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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

Welsh charities shortlisted for educational awards

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TWO Welsh charities are among those competing for prize funds of up to £5,000 as part of this year’s ScottishPower Foundation Awards, which celebrate benevolent work in local communities throughout the country.

Bangor University Reaching Wider North and Mid Wales Partnership has been shortlisted for its ‘Bright Sparks’ project which inspires school pupils across Wales to take an interest in STEM subjects and ultimately seek a career using the skills they pick up, as well as for its work to develop educational home-schooling packs enable young people to continue learning during lockdown.

Size of Wales, a climate change charity, has been shortlisted for its work to inspire the next generation to take more care of the planet and learn about the ways in which to tackle the climate emergency through its MockCOP programme.

In total, 14 charities from across the UK make up the shortlist of recipients of this year’s ScottishPower Foundation funding, which saw £1.2m awarded to 21 charities across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The annual awards, which are now in their seventh year, are an opportunity for projects to apply for additional funding with each category winner receiving £5,000 and the runners up awarded £2,500.

Due to social distancing restrictions, the winners will be announced on ScottishPower’s Twitter channel – @ScottishPower – over the course of Awards Day at the beginning of December.

Nominated projects are judged in four categories: the Innovation Award, the Education Award and the Community Engagement Award, as well as the Charity Champion Award, which gives special recognition to the outstanding contribution made by an exceptional employee or volunteer who exemplifies what their organisation stands for.

This year’s judging panel is made up of a host of experts from ScottishPower, the third sector, education and communications including Arthur McIvor, Senior Client Manager for Energy & Utility Skills; Juliet Simpson, Founder and CEO of Stripe Communications; Sheila Duncan, Human Resources Director for ScottishPower; and Melanie Hill, Executive Officer and Trustee of the ScottishPower Foundation.


Melanie said:
 “2020 has undoubtedly been an incredibly challenging period for many of the organisations that we work with. However – in the face of adversity – each and every charity on our awards shortlist has continued to support, educate and inspire those who rely on them, using the Foundation funding to make a real difference. We’re very proud to build on this and further recognise their achievements through the ScottishPower Foundation Awards.

“All our shortlisted finalists are fantastic examples of the amazing charitable work that goes on across the country every day, with people devoting themselves to others, pushing the boundaries for change and transforming lives in the process. I wish everyone on the shortlist the very best of luck for Awards Day and encourage everyone to follow our Twitter channel where we will be announcing the winners on 1st December.”

The ScottishPower Foundation was established in 2013 to make a significant and lasting contribution to society, enhancing the lives of people living in communities throughout the UK. It provides funding to help support the advancement of education, environmental protection, arts and culture and citizenship. It also supports charities who aim to provide relief from poverty, disability, or other disadvantages.

The charities across Wales shortlisted are:

Bangor University (Reaching Wider North and Mid Wales Partnership)

Bangor University (Reaching Wider North and Mid Wales Partnership) works alongside primary and secondary school pupils as well as adults with no formal qualifications to increase higher education participation among lower socio-economic groups.

Size of Wales

Size of Wales is a climate change charity with the aim of conserving an area of tropical rainforest twice the size of Wales. The organisation encourages the people of Wales to help tackle climate change by taking simple positive action, working with schools and businesses to raise funds for forests and raising awareness of the importance of forests in tackling climate change.

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Education

Aberystwyth Young People create powerful short film to raise awareness of Youth Homelessness

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October 10, 2020 is World Homeless Day, which is an international day to raise awareness and encourage local communities to help those who are homeless.

In February 2020, young people from Penparcau Youth Club, who form the Aberystwyth Community Ambassadors Group, embarked on a new project in partnership with Arad Goch to create a short film in a bid to educate and raise awareness of youth homelessness. The project was funded by Ceredigion Association of Voluntary Organisations’ (CAVO) Youth Led Grant Scheme.

The group researched the topic, discussed with local organisations, created a script, filmed scenes in and around Aberystwyth and edited and evaluated every stage of the project. The film was produced by young people, for young people under the support and supervision of local Theatre Company, Arad Goch. The project was also supported by drama pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Gymunedol Penweddig who participated and supported the production. The short film follows the poignant journey of a young person who faces family breakdown and subsequently homelessness, before finding support with a local organisation.

Aberystwyth Community Ambassadors said, “We feel that this is an important issue for not only people in Aberystwyth but across wales. We wanted to help tackle the issue of homelessness, but not only homelessness, the stigma that surrounds being homeless. We feel that there is a need to raise awareness of homelessness, where to get support and that it could happen to anyone.”

Carwyn Blayney the director of the film said, “It was a pleasure to work on this project with such a great team of youth workers, very talented young people and based on a true story of a very brave individual; thanks to him for sharing his story and for letting us use it as the basis for this short film. Every one of the young people – the producers and the cast – worked hard on this project back in February, and you can be very pleased with the way you’ve discussed such a sensitive and important issue through this film.”

Catrin Miles, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Lifelong Learning and Skills, Support and Intervention, said: “Huge congratulations to everyone in the team who got together to create this inspiring and contemporary film that highlights a serious problem in our society. Thanks to all the partners who cooperated on this project, one that is pertinent and of interest to everyone, Wales-wide. It particularly shows our children and young that homelessness can arise totally out of the blue but that support is on hand to enable a bright and positive future.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the original launch for the film has been postponed, but a virtual launch will take place in November, where the film will be launched and made available to view.

Ceredigion Youth Service would like to thank Aberystwyth Community Ambassadors, Arad Goch Theatre Company, pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Gymunedol Penweddig, CAVO and Ty Curig, Aberystwyth.

For more information about the work of Ceredigion Youth Service, visit their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page @GICeredigionYS or visit their website at www.giceredigionys.co.uk.

For more information about the work of Arad Goch Theatre Company, visit their website https://aradgoch.cymru/?lang=en.

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Education

Two face masks for each Ceredigion pupil

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EVERY secondary school pupil in Ceredigion will receive two reusable masks.

Welsh Government has funded and provided two reusable masks to secondary school pupils.

The mask should be worn to help protect the pupils and others, alongside other measures such as social distancing and washing hands regularly.

In school, the pupils will be instructed when to wear a mask. This will happen when pupils are outside of their contact group and where it is challenging to maintain social distancing.

Pupils will receive their masks through their school over the next fortnight.

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