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Education

Talks call in lecturers' strike

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Pensions dispute: Lecturers plan four weeks of action

​UNIVERSITIES UK has called University and College Union (UCU) to meet to engage in ‘serious, meaningful’ talks on the future of the USS pension scheme.
A strike by UCU members in the week ​of February 19-23 was only the first of a planned four weeks of industrial action as employers and lecturers battle out a dispute over the future shape of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
Universities UK claims that the current scheme – the largest funded scheme in the UK – is unaffordable and that a projected £6.1bn deficit means that retirement benefits have to be cut. The union claims that the deficit is overstated and that, having already eroded some pension rights, further cuts to it are unfair.
In a press statement which accompanied an open letter to UCU members, Universities UK said: ​”​It is of paramount importance that both side make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disrupton to students.
​”​Universities UK has never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution. We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.
​”​The problem that we share as interested parties in USS is that, to continue to offer current benefits, contributions would have to rise by approximately £1 billion per annum. The scheme has a £6.1 billion deficit and there has been an increase of more than a third in the cost of future pensions.​”​
Responding to that statement, UCU said it would certainly be attending as it had been calling for talks for weeks, but refused to call of scheduled industrial action.
However, it said that unless the employers were prepared to talk about the January decision to slash pensions then it did not see how the dispute could be resolved. In its statement UUK said ​’​talks would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January​’​.
That decision is the very reason staff are on strike.
UCU said it was disappointed UUK had ignored the wishes of universities minister Sam Gyimah who stated explicitly that the talks should be without preconditions.
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: ​”​Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.
​”​The universities minister was very clear that he wanted talks without preconditions and we hope UUK will reconsider his words before we meet. We remain committed to serious negotiations aimed at resolving this dispute.​”​
Universities UK’s position is not assisted by the long-running dissatisfaction with some of the extraordinary pay packages its members dole out to some university vice chancellors.
University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16.
Professor Peter Mathieson, recently appointed as vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University, will be paid a basic salary of £342,000 – £85,000 more than predecessor Sir Timothy O’Shea. Professor Mathieson will also receive £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions and relocation costs of £26,000, taking his package up to £410,000. He will live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.
Professor Mathieson quit his contentious and controversial tenure as vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University to take the Edinburgh post.
Stuck in the middle of the dispute between lecturers and universities are students.
The programme of strikes is taking place at one of the most sensitive times of the year for higher education students, with many final year students rapidly approaching the end of their courses. A suggestion has been made that some universities will take account of disruption to studies when making degree awards, In addition, while many students sympathise with their lecturers’ predicament there is growing frustration among those who are likely to be most severely affected by strikes that will last 14 days initially, with the possibility of further action during summer final exams.
Some students are contemplating demanding compensation, with The Guardian quoting one saying: “I am a third-year student in his last term of university and the fact that my vice-chancellor has told me that I could be without any assistance for a whole 14 days over four weeks in my most important term of education is a joke.”

Education

Examination crisis: teacher’s predicted grades to be given to students

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THE Welsh Government has announced today (Mon, Aug 17) that AS, A level, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate and Welsh Baccalaureate grades in Wales will now be awarded on the basis of Centre Assessment Grades.

This occurred after the outrage of students, causing protests outside the Senedd after hearing that a total of 42% of A-level grades predicted by their teachers had been lowered when the Welsh results were published last week. This was due to the decision to process these grades through an algorithm.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she took the decision to maintain confidence in the system.

Speaking on the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “Working with Qualifications Wales and WJEC we have sought an approach which provides fairness and balances out differences in the standards applied to judgments in schools.

“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding Centre Assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales.

“I am taking this decision now ahead of results being released this week, so that there is time for the necessary work to take place.

“For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales, will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.

“For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand.

“Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK.

“However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.

“These have been exceptional circumstances, and in due course I will be making a further statement on an independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.

“Other Awarding Bodies across the UK are involved in determining the approach to vocational qualifications. This continues to be the case but it is important that I give assurance to GCSE, AS and A level student at the earliest opportunity.”

This was a decision welcomed by Suzy Davies, Shadow Education Minister.

Commenting on the Decision, Suzy Davies said: “This has been an exceptional time, and this news will come as a very welcome relief for the thousands of A-Level students who last week were looking at grades lower than they were predicted to receive. It will also be a relief to pupils expecting results this week as well as an acknowledgement of quite how much effort teachers put into this.

“It is reassuring that the Minister has listened to the Welsh Conservatives and other parties in the Welsh Parliament, but especially pleasing that she heard the voices of young people up and down the country.

“These students – at A, AS, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate, and Welsh Baccalaureate level – will now have the confidence to plan their future education or career aspirations, and reach their potential.”

The Education Minister also promised an independent review of the events “following the cancellation of this year’s exams”.

Students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.

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Education

Swansea University appoints new governing body Chair

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Swansea University is pleased to announce that Bleddyn Phillips has been appointed as its new Chair of Council.
Mr Phillips, who joined the University’s governing body in May 2017, has been appointed Chair for a four-year term replacing Sir Roger Jones, whose term of office came to an end in September 2019.

Mr Phillips said: “It is a great honour to be appointed Swansea University’s Chair of Council. As a Welsh-speaker, with strong roots in Llanelli and Gower, and with both parents having studied at Swansea, I have long felt an affinity with the University and have been delighted to serve on the Council.

“I want to acknowledge the contribution made to the University by Sir Roger Jones over almost 14 years and I very much look forward to working with, and serving, the University as it celebrates its centenary in 2020 and beyond.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said “It will be a privilege to work with Bleddyn as we develop our new strategic plan and look forward to beginning our second century in 2020.”

Mr Phillips is a lawyer by profession, a former commercial director at oil companies BP and Total, and later Global Head of the Oil and Gas practice at the international law firm, Clifford Chance LLP. He is Director of Llanelli Scarlets RFC and was a trustee of the Wales Millennium Centre from 2012-2018.

The Council is the University’s governing body, which approves the mission and strategic vision of the University, long-term academic and business plans, key performance indicators and overall standards. The Council assures that the University discharges its duties in accordance with the Welsh Quality Assessment Framework.

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Education

Experts attack Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban plan

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PROMINENT academics have criticised the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a public debate at Swansea University.

Tonight, experts from the fields of sociology and criminology and parenting studies poured scorn on the plan during an Academy of Ideas debate on state intervention in the family.

A panel of three academics discussed the merits or otherwise of the smacking legislation, which is due to be debated by AMs for a third time in January next year.

Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University and outspoken critic of the Scottish smacking Bill, said: “No longer treated like citizens, as adults who have an opinion and a basic level of autonomy to raise our children, we have culture change imposed from on high – we are made ‘aware’ by the new authoritarians holding the stick above us.

“The smacking act is a disgrace. It is a form of brutality that undermines parents, weakens the meaning of freedom, and will go on to destroy many loving families who dare to think and act differently to the modern elitists.”

Dr Waiton added: “The brutality of the smacking act will mean that a light smack on the hand or bottom of a child will be a criminal offence. Hard smacking is already illegal, but to the middle-class anti-smacking zealots that was not enough. Children, they argue, need equal protection from assault. The very language they use is alien to the millions of parents who occasionally smack rather than assault their children.

“Parents know that smacking a child is a form of discipline often done out of love and concern rather than something that is abusive and criminal.”

Criticising the way politicians at the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have engaged with parents on the smacking legislation, he said: “The new elite think a lot about consultation and inclusion. The reality is a process run by a small section of society, politicians and professionals, who exist in their own bubble and are distant and disconnected from ordinary people.”

Ellie Lee, Professor of Parenting Research at the University of Kent also spoke out on the Welsh Government’s plans.

“Within the context of an authoritative child rearing relationship, aversive discipline including smacking is well accepted by the young child, effective in managing short-term misbehaviour and has no documented harmful long-term effects.”

She added: “It should be the concern of professionals who work with parents to respectfully offer them alternative disciplinary strategies rather than to condemn parents for using methods consonant with their own, but not the counsellors beliefs and values.”

The Professor accused the Welsh Government of using the “full force of the criminal law to attack people who disagree on the comparative merits of using smacking rather than something like timeout”, saying it is a “bureaucratic imposition on parents”.

Only one academic – Dr Gideon Calder, Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University – spoke in favour of Government interventions like the smacking ban.

Dr Calder argued that intervention is justifiable in some instances and said something like the smacking ban is not necessarily authoritarian. He said: “the point of the legislation is to safeguard children from potentially harmful interactions.”

Commenting on the debate, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign, said:

“The criticism levelled at the Government’s smacking plans tonight by experts in the fields of sociology, criminology and parenting studies should be a wakeup call to Ministers.

“Experts are not convinced that the plan to outlaw parental smacking is viable, needful or helpful in terms of improving child protection.

“I hope AMs hear the concerns of these academics as well as their constituents and scrap the smacking ban bill when it’s voted on in January.”

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