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In the news 13 March 2020

Five-day walkouts at UK universities

It was a full week of disruption, pickets and demonstrations at dozens of UK universities this week as UCU strike action entered its fourth week with a five-day walkout. While UCU continues to do all it can to resolve the disputes and end the disruption, a leaked email showed that universities are trying to cut down on any dissent from vice-chancellors who speak out and try to move discussions forward.

The Tab reported that the body tasked with negotiating on universities' behalf in the "four fights" dispute over pay and conditions has told vice-chancellors to keep quiet if they are asked their view on possible pay deals. Writing in the Independent, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner says the strikes are something everybody needs to pay attention to, as they are a fight about how we all want to live.

Elsehwhere in the Independent reported that universities have handed out nearly £3m to students for lost teaching hours from strikes in recent years. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Students should demand transparency from their institutions on finances and how pay withheld from striking staff is being spent - these are significant sums that should be used for the benefit of students and staff.'


Colleges and universities remain open as UK attempts to deal with coronavirus

Face-to-face lessons are being cancelled at some universities due to concerns about coronavirus. Universities including Loughborough, Durham, Manchester Metropolitan and the London School of Economics are offering online teaching instead. UCU is urging educational institutions to try and keep open accommodation and other services students rely on.

Speaking to the BBC about closures at universities, a spokesperson for UCU said: 'Universities simply cannot shut down and abandon those students who rely on it for things like accommodation and we trust all these important matters are being kept under review.'

Tes reported that there have not yet been any closures announced at colleges, where such measures would have a huge impact on all students: whether they are studying A levels, BTECs, GCSE resits or completing an apprenticeship. A UCU spokesperson told Tes that the health of staff and students has to be the top priority for college, who should be working closely with UCU, student reps and other trade unions to address any concerns being raised by staff and students.

UCU's national executive committee meets today to discuss the virus and there will also be an emergency session of the union's higher education committee.


Phenomenal Women

Award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, poet and playwright Joan Anim-Addo and the first woman ever to be appointed head of a UK dental school, Cynthia Pine, were among 40 "Phenomenal Women" being celebrated in the first ever photographic exhibition to honour Britain's black female professors.

The Guardian and BBC ran a selection of the images as the exhibition launched on Monday. It will be open to the public at London's City Hall from Wednesday 18 March until Tuesday 31 March. Later in the year the exhibition will be on display at De Montfort University in Leicester.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors features portraits of 40 professors across a broad range of subjects including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology. The project builds on Dr Nicola Rollock's 2019 report for UCU which showed the barriers faced by black women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship.

Jo Grady said: 'The fact that we can exhibit portraits of all the UK's black female professors demonstrates just how few of them there actually are. This project shines an important light on a severely under-represented group of staff and should challenge people's perceptions of what a professor looks like.' 


Labour leadership candidates must adopt lifelong learning

Labour's leadership candidates need to embrace the Lifelong Learning Commission's recommendations, said UCU's Matt Waddup this week. Writing in Tes, the union's head of policy and campaigns said Labour's policy should be to put education and skills within everyone's reach.

He said that educational opportunities - from providing more in-work training to expanding language courses and ensuring that nobody is shut out from going to back to college or university - must be within the grasp of those communities who are suffering most.

He concludes that Labour has a proud record when it comes to lifelong learning, but must recognise the significant contribution that education can make to the betterment of life for every person in every community - not just those who already benefit the most.


Last updated: 25 March 2020