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In the news: 25 August 2017

24 August 2017 | last updated: 1 April 2019

Vice-chancellors under fire over lack of scrutiny of their pay deals

The debate around vice-chancellors' pay and perks continued this week, but did shift slightly to focusing on the lack of transparency surrounding senior pay. UCU has long been calling for a proper register of VCs pay and perks and this week highlighted how over two-thirds (71%) of vice-chancellors sit on the committee that sets their pay and three-quarters of universities refuse to issue unredacted minutes of the meetings.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the Guardian that it was time to end the secrecy over vice-chancellors' pay. She said too many vice-chancellors sit on their institution's committee responsible for setting pay for senior staff - including themselves - leading to conflicts of interest and public disquiet.

She said: 'For too long vice-chancellors have hidden behind the shadowy remuneration committee when it comes to their pay. However, in the majority of cases, the vice-chancellor sits on that committee and the university refuses to issue minutes of the meeting. It is time to lift the lid on the secretive world of university remuneration committees.'

Sally told the Times that: 'Remuneration committees have been a convenient cover for universities when it comes to senior pay because few have questioned their make-up, or supposed independence," she said. "Defending the system by saying the vice-chancellor nips out while the rest of the group discuss his or her pay is ridiculous, as is the vice-chancellor being allowed to attend in the first place.'


MPs desert Bath and member of pay board awarded £64m contracts

The University of Bath was back under the spotlight this week (although it has never really left it this month). Four MPs have now resigned their position on an advisory board at the institution in apparent protest at its vice-chancellor's £451,000 pay.

The Guardian reported that Bristol North West MP Darren Jones resigned on Tuesday afternoon to follow two Labour colleagues - Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, and David Drew, MP for Stroud - as well as Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire.

While Times Higher Education revealed yesterday that one of the five members of the university remuneration committee formerly led a construction company that has won contracts worth £64 million from the university.

John Stanion joined Bath's governing council in 2012, and he joined the remuneration committee in 2015. In October 2012, it was announced that Bath had signed a £16 million building contract with Vinci. In November 2014, Bath appointed Vinci to build a £20 million teaching and research building, and another £27.5 million contract between the two was announced in March 2017.


Calls for international students to be removed from migration figures

UCU said yesterday that international students should be removed from net migration figures. The union's call came as the government released two reports* showing there is a very high visa compliance by international students and the Financial Times reported that the Home Office was reviewing the costs and benefits of overseas students.

Last month the Office for Statistics Regulation - the government's statistics watchdog - said official estimates of international students remaining in the UK were "potentially misleading" and should be "treated with caution".

Sally Hunt said: 'We are not the only ones who have raised concerns about the government's rhetoric on international students, along with its somewhat cavalier use of statistics. The best and easiest way to send a clear message that the UK is open and welcomes international staff and students is to guarantee the thousands of EU staff working in our universities the right to stay in the UK, and to remove international students from net migration figures.'

* International student exit checks and student migration


University teaching staff treated like "second-class citizens"

On Tuesday, the Guardian looked at new research that has found that university teaching staff resent the way they are made to feel second-class citizens, inferior to researchers. It said that zero-hours contracts, pay below the minimum wage (once the time spent marking and preparation is included), and contracts that exclude the summer, are common among a workforce expected to meet ever greater demands from students seeking value for money as fees increase.

UCU bargaining policy and negotiations officer Jonathan White said: "It's not just that they cannot progress or move over from teaching-only to the traditional academic pathway, it's that they aren't given time to do the job properly." He also questioned why, if universities claim to value teaching, most teaching-only staff are on short-term contracts.

That theme was picked up by Sally Hunt writing in the paper's letters page the next day when she pointed out that over half (53%) of teaching-only staff in our universities are on fixed-term contracts, many of them less than a year in length, with no real prospect of building a career. She also noted that this does not include the army of academics who troop in every term on zero-hours contracts to deliver classes.


Prime minister calls Home Office threats to wrongly boot people out of the country "unfortunate mistake"

The Home Office sent about 100 letters "in error" to EU citizens living in the UK, telling them they had to leave or be liable for detention. The BBC said the mistake emerged after a Finnish academic, who has the right to live in the UK, received one of the letters.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg, who is married to a British citizen, said she couldn't believe her eyes when it told her she had a month to get out. In something of an understatement, prime minister Theresa May called it an "unfortunate mistake."

The letter said she was facing detention unless she left the UK with one month. On Wednesday, the Home Office contacted her personally to apologise - six days after she first opened the letter.


Universities to sponsor schools and work with failing University Technical Colleges

UCU said on Wednesday that universities' efforts to widen participation were to be welcomed, but that the government should not force universities to sponsor schools. The union was commenting on the annual summary of key data from universities' access agreements published by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). UCU said it was concerned about the importance and resources OFFA seemed to place on working with controversial University Technical Colleges.

Sally Hunt told Union News: 'Universities' efforts to increase participation amongst students from some of the poorest areas of society and within groups that traditionally do not make it through higher education are to be welcomed. However, we do not believe that sponsoring schools is their core business. We are also concerned about the importance OFFA seems to be placing on working with the failed University Technical College model.'

UCU has produced a charter to support greater transparency, and fairness in the higher education admission process.


Government concedes for-profit universities will keep titles and degree-awarding powers

Times Higher Education reported this week that the government has given the green light for two for-profit universities sold to Global University Systems, owned in the Netherlands, to retain their university titles and degree-awarding powers, but UCU said that such reviews must be open to greater scrutiny.

The DfE never officially announced its decisions on the University of Law and Arden University after their sales to GUS, whose umbrella group also includes St Patrick's College and the London School of Business and Finance. All three of the UK's for-profit universities - Arden, the University of Law, and BPP - are ultimately owned in the Netherlands, known for having an attractive regime for corporations.

Sally Hunt said: 'Private universities gain significant income from UK students and taxpayers. Important information, including recommendations from the regulator, should be open to scrutiny, and the results of reviews should be published.'