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In the news: 3 November

Further education sector unites to lobby for greater funding

Ten bodies representing further education staff, students and providers have today written to the Chancellor calling for extra funding to ensure a "stable and well-resourced sector". TES reported that the letter, sent ahead of 22 November's Budget, says successive funding cuts have weakened the nation's skills infrastructure, and reduced the availability of learning opportunities for young people and adults. 

Speaking to FE Week, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Cuts to further education have closed off vital learning opportunities, putting a cap on aspiration for too many people. In order to boost productivity and social mobility, the government must now ensure that the further education sector is properly funded to deliver whatever skills people need to get on in life.'


Vice-chancellor's pay scandal university suffers significant drop in student applications

The very public row over the pay and perks of Britain's best-paid vice-chancellor is being blamed for a slump in the number of students applying to study at the University of Bath. According to new admissions data, applications to study there fell by nearly six per cent, in stark contrast to an increase at six rival universities.

The Bath Chronicle got the scoop after an email from the university's head of admissions highlighting the drop in applications set against rises at Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Loughborough, UCL and Warwick universities was leaked to the paper. Picking up on the story today, the Times said that vice-chancellor Dame Glynis Breakwell has attracted criticism not only for her £451,000 salary, but also for presiding over an opaque and old-fashioned pay structure which saw her sit on the committee that set her own and other senior colleagues' pay.


Government tries again to sell off student loans

The government will resume its sale of student loans to private investors reported the Financial Times on Tuesday. The price paid to the government is expected to be lower than the face value of the loans as not all the debt is expected to be repaid. The move comes despite growing political concern about the burden of student debt on graduates and the long-term cost to taxpayers of unpaid loans.

Sally Hunt said: 'It is a strange time to try to sell off some of the loan book considering the Prime Minister recently announced a review of all elements of student finance, supposedly including loans and their repayment. The government has of course let students down in the past by moving the goalposts on loan interest rates and repayment thresholds.'


Russell Group degree comes with £88,000 graduate premium

Gaining a degree at the UK's most selective universities provides graduates around £88,000 more on average in earnings than those who did not go to university reported the Independent yesterday. A study from London Economics said that employees who secured an undergraduate degree at one of the Russell Group of universities gain a significant "graduate premium", even after student loans are taken into account.

However, the research did find there was a substantial gender gap when it came to earning potential, with men expecting to take home £108,000 more, while for women it is £73,000.

The study also said that the Russell Group injects £86.8bn into the UK economy every year through its research and future tax revenue from its graduates. Nearly £5bn of which is generated by international students studying at Russell Group universities. For every seven non-EU undergraduates that enrol to study, £1m is contributed to the UK economy, it says, or £152,000 each.


UNISON members balloted on further education pay offer

UNISON members in colleges are voting on the employers' 1% pay offer in a consultative ballot, which closes on 17 November. UNISON is recommending rejection of the offer saying it amounts to a pay cut in real terms.

UCU members in further education voted overwhelmingly in favour of balloting for industrial action over pay earlier this month and a union spokesperson told FE Week that UCU is currently finalising which branches will take action in support of the national pay claim.


Scottish union delegates back UCU call for equal pay scheme

Delegates at the Scottish TUC Women's Conference unanimously backed a call from UCU for the creation of an Equal Pay employer scheme, similar to the Living Wage employer scheme, which will provide employers with accreditation and ensure that outsourcing or subcontracting are not used as a means to obscure an organisation's pay figures.

Speaking to the Herald, UCU Scotland President Ann Gow said: 'While an equal pay employer scheme is not the only answer, we believe it would ensure that employers are acknowledged for the action they have taken and would make it easier for women to see at a glance whether they'd be paid the going rate for the job they're doing. Being accredited should make an employer a more attractive place to work and should raise the bar generally.'


Former pro vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University sentenced to five years for fraud

A former pro vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University and his partner have both been jailed for five years for defrauding the institution of more than £500,000. Robert Smedley, who was dean of education at the Lancashire institution, was found guilty of five counts of fraud at Liverpool Crown Court earlier this month. His partner, Christopher Joynson, whom Smedley employed as the university's professional development officer - a salaried post created for him - was convicted of four counts.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Any attempt by the university to portray itself as the victim in this case would be wholly inappropriate. The real victims are taxpayers, students and staff, and the whole sorry episode brutally exposes how a lack of transparency in universities can leave them vulnerable to fraud.'


Sally Hunt and Reading East MP among panellists at higher education debate

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt and Reading East MP Matt Rodda were among the panellists debating the future higher education at the University of Reading yesterday. The panel also included the UCU's Reading branch president Paul Hatcher and the University of Reading's students' union president Tristan Spencer.

Sally Hunt talked about the problems the sector and individuals face as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Brexit was a topic covered in length, as was higher education policy. The event was organised to mark 70 years of trade union representation for academics at the university.


The benefits of studying abroad

The Guardian reports on a new campaign to double the proportion of students at UK universities undertaking placements abroad by 2020. The campaign, run by Universities UK International, is particularly focused on getting universities to make international experience accessible for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, since they're the least likely to study abroad.

Studying or working abroad can make a major contribution to closing the attainment gaps that exist between different groups of students. Across the board, students who go abroad are 9% more likely to gain a first or 2:1 degree, and they are 24% more likely to be employed after graduation; this figure rises to 41% for black graduates.

Last updated: 3 November 2017