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 Monday, 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.
Kirsty Williams announces online PGCE
A NEW part-time PGCE that combines online study with tutorials and seminars could soon make Wales a world-leader in Initial Teacher Education (ITE).
The addition of this new alternative route into teaching, announced today by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams, is the latest in a series of reforms designed to revolutionise the way ITE is provided in Wales. These also include new full-time ITE programmes.
The new part-time PGCE would provide a high quality alternative to full-time study and remove the need for students to travel just to attend their chosen course.
Students could instead interact with their lecturers and fellow students online, just as they would in the soon-to-be accredited full-time ITE programmes. This would remove any barriers that might be caused by their location or distance from a university.
In addition to the new PGCE, the Education Secretary also announced a new Employment Based Route (EBR), which would see a student teacher employed by a school from the outset. This would be targeted to help regional consortia address teaching shortages in schools region by region.
Both the part-time PGCE and EBR would enable student teachers to maintain their current commitments, including employment and income, whilst studying to be a teacher.
The students would also be able to take advantage of opportunities afforded by Wales’ new student finance arrangements. From the 2018-19 academic year, all Welsh students – whether studying undergraduate full or part time – will receive support for their living costs equivalent to the UK national living wage.
Announcing the changes today, Kirsty Williams said: “An education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and our new curriculum cannot be delivered without a well-supported, aspirational teaching profession.
“The new part-time PGCE has the potential to completely transform the way Initial Teacher Education in Wales is delivered, complementing our equally high quality full-time ITE programmes.
“New students who may previously never have considered a career in teaching or been put off by costs or their location will have access to an academic qualification and programme that is of the very highest standard while also being flexible and easily accessible.
“It’s by harnessing technology in this way that we’ll attract highly-talented, experienced people with the higher level skills needed by both the teaching profession and our wider economy.
“I am confident that along with the step change in our soon to be accredited full-time ITE programmes the new part-time PGCE and EBR, together with new Professional Standards for teaching and accreditation criteria for initial teacher education, will allow us to raise standards across the board and make Wales a world-leader.”
The Education Secretary also confirmed today that an HE provider, or partnership of providers, will be procured to deliver the proposals by working with schools and education consortia across Wales.
Yale to unlock students’ potential
THIS summer, 16 of Wales’ brightest sixth-formers will join students from across the world for a life-changing summer programme held at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.
The pupils, all part of the Seren Network, will join over 1500 other students from 126 countries and 50 US states on Yale’s Young Global Scholars Programme (YYGS), at Yale University’s New Haven campus in the US, as part a new scholarship opportunity made possible through the Seren Network.
Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, will join the first group of pupils from Wales to travel to Yale’s New Haven campus as she looks to build on links already made with the university through Seren.
The Education Secretary will also travel to both Harvard University and MIT in Boston to discuss new opportunities and collaborations.
This opportunity has been made available to Welsh students thanks to a jointly funded scholarship between Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) and the Welsh Government. The flight costs have been supported through sponsorship by businesses in Wales who are all rooting for the Welsh students.
The students will each spend two weeks at Yale’s New Haven campus, where they will take part in a rigorous academic programme led by world-leading academics in one of six areas, including International Affairs & Security, Frontiers of Science & Technology and Politics, Law & Economics.
The partnership has been established to broaden the academic horizons of Welsh students, giving them a taste of university life in the States and the opportunity to make strong university applications when they return.
Kirsty Williams said: “It is a huge success story for Seren that we’ve been able to broker a partnership which will see Yale’s renowned Young Global Scholars programme made accessible to students across Wales.
“I’m proud to be joining our first ever group of students to take part in this life-changing summer programme and look forward to making new links with other universities as we try to open new doors for many more of our students.
“I want every pupil in every school in every part of Wales to know that if you work hard then no academic opportunity is off-limits. I think this is a perfect example of what is possible and I want to thank all the sponsors involved in making this happen.”
This partnership has been made possible through Liam Rahman, a Yale University alumnus born and raised in Carmarthenshire. A Co-Director at E-Qual Recruitment Education in Cardiff and West Wales, Liam is an avid supporter of The Seren Network and has been the driving force throughout the partnership. E-Qual Recruitment Education is a headline sponsor of the partnership, having raised in excess of £10,000 to fund the cost of students’ flights to and from the US.
Liam said: “Since returning to Wales last year, it’s been a real privilege to work with high potential Welsh students through the Seren Network and to be an interviewer for Yale’s Undergraduate Admissions Office in Wales through Yale’s Alumni Schools Committee.
“Over the past few months, I’ve worked to build the relationship between Yale Young Global Scholars and The Seren Network, which has culminated in this fantastic partnership and scholarship opportunity.
“This scholarship will deliver life-changing opportunities to some of Wales’s brightest sixth formers and gives Yale the opportunity to access some of Wales’s very best talent.”
Adult learning: Richard’s story
UWTSD has marked Adult Learners’ Week by encouraging its mature students to tell their own stories.
Richard Thomas, a single father of three, graduated last summer with a degree in Sports Therapy.
He recently spoke to UWTSD about his transformational journey from gardener to Sports Therapist:
“In the summer of 2014 I was working as a Gardener and handyman in the quiet village of Bancyfelin. I didn’t see it as a long term career and with three children and no partner, I felt I needed a better career direction so I started to look at returning to education. After realising that UWTSD offered a degree in Sports Therapy I decided this was the area that I really wanted to learn more about.
“I immediately loved the course description – having been passionate about sport, fitness, Crossfit and having also had many sporting injuries in the past – I felt that this course would be fascinating to follow. Because of my family commitments, I wasn’t able to travel long distances to study so the fact that the Sports Therapy course was available to me in Carmarthen was great too! I had no idea of how I was going to work, study and juggle my boys’ commitments too and I can’t deny that there were times during the course where I found it difficult – but those hard times were definitely worth it!
“Following this course has not only helped me to learn about a new profession and to embark on a new career that I’m very passionate about – it has also helped me grow as a person. The course set me academic challenges as well as challenging me to manage my time and to fit in work, study and raising three boys as a single father.
“The course was full of work experiences and volunteer opportunities and by the end of the course, I felt prepared to face the world of work because of those opportunities.
“This past year – the first year after graduation – has been tough but it would have been even more difficult if it hadn’t been for the experience and connections that I made during my time on the course.
“During my studies, I was lucky enough to work with the Welsh Under 20’s Rugby team; the Dragons; Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey; Swansea City FC as well as Bristol City FC – not forgetting the various events that we covered such as the Swansea Triathlon, The Burn, Invncbl and some epic Charity cycle rides.
“Since graduating, I’m really lucky that the list of organisations and events I’m working with continues to grow. I now work with the FAW and the Under 15’s Welsh Girls Football team; Whitland RFC and I have a role with Hockey Wales too. I also work with Gower College Rugby, Llanelli and District Schoolboys Under 15’s and the successful Rugby Sevens team, the Carmarthen Warriors. Alongside this work I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a Hip and Groin Testing team – which I initially started doing during my time on the course – but I’m now also been working with Swansea City as part of their testing team as well as the IRFU as part of their ongoing Injury reduction strategies.
“I am currently still trying to manage my time but am enjoying the challenge. Indeed, enrolling on this course was easily one of the best decisions of my life. It’s helped me immeasurably – not just academically and career wise – but it’s also made a huge difference to me on a personal level. I’ve met friends that I’ll have for life and I managed to complete a BSc degree – something that for many years would have felt impossible.
“I am the first person in my family in living knowledge to complete a degree and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby at my graduation ceremony. Receiving an award for my academic work was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. The fact that I’ve achieved something that I previously didn’t really believe I could, has helped me to raise my own expectations and has allowed me to really expanded my horizons – both career wise and personally. It’s also had a great positive effect on my children – the eldest of whom is now going to University this year.”
As the only Sports Therapy degree in Wales accredited by the Society of Sports Therapy, the BSc Sports Therapy degree programme is designed to educate competent practitioners in all aspects of Sports Therapy. During their time on the course, students learn in a practical setting with plenty of hands on teaching in a dedicated Sports Therapy Suite and Rehabilitation Centre. All teaching staff are experienced Graduate Sports Therapists who have worked in professional, semi-professional, national and international sports over a number of years.
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