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In the news 18 November 2016

UCU's anti-casualisation campaign hits the front pages

UCU's campaign against casualisation hit the front pages this week as the union's analysis of HESA data revealed that three-fifths (59%) of academics at Russell Group universities are employed on insecure contracts, compared to an average of 53% across UK higher education.

The Guardian's extensive coverage included its leading story picking up on universities mimicking the worst aspects of Sports Direct-style employment practices and interviews with academics prepared to speak out. Its editorial said UCU's research proved that precarious work had spread from unskilled jobs to reach parts of the economy once considered the epitome of security.

Speaking to the Times, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'For thousands of staff precarious contracts are a grim reality where they don't know if they'll have a job next year or even what their income might be next month. Students taking on record levels of debt have a right to know if they are being taught by full-time, secure staff, and staff have a right to dignity at work.'

Sally told Huffington Post that for too long universities have relied on an army of insecure workers and our most elite institutions are the worst offenders. The Huffington Post also picked up on previous UCU research that found that 17% of university staff on insecure contracts struggle to pay for food, while a third (34%) found it difficult to make rent or mortgage repayments. 


All set for Saturday's demo

Writing on the eve of what is expected to be the biggest education demonstration in years, Sally Hunt said thousands of college and university staff, students and members of the public will descend on London tomorrow to demonstrate against a raft of government policies that risk doing serious harm to education in this country.

She said UCU has joined forces with the National Union of Students to put on what promises to be the largest protest since 2010 and will be out together on Saturday fighting against rising fees, spiralling debt and the privatisation of education.

She said the government is trying to rush through a higher education bill that will further increase debt levels for students, but does nothing to address declining staff pay and conditions.


Further education sector united call for autumn statement investment

In a letter to the chancellor Philip Hammond, organisations from across the further education sector have called for extra investment to develop a strong and vibrant further education sector which can cater to different people's needs and aspirations.

The letter is co-signed by the University and College Union, the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students, the Learning and Work Institute, Unison, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Voice, GMB and Unionlearn.

Speaking to the TES, Sally Hunt said: 'The prime minister has set out a clear ambition for improving social mobility, and further education has a crucial role to play in supporting this aim. However, more resource is required to ensure that everyone, regardless of age or background, can access the learning they need.

'We are calling on the chancellor to make a strategic investment in rebuilding the capacity of further education providers, funding extra teaching and support staff so that more learners are able reach their potential.'


Scottish universities warn some courses might be axed in wake of Brexit vote

Scottish universities are warning that some courses may face the axe as a result of Britain voting to leave the European Union. The institutions fear that courses that rely on EU students may become unviable if other students do not fill the gaps.

At undergraduate level there are 32 courses at Scottish universities where more than one third of students come from EU countries, 22 where they make up more than 40% and seven where they represent more than half. Subjects affected include computer science, science, technology, engineering and maths, genetics, politics, economics, business and law.

Speaking to the Herald, UCU Scottish official Mary Senior called for the Scottish Government to use new national links they have been forging with EU member states and other countries to create further mobility options for EU students to ensure numbers were preserved. She said: "The Brexit vote has resulted in uncertainty across the whole higher education sector, but it's important for universities not to take short-sighted decisions based on worse case scenarios, and instead plan for the long term future of all subjects.'


No confidence vote in Open University leadership

UCU members at the Open University have passed a motion of no confidence in their vice-chancellor and senior leaders. Passed on Wednesday, the motion says the actions of the leadership have affected the quality of tuition for students, strained the goodwill of staff and damaged the reputation of the university.

The local branch has also written to chair of the Open University's Council - the university's main decision-making body - accusing its leadership of bringing the university to the brink of public failure.

UCU Open University branch president Pauline Collins said: 'When staff speak up, they are made to feel their views are not worth listening to when the reality is that they care deeply about the institution. This vote of no confidence is testament to the widespread anger and frustration amongst staff who have reached their limits.'


MPs demand EU scientists working in the UK are allowed to stay

The Commons Science and Technology Committee is calling on the government to confirm that EU researchers already in the UK will be exempt from wider potential immigration controls. About 10% of the money for research in British universities comes from the EU and 17% of academics in the country are citizens of other EU states.

Stephen Metcalfe MP, who chairs the committee, said: 'Science is a global pursuit. Top scientists can position themselves around the world. Our committee is concerned that by not providing reassurances to EU nationals, that they won't come here and conduct their research in the UK. And we want to provide that reassurance early. I don't think it undermines the government's future negotiating position but it would provide the science community with the reassurance they need.


Last updated: 18 November 2016