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In the news 22 May 2020

UCU calls for government support as poll shows students may defer study and consider changing university

Government must underwrite loss of income to safeguard the higher education sector and stop competition between universities for students, said UCU on Wednesday after survey analysis from London Economics warned that over a fifth of prospective student could defer going to university.

The Guardian said that would leave universities facing a £760m loss of income in fees and teaching grants. Students also said there was a 25% chance they would consider switching their university, which UCU warned could lead to a summer of chaos as institutions compete for students.

Speaking to iNews, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'With aspiring students now very worried about what will happen in the autumn, it is time for the government to underwrite higher education and provide the support it needs to guarantee survival.

'The current wait and see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk. Without decisive action now, deferral rates will continue to rise and damaging competition to try and secure students still intending to study will intensify.'

 

UCU warns politicians of "incredibly dangerous" plans to reopen universities

On Monday, Jo Grady warned that the government had to act to stop universities opening their campuses too quickly as the country begins to exit lockdown.

Giving evidence to the Education Select Committee, Jo warned that the universities were rushing to reopen so that they could attract students who would otherwise go elsewhere.  She went on to say that university campuses are not set up to socially distance effectively and without government guidance the health and safety of staff and students was being put at risk.

Reporting on the session, iNews highlighted Jo's concerns about universities being in charge of what was safe, whilst also competing to recruit students. She said: 'If you think about university campuses they've already normally quite cluttered from over recruitment. The idea that we can leave what that guidance should look like to numerous different universities when they're also in competition with each other to try and attract students would be incredibly dangerous.'

 

Universities' reopening plans are only adding to confusion

Inconsistent plans from universities to ban face-to-face lectures, try blended learning and even to try and reopen fully in September are only adding to the confusion for students, said UCU on Wednesday.

Responding to the news that the University of Cambridge will put all lectures online next year, while the University of Bolton plans to open in September, the union said it had warned previously that if the government did not provide emergency funding to cover income lost through fees, then it risked prompting unhealthy competition between universities for students.

Jo Grady said: 'We have now seen a few universities set out plans for the next academic year and there is no consistency. This only adds to the confusion for students and for staff, and does not suggest their health and safety is the top priority. Unfortunately, we warned this would happen if the government refused to encourage more effective coordination and provide financial support.'

 

UCU calls for public sector apprenticeship programme as report shows apprentices hit by health crisis

On Wednesday UCU called for the government to create a new public sector apprenticeship programme in areas such as health and social care to help lead our economic recovery. The union was responding to a report from the Sutton Trust that said three-fifths of apprentices had missed work or learning as a result of the health crisis.

Speaking to Tes, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'The pandemic is having a real impact on apprenticeships with a majority missing out on work or their learning. The government must step in and guarantee that apprentices don't lose out from this crisis.

'The pandemic has highlighted the importance of sectors like health and social care, and new a programme of apprenticeships across the public sector will help lead to our recovery.'

 

UCU warns of dangers of reopening colleges as study shows young most likely to be infected

Young people aged 17 to 29 are the most likely age group to be infected with Covid-19, said a report from Public Health England this week.

Tes reported yesterday that the study shows the proportion of 17 to 29 year olds in London who were infected with Covid-19 rose from 3% to more than 10% between the periods 23 to 29 March and 6 to 12 April. UCU said the study added to concerns about colleges reopening too quickly.

Speaking to Tes, Andrew Harden said: 'We now know that age and background are risk factors for Covid-19, which is particularly important for colleges considering the workforce is older and the student cohort more diverse. Concerns have already been raised about the different R rates around England, and these latest findings further expose the problems with a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to see sector-specific guidance on measures to keep all students, staff and their families safe in all settings.'

 

Fury as Blackburn College announces plans to sack staff but boost bosses' pensions

UCU today slammed Blackburn College's controversial plans to axe jobs, whilst giving senior managers a salary boost to help them avoid paying tax on million-pound pension pots. Under the proposals, 29 staff are at risk of losing their jobs, with 11 expected to be made redundant by September. These latest plans are the fifth proposals for redundancies since May 2016.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'We are in unprecedented and difficult times as we all try to deal with the current crisis. We find it incredible that the college is threatening staff with job losses while making plans to further feather the nests of senior managers.

'Blackburn College needs to recognise the commitments made by staff in dealing with the crisis. Sacking staff at a time when there simply is not work available elsewhere is unnecessary and unfair. The college needs to reverse plans to hand out cash to senior managers and work with us to protect jobs for the future.'

 

UCU vows to fight closure of Newton Rigg College in Penrith

UCU vowed yesterday that it would fight the planned closure of Newton Rigg College in Penrith. The closure of the college, which is run by Askham Bryan College, would see 117 job losses and be a "hammer blow" for the region.

The college informed staff yesterday of plans to close Newton Rigg at the end of the next academic year. UCU said the decision would leave Cumbria without any specialist agricultural education.

Speaking to the BBC, UCU regional official Iain Owens said: 'This is a hammer blow for the people of Penrith and Cumbria who rely on Newton Rigg to provide education for their young people. The closure would leave Cumbria - one of the most agriculturally-dependant counties in the country - without any specialist agricultural education. UCU will campaign to protect Newton Rigg College and to protect our members' jobs.'

Last updated: 22 May 2020

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