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In the news: 14 October 2016

Strike suspended at Hull College following positive talks

Thursday's strike at Hull College was suspended until next week following positive talks between UCU and college management on Wednesday morning. UCU members agreed to defer the planned industrial action, which would also have seen members working to contract following the strike, to allow for further talks to take place.

The dispute has arisen after the college announced a fresh round of redundancies affecting up to 142 staff, despite promising after the last redundancy round that no more job losses would be required in the near future. UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, told FE Week and the Hull Daily Mail that UCU members "industrial action is always a last resort and we remain optimistic that the dispute can be resolved without the need for action."

UCU responds to government clarity on EU students applying to English universities in 2017/18

Commenting on this Tuesday's government announcement on fees and financial support for EU students starting courses in 2017/18, UCU said it welcomed the clarity for students applying next year, but said the government had to clarify the rights of EU staff and stop floating dangerous policies that damage our international reputation.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, told the Telegraph that UCU was pleased the government had clarified the situation for EU students who want to apply to English universities for next year and hope the devolved nations will soon follow suit.

In the Guardian she warned that this belated measure from the government just weeks before the deadline for some courses would not undo the damage that various proposals floated at the Conservative party conference last week may have done around the world.

North of the border, UCU Scottish official Mary Senior joined forces with the National Union of Students and Universities Scotland to call on the Scottish government to extend the guarantee to Scotland and ensure that students from other EU countries will get free places at Scottish universities next year.

Government criticised for hard line approach on international students

Writing in the Financial Times, FT associate editor and husband of a former polytechnic lecturer, Michael Skapinker, picked up on some of the crassest elements of home secretary Amber Rudd's speech at Conservative Party conference this year.

Rudd's widely derided speech suggested that firms would have to list foreign workers and those with the most be "named and shamed" as if having a foreign workforce was a badge of shame. She also announced that the government was considering a two-tier student visa system that would make it harder for foreign students to attend "less prestigious universities" offering "lower quality courses".

Skapinker said that the former polytechnics, which many understand to be the "less prestigious" institutions in question, are the ones teaching the students Theresa May said she most wanted to help when entering Downing Street for the first time as prime minister.

Despite being forced to step back from its foreign workers list plan, the government is still taking a tough line on student visas - a move that was apparently a surprise to universities minister Jo Johnson who has previously called for students to be taken out of immigration numbers.

Skapinker concluded that if the UK no longer wants foreign students, there are other countries that do. He says that "many institutions abroad [...] will doubtless see the British government's self-sabotage as the best news they have had in years."

Crossbench peer and president of the UK council for international student affairs, Lord Bilimoria, also weighed in with criticisms of the government's policy. Writing in The Times, he said that the UK's immigration policy was making us a "laughing stock" internationally, and accused the Prime Minister of "completely misjudging the mood of the public" and "undermining our universities".

Lord Bilimoria was responding to a new opinion poll by ComRes for Universities UK shows that 75% of the British public would like to see international student numbers increase or stay the same, while 91% think that students should be able to stay in the UK to work after their course. In response, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that the survey showed "common sense has prevailed amongst the British public who can clearly see the huge benefits international students bring to our universities and to the towns and cities where they live."

Meanwhile, it was revealed this week that the proportion of international students overstaying their visa is much lower than previously thought. The Times reported that an unpublished report by the Home Office has estimated that as few as 1% of international students could be breaching the terms of their visa.

UCU welcomes call for greater scrutiny of private providers

Former higher education minister Bill Rammell published a new policy paper this week, noting that existing data on private providers is poor and warning of the reputational risk associated with their expansion in the UK higher education sector. The paper also recommended that governing bodies of higher education institutions should include more staff and student representation.

Responding, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Ministers need to halt plans to water down requirements for new alternative providers and ensure that proper quality checks are carried out before they can award degrees. The government may want to open up the higher education market, but the evidence we have so far is that alternative providers are not offering anything new or innovative, or seeking to enter areas currently short of higher education institutions."

Last updated: 14 October 2016