In the news: 30 November

Two-day strikes at six colleges and ballots open at 26 more

Staff at six colleges walked out on strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week while ballots opened at 26 other colleges as part of the ongoing row over FE pay.

On the eve of the strikes UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said that the government needed step up and prioritise staff, rather than hide behind government cuts. Writing for Tes, he said: 'Nobody wants to take strike action, but UCU members are tired of being taken for granted by the government and their colleges. We are happy to work with colleges to campaign nationally for more funding but they must not use that lack of national investment as an excuse to avoid doing as much as they can to address serious local issues.'

Members were out in force on picket lines on both days, and were buoyed by the support from politicians, celebrities, students and other branches. Bradford College was closed for the strike days, and many classes were cancelled at other affected colleges. In an live interview from the Lambeth College picket on Wednesday morning Matt Waddup told BBC5Live (2.43.43) that UCU members  'are absolutely fed up with the way they and their students are being treated by this government and by colleges themselves who should do more'. London Live was also at the London pickets to hear from staff fighting for fair pay.

Speaking to BBC Points West UCU regional official Nick Varney spoke of how staff at Bath College and New Swindon College were fed up with their pay being 'clobbered'. UCU regional support official Catriona Scott also told Somerset Live, 'This situation has arisen because college staff have been systematically underpaid for too long. Their workload has increased but they are not being rewarded for it'.

In today's FE Week, Matt Waddup said the strikes had caused 'serious disruption' and warned that with 26 further ballots under way, further action was on the cards if employers failed to deal with the issue of pay. He said 'We hope that will focus college leaders' minds. If they refuse to act then we will be looking at further waves of strikes with more colleges in the new year.'

Durham PhD student pardoned by UAE

On Monday UCU welcomed the pardon of British PhD student Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week. As PIE News reported, UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup called on the government to 'do their utmost' to aid his recovery and for all HEIs to review relationships with the UAE and other nations where they operate.

Speaking to the Guardian, he added: 'UK universities with overseas operations should launch reviews covering human rights, trade union representation, academic freedom and ensuring that local workers employed by the institution are not exploited. It is vital that the profits from overseas operations are not achieved on the back of the dilution of staff and student rights and personal safety.'

UCU calls for reform of university applications

On Thursday UCU again pushed the case for a radical overhaul of the system for applying to university. Commenting on a UCAS report that found a third of 18 year old applicants from England, Northern Ireland and Wales had received an unconditional offer, Matt Waddup told the Independent 'The time has come for the whole of the UK to join the rest of the world and use a system of applying to university where students' offers are based on actual results, not guesswork. Changing to a system where students apply after they get their results would rule out the need for unconditional offers.'

The report also revealed that students' results are affected if they have accepted an unconditional offer, describing how a higher percentage of students holding an unconditional offer missed their predicted grade by two or more grades than students without one.

UCU on HEPI graduate levy proposals

The Higher Education Policy Institute this week published proposals for on a scheme that would see employers pay more for graduate education through a graduate levy which would replace the current student loans. UCU welcomed the paper's recognition that employers should foot the bill for the skills they require and pressed the case for a rise in corporation tax to cover the cost of scrapping tuition fees.

Speaking to FE News, Matt Waddup said, 'It is increasingly clear that the current system predicated on spiraling student debt is unsustainable and in need of urgent reform. The Augar review is a great chance to move towards a fairer funding system which ensures business pays its fair share.'

Jobs cuts and Blackburn College condemned

Plans to axe another 41 posts and put 155 at risk of redundancy at Blackburn College were condemned by UCU this week, who said it would oppose any plans for compulsory redundancies and urged the college to extend the consultation on its proposals into the new year.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss told Tes that 'only four months on from a badly handled redundancy exercise that left Blackburn College under-resourced and struggling to function effectively, the college has announced plans that put another 155 staff at risk of redundancy in the run up to Christmas. At a time when staff and students should be focused on teaching and learning, the college is again looking to squeeze its overworked teaching staff to cover up a lack of leadership from a changing management team.' Speaking to Lancashire Business View, he added that the plans would be a 'disaster for staff and students' at the college.

Last updated: 4 December 2018