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In the news: 13 October

13 October 2017

Apprenticeship starts drop by 61% after levy introduced

The number of people starting apprenticeships between May and July fell by 61% compared to the previous year, according to figures released by the Department for Education yesterday. UCU said the figures show a considerable decline in the number of apprenticeship starts since the government's apprenticeship levy was introduced. There were just 43,600 starts between May and July 2017, down from 113,000 over the same period in 2016.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told iNews that 'Ministers must be concerned by this drop, which seriously undermines efforts to improve social mobility. With two years to spend the levy cash, there may be some employers biding their time but that does nothing for those people who want, and need, access to training now.

Speaking to TES she added that: 'The government must do more to ensure that anyone who wants an apprenticeship can get one, but quality must remain paramount and no attempt should be made to row back on the commitment to off-the-job training which is central to good apprenticeships. The government should also recognise that apprenticeships are not the only valid route for people to gain skills in the workplace, and should make levy funding available for other types of training.'


Pressure grows on University of Leeds as MPs back striking staff

Striking UCU members at the University of Leeds received a boost this morning as another local MP backed their campaign to halt changes to the university's dismissal policies. MP for Leeds North West, Alex Sobel, has joined fellow Leeds MP Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) and shadow chancellor John McDonnell in publicly backing members of the University and College Union (UCU) who walked out for a third consecutive day of strike action today.

The industrial action follows the university's efforts to introduce a new catch-all power which would allow staff to be dismissed for "Some Other Substantial Reason". The union has dubbed the new power a "sackers' charter" and said it could stop staff from pursuing controversial ideas or lead to them being pressured to withhold unfavourable research findings.

Earlier this week Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn wrote a blog in which he said he had previously taken the matter up with the vice-chancellor Sir Alan Langlands and signed the union's petition calling for the changes to be scrapped. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell sent a message of support to the striking staff yesterday. Sally Hunt said: 'As Alex Sobel says, no one takes strike action lightly and the university should be working with us to improve job security, not seeking new ways to sack people.


Vice-chancellors' pay debate moves to House of Commons

Vice-chancellors' pay remained in the headlines this week as South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison called an adjournment debate on the subject in the House of Commons. The Conservative MP has Bath University in his constituency and made the news over the summer when he was the first politician to quit his role on the Court at the university in protest at the vice-chancellor's "eye-watering" pay.

UCU's VC pay and perks report is regularly referenced in the debate which can be seen on the BBC from 4:23:45 or read about in Hansard. Elsewhere this week, the new vice-chancellor of Cambridge University said he was unsurprised that he had already faced criticism for his "very comfortable" annual salary of £365,000. A different approach to that of his Oxford counterpart Louise Richardson who recently made headlines by pointing out she was paid less than some footballers.


'Urgent need' for ministers to prevent post-Brexit HE brain drain

Writing in this week's Times Higher Education, Lord Hunt said there was an urgent need for minister to prevent a post-Brexit brain drain. He said the government was causing serious damage to the higher education sector, despite the fact that it was one of the country's world class.

He said refusing to exclude international students from net migration targets, even though recent Office of National Statistics figures show 97 per cent of them leave at the end of their studies, risked causing serious damage. He said countries such as Germany were already working hard to become an attractive proposition for foreign students and staff may also leave.

He cites UCU's recent complaint that any brain drain of intellectual talent to competitor countries will lead to a negative impact on the international reputation of the UK and inevitably reduce our export potential, and concludes that it is essential that universities continue to attract high-quality EU staff and students. 

Last updated: 13 October 2017