News in brief - 26 September 2013

September 26, 2013

Industrial action vote
UCU ballot over pay dispute

Unionised academics are being balloted for industrial action over employers’ 1 per cent pay offer. The University and College Union said it will ballot its members in the sector between 25 September and 10 October. “Yes” votes for strike action would see stoppages take place in the autumn term. Meanwhile, a strike at the University of Liverpool over changes to contracts for professional staff appears to have been averted. UCU members had voted in favour of industrial action after administrative staff were told by the university that they must accept new contracts or face three months’ notice of dismissal, after which they would be rehired on the new terms. Unions claim the revised contracts, which would affect about 2,800 staff, would increase working at weekends, evenings and bank holidays without appropriate time off in lieu. However, after talks at the conciliation service Acas, Martyn Moss, UCU regional official, said a settlement on the terms had been reached that was “acceptable to all”.

Shropshire-based institution mooted
University of Shrewsbury?

A Conservative MP is pushing for the creation of a university in Shrewsbury and has written to David Willetts about the plan. Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has written to the universities and science minister asking him to meet a delegation from Shropshire to discuss the proposal, according to the Shropshire Star. The idea is reportedly being investigated by Shropshire Council, with officials from the University of Chester brought in to carry out a “feasibility review”. Although Shropshire already has Harper Adams University, which specialises in the agricultural sector, Mr Kawczynski said: “I am passionate that we bring a stand-alone university to our county, incorporating Shrewsbury as the county town, in order to give the high-achieving Shropshire students a place to study closer to home.”

High fee-paying students ‘socialise less’
All work, no play

Students paying £9,000 fees may be socialising less and studying more than their counterparts under a lower-fee regime, new research suggests. According to the National Student Housing Survey 2013, which polled more than 20,000 students between February and May, only 54 per cent of students said they enjoyed socialising in their accommodation compared with 62 per cent last year. Just 63 per cent of students said they had formed close friendships in accommodation compared with 67 per cent in 2012, while only 36 per cent said there was a strong sense of community among students – down from 43 per cent last year. The Red Brick Research survey supports anecdotal evidence that the 2012-13 cohort of students, the first to be charged fees of up to £9,000, are more focused on their studies.

Postgraduate survey
Thumbs up for teaching

About three-quarters of taught postgraduate students are happy with the teaching and learning on their course, a national survey says. Some 76 per cent of students questioned for the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey, published on 19 September, said they were positive about this aspect of their experience. A total of 58,679 students from 89 institutions took part in the latest annual survey, the largest number since the Higher Education Academy poll was first conducted in 2009. While comments regarding teaching and learning are generally favourable, students are less happy about contact time, with only 65 per cent saying theirs is sufficient to support effective learning.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Last week’s opinion by Andrew Oswald and Daniel Sgroi, setting out how research excellence framework panels should include impact factors in their deliberations, caused consternation for some on Twitter. Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee), professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, tweeted “Oh dear” and said the piece was “misguided”. Expanding on her arguments underneath the article on our website, she asked where the evidence was that high-impact journals had “higher quality reviewing”. “It’s not my experience,” she said, adding that such journals “go for newsworthiness” and are “typically less specialised than other journals”.

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