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In the news: 5 April 2019

New charter calls for apprenticeships to be refocused on young people

Apprenticeships should be refocused towards young people and have education at their heart, said UCU as it launched its apprenticeships charter this week. The charter calls on the government to scrap its "arbitrary" target of three million apprenticeship starts and refocus on providing high-quality learning and employment opportunities for young people.

Speaking to Tes, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'This charter sets out an alternative vision for the future of apprenticeships which has education at its heart, a strong emphasis on quality, and helps to create real jobs as part of an integrated industrial strategy.'

MPs unite and fight over funding for further education

The Tuesday evening Westminster launch followed a Westminster Hall debate earlier in the day which Tes reported saw MPs from both the government and opposition benches speak in support of increasing funding for colleges and better pay for staff. However, although skills minister Anne Milton said she would make the case for better funding, she did not talk about pay or what she would ask for in the upcoming spending review.

That refusal may have been what prompted a war of words between Milton and her predecessor Robert Halfon at an education select committee meeting on Wednesday. Committee chair Robert Halfon argued that education ministers would be more likely to win over the Treasury if they were openly campaigning for an amount of extra funding or percentage increase.

FE Week said he also likened the discussions between the Department for Education and the Treasury to cardinals secretly deciding on the next pope, and waiting for "white smoke coming through the roof," rather than discussing it in public.

Three colleges in West Midlands confirm walkouts for next week

UCU members will be on strike next week at Coventry College, City of Wolverhampton College and the Warwickshire College Group in a dispute over pay. Staff will walk out on the following days:

City of Wolverhampton College - Monday 8, Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10 April

Warwickshire College Group - Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 April

Coventry College - Tuesday 9, Wednesday 10 April and Thursday 11 April

As well as being on picket lines, striking staff at Coventry College and Warwickshire College Group will take their protest to Coventry city centre on Tuesday with a march and rally from 12pm.

UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'Strike action is always a last resort, but if colleges won't work with us to prioritise staff then we are left with no other choice. We are particularly frustrated that City of Wolverhampton College turned down our offer to meet through expert mediators to try and avoid strike action.'

94% of Nottingham Trent staff say workload impacts on their mental health

Excessive workloads are taking their toll on the wellbeing of academic staff at Nottingham Trent University, warned a report released on Tuesday. The findings show that 94% of academic staff said their workload has a negative impact on their mental health.

UCU said the university had to make tackling long hours a priority as three-quarters (74%) of staff said they did at least six extra hours a week and three in 10 (29%) did more than 11 hours of unpaid overtime.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Nottingham Trent University UCU secretary Mark Weinstein said: 'This damning survey lifts the lid on intolerable workloads at Nottingham Trent University and the damage it is doing to people's health. Staff complain that working weekends and evenings is now the norm with huge strain being put on their personal lives.

The local branch has published a ten step guide it wants the university to adopt to help staff. The plans call for more staff to be employed and help for the high numbers of staff who are not on a fixed contract.

Government review of unconditional university offers "perfect opportunity" for radical overhaul

Responding to calls today from education secretary Damian Hinds for a review of university admissions, following controversy over the use of unconditional offers, UCU said the review was a perfect opportunity to look at a radical overhaul of how and when students apply to university.

UCU favours a system where students apply to university after they have received their results. The union said moving to a post-qualifications admissions system would remove the need for unconditional offers and bring the whole of the UK in line with the rest of the world.

Speaking to the Independent, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'We are pleased the minister is looking seriously at the use and abuse of unconditional offers. This review is the perfect opportunity for an overhaul of the system so university offers are based on actual achievements instead on guesswork. Shifting to a system where students apply to university after they receive their grades would make unconditional offers redundant and bring us in line with the rest of the world.'

Universities spending millions on marketing

The Guardian revealed this week that universities are spending millions of pounds on marketing in a battle to recruit students as competition intensifies in the higher education sector. Data obtained by the paper through freedom of information requests showed institutions spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on digital advertising and social media in a direct appeal to 18-year-olds, as well as adverts on billboards, buses and the London underground.

UCU accused universities of favouring style over substance. The union's acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'It is clearly important that universities make potential students aware of the benefits of higher education, but the spiralling growth in spending on marketing stands in direct contrast to the way the pay and conditions of those who deliver to students has been held down.

'Students pay record levels of fees, staff are not paid enough, yet millions are being spent on marketing as institutions appear to favour style over substance. This approach is at odds with what students actually say they want.'

Half of private colleges ceased to operate in three years

On Monday, Times Higher Education revealed that half of the private higher education providers operating in the UK left the sector in the space of three years. It said new research showed that of the 732 institutions listed as operating in 2014, half - 363 - had ceased to operate, at least as higher education providers, by 2017.

It also found that for-profit providers were particularly at risk of closure, accounting for nine out of 10 of the institutions found to have shut their doors between 2014 and 2017. The report said that possibly the most concerning finding was that less than one in five current private providers was likely to become registered with the regulator.

The study said providers outside the register will "continue to remain an unknown quantity, unregistered, and essentially unregulated" and therefore not be covered by student protection plans covering arrangements for supporting students in the event of closure.

On Thursday Times Higher Education looked at what the carnage across the for-profit sector of recent years had meant in America. It found that for-profit higher education in the US has lost nearly half of the 3.7 million students it had in 2010. It said the schools are far from the only, or even the main, victims. It found Americans collectively owe some $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, with for-profit college students most likely to be holding a share and most likely to be defaulting.

Last updated: 5 April 2019