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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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Gweinidog yn agor Canolfan Addysg Iechyd newydd Aberystwyth

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Gweinidog yn agor Canolfan Addysg Iechyd newydd ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth
Bydd Gweinidog Iechyd Cymru yn agor canolfan newydd gwerth £1.7 miliwn i hyfforddi staff y gwasanaeth iechyd ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth heddiw (dydd Gwener 30 Medi).
Mae’r Brifysgol wedi creu ystafelloedd ymarfer clinigol ansawdd uchel, yn ei Chanolfan Addysg Gofal Iechyd newydd, sydd gyferbyn ag Ysbyty Bronglais yn Aberystwyth. Cafodd y datblygiad gwerth £1.7 miliwn ei gefnogi gyda grant o £500,000 gan Lywodraeth Cymru.
Rhan ganolog o’r safle newydd yw Uned Sgiliau Clinigol gydag ardaloedd efelychu ansawdd uchel sy’n adlewyrchu taith y claf o’r cartref a gwasanaethau cymunedol i asesu, gofal wedi’ i gynllunio a gofal acíwt.
Mae’r offer addysgu newydd yn cynnwys dyfeisiadau realiti rhithwir ar gyfer profi heneiddio a modelau dynol sy’n efelychu ystod eang o gyflyrau iechyd.
Dechreuodd y garfan gyntaf o fyfyrwyr nyrsio ar eu hastudiaethau yn y Ganolfan ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth ddechrau mis Medi.
Disgwylir y bydd y datblygiadau newydd yn hwb mawr i ymdrechion i gadw a recriwtio staff i’r gwasanaeth iechyd, yn enwedig yn y Canolbarth.
Dywedodd y Gweinidog Iechyd Eluned Morgan AS: “Rwy’n falch iawn o agor y ganolfan newydd hon ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth. Mae’n gydweithrediad ardderchog rhwng y byrddau iechyd a’r Brifysgol a bydd yn hwb o ran recriwtio nyrsys yn yr ardal yma.
“Rwyf hefyd yn falch iawn y bydd myfyrwyr yn cael y cyfle i astudio drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg, a fydd yn helpu i gyflawni ein cynlluniau i gynyddu’r defnydd o’r Gymraeg yn y gwasanaeth iechyd, fel y nodir yn ein strategaeth Mwy na Geiriau.”
Datblygwyd addysg nyrsio ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth gyda chefnogaeth nifer o bartneriaid, gan gynnwys byrddau iechyd Hywel Dda, Betsi Cadwaladr a Phowys yn ogystal â defnyddwyr gwasanaethau a gofalwyr.
Fe ddyfarnodd Addysg a Gwella Iechyd Cymru gytundeb i Brifysgol Aberystwyth hyfforddi nyrsys ar gyfer oedolion ac iechyd meddwl sydd wedi ei ariannu gan Lywodraeth Cymru.
Caiff y myfyrwyr sy’n astudio ar gyfer y graddau newydd a gychwynnodd eleni y cyfle i ddilyn hyd at hanner eu cwrs drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg.
Ychwanegodd yr Is-Ganghellor yr Athro Elizabeth Treasure:
“Anrhydedd fawr yw cael y Gweinidog yn ymweld i agor y Ganolfan, sydd yn fuddsoddiad arwyddocaol iawn i’r Canolbarth. Rwy’n ffyddiog bydd hyn yn hwb o ran recriwtio a chadw staff yn lleol ac yn rhanbarthol. A, thrwy gynnig llawer iawn o’r hyfforddiant drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg, bydd yn fuddiol i’r ddarpariaeth iaith yn ein gwasanaeth iechyd yn ogystal.”
“Rydym yn ddiolchgar iawn i Lywodraeth Cymru am gefnogi’r prosiect. Hoffwn i ddiolch hefyd i’r holl bartneriaid sydd wedi cyflawni hyn, gan gynnwys y Byrddau Iechyd lleol, Cyngor Sir Ceredigion ac Addysg a Gwella Iechyd Cymru“
“Dros y blynyddoedd i ddod, ac wrth weithio gyda phartneriaid, rydym yn awyddus i gyfrannu mwyfwy at gwrdd ag anghenion hyfforddi ein gwasanaeth iechyd. Rwy’n siŵr bydd y Ganolfan newydd yn adnodd pwysig yn hyn o beth. Dyma ni heddiw yn gosod sylfeini ar gyfer twf darpariaeth addysg gofal iechyd yma yn Aberystwyth ar gyfer y dyfodol.”

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Minister opens new Healthcare Education Centre at Aberystwyth University Wales’

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Health Minister will open a new £1.7 million center to train NHS staff at Aberystwyth University today (Friday 30 September).The University has created a suite of high-quality clinical practice rooms within its new Healthcare Education Centre, which is located opposite Bronglais Hospital in the town. The £1.7 million development was supported by a grant of £500,000 from the Welsh Government. A central part of the new site is a Clinical Skills Unit with high-fidelity simulation areas that reflect the patient’s journey from home and community services through to assessment, planned and acute care. The new teaching equipment includes virtual reality headsets for experiencing ageing and life-size human models that simulate a wide variety of health conditions. Aberystwyth University’s first ever cohort of nursing students began their studies at the Centre at the start of September. The new developments are expected to be a big boost to retain and recruit NHS staff, particularly in mid Wales. Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said: “I am delighted to open this new centre at Aberystwyth University. It is an excellent collaboration between the health boards and the University and will provide a boost to nurse recruitment in this area.“ I am also really pleased that students will have the opportunity to study through the medium of Welsh, which will help deliver our plans to increase the use of Welsh language in the health service, as set out in our More than Just Words strategy.” Nursing education at Aberystwyth University has been developed with the support of several partners, including Hywel Dda, Betsi Cadwaladr and Powys local health boards as well as service users and carers. Health Education and Improvement Wales awarded a Welsh Government-funded contract to Aberystwyth University to educate both adult and mental health nurses. The new degree courses offer students who started their studies this year the opportunity to study up to half of their course through the medium of Welsh. Aberystwyth University Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Treasure added: “It is a great honour to have the Minister visit us to open the Centre, which is a significant investment for mid Wales. I am confident this will boost the recruitment and retention of staff both locally and regionally. And, by offering much of the training in Welsh, it will also benefit the language provision in our health service.“ We are very grateful to the Welsh Government for supporting the project. Thanks go to all our partners who have helped make this happen, including the local health boards, Ceredigion Council and Health Education and Improvement Wales.“ Over the years ahead, and working with partners, we are keen to make an increasing contribution to meeting the needs of our NHS. I’m sure that the new Centre will be an important resource in that effort. We are today laying the foundations for the growth of healthcare education here in Aberystwyth into the future.”

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Extreme droughts sparked cultural leaps in human evolution

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EXTREME droughts lasting tens of thousands of years played a critical role in human evolution by forcing Homo sapiens to develop the culture and tools to cope, according to new research.

An international team of researchers, including academics from Aberystwyth University and across a wide range of disciplines, extracted two 280-metre cores of sediment from the Chew Bahir basin in southern Ethiopia. This area boasts a large concentration of human fossils and is where early humans lived during the Ice Age between 2.5 million and 11,700 years ago.

The cores give the most complete record across the longest period for humans living in this area and provide unprecedented insight into how climate influenced their biological and cultural transformation.

In a paper published today in the journal ‘Nature Geoscience’, the research found that between 620,000 and 275,000 years ago, humans lived in long-lasting and stable conditions in southern Ethiopia alongside a range of closely related groups.

However, between 275,000 and 60,000 years ago, the area was rocked by extensive natural climate changes which transformed areas of lush vegetation and deep lakes into deserts and small salty puddles.

The research demonstrated that these changes in climate forced humans to adapt culturally, socially and technologically, developing enhanced language, sophisticated hunting methods, and stone tools such as blades and spear points.

The period between 60,000 and 10,000 years ago contained the most extreme drought and likely forced humans to move to wetter regions in north east Africa and the Mediterranean.

However, while Homo sapiens were able to develop strategies to help them adapt, other human species like Homo habilis and Homo erectus were unable to do so, which led to their extinction.

The extracted cores are among the most detailed obtained from the region, giving researchers the opportunity to examine every single decade’s climate for the past 620,000 years every half a centimetre of sediment.

Professor Helen Roberts and Professor Henry Lamb, both from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, worked on the project, which involved researchers from 19 institutions in six countries.

Professor Roberts said: “These findings take us a step closer to understanding the links between past climate, the environment and human evolution. The period we studied was one of great human innovation in how people interacted with each other, their culture, and their use of stone tools. Because of our findings we can further understand the conditions in which humans lived, how they evolved and developed as societies.

“It also has resonance today as our project helped us explore how different climate drivers interacted in the past. This is something that can be translated into the modern day and help us to understand climate and climate change now.”

Dr Verena Foerster at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Geography Education, which also took part in the research, said: “In view of current threats to the human habitat from climate change and the overuse of natural resources through human activity, understanding the relationship between climate and human evolution has become more relevant than ever.”

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