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In the news 16 November 2018

UCU welcomes universities' acceptance of expert pensions report

UCU this week described universities' acceptance of the findings of a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report into pensions as a "hugely important step" for members. The union said the employers' acceptance of the report demonstrated how far the union had come in the past year and that it would continue to engage with all parties to protect members' pensions.

UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup told Times Higher Education: 'This is a hugely important step forward for UCU members. The employers' acceptance of the JEP's findings demonstrates just how far we have come since this time last year when the very idea of the guaranteed pension was under threat. UCU will continue to engage with all parties to protect our members' pensions.'


UCU and Labour call for urgent action on "back-door cuts" to colleges and universities

UCU said on Tuesday that the government needed to act swiftly to allay fears of "back-door cuts" at colleges and universities after it was revealed that a pensions funding shortfall could see further and higher education hit with a £300m bill.

The union was speaking ahead of Commons debate on education called after shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was told by schools minister Nick Gibb that the additional cost to cover pension benefits from 2020 would be £142m for colleges and another £142m for universities. The news came in a written response to a parliamentary question from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner.

Writing for Left Foot Forward yesterday, Matt Waddup said the chancellor had to confirm that colleges and universities wouldn't suffer funding cuts via the back door. He said the government should be supporting institutions, not increasing the pressure and then washing their hands when things don't go to plan.


Funding and pay cuts damaging further education warns report

Tes this week looked at a report from Education International that compared the English further education system with those Argentina, Australia, Ivory Coast, Germany and Taiwan. The study included an analysis of statistics collected by UCU, interviews and a number of country visits.

The report argued that the government's big cuts in further education funding greatly weaken colleges and leave them under-resourced. It said that staff have not received a pay rise for an unconscionably long time, and continued budget pressures are leading colleges to cut lecturing and support staff, leading to exploitative work intensification.

It also said that the overuse of casual staff risked deskilling the profession and that colleges were being undermined and weakened by mergers.


Under fire City College Plymouth resigns

Under-fire City College Plymouth (CCP) principal Garry Phillips resigned on Tuesday after a damning report exposed serious leadership failings at his previous college. UCU said it was right he had stepped aside, but that it was frustrating it had taken so long. Although the report was released on Friday 2 November, Phillips and the college's governors refused to acknowledge its damning criticisms or last Friday's overwhelming vote of no confidence by college staff in both the principal and the board.

UCU regional official Philippa Davey told the Plymouth Herald that it was time to halt Phillips' redundancy plans and for the governors to work with UCU to move forwards. She told FE Week that it was frustrating staff were forced to deliver such a damning no confidence vote in Phillips and the governors for action to be taken.

Private Eye did not hold back in its criticisms of the "pig's ear" Phillips had made of his previous college's finances and looked at the "cosy" and longstanding relationships between those at the top of the college.


Five colleges issued financial health warnings

Five colleges have been issued with financial health notices to improve and are therefore now in scope for being referred to the FE commissioner, according to Tes. All the colleges are being asked to closely monitor their cashflow position and maintain regular contact with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the banks.

The colleges are Coulsdon Sixth Form College; Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College; North Hertfordshire College; Northumberland College; and Worthing College. Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College was subject to a critical FE commissioner intervention report earlier this month and the college run by former City College Plymouth principal Garry Phillips who resigned this week.


Government must protect education in Brexit deal says UCU

At the start of what has been a very long week in politics, Matt Waddup set out what UCU wanted to see on Brexit. Writing for HuffPost, he warned that the final deal would have huge ramifications for the UK and it was only right that the people get a proper say on whether they think the final deal will deliver want they want.

He said UCU stands for an open and welcoming country at the centre of global knowledge economy and losing that would have substantial social and economic costs. He said that the government must ensure the interests of all those working and studying in further and higher education are protected as we depart from the EU, and that we must all have a democratic say on whatever deal they negotiate.


Union calls on employers to pay settlement fee for EU staff

Employers should cover the fee for EU staff applying to receive settled status said UCU yesterday. EU citizens working in universities across the UK can now able to apply for settled status as part of the EU Settlement Scheme pilot. The scheme is open to UK higher education staff with an EU passport or, if they are the non-EU family members of EU citizens, a biometric residence card.

Some employers including the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine have already said that they will cover the £65 application fee for staff who wish to apply for settled status. The union said that, in light of continued uncertainty over the Brexit deal, it was vital that all institutions show support for their EU staff.

Matt Waddup said: 'The UK government has created an environment in which EU nationals feel unwelcome and unwanted. Yet the success of our society and economy depend on the UK being open, not closed. To show support for their EU staff employers should cover the resettlement fee.'


UCU warns University of Birmingham over LGBT rights on Dubai campus

UCU has warned that LGBT rights are not adequately protected at the University of Birmingham's new campus in Dubai where being gay or transgender risks imprisonment, flogging and execution.

All public displays of affection, pregnancy outside marriage or within same-sex marriages, which are not recognised by the Gulf emirate, would also violate Dubai law, according to the university's Rainbow Network, which represents LGBT staff.

Local UCU branch president James Brackley told the Guardian: 'The fact that they've removed elements of the existing policy suggests a watering down of LGBT rights. The university is now firefighting issues they clearly had not anticipated. We are especially concerned at the lack of assurances over the safeguarding of LGBTQ staff and students. They have not been clear at all about repatriation. Their policy is flawed. Once you're detained you're entirely at the mercy of the Dubai authorities.'


Call for university funding to be tied to institutions' role in their local communities

The marketisation of English higher education is causing a "crisis" in university finances that may force the government into radically shifting its policy focus towards "the well-being of the system overall" and universities' responsibilities to their local communities, according to an influential researcher.

John Goddard, emeritus professor of regional development studies at Newcastle University, spoke to Times Higher Education after co-authoring a report for the Welsh government which suggests universities should be evaluated on areas such as equity of access, engagement with the business and cultural sectors in their region, and the programmes they develop on issues such as ethics, environmental justice and sustainable development.

Times Higher says the report could also have major potential implications for England - where it warns that "territorially blind formula funding mechanisms" have created "a strong hierarchy of institutions focusing on London and the south east of England", with English universities coming to see civic engagement as an "inferior and optional mission". Professor Goddard also said that the collapse of a university would be "absolutely disastrous" for its town or city and would prompt an outcry led by local MPs.


UK economy is not working and needs major reform

A major report from the Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR) warns that the UK economy is not working and needs fundamental reform. It argues a fair economy is a strong economy and that economic justice needs to be hard-wired into the way the economy works as injustices and inequalities cannot be tackled simply by redistribution through the tax and benefit system.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior sits on the IPPR's commission for economic justice who is behind the report. Summarising the recommendations of the report, she says that there is no silver bullet to tackle the injustices and inequality in our economy as we need to address the structures of the economic system. She says this includes the labour market and wage bargaining, the ownership of capital and wealth, and the governance of firms. She wants to see workers given a voice on boards and restricted voting rights for temporary shareholders, so those wielding power are committed for the long term.


Lunchtime protest against gender pay gap at University of Oxford

Staff at the University of Oxford took part in an "unpaid women's non-working lunch" to protest at unequal pay at the university on Monday. The Oxford Mail reported that the university has an average gender pay gap of 13.7%, which means that women working at the university were effectively unpaid for the rest of the year from Monday.

University of Oxford UCU co-President Anna Duncan said: 'The University of Oxford has a significant section of its workforce that is effectively working for free until the end of the year. The university should be leading the way in closing the gender pay gap, ensuring women are better represented in senior positions, and achieving equal pay at all levels in the university.'


Office for Students confirms it did bail out a university

The BBC reported this morning that a UK university had to be given an emergency loan of almost £1m by the higher education watchdog to stay afloat this autumn. The Office for Students (OfS) provided the bailout when the "small, modern institution" faced the prospect of running out of being unable to pay its bills.

The BBC said the discovery of the payment is embarrassing for OfS, which recently sent out a tough message that there would be no bailouts for universities in financial difficulty. UCU said the OfS's core job was to protect students and allowing universities to go bust was not the way to do this.


New College of Humanities US "takeover"

The US institution Northeastern University is set to take control of the UK's New College of the Humanities (NCH) to its list of campuses, with the institution taking the "formal name" of "New College of the Humanities at Northeastern".

A spokesman for NCH, which was launched in 2012 by AC Grayling said of the deal that "in effect, they [Northeastern] are going to have ownership" of NCH. The agreement has been signed and has gone to the "relevant authorities for approval" in the expectation that it could be completed in a month's time, he added.

The Times reported the move as a "merger", while Grayling described it as a "global strategic partnership". However Times Higher Education said NCH, owned by shareholders in a for-profit entity called Tertiary Education Services, had been looking for new investment, or a buyer, since 2014. It said the latest Tertiary Education Services accounts show that present student numbers are not sufficient to meet all of the costs of the college, and that it has been relying on a shareholder loan.

Last updated: 15 May 2019