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In the news 5 June 2020

Jo Grady sets out the government support universities need

Writing in Wonkhe on Monday, UCU general secretary Jo Grady called on the government to support and protect universities. She argued that higher education will be vital to our recovery from the current crisis, but that it will be extremely difficult to put back together if allowed to collapse.

Jo highlighted how a report by London Economics for UCU identified a £2.5bn funding black hole, which would result in a £6bn shock for the economy and a loss of around 60,000 jobs - half directly in universities and the rest in the communities they serve.

Jo emphasised she was not defending or seeking to preserve the status quo. She said that marketisation has seen a different university system emerge and that the current crisis has exposed the many faults in a system that glorifies competition and ignores student and staff concerns

She concluded that with government support higher education will be well placed to help drive our recovery both at community and national level and then it will be time for the long overdue debate about how we fund universities in the future.


Quarter of prospective students fear their university could go bust as a result of Covid-19 crisis

UCU called on the government to step in and underwrite funding for universities on Wednesday, after a survey of prospective university students revealed almost a quarter (23%) fear that the university they wish to study at this year could go bust because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The survey also revealed that half (49%) of prospective students fear that damage caused by funding cuts because of the pandemic will negatively impact on their education, and over two-thirds (71%) back a delay to the start of term. The survey was released on the same day the BBC reported universities were planning for students to stay in "protective bubbles" of the same small group of people when campuses reopen.

Speaking to the Times, Jo Grady said: 'It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.'


Student number controls create more problems

On Tuesday, the government told universities they could lose millions in tuition fee income if they break new rules on the number of domestic students they can recruit. English universities will be fined for recruiting over 5% more domestic undergraduate full-time students than they have forecasted. Wonkhe looked at how the fines will be applied, and described the system as "staggeringly inept in design and execution".

The number of English students who can study at universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has also been capped, but the Westminster government had controversially not consulted with the devolved parliaments before making the announcement.

Speaking to Research Professional, Jo Grady said: 'Our main concern here remains that the controls will push the problems created by coronavirus down the chain and lead to the financial instability of many institutions, as well as create problems for the devolved nations.

'Instead of a ham-fisted attempt to regulate the failed higher education market, students and staff need the government to stand behind universities, protect their current income and encourage cooperation.'


Westminster guidance for reopening English university campuses only adding to the chaos and confusion, says UCU

UCU labelled the Westminster government's guidance for English universities to reopen a "tick box-exercise" on Wednesday. after the government set out how universities should reopen post-lockdown on Wednesday.

The Department for Education said it expected institutions to open in September with "some differences from previous years" as universities put measures in place to minimise risks to students and staff "in accordance with public health guidelines". However, UCU has set out five tests that must be met before universities can reopen.

Speaking to Research Professional, Jo Grady said: 'The chaos and confusion surrounding higher education is making life extremely difficult for all concerned, including prospective students. This guidance feels like a tick-box exercise, rather than an attempt to get to grips with the crisis facing our universities.'


Further education teachers' pay drops

Tes reported on Monday that teachers' pay across all further education has continued to fall, according to new research from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF).

The report found that pay for teaching staff had decreased by 0.6 per cent from £32,500 to £32,300. It also found that the gender pay gap for teaching staff had risen from 2.5 per cent in 2017-18 to 4.2 per cent in 2018-19.

Speaking to Tes, Jo Grady said: 'The falling rate of pay for teachers in further education is deeply concerning. It will only serve to widen the £7,000 pay gap that already exists with schools and make it harder for colleges to recruit and retain the staff they need.

'The shocking rise in the gender pay gap also highlights the need for a sector-wide commitment to investigate and address the root causes of pay inequality. If we want a strong and resilient further education sector for the future, it is crucial that the government and employers take urgent action to address these worrying gaps and ensure that careers in colleges remain attractive.'


Anger over Coventry College's 'outrageous' U-turn on pledge to protect jobs during pandemic

Coventry College has broken a promise to staff that it would not push ahead with redundancy plans during the pandemic and told 36 staff their jobs are in fact now at risk. The college is seeking to make 30 staff across three departments redundant in a move UCU says will reduce support for the college's most vulnerable students.

Speaking to Coventry Telegraph, UCU regional support official Teresa Corr said: 'Staff have worked throughout this crisis to support students and will be called upon again to support Coventry College reopening after the pandemic. For the college to break its promise to protect jobs is outrageous.

'Some of the staff the college wants to get rid of are providing support to the most vulnerable students during these unprecedented and difficult times. Pushing ahead with these cuts is not in the best interest of students.'

Last updated: 12 June 2020