In the news 22 November

Vice-chancellor calls on vice-chancellors to pay more to resolve pensions dispute

Last week a vice-chancellor broke ranks to argue that universities can afford to contribute more to staff pensions. Writing in the Guardian, Anthony Forster, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, criticised Universities UK negotiators for being "not willing to embrace principled compromise in seeking a solution to our pensions crisis". He said "continued failure" to reach a deal on the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme "would not only affect the sustainability of universities, but negatively impact on the UK's ability to recruit and retain global academic and professional services talent in our universities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told Times Higher Education that vice-chancellors with similar concerns could not afford to stay silent as staff reluctantly prepared to walk out. She said: 'I know that there are vice-chancellors that are deeply concerned about what's happening in Universities UK. I know that not all vice-chancellors want to see disruptive and disastrous strikes unfolding on campuses. What we need from vice-chancellors is for the ones that want a positive resolution to start working with us and to start changing the direction of UUK.'

 

UCU says employers playing games as they refuse to talk pay

Unfortunately, the vice-chancellors' representatives at UUK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association spent most of the week insulting staff and using strong arm tactics to try and intimidate them.

The Financial Times reported that universities have been advised to "minimise" the impact of striking lecturers by using other teaching staff and rescheduling lectures, with some also threatening to dock pay and pension contributions during the walkout. A UCU spokesperson told the paper that "universities should be putting their efforts into trying to resolve the disputes, not scouting for scab labour or threatening staff with over the top pay deductions".

Jo Grady told the Guardian it was really unfortunate that universities appeared set on testing the mettle of staff and see if they will turn up on picket lines, because they were misjudging their staff. She said: 'More and more people are joining the union and there is a real feeling of anger. There could be a second wave of strikes if we don't get a long-term, sustainable offer and universities refuse to take our concerns seriously.'

The Independent also led with the threat of more action in the new year, while the Times warned that Monday's eight-day walkout will coincide with deadlines for this term's assessments. After the employers refused to talk about pay, UCU accused them of playing games and not being serious about avoiding disruption.

Jo Grady did a Facebook live Q&A earlier today on the strikes. You can watch it back on our Facebook page.

 

Strikes at Coventry University in row over appraisals

Coventry University was hit with strike action on Thursday as UCU members walked out over a controversial appraisal process. Thursday's walkout was the first of five strike days, with staff also due to take action on Tuesday 26 and Friday 29 November, followed by a two-day strike on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 December.

The dispute centres on the university's controversial appraisal system, which the union says forces staff to jump through unnecessary hoops to achieve the annual pay award that is standard at other institutions. UCU said the system is even worse than its predecessor which left academic staff at Coventry earning over £5,000 less on average than those at other West Midlands universities.

Speaking to the Coventry Telegraph, UCU regional official, Anne O'Sullivan, said: 'Staff at Coventry University are sick and tired of being treated as a cost to be minimised. The current appraisal process is even worse than the one it replaced, holding down pay and creating extra paperwork for already overstretched staff. It's an unsustainable approach that will make it harder for the institution to recruit and retain staff.'

 

Long-running dispute at Nottingham College ends as college agrees deal on pay and workload

A long-running dispute at Nottingham College has officially ended after the college agreed to retain current workload protections and ensure no staff would see their pay cut as a result of new contracts. The agreement also rules out proposed cuts to sick pay and annual leave.

The dispute, which saw staff walkout for a total of 15 strike days - centred on the college's attempts to impose inferior contracts that would have cut holiday entitlement and left some staff over £1000 worse off. UCU members had been due to walk out for 14 days this month, but agreed to suspend the action to consider the college's latest offer, which has now been accepted.

Speaking to the Nottingham Post, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'Nobody ever wants to take strike action, but this deal is a testament to members' determination to fight threats to their pay and working conditions. We should never have got to this stage and questions remain about why students lost 15 days of lessons at such a crucial time of year.'

 

UCU election manifesto calls for investment in staff

The next government should invest in the further and higher education workforce, end the hostile environment for migrants and scrap arbitrary metrics like the Teaching Excellence Framework, UCU said this week as it published its general election manifesto.

The union identified six key areas for reform which it says would lead to a more sustainable post-16 education system. These include increased funding, making university admissions fairer and putting skills at the heart of the climate transition.

Jo Grady said: 'Post-16 education is central to social justice and the success of our economy, but to reach its full potential it must be well-resourced and fully accessible. Our manifesto sets out key priorities for the next government that will help to ensure a fair and sustainable education system that can cater to the diverse needs of people across the UK.'

 

UCU calls on government to improve fire safety of educational buildings following Bolton blaze

Following the fire at student accommodation at the University of Bolton, UCU wrote to the government highlighting its "shameful" record on fire safety and demanding educational buildings must be made safe within an 18 months. Along with the Fire Brigades Union, the National Education Union and the National Union of Students, the union called on education secretary Gavin Williamson to remove and prohibit the use of flammable cladding on any educational building, make the fitting of sprinkler systems mandatory for all new educational buildings, retrofit sprinklers in all existing educational buildings and ensure a review of all existing educational buildings to ensure they meet necessary fire safety standards.

Writing in the Guardian, NUS vice president welfare Eva Crossan Jory said to avoid blazes like the one in Bolton, the government and universities had to radically overhaul, and take responsibility for, safe and accessible student housing.

 

Boris Johnson snubbing leaders' debate on climate crisis

The first ever election leaders' debate focusing on the climate crisis will be broadcast by Channel 4 next week, with the prime minister the only major party leader set to be absent. Channel 4 News said it was awaiting confirmation from Boris Johnson as to whether he would take part and could place an empty chair in the place of the PM if he declines to attend.

UCU has been working with the campaign group Possible, who has been pushing for a leaders' head-to-head on the climate emergency. Possible told the Guardian it was a historic moment which put global heating front and centre of the election campaign.

Last updated: 22 November 2019

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