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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.
After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.
The University and College Union has confirmed that strike ballots will open at 69 UK universities on Monday September 9 over USS pensions and pay, workloads, casualisation and equality.
The union’s higher education committee (HEC) has confirmed the timetable for a ballot of 69 institutions over USS pensions and also for a pay, workloads, casualisation and equality ballot that will run at 147 institutions at the same time.
The ballots, to be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately, will run until 30 October and HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November.
In June the union wrote to the 69 USS institutions warning that if they failed to defend members’ pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. UCU made clear that it did not expect members to have to face higher contributions or any loss of benefits. The union said if the employers failed to secure those commitments from USS then they should meet additional costs.
Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU members who lost 14 days’ pay to defend their pensions said it was "only fair" that any cost this time around should be shouldered by the employers.
The union said it rejected the employers’ latest offer as it "failed to avoid the imposition of unfair and unnecessary costs on scheme members". UCU said it wanted to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run.
At a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in August, the universities’ proposals - that will see members pay 9.6 per cent of their salary into their USS pension, compared to 8.8 per cent at present and 8 per cent before the strikes, with further increases planned from 2021 - were backed by the chair Sir Andrew Cubie.
UCU tabled its own proposals to the JNC setting out why it felt universities should meet any additional costs. The union previously wrote to universities in June and warned that if they did not agree to limit members’ contributions to 8 per cent, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then they faced the risk of a strike action ballot.
A separate ballot on pay, workloads and equality will also begin on Monday. It will affect the 69 universities being balloted over USS as well as another 78 institutions in the UK (147 in total). The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members’ pay, which it said had fallen in real-terms by 21 per cent in the last decade.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "We have been upfront with universities for months about our intention to ballot members over pensions, pay and conditions, so it is incredibly disappointing that they have chosen not to engage properly with us.
"The ballots start on Monday, but we have no desire to take strike action and the employers still have time to avert a crisis on campus. However, in order to do that they need to start negotiating with us credibly.
"Aside from some last minute game-playing and misleading statements on pensions, the employers have done nothing to even try and avoid disruption. USS members should not be hit with extra costs and we want to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run. We don’t want to be running ballots year after year, we want these problems properly sorted."
Where the ballots will take place:
University of Aberdeen
University of Bath
Queen's University of Belfast
Birkbeck, University of London
University of Birmingham
University of Bradford
University of Bristol
Brunel University, London
University of Cambridge
City, University of London
Courtauld Institute of Art
University of Dundee
University of Durham
University of East Anglia
University of Edinburgh
University of Essex
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
Goldsmiths University, London
University of Hull
Institute of Development Studies
University of Keele
University of Kent
King's College London
University of Lancaster
University of Leeds
University of Leicester
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
University of Liverpool
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
London School of Economics and Political Science
University of Manchester
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford
Queen Mary University of London
University of Reading
Royal Holloway, University of London
Royal Veterinary College
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
University of Salford
Scottish Association for Marine Science
University of London (Institutes and activities)
University of Sheffield
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
St George's University of London
University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
University of Wales Trinity St David's
University of Ulster
University of Suffolk
The School of Pharmacy and IOE, University College London
University of Wales
University of Warwick
University of York
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