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University lecturers to strike

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Strike: Lecturers to walk out over enforced pension changes

FOUR Welsh universities are among 61 institutions across the UK that will be hit with 14 days of strike action, the University and College Union (UCU) announced on Monday (Jan 29).

Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, Cardiff University and the University of Wales will all be affected by the action that begins on Thursday, February 22. UCU members at Swansea University are being balloted to see if they will also take action.

The union confirmed an escalating wave of strikes over an initial four week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend. The universities will then be hit with four days of strikes from March 5-8 and a full five-day walkout the following week​ (Mar 12-16).​

The strike dates are:

Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Friday 8 March (four days)
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Last week talks between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without agreement and UUK’s plans to transform the scheme were forced through by the chair’s casting vote.

The dispute centres on UUK’s proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The turnout was 58%.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Staff who have delivered the international excellence vice-chancellors use to justify their own lavish pay and perks are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by leaders who seem to care more about defending their own perks than the rights of their staff.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

Swansea University was one of seven universities’ that failed to meet the government’s new 50% turnout threshold that must be met. Although 88.5% of members who voted backed strike action, the 49.7% turnout figure was not high enough.

A fresh ballot will close on Friday​, ​February​ 16​. If UCU members at the Swansea University back strikes again, and at least 50% participate in the vote, they would be able to join the action from Monda​y, ​March​ 5​.

Commenting on the results of the UCU ballot on possible strike action, a Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “The prospect of industrial action at 61 out of the 68 higher education institutions balloted by UCU is disappointing as talks between employers and the union on USS pension reform continue. A solution to the significant funding challenges facing USS needs to be found. UUK’s priority is to put USS on a secure and sustainable footing while offering attractive, market-leading pensions – the very best that can be afforded by both employers and employees.

“We should be under no illusion, this is not a problem that will go away if ignored. To retain the status quo would only serve interests in the short term. Without reform now, universities will likely be forced to divert funding allocated from research and teaching to fill a pensions funding gap. The option of no reform is a dangerous gamble. It is a risk that employers cannot take.

“If industrial action takes place it could cause disruption to students at some universities. We hope that this can be avoided through further talks with UCU and that union members carefully consider the possible impact on students of taking industrial action.”

One of the key issues for the pension scheme is the size of its deficit. Against just over £60bn in assets, are accrued pension benefits of over £72bn.

That £12bn deficit represents an increase of around £7bn since the last formal valuation of the fund. Among the factors blamed in the actuaries’ report are undefined ‘economic changes’ that were not foreseen in 2014 and are claimed by Universities UK to be have been unforeseeable.

Universities UK claims that in order to address the pension fund deficit, it will have to reform the pension scheme. A reduction in pension benefits scheduled to be paid to members will have the mechanical effect of reducing the deficit – unless, of course, further unforeseeable economic circumstances arise.

Against that, the Union claims that the current deficit is over-stated and that the scheme’s potential liabilities are significantly lower than claimed. With Universities’ future income from tuition fees likely to remain static – if not fall – in the short to medium term, resolving the issue before the deadline of June this year, is likely to be difficult – if not impossible.

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Education

Seren and Sbarc kick off new series of books with a story to coincide with Rugby World Cup

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WELSH Government and WRU announced a partnership to encourage more school children to use Welsh.

They have been inspiring school children to use Welsh in and out of the classroom for a while, but Siarter Iaith mascots Seren a Sbarc have now moved on to the next level with their very own book. Released as part of a partnership, the book will be issued to all primary schools in Wales to encourage children to read more Welsh and to cheer Wales on in Welsh.

The book, Seren a Sbarc yn Achub (Cwpan) y Bydysawd (Seren a Sbarc Save the Universe (Cup)), written by Elidir Jones and illustrated by Huw Aaron, tells the tale of the heroic characters fighting off monsters and villains using the skills they have learnt through rugby and speaking Welsh.

The book gives children and parents fun way of learning and using Welsh through rugby, as the nation eagerly watches Wales on their World Cup journey.

All primary schools in Wales will receive copies of the book to help inspire the next generation of Welsh speakers as part of the Siarter Iaith.

Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, said: “As rugby fever grips the country, children right across Wales will be reading about the heroic antics of Seren and Sbarc as they fight off monsters with their fantastic Welsh and sport skills! This exciting project with the WRU is a great way of inspiring the next generation of Welsh speakers, and future rugby players. Rugby is a sport that brings the nation together and the Welsh language is a big part of that.”

To launch the book, Seren and Sbarc joined pupils of Ysgol Bro Allta in Ystrad Mynach for a busy day of rugby practice and sending good luck messages to the Wales team. Dragons players Aaron Jarvis and James Benjamin also joined the Year 5 and 6 pupils as they carried out tasks from the WRU Digital Classroom resource, launched to inspire pupils to achieve in all areas through rugby.

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Education

Ceredigion Schools Succeed in Exam Results

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The GCSE exam results published today (22 August) by the WJEC show that very high standards are being maintained in Ceredigion schools.

 

98.8% of entries for WJEC exams were graded A* to G, with 24.9% of the entries achieving A* and A grades. 72.5% of entries were graded A* to C.

 

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “We are delighted with Ceredigion pupils’ achievements in a wide range of subjects. They have proven once again that hard work and commitment leads to success. I would like to sincerely thank staff and governors for their leadership and their continued support for our pupils. We wish the young people of Ceredigion the very best as they confidently progress on their chosen path.”

 

The following table provides the figures for Ceredigion and Wales:

           Ceredigion                                                Wales
Grade   A* – A                              24.9%                                                     18.4%
Grade A*-C                                  72.5%                                                     62.8%
Grade A*-G                                 98.8%                                                     97.2%

 

Compared with the Welsh average, an additional 6% of Ceredigion entries achieved A*-A grades and, in the case of A*-C grades, Ceredigion’s entries achieved almost 10% more than the Welsh average.

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Education

GCSE joy at Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi

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There was delight at Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi yesterday as students celebrated the GCSE results.

Headteacher Nicola James said: “In a year when key performance measures have changed, it is pleasing to note that our Capped 9 score (the pupils’ best 9 GCSE results including Numeracy, Literacy and Science) has increased to over 400.

“Our focus is on maximising the progress of every pupil across a broad range of subjects, and most of our students sat between 12 and 14 GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.

“We are proud of the achievements of all our students, which are the result of their hard work and the input of our excellent teaching and support staff who ensure high quality learning experiences and pastoral care for all students.

“I congratulate everyone on their success.”

There were many noteworthy individual successes, including: Catrin Rees 9A*, 4A; Sarah Greenshields 8A*, 6A; Emily Cross 6A*, 6A, 2B; Lleucu Berwyn 5A*, 6A, 1B; Lol Maskell 4A*, 7A, 4B; Tessa Hieatt 2A*, 9A, 3B; Georgia Harrington 2A*, 8A, 4B; Lowri Adams-Lewis 2A*, 8A, 3B,1C; Ewan Kelly 2A*, 6A, 5B; Ashleigh Gordon 2A*, 6A, 4B, 1C; Hatty Francis 9A, 4B, 1C; Amy Dangerfield 8A, 5B, 1D; Rhys Hughes 1A*, 6A, 7B; Emily Holmes 7A, 4B, 2C.

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