News round-up: Academics go on strike over pay and conditions

The strikes at half of the UK’s universities dominate this week’s news round-up – while new figures show that institutions are competing fiercely for a shrinking band of 18-year olds



UCU says some universities are using ‘highly questionable tactics’ as strikes are set to enter their second week

Times Higher Education, 29/11/2019, Anna McKie

The University of Birmingham has sent an email to staff warning that picket lines are “trespassing”, staff at the institution have said.

In a briefing email on 22 November, Tim Jones, vice-principal of Birmingham, said that the university is private land and that picketing on the university campus would constitute trespass, according to a petition calling for university management to reverse their decision.


Students protest against Liverpool university’s claim that support for strike is ‘unlawful’

The Guardian, 29/11/2019, Rachel Hall and David Batty

Students at the University of Liverpool blocked senior managers from entering their offices this morning in protest at an email sent by the university warning students that it is “unlawful” for them to join pickets in support of striking lecturers.

The blockade took place on the fifth day of strikes over pay and pensions involving 60,000 members of the University and College Union. The students erected barriers in front of doors and put up banners voicing students’ solidarity.


Half of students get degree place with lower grades

BBC, 28/11/2019, Anon

Nearly half of young people were given a place at university this year with A-level grades lower than the advertised entry requirements, new figures show.

The admissions service, Ucas, says 49% of 18-year-olds in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, who sat at least three A-levels, were accepted with lower grades than those advertised.


‘Best time ever’: school-leavers have pick of university courses, says Ucas

The Guardian, 28/11/2019, Richard Adams

Today’s school-leavers are enjoying “the best time ever” to take their pick of university courses, thanks to fierce competition between institutions recruiting from a shrinking pool of 18-year-olds, according to the UK’s university admissions administrator.

Ucas, which operates the admissions process for undergraduate courses, said nearly 98% of applicants received offers of a place to study for a degree this year, and that could be even higher next year as the demographic dip among British school-leavers reaches its lowest point.


Record rise in student nurses – but unions warn it isn’t enough to cover NHS shortfall

Independent, 28/11/2019, Eleanor Busby

The number of students accepted on nursing courses at UK universities has reached a record high – but unions warn that significant shortages remain in the workforce.

Figures from Ucas show the number of nursing applicants has risen by 6.7 per cent across the UK, ending a decline that began when the government scrapped bursaries for student nurses in 2017.


Tiered contributions under consideration with USS row at deadlock

Times Higher Education, 28/11/2019, Ellie Bothwell and Anna McKie

The sector-wide benefits of UK higher education’s biggest pension fund may be under threat as university staff and employers dig in to increasingly entrenched positions in their dispute.

As staff at 60 UK universities began eight consecutive days of strike action this week, after institutions and the University College Union failed to reach a compromise over pay and pensions, Universities UK suggested that it could consider advocating a move to tiered pension contributions – an approach that was previously proposed in 2018.


Restrict researchers to one paper a year, says UCL professor

Times Higher Education, 28/11/2019, Jack Grove

When many successful scientists boast dozens, even hundreds, of research papers to their name, calls for more “quality over quantity” in publication can appear to ring rather hollow.

Now a former president of the British Science Association has suggested a radical proposal to combat this problem: restricting researchers to just one scholarly paper a year.


Scotland’s universities need ‘shared national mission’

BBC, 27/11/2019, Douglas Fraser

Scotland’s universities have been urged to collaborate more to contribute fully to Scotland’s economic needs.

A report by Glasgow University’s principal says there is a need to cut out duplication of effort and conflicting objectives.


International students crossing picket lines ‘out of fear of losing visas’

The Guardian, 27/11/2019, Sally Weale and David Batty

Campaigners against hostile environment policies in higher education are calling on universities to suspend monitoring of international students’ attendance during strike action, because of growing fears their visas will be at risk if they choose not to cross picket lines.

Responding to a call-out to Guardian readers about ongoing industrial action in 60 universities across the UK, a number of international students said they were supportive of strike action but worried about failing to comply with attendance requirements with potential consequences for their visas.


Tories may make universities share risk for ‘low-quality’ courses

Times Higher Education, 27/11/2019, John Morgan

Tory plans to tackle “low-quality courses” in England could mean cutting loan support or making universities bear costs for courses deemed below par on graduate earnings, while institutions may shift focus towards winning research funding as per-student spending dwindles, according to policy observers.

The publication of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos has produced broad consensus on increasing research funding – while floating some potentially major changes to the research funding system – but no agreement whatsoever on higher education funding and student finance.


Artist ready to sue university over trans rights speech ban

The Times, 25/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The artist at the centre of the latest free-speech row is considering legal action against the university that stopped her speaking to students last week.

Rachel Ara said that she had been contacted by lawyers who have taken cases on the issue of free speech and trans rights to see if she would be interested in pursuing a case.


Students join picket lines to support striking lecturers

The Times, 25/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Students are facing significant disruption to their studies for the second time in two years after tens of thousands of lecturers started an eight-day strike in a dispute over pensions and pay.

Despite cancelled lectures and seminars many students appeared to back the staff and some have joined them on picket lines and attended rallies.


University strike: tens of thousands of staff walk out across UK

The Guardian, 25/11/2019, Sally Weale and Helen Pidd

Universities across the UK are facing widespread disruption after tens of thousands of lecturers and other staff walked out on strike in protest over pay cuts, increased pension costs and deteriorating conditions.

Union leaders reported a strong show of support on Monday for the industrial action, which will last eight days and could extend into the new year with a second wave of strikes if staff demands are not met.


Universities accused of using ‘strong-arm tactics’ to undermine strike action

The Guardian, 24/11/2019, Sally Weale and David Batty

Universities have been accused of using “strong-arm tactics” to undermine strike action which threatens to cause widespread disruption at 60 campuses across the UK this week.

More than 40,000 lecturers, technicians, librarians and other academic staff will walk out on strike for eight days from Monday over pension, pay and conditions, in a wave of industrial action which will impact on the studies of more than a million students.


Tory manifesto pledges to ‘consider carefully’ Augar plans

Times Higher Education, 25/11/2019, John Morgan

The Conservatives have issued manifesto pledges to “consider carefully” the “thoughtful” recommendations of the Augar review on English university funding, to explore ways to “tackle the problem of low-quality courses” and to “reform the science funding system to cut the time wasted by scientists filling in forms”.

The manifesto, published on 24 November, also pledges to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities.”


Horizon Europe cuts ‘would undermine innovation agenda’

Times Higher Education, 25/11/2019, Jack Grove

Potential cuts to the European Union’s multibillion-euro research budget would be “disastrous” for universities and might undermine the continent’s ambitious innovation agenda, experts have warned.

Speculation over the EU’s new research framework, Horizon Europe, has been growing in recent weeks in Brussels as some countries press to limit overall EU spending while others are adamant that structural funds and agricultural subsidies should not be reduced.


Cheating at some of the UK’s leading universities has more than doubled in five years, new figures show

Daily Telegraph, 23/11/2019, Camilla Turner and Fin Kavanagh

Cheating at some leading universities has more than doubled in the past five years, new figures show as Russell Group institutions admit they are struggling to police so-called “essay mills”.

The number of students formally investigated for academic malpractice has quadrupled at Leeds University, from 127 in 2014/15 to 516 last year, according to figures obtained by The Telegraph under freedom of information requests.


Staff ‘forced to jump through silly hoops’ for pay rises

Times Higher Education, 23/11/2019, Anna McKie

Staff at a UK university claim that they are being “forced to jump through silly hoops to get pay rises that are standard elsewhere”.

University and College Union members at Coventry University are taking strike action over the evaluation system that means that they must exceed targets in order to be eligible for a performance-related pay rise – which their manager must then submit a business case to the human resources department for.


Visa concerns ‘low on the list’ for travelling academics

Times Higher Education, 21/11/2019, Simon Baker

Debates about the visa regimes in place for students and researchers to entice them to work in certain countries are often some of the most heated in academia.

But a new worldwide survey of some 10,000 researchers – a large proportion of whom were junior scholars looking to work abroad – suggests that the ease of obtaining a visa in different nations is not a particularly big concern.


Oxford Union president quits over blind student row

The Times, 20/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The president of the Oxford Union has resigned after a blind, black student was manhandled out of the debating chamber by security staff.

Brendan McGrath said that he had failed in his fundamental duty to “make every member feel welcome at the Oxford Union” and apologised “profoundly and unqualifiedly”. He said that after hearing accounts of the incident he had sought to bring disciplinary measures against the student, Ebenezer Azamati, 25, to protect union staff.


Union warns of further strikes in universities row

The Guardian, 20/11/2019, Sally Weale

University students in the UK are facing disruption to their studies in the last few weeks of term and into the new year after union leaders warned of a second wave of strike action if staff demands are not met.

More than 40,000 university staff at 60 universities are preparing to go on strike for eight days from next Monday, followed by a period of work to rule, in protest over their pensions, pay and conditions.


Lib Dems seek to sidestep fees trauma with HE review pledge

Times Higher Education, 20/11/2019, John Morgan

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto attempts to sidestep the party’s past traumas over tuition fees, committing only to a “review of higher education finance to consider any necessary reforms” in England, while pledging to reintroduce maintenance grants.

The manifesto, published on 20 November, confirms the approach indicated by Lib Dem education spokeswoman Layla Moran earlier this year, when she said that it was unlikely the party would finalise its higher education funding policy before the election. Ms Moran told Times Higher Education then that the party was “moving towards” a graduate tax policy


Russell Group universities now use interviews simply as a marketing opportunity, says headteacher

Daily Telegraph, 19/11/2019, Camilla Turner

Russell Group universities are now using interviews as a marketing opportunity rather than as a way to pick the best candidates, a leading headteacher has said.

Previously, only tutors selecting candidates for competitive courses at the most selective institutions would invite students for an interview.


Undergraduates go back to school in search of advices

The Times, 19/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett,

Undergraduates are returning to their former schools for help and advice because of the lack of structure and support on most campuses, head teachers have said.

Students have complained of a “disconnect” between schools, where teachers are available and pastoral care is plentiful, and universities where it seems to “all fall apart”.


Cladding fears after fire at Bolton student flats

The Times, 18/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett,

Fears have been raised over cladding on a student accommodation block after a fire ripped through the six-storey building on Friday night.

An investigation has begun into the blaze at the Bolton University halls known as The Cube, which forced 200 students to flee and destroyed almost everything inside, leaving many “without anything”.