HE national disputes 2021

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In the news: 19 October

London protest and lobby of MPs in fight for college funding

UCU members were joined by their students, fellow trade unionists and college principals in an unprecedented show of unity across the sector on Wednesday, as they marched through central London to demand better funding and fair pay for further education colleges. FE Week reported that dozens of colleges were represented amongst the thousands of people who attended the event, which was coordinated by UCU as part of the #loveourcolleges campaign.

The union's president Vicky Knight and head of further education Andrew Harden both spoke at the rally in Parliament Square. The Independent reported that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the crowd that the government's treatment of college staff was "disgusting". Other speakers included shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, Caroline Lucas from the Green party, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran and National Union of Students president Shakira Martin. Following the rally, protestors headed into the House of Commons to lobby their MPs and press the case for better funding and fair pay. The march, rally and lobby came as new research revealed that over half (58%) of UK small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) fear the country risks being "left behind" if the government doesn't address skills gaps through education.

Andrew Harden told the Independent: 'Colleges specialise in helping those who are often hardest for schools and universities to reach. They are remarkable places which transform lives and, given the chance, could transform our country too. Without urgent investment in our colleges and their staff, the government risks squandering the potential of millions of people.'


USS accused of exaggerating pension scheme deficit

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was forced to issue four statements at the start of the week after analysis from Dr Sam Marsh, president of the University of Sheffield UCU branch, claimed the pension scheme had made a "large and demonstrable mistake" in the valuation of its £7.5bn deficit.

Times Higher Education said Dr Marsh's analysis of UCU data shows that the fund is actually in surplus, not deficit and that there is no need for detrimental changes to benefits or contributions. Dr Marsh said that he had exposed a "harmful inconsistency" in the way that the USS had conducted a key test of risk management, known as Test 1.

A spokesperson for UCU told the Financial Times that USS had questions to answer about why it had taken so long  to respond to requests for information about its valuation workings. USS said Dr Marsh's analysis was "not wrong in isolation", but that it had made "no such error in USS's valuation".


Campaign to stop Newcastle family being split up by deportation

UCU has launched a campaign to stop a Newcastle-based family from being split up. The Atkinson-Phillips family was told husband Jeff must return to Australia, otherwise he will be deported. UCU has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid asking him to intervene to ensure the family can remain together in the UK. A petition has also been launched calling on Sajid Javid to reverse the decision and to change the rules so that other UK citizens have the right to return to the UK with their long-term spouse.  

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo, Alison Atkinson-Phillips said: 'I find it very upsetting that my country of birth doesn't seem to care about keeping me or my children here, or value the contribution we are able to make to the UK. The Home Office may think there are no insurmountable obstacles to us upping sticks and moving halfway around the world, but we see things differently. I do not want to give up my job or have to move the kids now they are settled here.'
UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup told the Independent that the family's case risked sending another worrying message to the rest of the world that the UK is not open for business and that the Home Office's "hostile environment" policy lived on.


Protest at University of Reading as women work for free for rest of the year

Staff at the University of Reading held an "unpaid women's non-working lunch" on Tuesday to protest at unequal pay at the university. The university has a gender pay gap of 19.6%, which means that women at the university effectively stopped getting paid for the year from Tuesday.

The University of Reading's 19.6% gender pay gap is higher than the UK average for universities of 15.9%, calculated by Times Higher Education, and much higher than the average for UK employers of 9.7%. In 2016 the university committed to increase the proportion of female staff in senior roles and to reduce the gender pay gap to less than 5% by 2020.

University of Reading UCU rep Karin Lesnik-Oberstein said: 'The University of Reading has a significant section of its workforce that is effectively now working for free until the end of the year. The university should reaffirm its promise to reduce the gender pay gap across the institution to 5% by 2020 and commit to making payments if that is not achieved.'


Call for fairer pay ahead of University of Southampton vice-chancellor appointment

UCU members at the University of Southampton have launched a petition insisting their new vice-chancellor must commit the university to paying the real living wage to staff and receive a salary no more than 20 times greater than the lowest paid employee.

The university's governing body - Council - has ultimate responsibility for the selection and appointment of the new vice-chancellor. Council will next meet on Wednesday 28 November when Southampton UCU plans to present the petition.  

Catherine Pope, president UCU Southampton branch, told Research Fortnight: 'The university should embrace the appointment of a new vice-chancellor as an opportunity to promote a plan that protects jobs, enhances education and delivers a fairer pay structure. Staff and students rightly feel aggrieved when the vice-chancellor takes home over £400,000 a year and some of the lowest paid workers on campus rely on foodbanks.'

Last updated: 16 March 2021