The week in higher education

December 13, 2012

• A university's Christian Union caused uproar by banning female speakers at some meetings unless they were accompanied by their husbands, The Daily Telegraph reported on 4 December. The decision by the Bristol University Christian Union came to light as it tried to reverse the complete ban on female speakers that was previously in effect, but the compromise won the society few friends. Women's groups condemned the BUCU's move, while the students' union launched an investigation into whether it contravened equality policy. The BUCU issued a statement the following day saying that it was simply trying to "accommodate members with divergent and strongly held convictions" but would "extend speaker invitations to both women and men, to all BUCU events, without exception".

• The Council for the Defence of British Universities lamented that no vice-chancellors were willing to join its ranks. But now Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, has become the first to sign up. Professor Hall said in a blog post on the Wonkhe website on 7 December that the group's causes, including its defence of higher education as a public good, "are critical issues at a time when our university system is undergoing some of the most traumatic changes in recent history". Professor Hall was also the sole vice-chancellor to sign the University and College Union open letter opposing public subsidies to for-profit higher education. Professor Hall's activities - unusually subversive for a vice-chancellor - will surely lead to his being barred from his peers' most important seats of power: the Universities UK board and the Athenaeum Club.

• Students will end up paying up to £100,000 for a degree once interest payments are counted, The Independent on Sunday reported on 9 December. Based on government figures, almost 70 per cent of students who started this autumn will repay between £65,000 and £85,000, the paper reported. But another 10 per cent, "the squeezed middle" who will repay their loans more slowly, could end up being charged between £85,000 and £100,000. Lucky graduates who are earning £60,000 annually four years into their career and six figures within 15 years will have cleared their debts by year 13, incurring only £42,000 of debt overall, the paper calculated. With such lucrative jobs thin on the ground, do these sums spell the end for the "graduate premium", last estimated by universities and science minister David Willetts to be...£100,000?

• University staff will receive a 1 per cent pay increase for 2012-13 despite asking for 7 per cent. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents 151 higher education institutions, announced on 10 December that it had concluded pay negotiations for this academic year. It ends a nine-month saga that began in March when Ucea proffered a 0.5 per cent rise. Strike action over the final 1 per cent offer made in May looked likely until student numbers collapsed by more than 50,000 over the summer. The sector's four main unions - the UCU, Unison, Unite and GMB - have accepted or "noted" the pay settlement, Ucea said, although the UCU said it did so "reluctantly" and added that "repeated" real-terms pay cuts were "seriously harming industrial relations in the sector". Only EIS, which represents academic staff in some Scottish institutions, continues to reject the settlement, which includes joint working on equality issues raised by unions.

• The University and College Union has joined forces with the National Union of Students to urge the universities and science minister David Willetts to abandon plans to grant a VAT exemption to for-profit providers of higher education. The government wants to put them on a level footing with universities, which already benefit from the exemption because of their non-profit status. The UCU and the NUS, which wrote jointly to Mr Willetts about the issue on 12 December, said in a statement that the move "grants tax relief to for-profit companies at a time when corporate tax avoidance is a potent public concern and will rig the higher education market in favour of those providers with access to private capital".

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