News round-up: Universities’ financial woes deepen – and vice-chancellors fight back against government interference

The number of English universities in financial deficit is on the up, while an increase in fees for EU students could result in universities becoming even worse off


Number of English universities in financial deficit increases

BBC, 09/05/2019, David Rhodes

The number of universities and colleges in England with a financial deficit has jumped by almost 70% in just one year.

In 2017-18, 32 higher education (HE) providers spent more money than they received in income, an increase from 19 providers in 2016-17, analysis by BBC News has found.


University of Winchester staff to strike over job cuts

BBC, 09/05/2019

Academics and managers at the University of Winchester have voted to strike over planned job losses.

The University and College Union (UCU) said a walkout could be called later this month unless a threat of compulsory redundancies was lifted.


EU fees change could cost English universities £7 million a year

Times Higher Education, 09/05/2019, Simon Baker

Some English universities could lose up to £7 million each year if undergraduates from the European Union are charged the same fees as those from outside the bloc after Brexit, a Times Higher Education analysis suggests.

If the feared drop in EU student enrolment materialises, the loss of fee income would be high enough to push four institutions into deficit and worsen shortfalls at many others, according to the figures.


USS offers new pension options after cutting deficit estimate

Times Higher Education, 09/05/2019, Nick Mayo

UK higher education’s largest pension fund has set out three proposals to solve the impasse over future contributions, after drastically reducing its estimation of its multibillion-pound deficit.

All of the options from the Universities Superannuation Scheme, presented as it finalises its new valuation of the fund, reduce the anticipated level of employer and employee contributions compared to what has previously been proposed, and preserve “defined benefits” – guaranteed payments in retirement which union members went on strike for 14 days last year to protect.


Universities risk ‘damaging’ students by giving them unnecessary counselling, report finds

Daily Telegraph, 09/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities risk “damaging” students by giving them unnecessary counselling for mental health when they just need to join a society, the author of a new report has said.  The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has urged institutions to distinguish between wellbeing issues and mental health conditions so that students are given the correct support.


Universities ready to fight ‘unlawful’ curbs on offers

The Times, 09/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

University vice-chancellors are threatening legal action against the government’s crackdown on unconditional offers.

Several of them are calling for a judicial review of the Department for Education’s push to limit the number of students who are told they are guaranteed a place regardless of their A-level results, as long as they turn down all other offers. The universities say it breaches their right, enshrined in law, to manage their own admissions.


Middlesex’s Tim Blackman appointed Open University v-c

Times Higher Education, 08/05/2019, Rachel Pells

The Open University has appointed Tim Blackman, the current vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, as its next leader.

Professor Blackman will join the OU in October, succeeding Peter Horrocks, who stepped down last year, and Mary Kellett, who has been acting vice-chancellor since then.


Minister’s attempt to curb unconditional offers is illegal, say universities

The Guardian, 07/05/2019, Anna Fazackerley

Leading academics are accusing the government of unlawfully threatening their autonomy by trying to curb the use of unconditional offers.

Last month the education secretary, Damian Hinds, accused universities of using “pressure-selling” tactics to woo students. He wrote to 23 universities urging them to stop the “unethical” practice of “conditional unconditional offers” – a guaranteed place regardless of the student’s A-level results on condition they make the university their first choice. He also asked the Office for Students to set up a review of whether university admissions practices are serving students.


Universities must stop gagging staff who have been victims of sexual assault, minister warns 

Daily Telegraph, 05/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities must stop gagging staff who have been victims of harassment, discrimination and sexual assault, higher education minister is to warn.

Chris Skidmore will tell institutions that Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) should only be used in appropriate circumstances – such as protecting valuable research findings when an academic leaves an institution – and not as a way to “cover up” inappropriate behaviour.


Bristol University to confront its links with the slave trade

The Observer, 05/05/2019, Michael Savage

The University of Bristol is to become the latest top education institution to order a new examination of its historical links to slavery, amid wider attempts by the city to get to grips with its ties to the trade.

The city was one of three key ports for British slave traders, along with London and Liverpool. Now, as the city’s political leaders draw up plans for a “permanent memorial” to its historical role, the university is to advertise for a permanent academic post examining the history of slavery. Whoever gets the job will oversee efforts by staff and community groups to “explore, investigate and determine the university’s historical links to slavery”, a university spokesperson said.


Academics in open revolt at UCL’s expansion plans, amid fears they will lead to decline in academic standards

Daily Telegraph, 04/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Professors at one of the country’s top universities are in open revolt at plans for a major expansion, amid fears that it is driven by institutional “greed” and will lead to a decline in academic standards.

The dispute at University College London (UCL) has escalated to such an extent that the most senior civil judge in the country, the Master of the Rolls, has been called in to mediate.


Education minister brands lowering of A-level grades as ‘lunacy’

The Guardian, 03/05/2019, Richard Adams

An education minister has attacked his own government’s policies of expanding access to higher education, saying it is “lunacy” and “madness” to allow students with low A-level grades into university.

Theodore Agnew, the Conservative minister for schools in the House of Lords, told a private schools’ conference: “Why are we letting kids go to university with three Es at A-level? Why? It’s a lunacy.


Universities urged to close ‘degree gap’ between black and white students

The Guardian, 02/05/2019, Richard Adams

Narrowing the “degree gap” between black, Asian and minority ethnic students and their white peers requires a cultural change among British universities and their leaders, according to a report.

The National Union of Students and the Universities UK group calls, in a joint report, for vice-chancellors and principals to show “strong leadership” to close the gap and ensure that their campuses encourage racially diverse workforces and student bodies.


Universities told to be more flexible about pupils’ A-level results

The Guardian, 01/05/2019, Richard Adams

England’s higher education regulator has called on universities to look beyond exam results when admitting students and radically “rethink how they are judging merit”, as part of a push to increase their intake from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Office for Students is to tell universities they should take “much stronger account of the context in which exam results are achieved”, suggesting that universities demanding high A-level tariffs need to be more flexible and even lower entry grades across the board if they want to widen participation and improve access.


Third of UK graduates overqualified for their job

The Guardian, 29/04/2019, Sally Weale

Almost a third of graduates are overqualified for their job, with students of the arts, biology and humanities the most likely to be overeducated, according to official figures.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that 31% of graduates had more education than was required for the work they were doing in 2017. That included 22% of those who graduated before 1992 and 34% of those who graduated in 2007 or later.


EU students could face higher fees to study in UK from 2020

The Guardian, 28/04/2019, Richard Adams

Charging EU citizens full international student fees to study in England risks “pulling up the drawbridge” after Brexit, higher education leaders and opposition parties have warned, calling on the government to clarify its policy.

Although it has long been assumed that EU students would lose access to loans and pay higher tuition fees after Brexit, a report in Buzzfeed raised fears that the higher fees could soon be imposed on EU students who start courses after the UK’s exit.