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Local and national student issue round up

We base our campaigning and representation work on evidence we gather here at Sussex and by following national developments affecting students here.

Our staff team collate a report every two weeks of relevant information including statistics from our support & advocacy team to show which issues are having an impact on our members.

This report is circulated to staff and officers and now we’re sharing it so you can follow things here at Sussex and nationally.

Content note for this edition: racism, Islamophobia, hate crime, r*pe


1. Local developments and trends

1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

3. Sussex appoint Dr Kelly Coate as new Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students

4. University of  Sussex gender pay gap ‘fourth largest’ reported so far in universities

5. Sussex ranks 48th overall in Time Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2018

6. Sussex University contributes £343m per year to the regional economy

7. Sussex encourages staff to wear pronoun badges for Transgender Day of Visibility

2. National developments and trends

1. UCU strikes update

2. Most students don’t think their course is worth value for money

3. Graduate salaries data shows significant disparities in earning across degree courses

4. Joint Committee for Human Rights publishes analysis of university free speech policies

5. Review for post-18 education and funding calls for evidence

6. Report on the 2030 university suggests there won’t be enough academics for the number of students

7. National Union of Students’ Conference and elections take place

8. One third of Muslim students feel negatively affected by Prevent

9. UUK release report on hate crime and harassment and NUS release sexual misconduct report

10. NUS publish sustainability in education research

11. Comment and opinion pieces

1.1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

We track publicly submitted requests for information from the University as they may reveal information we want to respond to.

FoI requests which we are waiting to hear back about include:

  1. A request to release the full contract with Balfour Beatty for the new halls of residence

  2. Monitoring of internet users and statistics on types of content blocked

  3. An interesting request about the use of the University’s corporate credit card/purchasing card, requesting ‘itemised bills’ for each of the senior leadership team (e.g. Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Director of Finance, etc.)

  4. A request for the university’s response to the 2017 and 2014 Universities UK USS consultation - this relates to whether or not the University claimed to support the ‘risk level’ and contributions/benefits changes proposed by UUK regarding lecturers’ pensions. Some universities have publicly released their responses (e.g. Oxford).

An FoI request about Prevent which included questions about the monitoring of student and staff email content, whether the university has filters or blocks on certain content on University internet, and policy guidance on the University’s Prevent duty has been partially responded to.

The University linked to its existing policies, as well as clarifying that they ‘currently do not block content except where the source is a critical security risk to the University IT systems (for example, if we know that a website is being used to carry out an attack on us)’, and that they ‘only monitor activity related to a category of websites listed as ‘extremism’ (i.e. containing extreme terror and hate material)’ by their firewall providers.

1.2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

The following graph shows the case types over the past month (2nd March to 10th April).

Most cases were disciplinaries, followed by non-academic complaints. The following table breaks down these cases into smaller sub-categories.

Disciplinary cases mostly related to sexual harassment allegations and student behaviour off campus. Academic complaints related to course quality and timetabling. Non-academic complaints related to the Counselling Service and the Student Accounts Office.

1.3. Sussex appoint Dr Kelly Coate as new Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students

The new role of Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students will ‘shape the experience of future Sussex graduates at a time when the University has committed to providing a transformative educational experience as part of its new strategy to 2025 and beyond’.

The University sayid that ‘She will work with academic and professional colleagues to develop a distinctive approach to curricula, embracing digitisation and encouraging experimentation in and outside of the classroom’.

Dr Coate said about her new role:
Culturally Sussex is the perfect fit for me and I have long admired the spirit and sense of purpose that runs through the organisation. I know I’m joining Sussex at a transformative time both in terms of the vision for the next decade and in a changing higher education environment. I look forward to working with new colleagues, as well as many whom I already know, to determine how together we continue to ensure that a Sussex education is respected around the world and our students are well known for their creative, broad and critical minds.

She will take up her new post in July 2018.

Dr Kelly Coate joins the University of Sussex as Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students, University of Sussex

1.4. University of  Sussex gender pay gap ‘fourth largest’ reported so far in universities

The University of Sussex has been named by the Times Higher Education as the ‘fourth largest gap reported so far’ of the 46 universities who have submitted their data so far, behind Royal Holloway, Liverpool and Bristol. This is as a result of its gender pay gap of 15.3% median pay gap for basic pay and a 20.8% mean pay gap, which was released this week. The gap between men and women was higher for bonuses with a 50% median bonus gap, and a 58.2% mean bonus gap.

The University’s report states that ‘representation of women throughout the organisation is pyramidal, with the percentage of women reducing at each level’, and that ‘this demonstrates that the data is skewed by the majority of high earners being men’.

On the day of releasing their full Gender Pay Gap report for 2016/17, the University also released an article titled ‘University of Sussex takes action to address gender pay gap’.

The Students’ Union also released data on our Gender Pay Gap, reporting a 2.2% median pay gap and a -1.8% mean pay gap. The Union’s report can be found on its jobs listing page, with a news story due to be released shortly.

The deadline for all UK employers with more than 250 staff members to declare its figures is 4th April 2018.

First gender pay gap data paints UK universities in poor light, Times Higher Education

1.5. Sussex ranks 48th overall in Time Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2018

Sussex’s highest scores were for ‘good library and library opening hours’, ‘good environment on campus/around university’ and ‘high-quality staff/lectures’. ‘Cheap shop/bar amenities’ was rated the lowest, however this is one of the lowest rated areas across most universities.

Similarly, when ranked alongside other institutions for individual metrics, Sussex ranks 19th for ‘good social life’ and ‘good environment on campus’, while it is ranked 90th for ‘good relationship with teaching staff’ and 78th for ‘high quality facilities’. The result for a ‘good students’ union’ has increased from a ranking of 65th last year to 43rd this year. 152 Sussex students took part.

See the full results here.

1.6. Sussex University contributes £343m per year to the regional economy

A report, produced by independent economic analysts Oxford Economics, was commissioned by the University to gauge its economic and social impact on Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex, and the wider UK economy.

  • For every £1 million of the £150 million the University directly contributes to UK GDP, a further £1.3 million is supported elsewhere in the UK economy, the report shows

  • The University also supports 5,180 jobs across the region and generates £74.9 million in tax revenues, enough to pay the running costs for East Sussex Fire Authority for almost two years

  • The University, its students and visitors spending in the local area generates £74.9 million in tax revenues

  • Its graduates enhance the skilled talent pool available to regional employers

  • It attracts a great deal of research funding - £35.6 million in 2015-16 – driving widespread economic and social benefits

University of Sussex worth £343 million to regional economy, University of Sussex

1.7. Sussex encourages staff to wear pronoun badges for Transgender Day of Visibility

Staff have been wearing badges pointing out that you can’t assume someone’s gender identity and which pronouns they use.  Wearing the badges has been voluntary.

During the week starting 26 March, badges will be available at the following places across campus so that students and staff can take part in the #MyPronounsAre campaign:

  • Student Life Centre reception

  • International Student Support front desk

  • School Offices

  • Library café and SussexFood outlets

  • from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champions within each school or division

The following badges will be available:

  • ‘She, her, hers’

  • ‘He, him, his’

  • ‘They, their, theirs’

  • ‘Please use my name’

  • Blank, for the wearer to fill in

  • ‘#MyPronounsAre’

Sussex encourages students and staff to wear pronoun badges as part of trans awareness campaign, University of Sussex

2.1. UCU strikes update

Dates for second wave of strikes [Monday 16th - Friday 20th April] at 13 universities were announced in March, with more action at the 65 universities affected due to go ahead if the dispute is not resolved. The University and College Union (UCU) also called on external examiners at all 65 universities to resign from their posts. UUK has called for UCU to call off the planned industrial action for April.

The most recent proposal following Acas negotiations offers to keep the scheme the same until April 2019 while an independently chaired expert panel (with an equal number of members nominated by Universities UK (UUK) and UCU assesses the existing valuation of the scheme, including the underlying assumptions. An additional concession has been added in that the panel will recognise ‘that staff highly value Defined Benefit provision’, and its work will reflect ‘the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework’. Although the current offer seems to address most of the UCU concerns, it is unclear how different a new valuation will be from the current one. WonkHE claim that ‘Pension review methodology is fairly standardised, and The Pensions Regulator is very unlikely to support any move to unpick the last valuation’.

UCU members are being balloted on the latest proposals. The ballot opened on Wednesday 4th April and will close at 2pm on Friday 13th April. If members vote to accept the proposals then strike action scheduled for the summer term will be suspended. However, the union said it would keep its strike mandate live until the proposals had been noted by the USS board.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has said:
These latest proposals were won by the solid action of UCU members and now is the time for them to have their say on what happens next.

A UUK spokesperson has said:

Today's decisions will lead to union members being consulted on whether to support the establishment of the Joint Expert Panel. This panel will help to build confidence in the valuation process and assumptions. It will also give time to pause, to reflect and to rebuild the trust that has been damaged over the past few months.

The universities minister Sam Gyimah has called for students to be given refunds on fees for lost teaching time.

Asserson Law Offices, a class action litigation specialist, have set up a ‘potential group claim’ website for students who want to be compensated for missed classes due to strike action.

Briefings on student complaints and claims for compensation due to the industrial action have been issued by the National Union of Students and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Students to face more disruption as union reveals new university strike dates, Independent
UK university staff to vote on latest pensions offer, The Guardian
Graduations could be delayed as external examiners are urged to resign at striking universities, The Telegraph
University exam season targeted as examiners told to join strikes, iNews
Live updates: smoke bombs and chants as hundreds of protesters descend on Sussex Uni, The Tab
Forty students are occupying new East Slope construction site, The Tab

2.2. Most students don’t think their course is worth value for money

The findings from research commissioned by the Office for Students and led by a number of Students’ Unions on ‘value for money’ in Higher Education were released last month. Sussex students were the 4th highest in terms of respondents to the survey, meaning that a significant proportion of our students’ opinions are reflected in this research.

The survey was completed by 5,685 current students, 534 recent graduates and 410 prospective students.

The headlines of the research are:

  • Only 38% of students think that their tuition fee for their course represents good value for money. The percentage is similar (39%) when looking at students’ perception of the other fees and costs incurred during their studies.

  • Just over half of students (54%) consider their investment in higher education as being good value for money.

  • When considering ‘cross subsidies’, students feel least comfortable with their tuition fees funding teaching on other courses, wider research unrelated to their course and provider management costs (in this order).

  • As students get closer to joining the workplace, they become less confident (or more realistic) about repaying their tuition fee and maintenance loans (49% of school students and 37% of higher education students think that they will repay their loan, compared to only 27% of recent graduates).

  • 24% of students do not feel that they were informed about how much everything would cost as a student. The main factors cited are the costs of accommodation, books and paying for extracurricular activities.

  • Provider quality measures – quality of teaching, fair assessment and feedback, and learning resources – are the top three factors that demonstrate that a provider offers good value for money. These measures come ahead of those directly focusing on student outcomes, such as having access to industry connections or securing higher earnings than non-graduates.

  • There is strong support for proposals to improve transparency. Respondents called for itemised breakdowns of how fee incomes are spent at an institutional and course level - with students showing significant concern over cross-subsidy between courses and to research unrelated to their course.

What do students see as value for money?, WonkHE
'Debt for life': only 38% of students say tuition fees are good value, The Guardian

2.3. Graduate salaries data shows significant disparities in earning across degree courses

The Department for Education released an update to the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data. As expected, the data release shows big earning disparities by subject of study, region and proxies for social background.

There is a considerable gender pay gap for graduates, with women more likely to be in work or studying after graduation than men, but earning less from the very start of their careers. The data suggests this is £1,600 less after graduation, and continues ten years after graduation.

The data shows:

  • a year after graduating, the women were earning about £1,600 less than their male counterparts, with a typical salary of £18,300, compared with £19,900 for men

  • three years after graduation, the women typically earned £21,800, compared with £24,200 for the men

  • five years post-graduation, the figures were £24,500 for the women and £27,800 for the men

  • at 10 years, typical salaries were £27,100 for the women and £35,100 for the men

  • in terms of subjects, after one, three, five and 10 years after graduation, the graduates in medicine and dentistry had the highest earnings

  • graduates with creative arts and design degrees had the lowest earnings

Gender pay gap starts from graduation, data suggests, BBC News
Women graduate straight into gender pay gap, The Times
A first look at the latest LEO data, WonkHE

2.4. Joint Committee for Human Rights publishes analysis of university free speech policies

The Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) published its final report at the end of March from its inquiry into free speech at universities. The inquiry found that there are disincentives for students to put on challenging events. It said many of the incidents in which free speech was restricted revolved around discussion of a small number of key divisive issues, including abortion, transgender issues, Islamophobia and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The main points to note are as follows:

  • The report identified ‘intolerant’ attitudes, incidents of intimidation intended to prevent debate, and students’ unions’ fears that they may infringe legal requirements (i.e. from the Charity Commission and Prevent Duty) as a reason for the inhibiting of free speech

  • The report called for an independent review of the Prevent Duty and has urged the Charity Commission to review its guidance, which is described as overly complicated and ‘cautious’

  • However, the inquiry also found that while there are some factors that actively limit free speech at universities, it had not uncovered a ‘pervasive’ problem or ‘wholesale censorship’, as it has been reported in some media outlets (such as ‘Spiked’, who claim that ‘more than 90 percent of British universities have been involved in restricting free speech on campus this year’)

Ahead of the final report release, the Higher Education Policy Institute published a report for the JCHR which analysed a sample of 20 institutions’ policies. This report found that not all universities have updated their codes of practice on freedom of speech since the Prevent Duty was introduced in 2015, and highlighted that loopholes can occur in areas where institutions deem their policies on free speech do not apply, such as during academic teaching, sporting or cultural events, trade union meetings or committee meetings. Notably, this research also discovered inconsistency in universities’ understandings of students’ union. The report finds universities largely tend to see their codes of conduct as applying to students’ unions. This is in stark contrast to the advice issued by the representative group Universities UK, which argues that student unions are legally separate bodies from universities and not directly subject to the legal duty relating to free speech.

The JCHR have published guidance for universities and student groups.

Joint Committee for Human Rights publishes HEPI analysis of university free speech policies, Higher Education Policy Institute
Safe spaces used to inhibit free speech on campuses, inquiry finds, The Guardian
Universities should not be ‘safe spaces’ as this puts free speech at risk, says Harriet Harman, Mail Online

2.5. Review for post-18 education and funding calls for evidence

The Department for Education has put out a call for evidence from its independent panel.

There will be an interim report produced by the panel in Autumn 2018, and the final review by the government is due to be ready in early 2019.

The panel will be establishing three reference groups, to engage with students, providers, and employers. In addition to reviewing submissions, these three groups will invite ‘key parties’ to meet with them. Online and social media forums will also be used, especially to engage students. Focus groups and public events will also take place.

The six-week, 16-question, public consultation closes on Wednesday 2nd May, with a requested word limit on submissions of 4,000 words.

NUS have prepared a briefing for students and Students’ Unions who want to submit evidence for the review.

Review of Post-18 Education and Funding: call for evidence, gov.uk

2.6. Report on the 2030 university suggests there won’t be enough academics for the number of students

A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute projects an increase in demand for higher education in England until 2030, despite the disruptive effects of Brexit. Produced seven years after the last HEPI assessment of demand for English higher education, it reviews how things stand today, in a very different policy environment, marked by increased tuition fees, the removal of student number caps and the prospect of Brexit.

The report states:
Even if the circle is somehow squared by requiring some graduates to pay more in order to enable the Government to provide additional subsidy to others, the need for government subsidy for 300,000 additional students makes it highly unlikely that the present open-ended government cheque book can be maintained. Some form of control over student numbers is likely to be required, especially if the subsidy for those who do participate in higher education is to be maintained, let alone increased.

Universities may need to plan ahead in the following ways to ensure they have enough staff:

  • For universities employing early career academics on fixed-term contracts, this could mean ensuring employment contracts are valid for at least three years to minimise the churn of early career researchers and entice them to put down roots in the local area

  • For institutions using a high number of hourly-paid teaching staff, there is a need to devise clear and realistic routes to career progression to enable high-quality teachers to obtain a more secure employment status within the sector

  • For universities operating in high-cost areas of the country, it may be worth considering providing subsidised staff accommodation or offering a salary ‘top-up’ akin to the London weighting allowance paid to many workers in or around the London area

Demand for Higher Education to 2030, Higher Education Policy Institute

2.7. National Union of Students’ Conference and elections take place

The incumbent President (Shakira Martin), VP Higher Education (Amatey Doku), VP Further Education (Emily Chapman) and VP Union Development (Ali Milani) were all re-elected in the NUS elections.

Martin has renewed her manifesto promises to secure the "return of grants", build a national student rights framework, and work towards a minimum living income and lower costs for students.

Amatey Doku also returns as vice president for higher education. His speech included a stirring call to brexit activism - he asked for a large NUS demonstration outside Parliament to demand a second referendum. Coming alongside yesterday's motion that made a second referendum a binding policy goal of the NUS, this is a significant change to established policy, and is likely to have substantial media and political repercussions.

Yesterday the priority zone motion passed to ‘get real on student finance’ noting high costs of food, travel, course materials and housing. The motion mandates NUS to actively; lobby the UK Government to scrap means testing parent’s income for maintenance, for maintenance to cover the summer period, to make changes to the timeline for student payments and to ensure that ethical alternative student finance is available.

There was also a lot of controversy around the conference. Shortly after Martin’s re-election, conference was suspended when a large number of delegates occupied the stage. They were protesting after debate was cut short and a tranche of welfare motions - including abortion rights in Northern Ireland and sex work decriminalisation - were not heard.

Shakira Martin easily holds on to leadership of students union, The Guardian
As the NUS conference gets ready to kick off, where next for the student voice?, Higher Education Policy Institute (comment)

2.8. One third of Muslim students feel negatively affected by Prevent

Research by the National Union of Students (NUS) finds that one third of students have experienced abuse or crime while studying, with most respondents claiming that they believe Islamophobia to have been the cause of the problem.

  • Over half of respondents had experienced online abuse.

  • One third of respondents also reported having felt negatively affected by Prevent and almost a half of those affected (43%) felt unable to express their views or disengaged from political debate altogether.

  • The responses were heavily gendered; women who wear a traditional Islamic garment (e.g. a hijab, niqab or jilbab) were significantly more likely to be very worried about being abused or attacked. NUS are due to publish a separate briefing on Muslim women students.

  • Only 38% of respondents agreed that their students’ union understood their needs as a Muslim student, while 39% rarely or never felt able to participate in their union’s sports activities. The drinking culture, a general lack of inclusiveness and mixed-sex sports were stated as barriers to sporting involvement.

The NUS has claimed that the findings ‘reinforce existing concerns about the effect of the Prevent duty on Muslim students’, reaffirming their calls to ‘abolish Prevent as a whole’. A strong correlation between those targeted by Prevent and those who are ‘visibly’ Muslim (namely women in religious dress) lend weight, the NUS argue, to the argument that Prevent magnifies a variety of existing biases and prejudices that may exist about Muslims.

Our research into the experiences of #MuslimsInEducation, NUS Connect
A third of UK Muslims report abuse or crime while studying, The Guardian

2.9. UUK release report on hate crime and harassment and NUS release sexual misconduct report

Universities UK (UUK) have published a report on the way gender-based violence and harassment is dealt with on UK university campuses, surveying twenty universities in total. While the report suggests progress has been made in the last year, practice and process are still highly variable in quality between institutions. It is noted that HEFCE’s “Catalyst safeguarding funding” has made an impact, as have UUK’s 2016 taskforce recommendations.

UUK claim that the key findings of the research are as follows:

  • ???????Success in the sector is significant, but variable

  • Active senior leadership is vital in how far institutions can progress

  • There has been an increase in disclosures in the past year, a positive indication of cultural change

  • The scale of HEFCE's Catalyst safeguarding funding of £2.45m has accelerated and supported change across England's higher education sector

  • Institutions report barriers to progress in areas including sustainable funding for resources, training for students and staff across larger institutions and maintaining a consistent approach across the sector?

This report comes at the same time as a student in the Guardian writes about sexual harassment by her lecturer, as well as the findings of a Guardian investigation are released. This investigation used FoIs to find out about the number of harassment claims to find that 132 universities asked reported at least 1,953 reports of sexual misconduct by staff and students in the last seven years. Another article calls into question how universities are reporting and collecting data on sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Students have released a report on staff sexual misconduct, which is also covered by the Guardian. Members of the 1752 group, which campaigns against sexual harassment in universities, have called for institutions to adopt proper policies governing staff-student relationships.

NUS’ survey of 1,839 current and former students found that:

  • 41% of respondents said they had faced unwelcome sexual advances and innuendo from university staff.

  • 1 in 8 disclosed being touched by a member of staff in a way that made them uncomfortable, with women twice as likely as men to suffer this form of unwanted behaviour.  

  • Less than 10% of victims reported staff sexual misconduct, while more than half of those who did said their university did not respond adequately, either by blocking their complaint or making it difficult to report an incident.

Changing the culture: one year on – An assessment of strategies to tackle sexual misconduct, hate crime and harassment affecting university students, Universities UK
My university allowed a lecturer to date students – until it backfired, The Guardian

2.10. NUS publish sustainability in education research

The NUS have published the findings of their 2016/17 Sustainability Skills research.

This research has been published for seven years in a row, with the same response each year; 80% of students want their institution to be doing more on sustainable development, and 60% of students want to learn more about sustainability.

This research is used to support SUs in working to embed sustainability across campuses, curriculums and communities.

Read the full report.

2.11. Comment and opinion pieces

On Brexit

On the UCU strikes

On the Office for Students

On tuition fees and the post-18 education funding review



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