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In the news: 26 January

February strikes look like a reality in USS pensions row

After Universities UK (UUK) refused to budge from its position of scrapping defined benefits in retirement for members of the USS pension scheme, UCU said strikes scheduled for February now look like a reality.

The union said it was disappointed that the talks ended with the changes being imposed on USS members. It added it was surprised that more talks had also been dismissed after UUK had said on Monday that it hoped to avoid industrial action through further talks.

There was widespread coverage of the news and Sally Hunt said staff felt utterly betrayed by their leaders. In a piece for Research Fortnight she talked about the crisis of leadership in universities and urged vice-chancellors to work with UCU to resolve the row.


Ballots launched at 12 further education colleges

UCU members at 12 colleges are being balloted for strike action over pay. UCU head of further education Andrew Harden told Tes that pay in the sector had reached a tipping point with many teachers having opted to leave the sector because they are unable to make ends meet. He said there was a consensus now that pay is a problem in further education and the ballot was about defending the future of the sector.

The majority of affected colleges are based in London. Although ballots are also being run at Sunderland College, Sussex Coast College Hastings and Sandwell College. The ballots will close on Monday 12 February.


Education staff vital to success of Labour's National Education Service, UCU tells MPs

This week, UCU teamed up with the Fabian Society to publish a report looking at next steps for Labour's National Education Service.  Writing a chapter for the "Life Lessons" publication, Sally Hunt emphasised the need to "reinforce the status of education staff as skilled professionals" within a National Education Service, and address key concerns about pay and conditions so that education professionals finally get the respect they deserve.

The booklet also features contributions from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden along with voices from further and higher education and was launched in parliament on Wednesday at a busy event attended by several Labour MPs.


Bolton University vice-chancellor attended all-male scandal dinner

The controversial vice-chancellor of Bolton University George Holmes was among the men who attended the infamous Presidents Club dinner last week. News of the event broke earlier this week when a Financial Times journalist went undercover to expose that female staff were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned at the all-male event.

In a very long statement, the university said Holmes had indeed attended the event -as a guest of one of the university's sponsors. It said he was shocked at what he saw and highlighted his concerns to some of the staff. Although it also said he left before he saw any of the things reported in the press.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, UCU asked why Bolton University had refused to say who its vice-chancellor was a guest of, why he had not thought to check what kind of event it was, and if he was usually so relaxed about appointments at the other end of the country.

Holmes is a controversial figure who was pilloried over the summer for an interview he gave to the Financial Times where he defended his own salary package, boasted of owning fast cars and yachts and said students should aspire to own a Bentley. He has previously made headlines for splashing out £100,000 on an away for staff at a venue where he moors his yacht and receiving a £1m loan from the university to buy a house.


Young apppintment continues to loom large over Office for Students

Toby Young was asked in his interview for the Office for Students (OfS) whether there was anything in his past that could be embarrassing if he was appointed to a role on its board, the watchdog's boss Sir Michael Barber said yesterday.

Young finally stepped down from his position on the board of the new OfS on 9 January after MPs of all stripes attacked him and his appointment. Sally Hunt said it was right he resigned, but that he never should have been appointed in the first place.

Barber told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme that he had asked Young if there was anything in his past which could cause difficulty if made public, but also admitted that he should have checked before recommending his appointment after the interview. The commissioner for public appointments Peter Riddell is investigating the OfS over the appointment of Young.

Last updated: 26 March 2020