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In the news: 14 September 2018

USS expert panel pensions report released

The eagerly-anticipated first report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) looking at the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) 2017 valuation was released yesterday. The JEP was set up by UCU and Universities UK following the strikes over proposed changes to the USS pensions.

JEP chair Joanne Segars said: 'We believe that our constructive and practical proposals for adjustments to the valuation can be implemented quickly and act as the cornerstone for a negotiated settlement. Ultimately it will be for all the parties to decide whether to respond positively, but we believe that the report provides a genuine opportunity to turn the page, to focus on the long-term stability of the USS and rebuild trust and confidence in the Scheme.'

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'It has been a longstanding objective of UCU to secure an independent assessment of the valuation and this first report is a significant landmark in our ongoing campaign to defend members' pensions. There is no doubt that we have come a long way from this time last year when we faced plans to impose a defined contribution benefit package that would have seen some members lose around £200,000 in retirement.'


UCU says prison educators share officers' anger over unsafe conditions

Members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) are protesting outside prisons this morning. The BBC said the POA protests outside prisons in England and Wales were in protest at "unprecedented levels of violence" in prisons.

Speaking to BBC 5 Live (21:42), UCU's Jenny Lennox said prison educators faced many of the same issues as prison officers. She cited examples of prisoners using drugs in classrooms and assaulting staff, and said more prison officers were needed to improve the safety of education wings in prisons.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden told Sky News that the situation in prisons is the worst it has ever been. He said a lack of prison officers meant longer waits if there were attacks or emergencies in the classroom.


UK spends less than international competitors on staff despite highest tuition fees

A global education report released on Tuesday revealed that the UK spends less on university staff than other countries, despite having some of the world's highest tuition fees.

The report from the OECD showed that the UK's spending on tertiary education staff as a proportion of current expenditure (63%) is lower than both the OECD (68%) and EU (70%) averages. It is also behind the likes of France (80%), Belgium (76%) and Germany (67%).

UCU said universities need to recognise that staff are their most important asset and should be the main priority for spending, pointing out that students say investment in staff is a top priority. Writing for the Guardian, Sally Hunt said universities are built on the work and expertise of their staff, and they should be the main focus for investment. Making that a reality starts with fair pay.


Staff, students and colleges unite to press for funding

Next month, UCU will be joining forces with students, college principals and sister trade unions for a national lobby of parliament on Wednesday 17 October, calling for extra investment in colleges and fair pay for college staff.

FE Week reported the lobby forms part of a week of action being planned by sector organisations to raise the profile of further education and call for more investment in the sector. While Tes highlighted that there will also be a march and rally on the day.


Report rejects calls for international students to be taken out of migration figures

UCU and others across higher education criticised a report out this week saying international students should be kept in net migration figures. The union said international students made an enormous contribution both educationally and economically and the Migration Advisory Committee report had missed an opportunity to send a clear message to the rest of the world that the UK remained open for business and welcomed international students.

Speaking to Union News Sally Hunt said: 'International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education both educationally and economically. This report is a missed opportunity for us to send a message to the rest of the world saying that the UK is open for business and welcomes international students.'

Urging the sector to keep lobbying for the change, former education secretary Nicky Morgan said yesterday that there was a chance the commons arithmetic could lead to international students being removed. Times Higher Education reported that she said there was "a groundswell of opinion moving in one direction" on international students, urging those in the audience to "keep going, keep lobbying, keep thinking about the parliamentary arithmetic and, you never know, we may well get somewhere".


Strike action at University of Leicester

UCU members at the University of Leicester will stage a four-day walkout in the last week of September, starting on 24 September, followed by a further two weeks of strikes in early October.

Times Higher Education said the action has been sparked by plans announced in June that UCU said was an attempt to impose a programme of compulsory redundancies without any conversation with employees.

In a statement, the local branch said: 'Leicester UCU believes this is a knee-jerk reaction, which threatens not only the livelihoods of many staff but also the future of the University of Leicester. A university that recognises its staff are its biggest asset makes a university that will offer a richer experience to students, as well as producing better research.

Dr Ken Weir, a lecturer in accountancy, told the Leicester Mercury that there was no pressing need for the university to cut costs. He said the staff costs to income ratio the leadership team cite as being too high has actually fallen in recent years and that 150 jobs had been cut two years ago in a cost-cutting exercise.


TUC 150th anniversary Congress

UCU's general secretary Sally Hunt had the honour of opening the 150th TUC Congress in Manchester. Unions were back in the city to celebrate where the movement was born in 1868. Sally's opening address took delegates through a history of the trade union movement and finished with a tribute to the Bryant and May match girls. UCU delegates spoke in a number of debates across the four-day conference and a full review of Congress can be found here.

Last updated: 4 April 2019