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In the news: 28 October 2016

Number of EU students applying to UK universities drops by 9%

The number of EU students applying for places at UK universities has dropped by 9%, according to Ucas figures released yesterday. The data applies to applications for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge universities, as well as applications for medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses elsewhere, beginning in September 2017, which have an earlier application deadline of 15 October.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: We don't think the delay confirming the deal for EU students was helpful, and fear continued confusion over what the vote to leave means for universities is likely to harm our chances of encouraging students and staff to come to our universities.

'Some of the unhelpful language from ministers is, understandably, being reported around the world and sending a worrying message that we are not open for business. The government should pause the current Higher Education Bill and focus on clearing up what Brexit means for our universities - starting with guaranteeing the status of the thousands of EU staff working in our universities.'

Yesterday's figures come on top of a report in the Guardian on Tuesday warning that British universities could lose their right to recruit as many international students as they want if the government's controversial new Teaching Education Framework is used to set caps on student numbers and determine tuition fee levels.

UCU has been a leading critic of the government's plans and argued that trying to force universities with very different missions to jump through poorly designed hoops will do nothing to improve quality, or our standing on the global stage.


No confidence vote at City of Liverpool College

UCU members at the City of Liverpool College have passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the college leadership over concerns about financial mismanagement after the college was placed into administered status by the skills and apprenticeships minister, Robert Halfon.

In his letter to the chair of the board, reported by TES, the minister cited concerns about quality and a "failure to exercise adequate financial oversight" by the college leadership. The Liverpool Echo reported that the minister's decision means that the Skills Funding Agency will now attend board meetings at the college, and must be consulted about major financial decisions.

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: 'This vote of no confidence highlights the level of anger and disillusionment amongst college staff. Despite their best efforts to improve provision and ensure the best possible student experience, members feel they have been let down by poor leadership and serious financial mismanagement.'


Female graduates earn £1,400 average less than male counterparts

Female graduates earn starting salaries that are £1,400 lower on average than the starting salaries earned by male graduates, according to research released on Monday. The analysis found that male graduates take home a higher starting salary in 32 out of 57 subjects, with eight subject areas showing a pay gap of at least £2,000 and a further 11 subjects demonstrating a pay gap of at least £1,000.

The largest gender pay gap is in the agriculture and forestry field, with men earning £2,500 more than women on average. There are only eight areas where female graduates earn more than their male counterparts. The largest gap is in general engineering, where female graduates earn £1,500 more on average than their male counterparts.

Sally Hunt said: 'This report lays bare the scale of inequality facing graduates in terms of pay. It's deeply troubling that, 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still being paid significantly less for doing the same work.

'The report shows that the pay gap is widespread, and UCU's own research shows that women are paid an average of £990 less per year in colleges and £6,103 less per year in universities than their male counterparts.'


Queen's PhD students earn less than minimum wage as staff survey reveals serious problems

Some PhD students at Queen's University are being paid below the minimum wage, just a quarter of staff felt their work was appreciated and fewer than a third believe management are doing a good job, warned a report from UCU and Queen's Students' Union.

UCU said the damning survey of over 3,500 staff had to act as a catalyst for improvement at the institution and local UCU president, Dr Fabian Schuppert, told the Belfast Telegraph that the report's findings were extremely worrying and demanded an immediate response from Queen's.

Focusing on the poor treatment of PhD students, the BBC reported that the report revealed that 40% of students reported doing work for which they were not paid, such as meeting students, replying to student emails, and extra work for their supervisor. The report calls for a newer, fairer pay scale for postgraduates.

UCU's PhD student representative, Morris Brodie, called the situation intolerable and said that Queen's routinely underestimated the hours it takes to prepare for teaching and marking work.


Government criticised for timing of apprentices funding U-turn

The government has backed down over plans to cut funding for training young apprentices a week before a House of Commons debate on the matter. Justine Greening, the education secretary, said there would be an extra 20% payment where training providers train apprentices aged 16-18. She also announced a "simplified version" of support for disadvantaged areas.

The change of heart followed opposition from many in the sector and 55 Labour MPs who last month wrote to Robert Halfon asking him to rethink proposals they said would involve cuts of 30-50% next year to funding paid to some colleges and training providers that teach young apprentices.

Tottenham MP David Lammy, who secured next week's debate, said Greening's changes addressed the main concerns of the proposals' opponents: hitting 16- to 18-year-olds and scrapping support for the disadvantaged. But he criticised the government for releasing the original proposals during the summer recess and publishing the climbdown alongside the Heathrow decision.

Analysis of the original proposed funding rates by FE Week found the two most popular apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds - the level 2 apprenticeships in business administration and in construction - faced cuts of up to 52%, depending on location. The analysis also found that funding for many apprentices aged 24 and over would rise, particularly for those living in affluent areas outside the south-east and working for large employers.


Judges reject all entrants for student accommodation award in row over rent hikes

A panel of judges for this year's Student Accommodation Awards has refused to select a winner in protest over "unaffordable" rent prices. In a letter that went viral, the panel of 10 students slammed the entrants for "putting shareholder satisfaction above student satisfaction" and blamed them for causing "social cleansing in education". 

The letter said: "We regret to inform you that the panel could not come to a decision to award any of the entrants. Unfortunately, none of the entrants could demonstrate that they are meeting the urgent need of students to live in accommodation that will not force them into poverty.

The judges' protest comes as it was revealed that the cost of student housing has increased by almost a quarter in the past seven years, outpacing inflation and price rises in the private rental market.

The average weekly rent for purpose-built student accommodation in the UK rose 23% from £120 to £147 between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016, according to a Guardian analysis of figures from the National Union of Students' accommodation costs survey.


Scottish universities encouraged to brand themselves as Scottish instead of British

Universities north of the border are being encouraged to brand themselves as Scottish rather than British over fears that plans that will allow small private higher education providers to become universities are a threat to the international reputation of UK universities.

UCU is calling for the Westminster government to scrap its controversial Higher Education and Research Bill as the creation of more private for-profit universities could damage quality and increase the pressure on institutions to spend money on cosmetic improvements and marketing, rather than front-line delivery.


Parents set to march on UCU/NUS demonstration next month

Parents are to march alongside their kids on Saturday 19 November at the UCU/NUS national demonstration in central London. Angus Hanton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, has set up the campaign group Parents Against Student Debt and said the older generation wants to show solidarity with students.

Hanton, who cashed in some of his pension early to put two children through university, told the Times he has approached groups such as Mumsnet and PTA UK to protest against student debt. More info on the demonstration can be found here.


Teaching matters. And so does how it is measured

Writing for the Guardian, Paul Ashwin, professor of higher education at Lancaster University, argues that in order for the Teaching Excellence Framework to have any legitimacy it has to actually measure teaching excellence.

He says that measures that do not relate to the quality of learning and teaching, such as contact hours or "teaching intensity", are being pushed by the government, but measures that are crucial, such as the expertise of teachers or the ways students are transformed by knowledge, are not even part of the conversation.

UCU wants to see far greater attention paid to the types of contracts that lecturers are employed on and have argued that the widespread use of casualisation and insecure contracts is limiting teachers' ability to deliver the very best teaching they can.


Bath University vice-chancellor's home expenses revealed

The University of Bath's vice-chancellor, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, lives in a five-bedroom apartment, is paid a yearly salary that tops £400,000 and has run up an expenses tab at the property of £20,000, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The Bath Chronicle reported that university employs a housekeeper for her property with duties such as "being responsible for the bed linen in her private apartment, including washing and ironing of all bedding and towels."

Labour councillor Joe Rayment found that the university spent £8,738 in the last year on staff housekeeping costs and laundry services at the property. Gas, electricity and council tax are also covered. Mr Rayment said: 'This is public and student money being spent. The University of Bath is a fantastic asset to our city, but its Vice-Chancellor is taking us all for a ride. Staff, students and the public should be rightly outraged by these revelations.'

Professor Breakwell also runs up large expenses away from the home, according to UCU's most recent expose of vice-chancellors' pay and perks. She was the 13th biggest spender on air fares out of the UK's vice-chancellors and enjoyed all her flights in first or business class. Only four vice-chancellors spent more than her average nightly hotel bill of £313 and only six could top her salary package.

Last updated: 28 October 2016