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In the news 25 January 2019

Strikes to hit 15 English colleges from Tuesday

Fifteen colleges in England will be hit with two-day strikes next week in a continuing row over pay.

Writing for FE Week, UCU head of policy Matt Waddup warned that colleges must deal with the pay crisis or risk further strikes. He said that colleges that give nothing when they could work with UCU to tackle poor pay and conditions should expect to reap what they sow.

UCU members in Wolverhampton, Abingdon and Isleworth received a boost ahead of the strikes in the form of solid support from their MPs Eleanor Smith, Layla Moran and Ruth Cadbury respectively.

The week kicked off with MPs debating college funding in parliament on Monday. Tes reported that the debate was led by Labour MP David Zeichner, but that politicians from across the political spectrum joined the calls for better funding. A petition calling for the debate was launched by a group of Brockenhurst College students in October as part of the Love Our Colleges campaign, and has gathered nearly 70,000 signatures to date.


University admissions overhaul only way to deal with scourge of unconditional offers

Responding to warnings today from the Office for Students to universities over their use of unconditional offers, UCU said the best solution was to overhaul how and when students apply to university.

The Guardian said there were calls for a post-qualification application (PQA) system, advocated by UCU. Speaking to the BBC, Matt Waddup said we had to shift to a system where students applied to university after they had received their grades, which would make unconditional offers redundant, bring us in line with the rest of the world and end the chaotic clearing scramble.


MPs back price hike for two-year degrees

On Tuesday night MPs passed legislation to raise the cap on fees for two-year degrees to £11,100 a year in England. The changes will come into effect from September. UCU said that the move was more about allowing for-profit companies access to public money than increasing choice for students.

Speaking to the Independent, Matt Waddup said: 'Instead of gimmicks which risk undermining the international reputation of our higher education sector, the government should focus on fixing the underlying problems with our current finance system which piles huge debts on students. 


Government needs to back better adult learning opportunities

Responding to Laura McInerney's Guardian article that said we have thrown away opportunities for people to retrain or learn new skills, Matt Waddup said she was quite right to bemoan the state of adult education and fear for people who wish to learn new things.

In a letter to the paper, he said his life was transformed by evening classes at the local college and that our society is crying out for a system that can provide high quality opportunities for all throughout life.


UCU secures better deal for over 4,000 Open University staff

Over 4,000 associate lecturers at the Open University will have better job security and rights after UCU secured them a permanent contract that will provide more stable employment. The deal also increases associate lecturers' annual leave entitlement and provides better opportunities for training and personal development.

UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: 'The new contract is a huge step forward for associate lecturers at the Open University. It means they are free from the fear of being out of work if there is a fluctuation in student numbers. More universities should be looking to negotiate with the union, not trying to sweep the issue of casual employment under the carpet.'


Row over true extent of casualisation in universities

Times Higher Education reported that about 3 per cent of "typical" staff employed in UK universities are on zero-hours contracts, including 6,500 academics, according to the first official sector data on the controversial mode of employment.

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people - both academics and support staff - working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000. However, separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on "atypical" academic contracts show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract, which means that the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours.

UCU policy officer Jonathan White said that while it is always good to have more data, the Hesa figures raised a lot of questions that needed answering such as the extent to which atypical staff were front line teachers on precarious employment terms.

Last updated: 25 January 2019