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In the news: 3 March 2017

Sally Hunt is returned as UCU general secretary

Sally Hunt has been re-elected as UCU general secretary, defeating her only opponent Jo McNeill by a margin of 2,552 votes.  She won 59% of the votes cast. The results for UCU vice-president and other elected officials should be available early next week.

Sally Hunt said: 'While there is much agreement about the challenges the union faces, this election gave members the opportunity to choose between two different approaches. Given the hard fought nature of the election, I am delighted that members chose my plan for the union's future.  

'I intend to deliver on the democratic mandate I have been given. That means increasing support for members when they need it most and redoubling our efforts to campaign on issues like Brexit, casualisation, pay and privatisation.'


Report reveals extent of cuts in further education           

More investment in further education is urgently required to rebuild capacity in the sector, UCU said on Monday. The union was responding to the Institute for Fiscal Studies' report Long-Run Comparisons of Spending per Pupil across Different Stages of Education,which shows that further education is the only major education area to have seen its funding cut since 2010. It also shows that, despite public spending increasing by 93% overall since 1990, real-terms spending on further education for 16-18 year olds has stayed broadly the same.

Sally Hunt said: 'The minister speaks warmly about further education as a priority area for government, but sadly the funding does not appear to match his enthusiasm. If the government really wants to send the message that further education is at the heart of high-level skills delivery, it must ensure that the sector is well supported to deliver. A good start would be to invest in 15,000 more teachers and ensure that everyone who wants to access a college education can do so.'


Report on left-wing bias in universities attacked for flimsy figures

A report on an apparent "lurch to the left" on university campuses from right-wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute has been dismissed as a "reds under the beds scare story" by UCU and based on "flimsy figures" by the person who was behind one of the main sets of data used in the report. The Times ran the story yesterday and was careful to highlight some considerable caveats saying the underlying data was sketchy and not directly comparable.

The report compares a self-selecting online survey by Times Higher Education with a book written in 1995 by AH Halsey, an Oxford professor, called Decline of the Donnish Dominion which reported surveys of academics' political views across three decades. The Times warns that "different survey methods will have been used and the university sector has grown since, so the figures cannot be directly compared but give an indication of past voting patterns."

However the man behind the online survey, THE journalist John Morgan, is a little more forthright in his criticisms of the report. Writing a response piece for THE, he says: 'Using a self-selecting survey as a rough guide to possible voting patterns in a forthcoming election is one thing. It is another to conflate that survey with totally separate data and use this flimsy base to make sweeping judgements, as Carl does in suggesting that growing "ideological homogeneity" has led to "the trend towards curtailments of free speech on university campuses" or that it "has arguably led to systematic biases in scholarship". There is no evidence in his report that this is true.'

It's not been a great week for the Adam Smith Institute who put up a woefully unprepared, or ignorant, guest on BBC Scotland (starts at 2 hours 36 minutes in) last week to talk about senior pay in universities. He kicked off with some bizarre remark about what happens to stock prices when a CEO dies.


Redundancy plans at Grimsby Institute would hit vulnerable students

UCU warned yesterday that vulnerable students at Grimsby Institute face losing specialist teachers employed to give them extra support, if the institution ploughs ahead with "rushed and short-sighted" redundancies.

The union has written to local MPs Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby), Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) and Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), calling on them to ask college leaders to halt the plans to axe 16 learning support teachers who specialise in teaching students with learning, physical and mental disabilities, and to raise the issue in parliament.

UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, told the Grimsby Telegraph: 'These redundancies are a rushed and short-sighted attack on the most vulnerable students who would lose specialist support teachers. We have written to MPs urging them to call on college leaders to halt these plans. If they go ahead, students will suffer, jobs will be lost and the institution's reputation will be seriously damaged.'


Beleaguered Hull College chief executive step downs

On Wednesday Hull College Group announced the departure of chief executive Gary Warke, bringing to an end weeks of speculation after the FE Commissioner exposed a £10 million deficit there over four years. In light of that report, UCU had called on Gary Warke to step down.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: 'The recent report from the further education commissioner made it quite clear that Mr Warke's position was no longer tenable and the fact it took him and the college a full fortnight to realise that is symptomatic of the leadership problems the college has suffered.

'Staff and students at Hull College need a new management team in post prepared to put the educational needs of local people first. A good college is one that offers a varied curriculum and we hope that Hull College will now reassess its primary function and focus on supporting staff to deliver education to students.'

Last updated: 3 March 2017