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Education

Talks call in lecturers’ strike

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Pensions dispute: Lecturers plan four weeks of action

UNIVERSITIES UK has called University and College Union (UCU) to meet to engage in ‘serious, meaningful’ talks on the future of the USS pension scheme.

A strike by UCU members in the week ​of February 19-23 was only the first of a planned four weeks of industrial action as employers and lecturers battle out a dispute over the future shape of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Universities UK claims that the current scheme – the largest funded scheme in the UK – is unaffordable and that a projected £6.1bn deficit means that retirement benefits have to be cut. The union claims that the deficit is overstated and that, having already eroded some pension rights, further cuts to it are unfair.

In a press statement which accompanied an open letter to UCU members, Universities UK said: ​”​It is of paramount importance that both side make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disrupton to students.

​”​Universities UK has never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution. We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.

​”​The problem that we share as interested parties in USS is that, to continue to offer current benefits, contributions would have to rise by approximately £1 billion per annum. The scheme has a £6.1 billion deficit and there has been an increase of more than a third in the cost of future pensions.​”​

Responding to that statement, UCU said it would certainly be attending as it had been calling for talks for weeks, but refused to call of scheduled industrial action.

However, it said that unless the employers were prepared to talk about the January decision to slash pensions then it did not see how the dispute could be resolved. In its statement UUK said ​’​talks would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January​’​.

That decision is the very reason staff are on strike.

UCU said it was disappointed UUK had ignored the wishes of universities minister Sam Gyimah who stated explicitly that the talks should be without preconditions.

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: ​”​Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.

​”​The universities minister was very clear that he wanted talks without preconditions and we hope UUK will reconsider his words before we meet. We remain committed to serious negotiations aimed at resolving this dispute.​”​

Universities UK’s position is not assisted by the long-running dissatisfaction with some of the extraordinary pay packages its members dole out to some university vice chancellors.

University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16.

Professor Peter Mathieson, recently appointed as vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University, will be paid a basic salary of £342,000 – £85,000 more than predecessor Sir Timothy O’Shea. Professor Mathieson will also receive £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions and relocation costs of £26,000, taking his package up to £410,000. He will live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.

Professor Mathieson quit his contentious and controversial tenure as vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University to take the Edinburgh post.

Stuck in the middle of the dispute between lecturers and universities are students.

The programme of strikes is taking place at one of the most sensitive times of the year for higher education students, with many final year students rapidly approaching the end of their courses. A suggestion has been made that some universities will take account of disruption to studies when making degree awards, In addition, while many students sympathise with their lecturers’ predicament there is growing frustration among those who are likely to be most severely affected by strikes that will last 14 days initially, with the possibility of further action during summer final exams.

Some students are contemplating demanding compensation, with The Guardian quoting one saying: “I am a third-year student in his last term of university and the fact that my vice-chancellor has told me that I could be without any assistance for a whole 14 days over four weeks in my most important term of education is a joke.”

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Education

Kirsty Williams announces online PGCE

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Transforming teacher training: Cabinet Secretary launches ground-breaking plan

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.

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Education

Yale to unlock students’ potential

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Young Global Scholars: Welsh students to attend Yale this summer

​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.”

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Education

Adult learning: Richard’s story

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Making learning a family affair: UWTSD graduate Richard Thomas with his sons

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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