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In the news: 24 February

24 February 2017 | last updated: 27 February 2017

UCU report exposes university heads' pay rises and perks

University heads received an average salary package of £277,834 for the academic year 2015/16 - an increase of 2% on the previous year and 6.5 times the average pay of their staff, according to a report released yesterday by UCU. During the same period, staff received a pay increase of just 1%.

The Guardian reported how 55 universities paid their heads more than £300,000, 11 vice-chancellors now have a package worth more than £400,000 a year, while the Times Higher reported that UCU said it was time to curb the outrageous hikes of top brass.

The wonderfully-named Professor Nigel Thrift was the Telegraph's target as they revealed how he and fellow vice-chancellor Professor Stuart Croft at Warwick racked up a £46,348 on first class and business flights. The Times led with the revelation that the University of Southampton forked out nearly £700,000 paying, and paying off, the two vice-chancellors they employed last year.

The Mail led the tabloid charge focusing on the biggest earners and ensuring "fat cat" was in its headline. UCU national and regional officials were interviewed about the report across the UK throughout the day.

The pick of the bunch probably has to be UCU's Scottish official Mary Senior on BBC Scotland (starts at 2 hours 36 minutes in). Mary is excellent as ever, but the highlight is the chap from the right-wing Adam Smith Institute who starts off with some weird remark about what happens to stock prices when a CEO dies and how this possibly relates to universities. He then rather sheepishly suggests it is normally his colleague who does media appearances and is not asked another question by the presenter, nor does he make an effort to contribute anything.


Two-year degrees back on the table

The Times leads this morning with news that the government is considering two-years degrees. In response UCU said it feared ministers were prepared to sacrifice the UK's global reputation for excellence in its latest attempt to force for-profit colleges into higher education. The union said that allowing institutions to offer more high-cost shorter degrees might be good news for the for-profit companies circling UK higher education, but risked worsening ties with other countries and would do little to open up the university experience to more students.

Sally Hunt said: 'Allowing universities to charge more money for an accelerated programme looks like another misguided attempt to allow for-profit colleges access to UK higher education.

At a time when we are struggling to maintain relationships with universities and academics in the EU and beyond, introducing a raft of new courses that would not fit in with the Bologna process could only worsen our standing internationally.'

She said that our universities must remain places of learning, not academic sweatshops, and told the BBC and the FT that the government needs to resist a pile 'em high and teach 'em cheap approach to students' education.'

In the Independent, Sally described the dangers of for-profits further involvement in the sector, saying: 'Allowing universities to charge more money for an accelerated programme looks like another misguided attempt to allow for-profit colleges access to UK higher education'


Only funding can solve perennial problems in further education

Monday's Guardian editorial that said despite wave after wave of reform, improving the quality of technical education has eluded governments of all colours. It said the failure of university technical colleges (UTCs) was only the latest example of a shiny innovation that ran on to the rocks. 

In response on the Guardian letters page, Sally Hunt said that successive governments' failure to get to grips with vocational education was because the people who make the decisions have little direct experience of it.

She argued that without proper investment, this perennial conversation about the problems facing technical education is doomed to repeat itself. UCU is calling for 15,000 more further education teachers which would support over 250,000 more learners to gain the skills they need.


Education cuts will hit social mobility

As part of its Road to Wigan Pier 2017 project, 80 years on from the publication of George Orwell's essay, the Mirror speaks to mature first-year criminology student Jo Davis who worries that government cuts could prevent others enjoying the same, life-changing, opportunity.

Jo is in her first year of a criminology degree at Newman University, which she came to via an Access to Further Education course. As someone whose life has been changed by adult education, she says that cuts being made to services make her very sad and very angry. She says that studying is about social mobility, not just for her, but for her children - and it's something everyone should have access to.


Education workers putting in long hours of unpaid overtime

People working in education are among those most likely to be putting in unpaid overtime and clocking up 12.1 free hours a week, according to figures released today. UCU said the figures, released as part of the TUC's Work Your Proper Hours Day, highlighted how staff working in schools, colleges and universities continue to go above and beyond the call of duty and put in the extra unpaid mile.

Sally Hunt said: 'These figures reveal how staff in our schools, colleges and universities are going that extra unpaid mile. People working in education are more likely than most to be found putting in extra unpaid overtime and guilty of clocking up some of the most free hours each week. The time has come for schools, colleges and universities to recognise the hard work their staff do, reward them fairly and sort out their workloads.'

UCU's own workload survey last year revealed that members in further education colleges are working an average of 51.4 hours a week and 39% of academics in universities work more than 50 hours a week.


Ministers must put education at the heart of prison reform, says UCU

Education is the key to reducing reoffending and ministers must ensure it is at the heart of prison reform, UCU said yesterday. Speaking as the prisons and courts bill, that would enshrine into law that a key purpose of prisons was to reform and rehabilitate offenders is published, UCU said that prisoners needed to have access to a broad range of courses and be given greater incentives to engage in learning.

Sally Hunt said: 'We know that there is a clear link between increasing skills and reducing reoffending, and this bill is a real chance to put education at the heart of the prison system. Prison educators need a strong voice at the top of prison management, working closely with governors to ensure that learning remains a priority within each prison, and that there is a broad and balanced curriculum available.'


Science, engineering and technology at greatest risk of Brexit university brain drain

Science, engineering and technology are the areas that would suffer most from a university Brexit brain drain, suggests new figures released yesterday. THE reported that the data, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), shows that almost a quarter of academics (23%) in biological, mathematical and physical sciences in UK universities are from the EU. One in five (19%) academics in engineering and technology are from the EU, and overall EU staff account for 17% of total academic staff in UK universities.

UCU said the government had to guarantee EU nationals the right to remain in Britain to halt a brain drain in these key subjects and bring stability to staff, their families and universities. The new figures come on the back of recent YouGov polling that warned 76% of non-UK EU academics were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education following the Brexit vote and a BMA report today that warns that 42% of EEA doctors are considering quitting the UK.

Sally Hunt said: 'These figures demonstrate once again the important role that EU and international staff play in our universities. The Prime Minister must take the lead and guarantee EU nationals the right to stay in the country, and remove the uncertainty so many talented staff, their families and our universities face.'


Government dream of bringing scientists and innovators to UK needs more than warm words

Commenting on the publication of the annual grant letter yesterday, UCU said it was disappointed with an overall drop in funding and that universities minister Jo Johnson had not sent a stronger message that Britain remained open for business.

Sally Hunt said: 'The grant letter shows a disappointing drop in overall funding from the government and, unlike last year, does not include projected income from university fees.

'While there are warm words from the minister on the important work of EU staff, we feel his desire to make Britain the go-to nation for scientists and innovators will only be a pipe dream unless we can guarantee the rights of EU staff to stay in the country. Academics say they are looking to leave the UK, not flock here.'


University teacher training expertise vital

Commenting on the education select committee report Retention and recruitment of teachers published on Tuesday, UCU said it welcomed the committee's efforts to highlight the confusion caused by the growth of different routes into teaching and that if teaching was to remain an attractive career that teachers must be able to draw on expertise from university education departments.

Sally Hunt said: 'The committee is right to highlight the confusion caused by the proliferation of different routes into teaching and its damaging impact on teacher recruitment. The government's focus on expanding under-recruiting school-based programmes, while reducing teacher training at established universities, is only making the problem worse. If teaching is to remain an attractive career, teachers must continue to have professional status and be given the opportunity to draw on expertise from university education departments throughout their working life.'


Strike at College of North West London

UCU members at the Willesden and Wembley campuses of the College of North West London were on strike yesterday in a row over the continued suspension of local branch secretary Indro Sen. UCU members at the college overwhelmingly backed strike action with 95% voting for the strike in a recent ballot.

UCU regional official Una O'Brien told the TES that 'Industrial action is always a last resort and we remain open to negotiations to try to resolve the dispute but, following the continued suspension of Indro Sen, members have been left with no option but to take strike action.'

Speaking to the local paper, mathematics teacher Sen said that he was very grateful and deeply indebted to his colleagues, the union and his students, who all continue to support him in these difficult times. He said he was very worried about his students as GCSEs are fast approaching and this is usually the time he puts on a lot of extra classes for them.