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In the news: 16 February 2018

USS strikes less than a week away, but universities still refusing to talk

Universities' refusal to talk to UCU about the future of the USS pension scheme has angered students across the country with many setting up petitions that support UCU, but demand universities refund their tuition fees if the strikes go ahead.

The Guardian broke the story last week, but over the weekend most papers covered the news. UCU told the i that students were understandably worried about the potential disruption and that universities were doing nothing to try and resolve the dispute. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the Sunday Times that UCU members felt let down by vice-chancellors "who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff".

Students worried about impact of strikes, but majority back striking staff

Times Higher Education ran the findings of its polling that showed that more than half (52%) of students said they would support their lecturer if they took strike action. Less than a third (29%) said that they would not.

There was widespread concern amongst students about the impact of the industrial action, with more than two-thirds of (69%) saying they believed that the strike would harm their education, compared with only 18 per cent who disagreed.

When asked who was to blame for the strikes, students were most likely to name the government, their university or its vice-chancellor, with only one in 20 criticising UCU.

Stop spinning and start talking Sally Hunt tells universities

Union News reported that Sally Hunt told universities on Saturday that if they wanted to stop unprecedented disruption on their campuses then they needed to show courage and call on their representatives to negotiate meaningfully with UCU.

Speaking at the union's Cradle to Grave conference, Sally said the time for corridor diplomacy had gone and only vice-chancellors prepared to speak out could stop universities drifting into weeks of industrial action and more negative headlines.

Tes reported that she also called for a political consensus around the importance of education and said that at its heart education was about the people who do it - whether they are students, researchers, teachers or the thousands of other professionals who make the system what it is.

Strikes already having an impact

The University of Southampton's Science and Engineering Day has been cancelled . Organisers said the event, scheduled for Saturday 10 March, would have to be pulled as UCU members prepare to take industrial over the next four weeks. The union said the cancellation of the event, which 10,000 were expected to attend, was a huge disappointment, but that the blame lay squarely with university leaders.

University of Southampton UCU rep Catherine Pope said: 'It is incredibly disappointing that this event has had to be cancelled. This is yet another disruption to university life which could be avoided if UUK listened to the many voices urging them to come back to the negotiating table.'

UUK refusing to talk or even acknowledge problems of strikes and senior pay

In one of the most bizarre articles of the week, UUK chief executive Alistair Jarvis set out the challenges he sees currently for universities. Writing for the Guardian HE Network, he chose to ignore the USS strikes and the scandals over senior pay and how it is set.

The article came out the day after the weekend stories of students setting up petitions demanding fee reimbursements, which exposes the shortcomings of those in charge of universities and is incredibly insulting to staff and students. While also failing to acknowledge the problems with senior pay demonstrates just how out of touch the sector's leaders are.

Fortunately King's lecturer Alice Evans also wrote a piece for Guardian HE Network this week and she certainly did mention the strikes, pointing out she did not want to deprive her students of teaching, but without disruption universities won't listen.

Just seven UK university heads not on committee that sets their own pay

The vice-chancellor was either on the committee that sets their pay or allowed to attend its meetings at 95% of UK universities, UCU revealed yesterday. Three-quarters of institutions refused to release full minutes of the committee's meeting.

The findings received widespread coverage across all national newspapers, including the front page of the Guardian.

Sally Hunt said: 'It is quite staggering that just seven UK universities say their vice-chancellor was neither a member of the committee that sets their pay, nor allowed to attend the meetings. Staff and students should be given seats at the top table in universities and all minutes should be made public.'

UCU members at 16 colleges vote for strike action

UCU members at 16 colleges have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in an ongoing row over pay that Tes said would affect thousands of students. Overall, 92% of staff at affected colleges voted for strike action. The average turnout was 63%.

Staff at 13 London colleges and Sandwell College in Birmingham will walk out on Wednesday 28 February and Thursday 1 March, reported FE Week. Staff at Sunderland College will walk out on 28 February while negotiations are ongoing at Sussex College Hastings.

Sally Hunt said: 'The overwhelming support for strike action at these colleges shows the depth of anger about continued attempts to hold down pay in further education. Strikes are always a last resort for staff, but years of derisory pay offers have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living and patience is wearing thin.'

UCU calls for radical overhaul of student funding

UCU has called for a "radical" overhaul of tuition fees and higher education funding in England ahead of a review of student finance expected to be announced this week. UCU said the time had come for business to start paying its way for the pool of highly-skilled graduates.

Speaking to the BBC, Sally Hunt said the review must be more than just "tinkering at the edges" and there had to be a fundamental look at university funding with an assumption that "higher education is a public good".

Last updated: 3 April 2019