In the news: 28 September 2018

How USS dispute could reverse trend of axing pension benefits

The Financial Times this week offered a look at where things stand following the first report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP). It argues that the report's findings could reverse the trend of axing or reducing defined benefit (DB) schemes. It says the JEP report found that the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme was less expensive than the USS had argued and that the scheme could continue with only a slight increase in contributions.

Sally Hunt said the JEP report was a "significant landmark" in UCU's ongoing campaign to defend members' pensions, and called on Universities UK (UUK) and USS to follow UCU's lead and endorse the report.

The article gives a background to the dispute and says the JEP was created to break the deadlock. It says the report makes for uncomfortable reading for UUK, USS and the Pension Regulator and says all three refused to be interviewed.

 

Strikes at Lewisham Southwark College in pay row

UCU members at Lewisham Southwark College are on strike today in a row over pay. They walked out yesterday after last-ditch talks failed to resolve the dispute. UCU said the college had to shoulder the blame for the disruption after years of real-terms pay cuts.

Southwark News reported that staff have been offered only one pay increase (of just 1%) in five years and, unlike other London colleges, they don't receive the London weighting allowance.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden told Tes: 'The college must shoulder the blame for the disruption this week. Strike action is always a last resort but, in the face of repeated real-terms pay cuts and the refusal to implement London weighting, staff feel they have been left with no option but to walk out.'

 

Labour talks up National Education Service at Liverpool conference

Speaking to the Guardian ahead of her speech at Labour party conference, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said Labour's National Education Service (NES) would "end the cuts and start putting money back into the education system". She said Labour would "return to free higher and further education, sort out public sector pay and restore morale by working with people rather than treating them as the enemy".

There was much discussion of the NES at the conference and in fringe meetings. Having attended a fair few of them, John Morgan from Times Higher Education tried to work out what the NES would mean.

He said that if Labour wanted to address its electoral problems and bridge the cultural gap between cities and towns, then a commitment to spreading the benefits of tertiary education beyond cities via the NES might be part of the solution. He said that if the NES is to be about improving people's social prospects and the UK's economic performance, towns could be the place to root the policy.

 

Busy few days for UCU in Liverpool

UCU had a busy week in Liverpool. Sally Hunt rounded off her year as president of the TUC speaking on behalf of the union movement on Sunday afternoon. Celebrating the shared history between unions and the Labour party, Sally thanked Labour for the support it had given to striking workers in UCU and beyond, and said she was pleased to be speaking alongside a Labour leadership ready to listen to and act upon the concerns of union members.

On Monday morning, Sally spoke at a NEON and New Statesman fringe event looking at access to higher education. Speaking on a panel alongside Professor Graeme Atherton and the National Union of Students' Amatey Doku, she said marketisation had been a disaster for higher education and said Labour should prioritise overhauling admissions and seeking better integration with further education to widen access under its National Education Service plans.

UCU also hosted a fringe event on Monday evening looking at how the National Education Service could better support further education. Chaired by Tes's Stephen Exley, the session featured inputs from shadow further and higher education minister Gordon Marsden and National Union of Students president Shakira Martin. UCU president Vicky Knight said further education had been overlooked and underfunded for too long, and called on Labour to put staff at the heart of its education policy and support the Love Our Colleges campaign.

 

Private schools join call for end of unconditional offers

The Times front page story this morning is the call from the head of private schools umbrella group for universities to stop making unconditional offers to pupils amid mounting evidence that they are damaging performance in A levels.

Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), echoed comments from universities minister Sam Gyimah in the summer saying too many pupils are "taking their foot off the gas" when they learn that they do not need to pass their A levels, or even finish their course, to get into university.

The number of unconditional offers has risen sharply in recent years, with 23 per cent of pupils now receiving at least one. In 2013 the figure was just 1 per cent. UCU wants to see a complete overhaul of the admissions system with pupils applying after they receive their results; a move the union said would render unconditional offers obsolete.

 

Universities call for essay mills to be outlawed

Universities this week called on the government to make companies who offer essay-writing services to students illegal, amid fears that they are undermining the integrity of degree courses. The Independent reported that a letter to education secretary Damian Hinds, signed by 46 university heads, demanded that so-called essay mills are banned because they are unfair to "honest, hard-working students."

Universities minister Sam Gyimah said he had not ruled out outlawing the services, which he said were "normalising and enabling cheating". He added that they could put the UK's international reputation at risk. 

Last updated: 28 September 2018

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