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In the news: 21 September

Further education cuts much sharper than anywhere else in education

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on Monday revealed that further education funding has been cut more sharply than funding for schools. The BBC reported that college finances had been hit with a double whammy due to the drop in 16-to-18 funding coinciding with a huge fall in over-19s taking courses - and a consequent reduction in income from the government.

The Guardian noted that funding for sixth form and further education students had been cut "much more sharply" than any other area of education. It said FE had been hit with an 8% cut in real terms since 2010/11 resulting in course closures, job losses and cuts to student support services. It added there are also concerns about the capacity of the FE system to deliver government reforms in the absence of additional funding.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Severe cuts to further education funding have led to job losses, course closures and fewer learning opportunities. Staff have seen their pay fall by 25% since 2009, and many colleges are struggling to recruit the expert staff they need.

'The situation is completely unsustainable. If the government really wants to ensure that everyone can access the skills they need to get on in life, it must urgently invest in further education institutions and their staff.'

Campaign launch for better funding in further education

The IFS report coincided with the launch of a further education manifesto by staff, students and colleges as part of the Love Our Colleges campaign to secure better funding for the sector. UCU members will be joined by students and college representatives at a march through London to Westminster to MPs on Wednesday 17 October.

Campaigners say that between 2009 and 2019, college funding will have been cut in real terms by around 30 per cent, which has led to fewer hours of teaching and support for young people and a "drastic reduction" in the number of learning opportunities for adults.

Tes reported that the manifesto calls on the government to increase college funding to sustainable levels, including:

  • Increasing the 16 to 19 funding rate by 5 per cent a year for each of the next five years, and extending the pupil premium to cover post-16 students.
  • Fully funding a National Retraining Scheme to support level 3 to 5 skills.
  • Introducing a lifetime learning entitlement to fund skills training for all adults who have not previously achieved a level 3 qualification.
  • Providing immediate exceptional funding, ring-fenced for pay, to cover the costs of a "fair pay deal" for college staff from this year onwards.

Time for action on black and minority ethnic attainment gap

Senior staff must ensure race equality policies are implemented, if universities are to address the attainment gap between students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds and their white counterparts said a UCU-commissioned report released on Wednesday.

The report, by Professor Kalwant Bhopal and Clare Pitkin from the University of Birmingham, looks at the Race Equality Charter introduced in 2014 to improve the representation and progression of BME staff and students in universities. The report also called for annual audits of universities' efforts to address the BME attainment gap and to provide universities that do achieve the REC with a boost when it comes to research funding.

Writing a blog for Times Higher Education Bhopal and Sally Hunt said senior leaders must lead the charge in changing higher education's structural disadvantages for black and minority ethnic staff and students. In its analysis, Research Fortnight said the Office for Students should make annual reporting of, and progress towards, race equality a condition of registration for universities

CU superannuation working group endorses JEP USS report

UCU has confirmed that its superannuation working group (SWG) has endorsed the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) on USS pension scheme and called on Universities UK and USS to do similar.  

Sally Hunt said: 'The SWG's support for the JEP recommendations is a significant step forward in our ongoing campaign to protect members' pensions. It is critical that both USS and the employers engage in a similarly positive way. The SWG's decision will now be circulated to members and branches, who will be asked to discuss and feedback their views, and those of their institutions, in advance of the meeting of the national dispute committee on 5 October.'

Student accommodation provider registered in offshore tax haven

Times Higher Education revealed this week that the student accommodation provider iQ, which is owned by the Wellcome Trust and Goldman Sachs, is registered in Luxembourg. Earlier this year, Times Higher Education revealed that the highest-paid director at IQSA Services Ltd, part of the iQ group of companies, received just over £1 million in 2016-17.

Sally Hunt said: 'Student accommodation is funded largely by public money and student debt. It cannot be right that while many students struggle to keep up with rising rents, their accommodation providers are using offshore holding companies and paying themselves huge salaries.'

University of Exeter brings in contracts for postgrads

The University of Exeter has announced that postgraduate teaching assistants will be employed on annual contracts, rather than treating them as casual workers. Postgraduate students who work regular or pre-scheduled hours will be employed on annual contracts from Monday.

Research Fortnight highlighted a number of other universities who have made steps towards improving things for casualised workers, but UCU said many had a long way to go. The union's bargaining policy and negotiations official Jonathan White said: 'This is not an issue that is going to go away for the union. It's one that we are going to keep on pushing, because the time is right for universities to start addressing it.'

Strike off at University of Leicester

Industrial action at the University of Leicester planned for Monday over potential redundancies has been called off following successful negotiations.

Following a joint statement from Leicester UCU and the university leadership team, Sarah Seaton, co-chair of Leicester UCU said: 'I think everyone associated with University of Leicester - staff, students and managers - is delighted that we have been able to resolve this dispute without recourse to strike action - which we only ever undertake with great reluctance. We can now look forward to welcoming new and returning students next week.'

Last updated: 27 March 2020