UCU response to Philip Augar review of education funding (29 May 2019)

UCU response to Philip Augar review of education funding

29 May 2019

Responding to the funding review from Philip Augar, the University and College Union (UCU) said that the review had missed an opportunity to explore radical alternatives to the status quo and risked delivering an even worse version of the politically toxic system it was supposed to improve.

UCU head of policy and campaigns, Matt Waddup, said: ‘The prime minister called the Augar review because the current funding system was so politically toxic. Unfortunately, this review looks like a wasted opportunity to develop radical changes that would make a real difference for students and institutions.

‘From what we have seen, the recommended tuition fee changes look like the worst of all worlds. Institutions would have their hands tied on funding while students would still graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt that many will never fully pay off. It is crucially important that changes don’t leave institutions with less resource as that would be hugely damaging for students and staff.

‘Education is worth investing in and it is a real shame that this review passed up the opportunity to develop a system that ensures big business finally pay its fair share. A Business Education Tax, which reverses cuts to corporation tax, could allow fees to be scrapped while ensuring that big companies finally contribute properly towards the supply of graduates upon which they rely.

‘In further education, the review fails to deal properly with the glaring problem facing the sector – that is the chronic underinvestment it has suffered in recent years. Further education loans have had very low take-up and extending them further into lifelong learning is not the boost the sector needs.

‘The review’s proposals around rationalising the number of colleges are also concerning. The area reviews have at best had mixed success and the current fate of Stourbridge College is a stark reminder that mergers aren’t always in the interests of students.’

The union’s submission to the Augar Review can be found here.

Jo Grady elected UCU General Secretary (May 24 2019)

Jo Grady elected UCU general secretary

24 May 2019

Jo Grady has been elected UCU general secretary on a record turnout. The senior lecturer in employment relations at the University of Sheffield secured 64% of the vote after the second round of counting.

The other candidates were UCU’s national head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup, and the president of the University of Liverpool UCU branch Jo McNeil.The turnout was 20.5%, compared with a previous high of 14.4% in 2007 and 13.7% at the 2017 election.

Jo Grady said: ‘This victory was won by, and for, the members of UCU. We have chosen to start a new chapter of open and democratic leadership in our union at a time of extraordinary challenges for all staff who work in tertiary education, from the pressures of volatile funding regimes to the indignities of Brexit and the Hostile Environment.

‘We can meet and overcome those challenges because we are skilful, dedicated, passionate people, and we know we deserve better. Expectations are high. I have been given an overwhelming mandate on the back of a hugely improved turnout. I look forward to carrying out that mandate by working with UCU’s outstanding staff and harnessing the talent and commitment of our members.’

Jo Grady’s start date is still to be confirmed and her five-year term of office will commence when she starts the role. She will address the union’s annual congress in Harrogate tomorrow afternoon.

Jo Grady succeeds Sally Hunt who had been the union’s general secretary since its inception in 2007. Sally resigned in February due to health reasons.

UCU says members will make final decision on future of USS

UCU said yesterday that it will be members who ultimately decide the next steps in the dispute over the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The union was responding to proposals from the USS board that will now be considered by UCU and Universities UK (UUK) at formal Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meetings. None of the proposals from the USS board satisfy the union’s “no detriment” policy, which states members’ benefits should not be reduced and their contributions should not rise.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: ‘While the union has made substantial progress in terms of avoiding the very large increases originally proposed by USS, none of the three options satisfy the union’s no detriment policy position. We will press our policy of no detriment. It will then be for our members to decide what happens after proposals emerge from the JNC negotiations.’

UCU calls for greater use of contextual data in university admissions

30 April 2019

Responding to a report on university admissions from the Office for Students (OfS), UCU said greater emphasis was needed on the context in which exam results are achieved and not just the results themselves.

The OfS found that students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are 15 times less likely to enter the most selective universities than their peers from the most advantaged backgrounds. UCU said it wanted universities to take factors such as background, race and where students live into account.

The union also said it was time for a complete overhaul of the university admissions system and welcomed a commitment from the OfS in its 2019-2020 business plan, released earlier this week, to review admissions.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: ‘Greater and better use of the context in which exam results are achieved is needed if we want to make access to university fairer. Not all exam achievements are equal and universities should not treat them as such. There needs to be much greater use of contextual data so that students progress according to their achievements and potential.

‘We welcome the OfS’s commitment to a review of university admissions and want to see a system where university offers are made based on students’ achievements and not predicted grades. At the moment, there is too much guesswork involved with teachers, students and university assessors all working on information that is neither reliable nor valid.

‘The OfS should be bold and explore a post-qualification admissions system which would bring us in line with the rest of the world.’