest paid staff where a 5% rise is lower than £1,500. They are also calling for colleges to pay the living wage of £8.75 (£10.20 in London) and become accredited living wage employers.

Ahead of pay talks on Friday 13 July, UCU said it was pleased the employers had recognised the importance of better pay in the sector. In response to a staff survey, the AoC told FE News it was unacceptable that teachers in colleges were earning £7,000 a year less than their counterparts in schools.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told Tes: 'Staff will rightly expect an offer that makes up for a decade of real-terms cuts and goes some way to addressing the unacceptable gap between staff pay in colleges and schools.'

Polling finds no evidence of minister's censorship on campus

Last week the Independent reported that universities minister Sam Gyimah found himself in a spot of bother after King's flatly denied a story he told about a student reporting a lecturer for hate speech. On Monday the minister told the Times that when he spoke at a university recently they read out the safe space policy, which took 20 minutes. Gyimah did not name the institution on this occasion so nobody was able to check if it actually happened.

The anecdote was another example of his fight against a perceived clampdown on freedom of speech on campus - although this does suggest he is not familiar with his own government's Prevent Duty, which UCU has not been alone in criticising as a genuine threat to freedom of speech.

It has been noted before that Gyimah leans heavily on anecdote and popular politics. So one hopes he will take note of polling released this week that found no evidence that UK students were hostile to free speech. It follows a report from MPs and peers in March that said claims that students had created a free speech crisis on university campuses had been "exaggerated".

Funding review report not expected until October and not much is expected

Lowering tuition fees by shifting the delivery of some higher education courses into further education colleges and renaming student loans as a "graduate contribution" are reported to be minor changes under consideration in the government's review of post-18 education. Times Higher Education said no initial review is expected until October, despite the prime minister pushing for it in August.

The review was originally announced by Theresa May to try and tap into supposed support from students and young people for Labour and its election 2017 policy of scrapping fees. However the report says that a lack of government funds means the review is looking at smaller changes that are unlikely to make much impact.

Universities told to improve student mental health support

Universities must "dramatically improve" support for students with mental health issues, the BBC reported yesterday. The government says it will award a certificate of excellence to institutions which meet new standards of mental health care.

It also wants universities to give students an opt-in service for vice chancellors to contact parents if students find themselves in a mental health crisis. Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics published data suggesting 95 students took their own lives in England and Wales in the 12 months to July last year.


Staff and student backlash over earlier start at Durham University

Staff and students at Durham University are angry at plans which could see lectures brought forward to start at 8am. The university said the decision was a result of an increase in people studying law and business.

UCU told the BBC that the union was not consulted on the matter and that members, particularly those with caring responsibilities, had already complained. A spokesperson said UCU would be taking the issues up with the university.

Students' union president Megan Croll said: 'It seems the university is more concerned about tuition fees than the student experience at Durham. Students are suffering because of over ambitious aims to expand the university. This will put extra hours on working days, not just of students but of staff too.'

Ballot threat in row over first compulsory redundancies in Wales for over eight years

UCU members at Coleg y Cymoedd will be balloted for strike action next week unless the college withdraws the threat to cut two jobs. There have been no compulsory redundancies in any further education college in Wales for more than eight years and UCU says it will not stand by and allow Coleg y Cymoedd to make compulsory redundancies.

UCU Wales support official Phil Markham told Wales Online that any action would take place in the new academic year. He said: 'The college struggles for funding every year. It's to do with funding. We can't just stand by and see two people made compulsorily redundant this year. We have a strong policy of opposition to compulsory job losses.'

Sussex principal's pay under fire as redundancies announced

The departing principal of Sussex Downs College has come under fire for continuing to receive his £200,000 salary until August, despite having been on gardening leave since March when the college merged with Sussex Coast College Hastings. The news comes as the East Sussex College Group looks to make savings through redundancy.

Responding to the news, a UCU spokesperson told FE Week: 'Cutting jobs and telling staff that there is no money for pay rises while colleges sign off golden goodbyes or hand out huge pay-hikes for some principals is simply unacceptable.' They added that the union was expecting a "decent response" to its national pay claim for a five per cent pay rise for staff or £1,500, whichever is greater, when talks begin next month.

Last updated: 29 June 2018