About us

The Convention for Higher Education is a broad network for anyone who is concerned at the direction UK Higher Education as a result of the high tuition fee and student loan scheme introduced in 2011. These changes have been far-reaching, including intensive competition between universities for undergraduate students, a boom-and-bust economy that has bankrupted at least one college and threatens many more, the undermining of the university pension scheme, and a £180bn student debt mountain hidden by the Treasury.

The Convention network has organised two major national conferences with many other concerned organisations, and in 2016 we launched an Alternative White Paper in Parliament to counter the Conservative Party’s Higher Education and Research Act.

The turn of the screw – Sean Wallis

Huge loan hikes for students — are staff caught in the crossfire? Across UK Higher Education we are beginning to see a new wave of course closures and redundancies. De Montfort University in Leicester has announced 65 job losses — despite having £120m in the bank. Although in 2021 the university reported a small deficit (£3.7m) due to Covid, this was easily offset by the £15m surplus of the year before. Wolverhampton University has ‘paused’ undergraduate recruitment across…

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The student loan repayment hike – Sean Wallis

How to betray a generation and attack education Defend students: past, present and future! Students and ex-students with post-2011 student loans — some five million young people — have been hit with a £150/year cut in their future pay, according to the Independent. This was announced as a ‘freeze’ in the repayment threshold of the current £27,321 a year (£524 a week, ‘Plan 2’). Although this cut is not as great as many feared, it will be applied…

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Speeches at the HE Convention Statement launch meeting / online Parliamentary lobby, 21 July 2020

Introduction Prof John Holmwood, Chair, Campaign for the Public University The Labour Party position Emma Hardy, Labour shadow minister for Higher Education, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle Full text Responses Lord Rowan Williams of Oystermouth, Chair of Trustees, Council for the Defence of British Universities More speeches will be published shortly…

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Speech at HE Convention Statement launch meeting – Emma Hardy MP

Emma Hardy, Labour shadow minister for Higher Education, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. Speaking live from her Parliamentary office, Emma had to leave sharply as the division bell (calling Members to vote) took place during her speech. The text of her speech is below, as is a transcription of her responses later to questions asked by Deepa Driver, Reading (chair). Speech COVID-19 has sent shockwaves through the higher education sector. In the immediate aftermath of…

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Statement launch and online Parliamentary lobby, Tuesday 21 July

Online meeting: Tuesday 21 July, 5.30-7.00pm Covid-19 has plunged UK higher education into a deep financial crisis. Tens of thousands of posts are at risk, and over a dozen universities are predicted to be at risk of outright bankruptcy. But the pandemic has exposed problems, rather than creating them. Well before Covid-19, marketisation was wreaking havoc on higher education. So far, the government has offered only limited support, amounting to little more than a sticking plaster on a…

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Letter to Ministers from Professional Associations – BRISMES et al

Secretary of State for Education The RT Hon Gavin Williamson CBE Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan Minister for Education in Wales, Kirsty Williams MS Minister for Higher Education and Science in Scotland, Richard Lochhead MSP Minister for the Department of Education of Northern Ireland, Peter Weir MLA Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP 17 June 2020 Dear Ministers, We are writing to you as officers of 48 professional associations representing diverse research fields…

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Model motion for UCU branches

Motion: Building a political consensus to defend HE This Branch/Region/Committee notes: the predicted HE UK financial crisis in 2020-21 due to an expected collapse in student numbers as a result of Covid-19 that no new funding for HE is currently offered from the Johnson Government, despite spending ~£100bn in self-employment subsidies and furlough that employers are attacking staff now: SOAS and Roehampton have announced redundancy plans, Roehampton cutting pay; other HEIs are refusing to renew contracts of HPLs,…

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Join the Fight for Higher Education: Stand with Roehampton

Please support this statement. You can add your name with this Google Form. On 4 May 2020, a brutal assault on Higher Education began when the University of Roehampton announced aggressive proposals to cut jobs with the launch of a severance scheme and — significantly — a proposal to cut pay for academics and professional staff from 1st August. Subsequently there has been a further attack on our working conditions with the announcement of increases in academic workloads and…

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Convention for HE Statement, A New Future for HE

This is an edited version of a statement developed, discussed and agreed at a 200-strong online meeting of academic staff and supporters of Higher Education on Saturday 23 May 2020. You can add your support to this statement below. No return to ‘Business as Usual’: Time for a New Future for Higher Education 1. The Crisis in Higher Education Covid-19 has brought universities to the brink of collapse. An estimated 30-60,000 jobs are at risk, and many universities…

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Second online Convention Meeting, 23 May

Responding to the crisis II: organising to defend Higher Education in the pandemic era (continued) Saturday 23 May, 10am – 12 noon Over 200 colleagues met to regroup and discuss the next steps in the campaign to defend Higher Education. We heard a series of two minute reportbacks of initiatives taken by specific groups, individuals and union branches and discussed a range of strategies that can be used to resist employer attacks. We agreed a collective statement, A…

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Online Convention Meeting Sat 9 May

Responding to the crisis: organising to defend Higher Education in the pandemic era Saturday 9 May, 10am – 12 noon Speakers: John Holmwood and Lee Jones (Campaign for the Public University), Anne Sheppard (Council for Defence of British Universities), Nicola Pratt (British Society for Middle East Studies), and Deepa Driver, Des Freedman and Carlo Morelli (UCU). Access: This meeting was held on Zoom. Crowd sourced informal notes of this meeting and reactions of colleagues (GoogleDoc) ˜

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Re-envisaging the post COVID-19 University – Carlo Morelli

Whoever re-envisages the university, the market is not the answer. The COVID-19 crisis presents an existential threat to UK Higher Education. However it is one whose roots lie not with the virus, but instead in the failure of a market experiment imposed on universities since 1998 and accelerated after 2009. It is an experiment that has now brought market-focused higher education systems, particularly in the United States, Australia and the UK, to their knees, and it is one…

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Open letter – Covid-19 demands a rethink of Higher Education funding

End tuition fees and market competition This open letter was launched 31 March 2020 for immediate publication. You can add your name on this Google Form. Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the whole of society. Higher Education faces an existential financial crisis just as university researchers bend every effort to defeat Covid-19. The benefits of HE are not just limited to research. Mass education from secondary to university created a scientifically-literate population. They drove the shutdown, demanding…

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A spiral of costs? Is the USS pension scheme doomed? – Sean Wallis

Introduction The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was set up in 1975, replacing a stocks-and-shares Defined Contribution scheme called FSSU. For forty-four years, from 1975 to 2011, USS paid out a Final Salary pension based on a 1/80 accrual rate. This meant that if you paid in for forty years you would retire on half your annual salary. Far from being unaffordable, the scheme grew. Only in 2011 did we begin to see the introduction of ‘Career Average Revalued…

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This potential University funding crisis is due to unrepayable student loans, not Brexit – Sean Wallis

You have to admire their cheek. Theresa May’s Conservative Government is leaking to the press a policy proposal from a review they commissioned which, if implemented as-is, is likely to prove catastrophic for universities in England, and in the rest of the UK by extension. They are proposing to reverse the headline Higher Education policy decision of their ConDem forbears — the £9,000 (now £9,250) a year home undergraduate student fee in England, first introduced in 2012. Raising…

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Turbulence and plane crashes are not the same: UUK’s muddled ‘risk appetite’ – Sean Wallis

The question of how to value a pension scheme as large and complex as USS has recently seen a number of converging arguments by a wide range of independent academic commentators following the publication of the September 2018 Joint Expert Panel report. Notable among these has been Sam Marsh’s devastating critique of USS’ flawed approach to Test 1, ably summarised by Mike Otsuka. It is worth reading both of their accounts to make short shrift of an astonishing…

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Is an employer commitment to ‘no detriment’ feasible in the USS dispute? – Sean Wallis

The idea of ‘no detriment’ is such a basic defensive principle of trade unionism that it is surprising sometimes to hear a trade union leader arguing for her members to accept a detriment! Yet in two emails promoting the latest offer from the Universities UK in the USS pension dispute, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt argues against the idea of obtaining a ‘no detriment’ clause in an agreement on the basis that it is unrealistic and the employers…

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Petition for government to act as guarantor to USS – DFE responds

In March, a Government Petition created by members of the Convention for Higher Education was circulated widely and rapidly attracted some 12,000 signatures. The petition wording is below. Accept a role as guarantor to the USS pension scheme The USS pension deficit is due to a “self sufficiency in gilts” valuation method that models what would happen if the pre-92 universities went bankrupt. If Government believes this is possible, this would be a national tragedy! They should therefore…

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There is no USS deficit – and here’s my working – Sean Wallis

Published as Mathematical operations with the Normal distribution, corp.ling.stats In my Made in Westminster post I summarised a financial and political analysis of the USS pension deficit. I also run a blog for discussing statistics in corpus linguistics, and it is there that I have published my working (unlike UUK). Case study: The declared ‘deficit’ in the USS pension scheme At the time of writing nearly two hundred thousand university staff in the UK are active members of a…

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‘No deficit’ letter to Guardian

University pension ‘deficit’ should be addressed by Government guarantee Add your name The University strikes over the future of the USS pension scheme reach a pivotal point this week. The employers’ federation, Universities UK, is deeply divided, with some, like Imperial College, calling for an “evidence-based” valuation of the scheme, while others blame the Pension Regulator for the current valuation method. The evidence shows there is no deficit, and there is no need for either party to pay…

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