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In the news: 11 August 2017

Boycott bites as universities omitted from National Student Survey

Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield universities were among the 12 institutions omitted from this year's National Student Survey table due to insufficient data after a boycott, backed by UCU, in protest over the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

Times Higher Education said that, overall, about 300,000 students responded to the survey, down from 312,000 in 2016, with the response rate dropping from 72 per cent to 68 per cent. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt called for the abolition of the TEF, arguing that the reaction to this year's results showed that it did not have the support of the academic community, while "the lack of support for this year's survey shows that many students share these concerns".


Hundreds of thousands of pounds of merger money wasted

Hundreds of thousands of pounds were awarded to fund preparations for mergers which have fallen through, revealed a new document from the Education and Skills Funding Agency this week. The TES reported how colleges were awarded transition grants worth £5.5 million to support plans for mergers, academy conversion and other structural changes.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'The area reviews were created by a government determined to reduce the number of colleges and therefore narrow people's options. Rather predictably we have seen a number of these mergers collapse and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money that could have been spent on education being wasted.'


Sunday Times under fire for misleading figures on student numbers

Andrew Gilligan found himself at the centre of a row on Sunday after it was suggested he had got confused by, or misused, data on student numbers in an article for the Sunday Times.

It looked like he wanted to tell a tale where British students were being denied undergraduate places by foreign students who were taking their spots after completing substandard language courses run by profiteering private companies.

While there definitely is a story to be told about how companies are making huge sums of money through language courses, and what standard these courses might be, it is probably best not to try and tell it at the same time as one on student numbers if you have mixed up the data.

Wonkhe's rebuttal was first out of the traps and tried really hard to avoid a "sexing up" dig. Hefce posted a blog and included figures that showed that at the top 50 universities (as ranked by the Sunday Times) between 2006 and 2016, 46 grew acceptances of UK-domiciled applicants amounting to an total increase of 40,450, while just four reduced UK-domiciled acceptances, by a total of -690. Whereas, for EU and overseas-domiciled students the increase was roughly half as great: 44 universities saw an increase of 21,155 in accepted applicants, while six actually reduced acceptances of these students by a total of -545.


The black attainment gap

Wonkhe has looked at HESA data that shows the attainment gap between white and black students at institutions last year. Their analysis found that there is a diverse range of institutions where an attainment gap exists between white and black graduates and that there six universities where not a single black graduate got a first in 2015-16, including the universities of Buckingham, Oxford, and Exeter.

Putting their findings against the recent Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), Wonkhe found that the majority of institutions where a black student is far less likely to achieve an outstanding degree as a white student were rated as gold and silver in the TEF: over a quarter of institutions with the worst attainment gaps are rated gold, and over half are rated silver.


Mail reveals highest earning graduates would save on loan repayments if their interest was lower

The Mail found this week that students could save £18,000 in loan repayments if the government reduced the interest on their loans by switching from RPI to CPI. Although closer examination of the figures revealed that the saving was based on a graduate starting on a salary of £41,000, which seems a little optimistic given figures released by HESA yesterday found that the average salary of students who graduated in 2013 was £25,500 three and a half years later.

Tweaking how the interest is measured might benefit a handful of very wealthy graduates, but as a recent London Economics report for UCU found, there are no winners under the current system. Wealthy graduates are hit with high marginal tax rates in their 30s and 40s and those working in professions such as nursing and teaching are unlikely to ever pay their debt off.


Increase in small numbers earning big bucks at UK universities

The Times today ran a story that showed the number of people earning over £200,000 a year at the 24 Russell Group universities in 2015-16 had increased by 62 over a three-year period. It conceded that many of those earning high salaries are clinicians, whose pay from the NHS has to be included in university accounts, and that lecturers were more likely to be earning between £20,000 and £40,000 a year.