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Education

University staff to strike

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SIXTY UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday, November 25 to Wednesday, December 4, the UCU has announced.

Three of Wales’ universities, Bangor, Cardiff and UWTSD, will be affected by the dispute.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about re-balloting.’

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

The University and Colleges Employers’ Association dismissed the strike ballot results.

It claims, in all seriousness, the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members is a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.

Extending that logic to a general election or other poll would create some rather interesting results and would, for example, overturn the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.

UCU has just 55 results from their 147 separate ballots supporting a national dispute over the outcome of the 2019-20 JNCHES pay round. While UCU members in these 55 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 147 employers to reopen the concluded 2019-20 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.

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Education

Funding package of £3 million to support ‘digitally excluded’ learners

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SCHOOLCHILDREN in Carmarthenshire will benefit from a funding package of £3 million to support ‘digitally excluded’ learners in Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams made the announcement as part of Welsh Government’s ‘Stay Safe. Stay Learning’ programme.

A digitally excluded learner is someone who does not have access to a suitable internet-connected device to take part in online learning activities from home.

The funding will be used to provide digitally excluded learners with repurposed school devices and 4G MiFi connectivity. Replacement devices will also be funded for schools out of the wider Hwb infrastructure programme.

In Carmarthenshire, schools have already started contacting parents and carers to identify digitally excluded learners, and the council’s IT department are identifying devices which can be repurposed with up-to-date software.

To date, more than 500 families who require further assistance with access to learning have been identified, with some further work to be carried out over the next week.

Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “We welcome this extra funding from Welsh Government to provide families with the support they need so that their children can continue to learn. No child should be left behind because they do not have access to a computer or broadband.

“This is a huge logistical effort and colleagues from across the council are working together to deliver this support for families as quickly as possible.

“I would like to thank the schools for working hard with us on this, we have already made a good start; and I would also like to thank parents for their patience, support and understanding whilst we put this into place.”

The council’s Education and Children’s Services department have put together a Distance Learning Plan which sets out the way forward for learning in Carmarthenshire during the coronavirus outbreak.

The main aim is to mitigate the impact of school closures on our children and young people as far as possible so that they can quickly catch up when schools reopen; and access to learning and connectivity is one of the key priorities.

Carmarthenshire’s Distance Learning Plan can be found on the ‘Information and support for Parents’ page on the council website, visit newsroom.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/coronavirus

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Education

Learning plan in place for Carmarthenshire pupils

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THE council’s education department has been working hard to develop a learning continuity plan for children and young people in Carmarthenshire during the coronavirus outbreak.

Following the closure of schools, a lot of good work has been carried out to mitigate the impact on pupils by providing appropriate activities and high-quality learning resources.

However, with the lockdown continuing for at least another three weeks, it is important that plans are in place to build on the excellent work carried out to date.

We would like to reassure parents that preparations are well underway, and that Carmarthenshire is in a strong position to maintain a constructive and robust learning continuity plan for our young people.

Officers from the education department have been working closely with Welsh Government, ESTYN, regional partners, headteachers and school staff to develop this new way of learning.

The aim is to motivate and engage with all our learners with a range of relevant activities to ensure both educational delivery as well as safeguarding their wellbeing.

Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I want to thank headteachers, school staff and parents for all their support and for the highly commendable work that has been carried out to date, during such difficult circumstances.

“Our priority is of course to keep our children safe, but we also need to keep them learning so that they can catch up as quickly as possible when schools reopen.

“I have had lots of positive feedback from teachers and parents on the excellent work that is being done. We are very fortunate that we have access to digital learning platforms and the latest online classroom tools, and it is working well.

“Going forward, although we do not expect parents to be formal teachers, we do need to provide support to help them help their children. This also includes support for their mental and physical wellbeing, which is equally as important, especially at this time.

“I am satisfied that we have a good plan in place to help continue and build upon all the fantastic work carried out so far.”

Schools will be in direct contact with parents with further information on the continuation of learning for pupils.

Parents are being asked to answer this Welsh Government survey on learning at home whilst schools are closed.

Further information on Welsh Government’s Stay Safe, Stay Learning: Continuity of Learning Policy Statement can be found on its website.

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Education

Sculpture students to exhibit in New Mexico

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Students from Coleg Sir Gâr’s Carmarthen School of Art will be exhibiting their work in a student exhibition of iron sculpture at New Mexico Highlands University in the USA.

No stranger to visiting America, the department has long-established links within an exchange programme at Kansas State University.

The exhibition takes place from August 17 to September 18 at the university’s Burris Hall Gallery.

Lisa Evans, programme director of the degree honours programme in sculpture at Carmarthen School of Art has connections with arts professor David Lobdell at New Mexico Highlands University. She said: “We are thrilled to be invited to this prestigious event and students are currently preparing work which will be molded, cast and finished by the university in the next few months.

“The work is an open brief, we just have to ensure that we use material that can be used to make moulds and be cast in iron.”

Lisa has also been invited as a panel member at the Western Cast Iron Art Conference at the University of Dakota. The panel addresses international and collaborative activities including iron pours, workshops and performance.

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