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In the news: 19 July

Nottingham College UCU members announce mammoth 15 strike days

Nottingham College faces weeks of walkouts in September and October after UCU members announced plans for a mammoth 15 days of strike action. FE Week reported how the proposed contracts would leave over 80 staff more than £1,000 a year worse off. They would also see all staff lose up to eight days' holiday, cuts to sick pay, and the removal of an agreement designed to protect staff against work overload.

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU head of further education, Andrew Harden, said: 'In announcing 15 days of action, staff at the college are sending a clear message that they will not be cowed by their employer. If the college wants to avoid serious disruption it needs to start negotiating with us in earnest.'

The severity of the action was summed up by Tes further education editor Stephen Exley, who tweeted: "Wow. FIFTEEN days of strikes threatened at Nottingham College". The Tes coverage said UCU said members were furious at the college's "deplorable tactic" of threatening to dismiss staff who refused to sign up to new contracts that would leave them worse off, and they had unanimously backed the extensive walkouts.


Union leaders call on Ruskin College to withdraw dismissal threats and drop charges against UCU reps

Ten trade union leaders, including UCU general secretary-elect Jo Grady, have written to Ruskin College in Oxford to demand they drop all disciplinary proceedings and withdraw threats of redundancy after the college dismissed a trade union branch officer. Times Higher Education said a college with a proud trade union history could be facing a union boycott amid claims University College Union members are being "victimised".

FE Week said the letter set out the union heads' "profound concerns about the way Ruskin College management appears to be victimising UCU trade union reps". UCU branch officer Lee Humber was sacked on Friday 12 July having previously been suspended for "spurious reasons" just days after the local branch passed a motion of no confidence in the principal.

Speaking to Left Foot forward, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'Ruskin College makes much of its links to the wider union movement and origins as a workers' college, which makes the sacking of union reps all the more offensive. The current spate of redundancies will essentially kill off trade union higher education courses at the college as it lurches from educating and nurturing trade unionists to sacking them.'


Damning report into principal's and wife's pay and perks at Bournville College

An Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) report published yesterday detailed a catalogue of mismanagement at Bournville College, which was closed in 2017 when it merged with South and City College Birmingham.

The report revealed that the college's former principal claimed £200,000 in expenses over four years. He also personally signed off £100,000 in expenses for his wife, who he promoted to assistant principal and gave a "substantial pay increase of 22 per cent".

FE Week reported that the former principal, who was suspended in November 2014 and then retired with a £190,000 severance package was reported to the police for acting fraudulently by the Skills Funding Agency.

Speaking to Tes, Andrew Harden said: 'We have been here far too many times before and reports like these embarrass and damage the sector when the vast majority of us are trying to make the case for much-needed extra funding. We need far greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the governance of our colleges. We want to see more people from the local community on boards as it is local people who suffer when colleges fail.'


Scottish universities told to rein in principals' pay

University and college principals have been warned to stop taking inflation-busting pay rises by the Scottish Government. Higher education minister Richard Lochhead urged senior staff to exercise "restraint" by ensuring future salary hikes were in line with increases given to staff.

He said: "The Scottish Funding Council should encourage senior figures within the college and university sectors to demonstrate restraint in their own pay settlements and senior pay packages should be in step with the salary, terms and conditions offered to other university and college staff.

Speaking to the Herald, a UCU spokesman called for action to ensure executive salaries were pegged to those of staff. He said: 'This is a very welcome, if not before time, intervention by the Scottish Government. For too long we've seen university principals enjoying inflation-busting rises while keeping down staff pay. Staff have seen their pay fall by 21% in real terms over the past decade and, as UCU prepares to ballot members for industrial action over pay and pensions, principals need to take heed of this guidance.'


Further education needs funding, say MPs

Further education must sit at the heart of a 10-year funding plan for schools and colleges, says the chair of the Commons Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP. Tes said his comments came as a damning report by the committee urged the government to bring forward a decade-long funding plan for education, and commit to a multi-billion cash injection - including increasing 16-19 funding for the first time in eight years. It argues that schools and colleges at risk of being stretched "beyond breaking point" without swift action.

The BBC highlighted the report singling out further education colleges as facing particular problems, with per student funding falling by 16% in real terms over the past decade. The report says: "Post-16 education has been cut to the core. We note the [education secretary's] position about post-financial crash difficulties. Other sectors have however moved on. The continued underfunding of this pivotal stage in education is no longer justifiable."


Vice-chancellor challenged to live on striking support staff salary for a month

Times Higher Education reported this week how a support staff worker at the University of Birmingham has challenged the vice-chancellor, Sir David Eastwood, and other senior managers to live off her pay for a month, as strikes over pay at the institution continue.

A letter from a member of catering staff at Birmingham has attracted widespread support and hundreds of endorsements. The anonymous staff member challenges Sir David, who earns £444,000 a year and is soon to pocket an £80,000 bonus, and other senior management, to live off the salary of a typical member of support staff for a month. Working a 36-hours-a-week term-time contract, she takes home £977.96 a month and her various bills leave her in the red even before she has bought any food or personal items, she says.

She asks the senior leaders to "put yourselves truly in our shoes" and then "ask yourselves are support staff valued, respected and rewarded as they should be?"

Last updated: 19 July 2019