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In the news: 1 June

2 June 2017

Why universities need real strength and stability

In its editorial on Tuesday, the Guardian highlighted how universities are under threat from Brexit, creeping privatisation and the government's dogged determination to reduce net migration. Responding on its letters page on Wednesday, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said higher education makes an invaluable contribution to our economy and society, and has a crucial role to play in developing the highly-skilled workforce upon which future growth depends.

She argued that while Theresa May may be the self-styled strong and stable candidate, she is creating a huge level of insecurity in the higher education sector. In its manifesto, Labour has started a welcome debate about alternative ways to fund education which would provide much greater funding stability to institutions, ensure that business pays its fair share for a skilled workforce, and wouldn't leave students facing a lifetime of debt.

Also on Wednesday's letters page was a response from staff from over 80 colleges and universities setting out their objection to plans to axe 171 jobs at the University of Manchester. They argue that efforts to narrow the curriculum at Manchester demonstrate why the need for a government committed to an alternative model of higher, further and adult education has never been more urgent.


Colleges more confident about their financial future

Just 13 per cent of colleges expect to operate a deficit in 2017-18, with two-thirds saying they expect a surplus, according to TES. The figures, released today from a survey by the TES and Association of Colleges, paints a slightly improved position from 12 months ago when a fifth of colleges were forecasting a deficit.

However, a third of colleges said they expect to make compulsory redundancies (the same proportion as last year) and over half expect to "restructure their workforce". One-third of English colleges responded to the survey and two-fifths said they lacked confidence in the end-point assessment of the government's apprenticeships reform.


Warnings that controversial teaching rankings will narrow universities' curriculum

Sally was also in the Guardian on Tuesday warning that the controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) would be used by universities to narrow their curriculum. She said that government plans to rank universities' teaching as either gold, silver or bronze would lead to university reorganisations. A view backed up by one university head, who did not want to be named, who said: 'The Tef is going to put the cat among the pigeons. And I doubt there is a university in the country that isn't thinking about how to use it as a management tool.'

The article said the new rankings come at a time of upheaval in the sector. Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan, Herriot-Watt, Southampton Solent and the University of South Wales have all announced redundancies for financial reasons, or citing the government's higher education bill - and Brexit.


Universities' race and diversity failings exposed

Writing for the Guardian, Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, says that she was taken aback to discover that seven of the eight members of the recently announced Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) equality and diversity advisory panel were white. She said such a move was surely at odds with its stated focus on dealing transparently with issues of equity in the Research Excellence Framework funding allocations.

She says Hefce's panel announcement comes as a growing body of evidence, including UCU's own research, suggests that racism persists in higher education.

She concludes by saying that if universities are serious about pushing the equity and social justice agenda, they must demonstrate clear evidence of how they are doing this - whether it's by making panels more diverse or by addressing and challenging structural inequalities in their own institutions. 

Times Higher Education reported this week that a philosophy journal has apologised for having devoted more than 60 pages to a three-author "symposium" on the Black Lives Matter movement that did not feature any black academics.


Labour most popular in poll of UK university staff

More than half of UK university staff will vote Labour in the country's general election next week, according to a Times Higher Education survey. In an online survey of higher education employees that gained 1,008 responses, 54 per cent said that they intended to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's party. Labour were trailed by the Liberal Democrats (24 per cent), the Conservatives (7 per cent) and the Greens (5 per cent). Just one of the respondents said that they were planning to vote for the UK Independence Party.

Respondents were also asked how they voted in the 2015 general election. Support for Labour remained unchanged over the two years, but rose for the Liberal Democrats (up from 15 per cent in 2015), and fell for the Greens (12 per cent in 2015) and for the Tories (9 per cent in 2015).

Elsewhere in the Times Higher Education this week, the magazine explores the "culture wars" approach to universities emerging on the Right, and the counter-arguments, and the three main parties' education spokespeople set out their parties' plans for higher education. Labour here, Conservatives here and the Liberal Democrats here.


New Manchester mayor latest to speak out against Government's anti-terror strategy

Writing for the Times(£) in the aftermath of last week's attack in Manchester, new mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, said the government's Prevent programme is not working well enough.

I fully support the principle of an effective programme to identify those at risk of radicalisation. He said it had lost its way and needed to be refocused and renamed.

Delegates at UCU Congress last week passed a series of motions criticising the controversial government policy aimed at tackling extremism, but which critics say is ineffective and even counterproductive. Burnham said the introduction of a statutory duty on public bodies to report suspicious behaviour has given Prevent a top-down feel and created the sense of a whole community being placed under suspicion.


Conservatives have been an "unmitigated disaster" for education, says Sally Hunt

The Conservatives have been an "unmitigated disaster" for people working in education, said Sally Hunt at UCU's annual congress in Brighton on Saturday. Sally delivered a damning critique of the government's record. Her wide-ranging address went through the challenges facing the union in its fight for better pay and conditions, and she said recruiting new members was crucial to securing UCU's future as a strong union.

TES focused its coverage of her speech on the union's need to recruit more members in further education, and the challenges that UCU faced in that area.

The three-day conference started with a minute's silence for those who lost their lives in the terror attack and Sally started her speech by reflecting on the events in Manchester and praising the actions of the emergency services.


Manchester Metropolitan University strike back on

UCU members at Manchester Metropolitan University on both the Manchester and Crewe campuses will walk out on strike for two days on Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 June. Two days' strike action were originally planned for last week, but were cancelled after the attack on Monday night. UCU says strike action is a last resort after the university refused its suggestions to postpone planned compulsory redundancies for this summer, and turned down the offer of talks with conciliation service ACAS to try and resolve the dispute.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'We have suggested postponing redundancies planned for this summer and to talk through conciliation service ACAS. The university has refused both suggestions, despite the fact that UCU members at Manchester Metropolitan University have made it quite clear that they are prepared to take strike action to defend jobs at their university.'