In the news: 20 September 2019

Students and workers unite in global climate strikes

Students and workers are uniting to take part in today's global climate strike. After the trade union movement backed the campaign last week, UCU wrote to all universities and colleges asking them to let staff take part in a 30-minute stoppage to support the protests taking place across the UK.

Speaking to FE News, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The work done by Greta Thunberg and school students around the world has been inspirational and now it's time for the rest of us to make our voices heard. We urge universities and colleges to do whatever they can to enable their staff to get involved with Friday's protests and other action.'

UCU members across the country are participating in demonstrations and other activities to mark the day of action, with many institutions including Capital City College Group and the University of Leicester supporting the strikes. Staff at the University of Cambridge were told they could join in the local protests after a letter to the vice-chancellor, co-authored by UCU, amassed over 500 signatures. In Lancaster, the university branch green rep told the Lancaster Guardian: 'The half-hour work stoppage demonstrates our solidarity with young people who have been striking from school over the last year.'

 

Universities must to more to tackle racial inequality, says UCU

Universities must do more to ensure fair access and progression for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff and students, UCU said this week. The union was responding to a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which highlighted a number of barriers to achieving race equality in universities.

UCU said the report was a timely reminder of the need for more action to tackle inequalities facing BME staff. Jo Grady told FE News that the union's own research had shown 'far too many BME staff in universities still face significant barriers to promotion as well as an insidious culture of bullying and stereotyping.' Speaking to the Independent, she added: 'There is no room for complacency when it comes to tackling these persistent barriers to access and progression. Universities need to do much more, including ensuring that BME students from all backgrounds can get a foot on the ladder in academia.'

 

Mammoth 15-day strike at Nottingham College continues

Nottingham MP Alex Norris has called on Nottingham College to address staff concerns and return to negotiations after he joined staff on picket lines this week. Ahead of further action planned for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, the Nottingham North MP said: 'Further education is desperately underfunded and the staff are working under intolerable pressures. For UCU members at Nottingham College this is being worsened by significant reductions in their terms and conditions. They overwhelmingly chose to take strike action to take a stand against this and I am joining them in solidarity. I encourage management at the college to get back round the negotiating table and address members' concerns as soon as possible.'

 

More than one in seven colleges in poor financial health

More than one in seven (14%) colleges are in inadequate financial health and 'at risk of not being able to meet current obligations', new analysis from Tes revealed this week. UCU's head of further education Andrew Harden described the news as 'worrying' said that colleges need to prioritise staff. He said that the recent pledge of £400m additional funding was a step in the right direction but 'clearly not enough to plug the current funding gap and cuts of £3 billion over the last decade. We expect colleges to use the money being made available to prioritise staff pay, which has fallen by 27 per cent since 2009.'

The findings came in the same week that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed that an additional £1.1 billion would be needed by 2022-23 to full reverse the cuts since 2010. As the Independent reported, with T-levels factored in the extra investment needed to maintain per-student spending rises to £1.4 billion.

 

Over half of Scottish Universities in deficit, Audit Scotland reveals

The finances of Scottish universities were also in the news this week, with the publication of an Audit Scotland report which showed universities have been subject to a real terms cut of 12% in the 7 years up to 2017/18.  Describing the report as a 'wake-up call' to the government, UCU Scotland official Mary Senior told the BBC that, with more than half of Scottish universities now in deficit, 'the need for sustained investment in the sector is crystal clear.'

The Telegraph reported on a joint call from UCU, NUS and Universities Scotland for the Scottish government to stop cutting funding or risk 'significant and long-term decline'.

 

Brexit has created uncertainty and chaos for universities in Scotland, UCU tells MSPs

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior appeared Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee this week, outlining concerns about the impact of Brexit on staff and students in Scottish higher education. As Tes reported, she told MSPs that Brexit has 'created so much uncertainty, chaos, crisis and fear'. Warning of the impact of Brexit rhetoric on EU nationals and other overseas staff, she also suggested that Scotland 'hasn't been immune to a rise in racism which has been playing out in our campuses'.

 

Highbury College principal under fire for expenses largesse

The principal of Highbury College was under fire this week after a freedom of information request by FE Week revealed £150,000 worth of expenses spending on luxury travel and hospitality between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

Regional official Moray McAulay told the Portsmouth News that the spending was "galling", especially as the college has been pleading poverty on pay. He said: 'The principal's spending on Michelin-starred meals and high-end hotels sends a damaging message about the college's priorities. Investing in students and staff to ensure that the local community can benefit from high-quality learning should always be the college's top priority for spending.'

Last updated: 20 September 2019