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In the news 28 February 2020

Universities trying to intimidate students not to support striking staff

Students who have backed striking staff have been threatened with punitive action by universities, the Independent said this week.  Winchester University told students that it was not considering reducing their tuition fees or issuing them with compensation after the students' union came out in support of strike action. Following pressure, it has reviewed its position. While 13 Stirling University students have been suspended from campus for eight weeks after taking part in an occupation in solidarity with striking staff last term. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'People are rightly angry at this bizarre attempt from the university to force students to denounce the strike action. Winchester students, like their contemporaries across the UK, have been magnificent in showing their support for their striking staff. Students have genuine concerns about the conditions their staff work under and for a university to try and weaponise those concerns is contemptible.'

On the action taken by Stirling University, Jo said: 'Students are entitled to engage in peaceful demonstrations and should not be penalised for having opinions. Rather than looking to take punitive action against their own students the university should be concentrating its efforts on trying to force a resolution to the disputes. Universities need to understand that the way to get these disputes sorted out is by talking to us, not threatening their staff or students.'


UCU says review of admissions is perfect opportunity to overhaul system

UCU said yesterday that it was time for a radical overhaul of how students apply to university, as the universities' regulator launched a major review of university admissions.

Speaking to the Independent, Jo Grady said: 'There is growing support for a shift to a fairer admissions system, where students apply to university after they have received their results. Allowing students to apply after they receive their results would bring us into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers.'

She told the BBC that the review by the Office for Students was an opportunity to finally move to a system where university offers are based on actual achievement rather than unreliable estimates of potential.

UCU has long campaigned for a fairer system where students apply to university after they receive their results. Following the announcement of the review, UCU's Twitter feed listed the union's previous work on a post-qualifications admissions system.

Speaking to 5 Live Breakfast (from 2:38), UCU policy officer Angela Nartey said the review was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the system and ensure students can make the best possible decision about their future.


Universities choose not to deal with overcrowding and casualisation

Responding to an article in last week's Observer on the use of overflow lecture theatres, UCU branch secretary at the University of Manchester, Adam Ozanne, said the university's claim it was a "temporary" policy was disingenuous. It is not temporary, he said in a letter to the paper, it is policy.

He says that 25 years ago, first-year tutorials of 10-15 students would be taken by professors and lecturers; today, classes of 25 or more are often taken by able and hard working, but less experienced, graduate teaching assistants and early-career academic staff on short-term contracts.

He says universities' failure to recognise the scale of casualisation is one reason that staff feel they have no choice but to strike again. He says that students recognise staff working conditions are their learning conditions, and this is why striking staff have enjoyed students' support in the battle to improve pay, pensions and conditions.


UCU calls for tuition fees axe to repair broken system

Responding to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute released yesterday, UCU said plans to allow some students to be exempt from fees in their first year did not go far enough. The union said university tuition fees should be scrapped to widen participation and encourage collaboration in higher education.

UCU said a new funding model was also needed to underpin the report's calls for more collaboration between education institutions. It said that the current model which forces universities to compete for students only deepens issues with workload and casualisation that lie at the heart of the current strikes over pay and conditions.

Jo Grady said: 'Tackling barriers to higher education is crucial for social justice and should be high on the government's agenda, but the current funding system is broken and needs more than piecemeal reform. The best way to ensure that everyone who wants to go to university can do so is to scrap fees altogether, and reintroduce maintenance grants so that no student has to face a mountain of debt after graduation.'


Home Office refusing permanent visas because of academics' field trips

The Home Office's aggressive application of immigration rules will put off overseas researchers from coming to the UK, university staff have warned. The Guardian reported this week on the case of Dr Nazia Hussein, a lecturer at the University of Bristol, who had her application for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) rejected last year on the grounds that she had spent too many days out of the country during the 10-year application period.

Hussein spent six months researching class and gender identity in Bangladesh for her PhD at Warwick University in 2009. She obviously had no idea that, a decade later, the Home Office would use this to refuse her application for permanent residency. The paper said Hussein's experience is not an isolated one.

Jo Grady said: 'It is ludicrous that legitimate research activity is causing migrant staff to be refused leave to remain in the UK. The restrictive rules around overseas travel are totally arbitrary.'


Last updated: 28 February 2020