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In the news 14 June

Strike ballot at Sandwell College as row over sacked lecturer escalates

The row at Sandwell College over the "heavy-handed" sacking of UCU activist Dave Muritu escalated this morning after his colleagues launched a strike ballot. The ballot will open on Friday 21 June and close on Friday 12 July. On Saturday 22 June, there will be a march and rally calling for Muritu's reinstatement. The march will start at 12.30pm outside the West Bromwich campus on Spon Lane

The row centres on the sacking of maths lecturer Dave for writing on a poster promoting the controversial Prevent programme. Although Dave admitted to the incident and apologised for his actions, the college dismissed him at the end of May.

UCU said such a heavy-handed and disproportionate response from the college had to be down to Muritu's trade union activities. Muritu is the local branch secretary of UCU, and played a key role in negotiating a landmark pay deal for staff last year.

Almost 7,000 people have signed a petition calling for Muritu's reinstatement, while shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and shadow labour minister Laura Pidcock have also shown their support for the campaign.

 

July strike date announced at Nottingham College in contracts row

Staff at Nottingham College will walk out on Monday 1 July as part of a row over the college's plans to impose new contracts, with UCU threatening more walkouts if the dispute cannot be resolved. Ahead of the strike, there will be a protest in Nottingham city centre on Thursday (20 June). The rally will begin at 5pm at the Brian Clough statue in Market Square.

UCU has accused the college of holding staff to ransom after it announced plans to dismiss anyone refusing to sign up to new contracts. The proposals would leave over 80 staff more than £1,000 worse off, despite staff not receiving a pay rise since 2010. The new contracts would see staff lose up to eight days' holiday and cuts to sick pay. 

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU head of further education, Andrew Harden, said: 'UCU members who have gone nine years without a pay rise are not prepared to simply stand by and accept pay cuts and attacks on their working conditions. If the college wants to avoid serious disruption then it needs to urgently work with us to address the concerns of staff.'

 

Improved student satisfaction built on goodwill of staff, says UCU

Improvements in student satisfaction are built on the goodwill of staff, and action on workload and job security is needed to ensure that the student expectations are met in the future, UCU said this week.

The union was responding to the findings of the annual Student Academic Experience Survey, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Advance HE, which showed that students' satisfaction with overall teaching and feedback had improved between 2018 and 2019.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'It's encouraging that students are increasingly happy with the quality of teaching and feedback, but too often these improvements are built on the goodwill of staff. Increasing job insecurity and work overload are a threat to the student experience and urgent action is needed to address these issues. Institutions need to listen to students who say that teaching and support staff should be the top priority for investment.'

 

Minister backs review of university admissions system

UCU's campaign for a radical overhaul of the university admissions system received another boost this week as the education secretary said the proliferation of unconditional offers "may be symptomatic of wider issues within university admissions processes". The Telegraph said a letter from Damian Hinds to the Office for Students also reiterated his support for a review of the current system.

In response UCU's head of policy Matt Waddup wrote to the Telegraph saying moving to a system where students apply to university after they get their results would remove the need for unconditional offers and bring the whole of the UK in line with the rest of the world.

Waddup said that after many years of being a lone voice on the issue, UCU welcomed the scrutiny that the admissions system was now getting. He said that there was now a real opportunity to develop a system where university offers are based on actual achievements, which would be an important step towards a fairer higher education system.

 

Principal payoff probe at Aberdeen University

The Scottish Funding Council has launched an investigation into a £282,000 payment to the former principal of Aberdeen University Sir Ian Diamond. The quango said it was reviewing whether the payment met its "clear governance and value for money requirements". The university's new senior governor, Esther Roberton, told the BBC she welcomed the review.

Despite announcing his plans to retire in August 2017, Sir Ian only triggered the notice period in July 2018 - the same month he officially stepped down from the prestigious post. It means that 11 months after he retired, the university's former principal is still officially working his notice.

Speaking to the Press and Journal, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'These figures expose once again the truly arbitrary nature of the pay and perks of those at the top of our universities, and the lack of transparency around how and why these golden goodbyes are given.'

 

Training provider director paid £3.6m

The sole director of a training provider paid millions in public funding to deliver adult education received benefits worth £3.6 million over just two years, Tes revealed this week. The magazine said this included £2 million spent on a "second-hand offshore life policy" in 2015-16. The company, Free2Learn, has one director, Gabriele Gherscovic, who has been in post since the provider came into existence. Her husband, Gabriel Gherscovic, is the company's chief executive.

The majority of its income comes through adult education budget provision funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The benefits listed in Free2Learn's accounts for 2015-16 equate to 17 per cent of its £11.8 million turnover that year.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'It is scandalous that several million pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent on a single individual while the wider further education sector has suffered a decade of cuts. UCU has repeatedly warned about the dangers of allowing for-profit companies into our education system, because the interests of shareholders should never trump those of students. This is money which would be much better spent on the front line, providing thousands more opportunities for people to improve their skills.'

Last updated: 14 June 2019

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