News round-up: Jo Johnson resigns – and another strike could be on the way

Once again, the country finds itself without a universities minister, while plans to allow EU nationals to stay for only three years in the event of no deal could hit student recruitment


Ucas accused of abusing its position with debt firm advert

The Guardian, 06/09/2019, Richard Adams

The consumer finance expert Martin Lewis has accused Ucas of abusing its position after the university admissions service allowed a private debt firm to market commercial loans with high interest rates to school leavers.

A message from Ucas to students registered with its service carried advertising for Future Finance, a Dublin-based private debt firm that offers loans of up to £40,000 to students at UK universities, with annual interest rates of 16% or more.


Racism in academia has major impact on BAME staff mental health

Times Higher Education, 06/09/2019, Jason Arday

Higher education is a battlefield and the trauma inflicted in this war of inequitable attrition can leave lasting effects that compromise and exhaust mental well-being.

While all mental health is undeniably important, a context that receives little attention is how black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff experience mental illness in the face of continuous racial inequality and discrimination within the academy. This takes covert and overt forms, including lower wages, being undermined by colleagues, and hiring biases.


Jo Johnson quits as MP and minister, citing ‘national interest’

The Guardian, 05/09/2019, Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker

Boris Johnson’s premiership has been dealt an extraordinary blow after his brother, Jo Johnson, announced he was quitting the cabinet, citing an “unresolvable tension” between his family loyalty and the national interest.

The dramatic move by the younger Johnson, who had only recently returned to government, sent shockwaves through the Conservative party and appeared to severely rattle the prime minister as he visited a police training academy.


No-deal leave to remain plans ‘imperil student recruitment in UK’

Times Higher Education, 05/09/2019, Chris Havergal

Plans to grant European Union nationals only three years of leave to remain in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit could hit recruitment to university courses, the Russell Group has warned.

The mission group – which represents some of the UK’s most prestigious research-intensive institutions – said that students looking to enrol on courses longer than three years in length “would have no guarantee of being able to remain in the UK long enough to complete their course”.


Poor supervisor relationships hitting postgraduate mental health

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

Negative student-supervisor relationships are fuelling a mental health crisis among postgraduates, according to new analysis.

Research by US researchers last year found that postgraduates were six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared with the general population, based on the responses of 2,279 students – 90 per cent of whom were studying for a PhD.


EU laws on stem cell research ‘more exposed’ post-Brexit

Times Higher Education, 05/09/2019,

The UK’s departure from the European Union could lead to a shift in regulation on stem cell research, experts have warned, as new figures show the extent of lobbying by the Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups.

recent investigation published by the EU Observer reports that “US billionaires, some of whom are friends of American president Donald Trump, are…paying anti-abortion groups in Europe tens of millions of dollars to influence policy and law.”


Universities braced for lecturers’ strike

The Times, 04/09/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Universities are preparing for a repeat of last year’s lecturers’ strikes as one of the main unions ballots its members on taking action over pensions.

The University and College Union says that its members are furious that bosses have not fulfilled promises made at the end of the last strike to overhaul the pension fund.


Pension changes will leave university staff £240k worse off – study

The Guardian, Sally Weale, 04/09/2019

University staff will be more than £200,000 worse off under new pension arrangements as a result of rising contributions and reduced benefits, according to analysis for the University and College Union.

On the eve of a new ballot over strike action at British universities, the UCU published research claiming that a typical member of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) would pay £40,000 more into their pension but receive almost £200,000 less in retirement as a result of changes introduced since 2011.


Jo Johnson under pressure over Brexit after prorogation move

Times Higher Education, 03/09/2019, Anna McKie

Vice-chancellors have called on Jo Johnson to clarify his stance on a no-deal Brexit after his brother Boris’ move to suspend Parliament was seen as increasing the chances of the UK leaving the European Union without an agreement.

Jo Johnson, who was reappointed as universities minister in July after his brother became prime minister, voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. As universities minister from 2015 to January 2018, he pledged to work to implement the result – and to mitigate the impact on the higher education sector – but resigned from the Department of Transport last November in order to call for a second Brexit referendum.


University of Portsmouth closes student bar after demand for alcohol plummets

Independent, 29/08/2019, Eleanor Busby

A university is closing its Students’ Union bar with demand for alcohol from students falling.

The University of Portsmouth has announced the decision with Freshers’ Week just a fortnight away. Alcohol sales have plummeted by 20 per cent year on year at The Waterhole bar for the past four years.

It comes after a report, shared exclusively with The Independent, revealed that the demand for alcohol-free university events is on the rise as more than one in five students say they are teetotal.


Universities pocket £2m from graduation gowns

The Times, 27/08/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Universities are making tens of thousands of pounds each in commission from suppliers of the gowns and mortar boards that students wear to their graduation.

Most universities have an arrangement with a company that provides gowns, hoods and mortar boards and insist students hire or buy from them.


‘Bullying by transgender student could cost me my visa,’ says postgraduate

Sunday Times, 25/08/2019, Ewan Somerville and Sian Griffiths

A Bristol University postgraduate student who made a complaint of bullying against a transgender student has faced a barrage of abuse and even “masked protesters” when she attended disciplinary hearings.

Raquel Rosario-Sanchez, 29, a PhD student from the Dominican Republic, complained to the university about being bullied by a trans student 18 months ago.


Oxbridge ‘penalises’ private school pupils

Sunday Times, 25/08/2019, Sian Griffiths

The head teacher of a leading private school has hit out at Oxford and Cambridge universities, claiming they operate an “unofficial quota system” for pupils from state schools, even if they have inferior A-level results.

Andrew Halls of King’s College School in Wimbledon, southwest London, said he had been told that an unofficial cap of 30% on private-school pupils had been introduced this summer. He said both universities were turning away “brilliant” privately educated teenagers.


Quality of education in universities falling as institutions focus funds on marketing, NUS leader warns

Independent, 25/08/2019, Eleanor Busby

The quality of education in universities is falling as institutions invest in marketing rather than on their staff and students, the new president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has said.

In one of her first interviews since taking up her post, Zamzam Ibrahim warned of overstretched academics teaching classes of more than 150 students, who pay up to £9,250 a year on tuition fees.



UK universities brace for strike action in pensions dispute

The Guardian, 25/08/2019, Richard Adams

British universities are heading towards strike action later this year, after employers insisted on requiring staff to pay higher pension contributions despite union warnings that the move would trigger a ballot on industrial action.

The University and College Union (UCU) said it had rejected an offer by the employers, represented by Universities UK (UUK), to swap limited increases in staff pension contributions for a two-year bar on strike action.