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In the news: 17 January 2020

UCU president-elect Nita Sanghera 

UCU president-elect Nita Sanghera passed away on 16 January 2020. UCU said it was such sad news for her family, her loved ones, and for the union. Nita worked tirelessly to create opportunities for working class students in her role as an Access to HE lecturer at Bournville College.

After serving on the West Midlands regional committee, the Black Members' Standing Committee and the NEC, she was elected vice-president for the further education sector in 2018. At the end of May this year, she would have become the first black woman president of UCU. It is a tragedy that we have lost her.


University of Sussex offering strike-hit students £100 compensation

The University of Sussex is offering students up to £100 if they suffered "distress and inconvenience" during recent strikes. The Guardian said the move was a sign of the increasing efforts by universities to resolve student complaints swiftly and head off action through the courts or regulators that could lead to more damaging penalties.

Sussex launched its "industrial action ex gratia scheme" with an email to all students inviting them to apply for cash payouts resulting from the UCU strikes in November and December.

Speaking to University Business, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'This move by Sussex shows that the strikes have had a real impact, and exposes the fact that employers are divided when it comes to dealing with the fall out. Bunging a few quid back to students who were affected by strikes is a sticking plaster, not a solution.'


Doubts over Prime Minister's insistence over the future of Erasmus+

Following the news last week that MPs voted against adding a new clause to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would have required the Government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the EU's Erasmus+ education and youth programme, the government insisted this week that there was "no threat" to the UK's involvement in the programme after Brexit and that the nation will "continue to participate".

Responding to a question from Scottish National Party MP Douglas Chapman at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said: "There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme. We will continue to participate. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will continue to be able to come to this country."

However, at the weekend, the Times quoted a Whitehall source as saying that "the question being asked is whether you want to spend a billion pounds on this [joining Erasmus] or put it into the schools budget", adding that "clearly it will depend on the negotiations with the EU but the feeling is that it is expensive and not a priority for the government". Writing in the Guardian, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran asked if we really could trust the Prime Minister.


UCU calls on Home Office to reverse visa refusal

UCU has written to the Home Office on behalf of Cambridge academic Asiya Islam, whose application for indefinite leave to remain was refused last year due to time spent abroad for research purposes.

The union has urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to reconsider the decision, which UCU says threatens the ability of researchers to undertake valuable overseas research which can enrich the UK's understanding of important global issues.

Writing in Times Higher Education, Asiya said the situation was personally distressing - she wakes up every day thinking about her visa - and that her case also raised wider issues about Home Office processes, the value and treatment of global researchers in the UK, and the UK's reputation as an academic leader in the post-Brexit world.


Researchers face "shocking" levels of stress

Overwhelming work pressure, discrimination, and widespread bullying and harassment are contributing to "shocking" levels of stress and mental health problems among scientists, according to a survey into research culture from The Wellcome Trust.

The Guardian reported that nearly two-thirds of scientists who took part had witnessed bullying or harassment, with many believing it had become "culturally systemic" in science. Among those who identified as disabled, the problem was even worse, with nearly three-quarters having witnessed such behaviour.

Combinations of toxic behaviour, including discrimination and exploitation, mixed with routine pressures of working life led more than a third to seek professional help for depression or anxiety, with nearly another fifth saying they wanted help. Overall, 70% of the scientists surveyed said they felt stressed on the average work day.


Box-ticking approach means nothing gets done well

Having been forced to complete their department's application for an Athena SWAN award for the advancement of gender equality and the careers of women, an anonymous academic said they refused to do it as a mere box-ticking exercise and set about the task properly.

Writing in Times Higher Education, they say the process showed them that academia could be a wonderful and caring workplace and that they are fortunate to work alongside an amazing group of colleagues.

They said the box-ticking approach was the inevitable result of top-down impositions and that the process convinced them that if tasks cannot be properly resourced, they should not be attempted at all. They say the UCU strikes over pay and conditions have drawn attention to issues such as work overload and that the way UK universities currently work - or don't work - has created a system in which everyone loses. They say it was no surprise that overloaded colleagues could not give the application the attention it required as they were juggling other tasks and needed to protect their personal time.


Last updated: 27 March 2020