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Education

University lecturers to strike

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Strike: Lecturers to walk out over enforced pension changes

FOUR Welsh universities are among 61 institutions across the UK that will be hit with 14 days of strike action, the University and College Union (UCU) announced on Monday (Jan 29).

Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, Cardiff University and the University of Wales will all be affected by the action that begins on Thursday, February 22. UCU members at Swansea University are being balloted to see if they will also take action.

The union confirmed an escalating wave of strikes over an initial four week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend. The universities will then be hit with four days of strikes from March 5-8 and a full five-day walkout the following week​ (Mar 12-16).​

The strike dates are:

Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Friday 8 March (four days)
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Last week talks between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without agreement and UUK’s plans to transform the scheme were forced through by the chair’s casting vote.

The dispute centres on UUK’s proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The turnout was 58%.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Staff who have delivered the international excellence vice-chancellors use to justify their own lavish pay and perks are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by leaders who seem to care more about defending their own perks than the rights of their staff.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

Swansea University was one of seven universities’ that failed to meet the government’s new 50% turnout threshold that must be met. Although 88.5% of members who voted backed strike action, the 49.7% turnout figure was not high enough.

A fresh ballot will close on Friday​, ​February​ 16​. If UCU members at the Swansea University back strikes again, and at least 50% participate in the vote, they would be able to join the action from Monda​y, ​March​ 5​.

Commenting on the results of the UCU ballot on possible strike action, a Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “The prospect of industrial action at 61 out of the 68 higher education institutions balloted by UCU is disappointing as talks between employers and the union on USS pension reform continue. A solution to the significant funding challenges facing USS needs to be found. UUK’s priority is to put USS on a secure and sustainable footing while offering attractive, market-leading pensions – the very best that can be afforded by both employers and employees.

“We should be under no illusion, this is not a problem that will go away if ignored. To retain the status quo would only serve interests in the short term. Without reform now, universities will likely be forced to divert funding allocated from research and teaching to fill a pensions funding gap. The option of no reform is a dangerous gamble. It is a risk that employers cannot take.

“If industrial action takes place it could cause disruption to students at some universities. We hope that this can be avoided through further talks with UCU and that union members carefully consider the possible impact on students of taking industrial action.”

One of the key issues for the pension scheme is the size of its deficit. Against just over £60bn in assets, are accrued pension benefits of over £72bn.

That £12bn deficit represents an increase of around £7bn since the last formal valuation of the fund. Among the factors blamed in the actuaries’ report are undefined ‘economic changes’ that were not foreseen in 2014 and are claimed by Universities UK to be have been unforeseeable.

Universities UK claims that in order to address the pension fund deficit, it will have to reform the pension scheme. A reduction in pension benefits scheduled to be paid to members will have the mechanical effect of reducing the deficit – unless, of course, further unforeseeable economic circumstances arise.

Against that, the Union claims that the current deficit is over-stated and that the scheme’s potential liabilities are significantly lower than claimed. With Universities’ future income from tuition fees likely to remain static – if not fall – in the short to medium term, resolving the issue before the deadline of June this year, is likely to be difficult – if not impossible.

Education

Extra investment in 21st Century Schools

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Announced £100m extra: Kirsty Williams

£100​M ​is to be invested over the next three years to accelerate the delivery of the flagship 21st Century Schools and Education programme, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams and Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan ​has said.

An extra £75m, has been allocated to the 21st Century Schools and Education Programme a major, long-term and strategic capital investment programme to modernise education infrastructure.

In addition, £30m will be released from the programme in future years for immediate investment in capital projects that will contribute to the goal of reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050. This is a shared priority with Plaid Cymru.

The money will bring the total invested over the life of the programme to almost £3.8bn. The first phase of the programme will finish in 2019 having invested £1.4bn to support the rebuild and refurbishment of more than 150 schools and colleges across Wales. The second phase will see a spend of £2.3bn.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence. Our 21st Century Schools and Education Programme plays a key part in this and is the largest investment in our schools and colleges since the 1960s.

“Having a comfortable, modern, fit-for-purpose environment in which to learn is vital to ensuring young people have the best possible education. This extra funding will mean that even more of our students will be able to benefit from having the best possible facilities in their schools and colleges.​”​

Eluned Morgan said: “Reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is a significant challenge and education is key to the success of this ambition. This means we need to invest in new Welsh medium schools and improve and increase the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools. Bringing forward this funding for immediate investment allows us to ensure there is no delay in the work to achieve this target.”

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Education

Aber hots Apple programmers’ conference

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Aberystwyth: Firmly on software development map

IOSDEVUK, the UK’s leading conference for Apple software developers, will be returning to Aberystwyth in September 2018.

Now in its eighth year, iOSDevUK is hosted by Professor Chris Price and Dr Neil Taylor from the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University.

The dates for iOSDevUK 8 have been confirmed as 3-6 September 2018, with the list of speakers and themes due to be announced in the coming weeks.

Further-more, the Aberystwyth based conference has been voted one of the World’s top 10 iOS conferences for 2018, the only one in the UK, by tech website www.raywenderlich.com.

Last year’s iOSDevUK 7 saw representatives from thirty nationalities travel to the three day event at Aberystwyth, with all 200 delegate places taken.

Professor Chris Price said: “We are delighted to confirm that iOSDevUK will be returning to Aberystwyth once more this year. Over the years iOSDevUK has put Aberystwyth firmly on the software development map, and we are delighted that so many developers from around the world feel it is worth their while travelling to Aberystwyth. Indeed, for many it has become an annual pilgrimage.”

“From the outset, our aim with iOSDevUK has been to encourage creativity by sharing expertise and experiences and we are confident that this year’s conference will once again achieve this, both for our delegates and for our students who will be able to attend free of charge.”

Previous iOSDevUK gatherings have focused on the most recent developments announced by Apple and this year’s conference will be no different.

One of the features of the conference has been the end-of-conference hack which challenges delegates to work together to develop innovative and exciting applications using Apple’s latest software.

The most recent hack focused on ARKit – Apple’s latest augmented reality software, which has proved so popular in games such as Pokemon Go.
Further details about the conference will be released on the iOSDevUK website.
Organisers also plan to announce the ‘Early Bird’ offers online in April 2018, for those who want to avoid disappointment.

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Education

Night on the tiles for students

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Master ceramicist: Richard Miller speaks at Coleg Sir Gâr

A​SPIRING​ ceramicists at Coleg Sir Gâr’s Carmarthen School of Art welcomed a master craftsman from the BBC’s The Great Pottery Throw Down into college recently for a bespoke lesson in tile-making.

Richard Miller is a Surrey-based ceramicist who runs his own business, Froyle Tiles, which produces traditional, contemporary and bespoke tiles for both domestic and business environments. The company works with​ ​independent retailers as well as undertaking luxury projects in London with clients including Wagamama and BBC.

The ceramicist gave a talk to ceramics degree students on his work on the BBC show and how he grew his business.

Thomas Fisher, Carmarthen School of Art ceramics lecturer, said: “Students learned about what inspires Richard’s work and how he responds to individual, business and agency briefs.

“They really benefited from his experience of such a wide range of clients and briefs, from English heritage to modern architecture, and how he grew his business to the materials and processes used in his company.”

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