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August, 2019:

HE private provider goes bust July 2019

Controversial for-profit college goes bust leaving students stranded

31 July 2019 | last updated: 1 August 2019

GSM London has told students that all tuition, classes and exams would stop at the end of September

GSM London – one of the largest for-profit private providers of higher education in England – has gone into administration, leaving students stranded on unfinished courses. GSM was one of the colleges that featured in a recent Panorama expose about fraudulent applications for student loan money. GSM is ultimately owned by the private equity firm Sovereign Capital and awarded degrees validated by the University of Plymouth.

Times Higher Education reported that GSM had been awaiting a decision from the Office for Students on whether it would be included on the regulator’s register of providers. Exclusion from the register of providers would have meant losing access to publicly funded student loans for its students. Times Higher Education said it is thought that the OfS had concerns about the level of dropout rates at GSM and its financial position.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: ‘UCU has repeatedly highlighted concerns about the marketisation of education and the rapid increase in poorly regulated private providers. We hope that the government will now look again at the funding free-for-all among private providers. These private providers enjoy a competitive advantage in being under-regulated, but always put profit before education.’

Ballots and USS dissatisfaction July 2019

Declining satisfaction levels with pension scheme at heart of university strikes

25 July 2019

Member satisfaction with the USS pension scheme has plummeted, according to the scheme’s annual report.

The report from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) says that less than a third (31%) of members reported a positive relationship, compared to 38% in 2017/18 and 53% in 2016/17. USS dropped its target of members reporting a positive relationship with the scheme from 70% last year to 50% this year, but was still some way short of achieving its goal.

Unlike previous years, this year’s report does not include figures on member satisfaction. Last year less than half (48%) of members said they were satisfied with the scheme, a considerable drop from around two-thirds (66%) in 2016/17.

Members reporting a positive relationship with the scheme
2016/17 53%
2017/18 38%
2018/19 31%
Members satisfied with the scheme
2016/17 66%
2017/18 48%
2018/19 Not included in the report

In the report, USS says the fall in positive relationships is down to “the impact of the scheme valuation and views of our handling of that process”. In his forward, chief executive Bill Galvin admits that: “It is clear that some members feel that we have not handled or communicated the complex issues we are grappling with as well as we might.”

The report also shows that the number of staff being paid over £100,000 is now 131 (up from 128 the previous year). The highest earner at the scheme took home between £1.75M and £1.8M last year, which is a considerable increase on the best paid staff member from the previous year who earned between £1.1M and £1.15M.

UCU general secretary-elect Jo Grady said: ‘It has been clear for some time that USS has lost members’ trust and that it has taken the annual report to alert those leading the scheme to this fact suggests they are worryingly out of touch.

‘Considering the complaints around governance this year, we are extremely concerned that USS appears to be cherry-picking what statistics to include in the report. Why are the member satisfaction figures missing?

‘We want employers to use their considerable influence to hold USS’s managers to account. We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because universities are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions which USS has demanded. Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make scheme members pay more for the same pension.’

Universities face more industrial action in the new academic year as UCU members of USS are being balloted for strike action. UCU says its members will not accept reduced benefits or increased pension costs. The union says that if universities will not work with the union to defend members’ pensions, then they must agree to pick up the tab for any extra costs.

That ballot, and one in all universities on pay, equality, job security and workloads, opens on 9 September and closes on 31 October.