Union to test opinions on fee discounts for children of staff

Questions over whether fee remission counts as widening participation. John Morgan reports

February 10, 2011

A union's proposal for tuition fee discounts for children of higher education staff is to be tested in a survey of universities, as it calls for widening participation to begin at home.

Unite will send a questionnaire to universities in the spring, asking for views on its proposal to give full or partial fee discounts to children who attend the institution where their parent is employed.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) has agreed to advise Unite on the drafting of the survey.

The fee remission proposal, part of the higher education unions' joint pay and conditions claim for 2010-11, applies to all staff on the national pay spine. The scale covers senior lecturers through to cleaners at the bottom of the pay spine on a starting salary of around £13,000 a year.

Universities are likely to point to the cost of such a scheme, as fees rise as high as £9,000 a year from 2012, and question whether fee remission for the children of academics could count as widening participation.

Mike Robinson, Unite national education officer, said: "We've moved Ucea away from opposition - which was their position when we raised it first - to at least being willing to send out a survey."

He said fee remission would help remedy the current situation, whereby "people get very few perks, if you like, for working in a university".

In a letter to Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea chief executive, Mr Robinson says: "Unite believes that offering such a scheme would widen participation to many children from the homes of lower paid staff in higher education institutions."

A Ucea spokesman said it had "noted Unite's intention to circulate a survey and offered to review the design of it and draw attention to its circulation in due course. It must be remembered that setting of fees is an issue for individual institutions."

Unite, whose sector membership is mainly among clerical and technical staff, has accepted Ucea's 2010-11 pay and conditions offer, including a 0.4 per cent pay rise.

Unison and the GMB have also accepted, but the University and College Union and the Educational Institute of Scotland have not.

In his letter to Ms Prudence, Mr Robinson notes that the past two pay offers have fallen below rising inflation.

It was "disappointing to say the least" that Ucea did not meet Unite's plea to offer a lump sum for lower paid staff, he says.

Several universities have written to staff informing them of their decision to award the 0.4 per cent pay rise, despite the fact that the UCU and EIS have yet to accept.

Unions often see such moves as an attempt to "impose" a settlement.

But while the UCU and EIS may be unhappy to see payouts, the other three unions appear keener to see this year's lengthy talks settled.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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