All out for USS

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In the news: 7 April 2017

UCU Scotland congress hears how English marketisation focus is shaping Scottish higher education

Reporting on UCU Scotland congress, the Herald  focused on UCU Scotland's president's speech that warned how the marketisation of higher education in England was shaping the Scottish system with little opposition from principals. Douglas Chambers said this included undue influence from large corporations over course content and the prioritisation of popular or money-making courses and research regardless of wider worth.

In its editorial, the Herald said that, like Douglas, it holds out some hope for maintaining a different course in Scotland. 'The Scottish Government has moved to more closely align the work of universities with their own economic priorities. And rejection of domestic fees and protection of the four-year degree betoken a contrasting approach here.

'The passing of higher education governance legislation last year also brought forward measures aimed at greater openness, participation and democracy on academic boards. These moves were not universally popular, so it will be interesting to see if they can provide a bulwark against the prospect of universities becoming the equivalent of retail outlets.'

Ballot opens at Manchester Metropolitan University

A ballot for industrial action opened on Thursday at Manchester Metropolitan University in a row over compulsory redundancies as a result of the closure of the Crewe site. Members at both the Manchester and Crewe campuses are being balloted and UCU regional official Martyn Moss told BBC Manchester (2:04:15 in) that he university is refusing to consider alternatives to job losses for the 160 academic staff based at the south Cheshire site.

The union says the final straw came last month when the university rejected a proposal to postpone redundancies scheduled for this summer to allow both sides time to consider redeployment options and severance packages.

Martyn Moss told the Crewe Chronicle it was a scandal that the university was prepared to throw years of academic talent and experience on the scrapheap without proper consideration of alternatives. Rather confirming UCU's frustrations, vice-chancellor Malcolm Press gives the Stoke Sentinel chapter on verse about why the campus was closed back in February, but does not once mention the reasons behind the current ballot, or why the university is not engaging with UCU on alternatives to compulsory job losses.

Fall in number of EU students applying to UK universities

The number of students from the EU who have applied to UK universities is down by 6% compared to this time last year, according to new figures released yesterday. The figures from the admissions service shows that there are now 496,010 UK applicants (down by 4% compared to this point last year) and 45,140 EU applicants (down by 6%) while the number of applicants from other overseas countries has increased by 2% to 60,630.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Amid all the recent fuss and fanfare about the triggering of Article 50 it was clear that any actual negotiations will not be starting for some time. This is dangerous news for our universities who need to be able to let EU students know what they can expect if they apply to study in Britain. The government needs to act now and send a strong message guaranteeing the conditions for EU students thinking about coming to a UK university, and status of the hardworking staff already here. Higher education is international in its nature and our universities are one of the UK's great success stories. Staff and students who have contributed to the UK's success deserve better than to be used as pawns in negotiations about the UK's future.'

Minority women face 'compounded disadvantage' in universities

New research from the Equality Challenge Unit details how the disadvantages faced by female academics in universities are exacerbated by factors such as ethnicity and sexuality.

Times Higher Education reported that the major survey of academics working in 43 UK universities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine subjects found that male respondents reported receiving better access to training in every area except teaching. This translated into "significant gender gaps in training on administrative tasks related to management, grant application skills, project planning and financial management", all highly relevant to "developing skills as a researcher and obtaining more senior positions".

Yet, among black and ethnic minority women, 9.4 per cent stated that "an obstructive or unhelpful line manager [had] block[ed] their access to training", compared with 6.6 per cent of white women. The proportion for women identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual was, at 14.2 per cent, more than twice as high as that for heterosexuals (6.4 per cent).

Last updated: 7 April 2017