Responding to the select committee on TEF

This morning the department of Business Innovation and Skills held a Q&A session on the proposals to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework, outlined in the recent Higher Education Green Paper. In this session the select committee put questions to NUS president, Megan Dunn, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, Professor Jon Scott (Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Leicester,) and Stuart Cannell, (Student reviewer with the Quality Assurance Agency).

(You can read more about the Teaching Excellence Framework here)

The Q&A session kicked off with a very crucial question: what problem is the TEF trying to solve?

According to Universities minister, Jo Johnson, the answer to this question is ‘patchy’ teaching quality. The solution? Allow universities to charge more if they score well according to set of metrics calculating graduate earnings data and student feedback.

Thankfully, this was challenged by the panel supplying evidence on a number of levels (not all of which will be discussed here), but most notably by offering the suggestion that the terms and conditions of teachers might be a better place to start. The responses of the select committee to this evidence offered an interesting insight into how little casualisation is widely understood to be the context for talking about university teaching.

UCU’s Sally Hunt was clear to set this out, pointing out to the panel how in the context of a total of 200,000 staff on ‘teaching only’ contracts in the sector, 100,000 of these were on fixed term or hourly contracts. That is, 50% of that workforce is employed through insecure and inadequate terms of employment, despite often being fundamental to the delivery of core teaching. This is in comparison to a total of 6% rate of casualisation in the wider labour market (according to the ONS). This is also a drop in the ocean compared to the overall rate of casualisation across teaching and research.

The response to this? It seemed that there was a dawning realisation that this might have a negative effect on people’s ability to do the kind of job that universities are demanding of them.

This is an important development, since previously casualisation was not a key part of the discussion. Yet, the relationship between gender, race and disability in relation to casualisation was still not given the prominence it deserves.

The second point of revelation was in relation to the conditions for postgraduate teachers, who are working during the course of the PhD (GTAs). NUS president Megan Dunn brought this up (which is a promising development given her lack of awareness of this issue in relation to the TEF previously).

The committee seemed to ignore the question of pay, in favour of focusing on the lack of training that GTAs received.

Professor Jon Scott suggested that GTAs received training, support and pay for preparation: an assessment that many of the activists in FACE would disagree with, particularly where training is unpaid and yet mandatory. Likewise, a select committee member raised concerns about how regulating pay for postgraduate teachers might damage the ‘free exchange of knowledge’. This lack of interest in pay, in favour of notions of ‘professional development’ is indicative of the kind of liberal rhetoric used to mask the exploitation of postgraduates behind idealised notions of academic experience. Such a position is strikingly similar to the mentality surrounding the exploitation inherent in the internship model adopted in other sectors.

An encouraging sign was the general consensus that linking the TEF to a raise in tuition fees would undermine its stated aims of widening participation and improving quality.

It is important, however, to qualify this with the bigger picture. The TEF must been seen in the context of the HE green paper, which introduces a whole raft of measures designed to turn university education into a commodity. It would be very naive to suppose that the stated aims of the TEF have anything to do with the thinking behind its implementation.

Casualisation is an inherent feature of the neo-liberal economy, and as such an unavoidable fact of the marketisation of education. The ideology supporting the modern privatised university requires a dispensable and atomised work-force.

So, while it is good to see these panel members drawing attention to casualisation, we should be under no illusions that fighting against this trend requires anything less than fully opposing the marketisation of HE in the first instance.

You can read more about FACE’s analysis of casulisation in HE in the Guardian article here.

This piece was written by Jess Patterson, a organisor within FACE

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Postgraduate Bloc called for the National Demo, Nov 4th, London.

This November, thousands of students will be marching from the University of London Union to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The demo was called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts in response to the announcement that a Tory government would drive through a series of regressive attacks on education, including the removal of maintenance grants for the poorest students. The demo, which will also pass through parliament square to the Home office, aims to build on the 10,000 strong event last year.

The NCAFC’s postgraduate caucus has called a bloc, supported by FACE and various UCU branches. We would like to encourage all supporters of FACE to attend the demonstration and join us on the Postgraduate bloc.

In particular we welcome the caucus’s demands that the REF and Teaching Excellence Framework be scrapped, as well as the call for fair pay for all hours worked by postgraduate teachers. This stands in line with the demands that we are currently developing and plan to discuss and finalise in our November Conference.

You can see the full list of demands and a link to the facebook event for the bloc below. FACE will also be providing details for the event- as well as updates on our much anticipated shiny new banner.

We think that joining in with student calls for an end to the application of neoliberal economics to education is an important front on which to fight against the customer service paradigm, that forms the basis for the exploitation of casualised staff. Show your solidarity, join the bloc!

NCAFC DEMO: FREE EDUCATION & LIVING GRANTS FOR ALL: NO BARRIERS // NO BORDERS // NO BUSINESS!
https://www.facebook.com/events/1449378505377525/

We’ve had Enough! A call for a Postgraduate bloc on the National Demo, Nov 4th

https://www.facebook.com/events/1627495014141931/

The central demands of the demonstration – free education and universal living grants – are just as powerful in a postgraduate context. Education does not stop being a public good when you finish an undergraduate degree and living costs should not be a determinant of access. Nor should borders. Moreover, as postgraduates very often we are on the sharp edge of the marketisation of education. Research postgrads are often caught between being neither fully students or staff, and are very often exploited for their position at the bottom of career ladder. The fight against the neoliberal university is our fight too.

That’s why we’re calling on Postgraduate students from across the UK to join us, and take that fight to the government, on the 4th of November.

We demand:

  • FREE EDUCATION for postgraduates: abolish all course fees for all students, home and international, for all levels of study.
  • LIVING GRANTS for all Postgraduate students: All students need financial security. Living costs should not determine access.
  • SCRAP the REF and the planned TEACHING EXCELLENCE FRAMEWORK. No more neoliberal metrics to discipline workers and control education for the interests of business.
  • Better conditions for POSTGRADUATE TEACHERS. Abolish stipends that include teaching hours and ensure fair pay for ALL hours worked.

FACE- Open meeting report, 26th September.

Last weekend a group of FACE activists met up in Manchester, following our last meeting in Birmingham. Here’s a quick summary of what was discussed:

What we talked about

On 26th September, delegates from Sussex, Manchester, Warwick, Leeds, MMU and several London universities met at the University of Manchester for the latest FACE meeting. Also in attendance were some student activists, from the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts and a regional coordinate for Unite Community. The meeting began with a discussion of local issues, as well as a catch up from the various areas represented.  There was feedback on the cross-union dispute at Manchester, where out-sourcing and restructure is presenting a growing threat to casualised staff. There was also some interesting feedback from the various changes at MMU, and how casualization works in that institution. Finally we discussed our recently published plan for a set of national demands, as well as the autumn conference in November.

 What we decided

There was a lot of promising opportunities for building local links in the area, which is something delegates present plan to work on in the coming months. Contact FACE if this is something you’d like to help build.

The majority of the discussion was dedicated to the idea of creating a set of national demands to unify our various local campaigns in such a way that reflects the larger structural issue facing us.  We discussed the set of provisional demands, published on the blog. None of the demands were substantially challenged, though various edits in phrasing were proposed, such as the importance that a cap on the number of casualised jobs would mean the conversion and creation of permanent positions- not an increased workload for already existing staff. There was also a discussion of how casualisation impacts in particular ways on certain portions of the workforce. The relationship between casual contracts, campaigning and visa conditions was an important point of consideration, as well as the way that race and gender relates to casual conditions. A working group was set up to put forward a new proposal to reflect these issues.

Finally we discussed the shape of the conference. It was decided that we needed to dedicate some of the day to skill sharing and example of effective local strategies, in order to empower local groups and new delegates. But, it was also agreed that the latter half of the day should be dedicated to formalising these national demands through a democratic decision making process. Again, contact FACE with any comments/suggestions. The date of the conference was agreed for Saturday, 21st of November.

As decided in July, meetings from now on will be regular (monthly for the moment) but since the next meeting will be the last one before the conference, it will be held at UCL, in London where the majority of the conference organising will take place. If you have any questions about the meetings, then get in touch.

Campaigning

The Tory Party Conference is coming to Manchester this week. The Trade Union Congress has called for a demonstration, specifically targeted at this government’s erosion of worker’s rights, and more specifically their anti-trade union bill. The demo will be at 12 p.m. on Sunday 4th of October. University of Manchester UCU will be marching in the Student bloc, along with some FACE activists and other campus unions. Anyone in the area is very welcome to join at defend the right to strike in Higher Education!

See you at our next organising meeting at University College London; 12 p.m. on the 24th October, room TBC! 

Also, for recent news on casualisation, see this article in the THE, written by a FACE activist.

FACE- Open meeting report, 25th August

Earlier this week a group of FACE activists met up in Birmingham, as a follow up from the July meeting in London. Here’s a quick summary of what was discussed:

What we talked about

On 25th August, delegates from Birmingham, Sussex, Manchester, Warwick, Leicester and several London universities met at the University of Birmingham for the latest FACE meeting. Also in attendance were several undergraduate student activists, keen to demonstrate their support for staff fighting against casualisation. The meeting began with a run-down on what has been achieved since our last meeting, as well as a discussion of local issues. In particular we are keen to collect as much information about the operation of various privately out-sourced teaching companies throughout the country. Finally we discussed our plans for an autumn conference in November, so watch this space.

 What we decided

Delegates were keen to build on the momentum of the National Assembly at Warwick, while recognising that this was just one symbolic win in an increasing trend of marketisation. As such, there was much discussion around the idea of creating a set of national demands to unify our various local campaigns in such a way that reflects the larger structural issue facing us. It was resolved that we will release a provisional set of demands and issue a call-out for ideas in the run-up to the conference, where we will finalise this through a democratic process. If you have any particular suggestions details of the various ways you can submit them to us will follow soon.

As decided in July, meetings from now on will be regular (monthly for the moment) and will rotate between different parts of the country. So we’ll be in Manchester next, for 26th September. October’s meeting will be in London, and then it will be time for the national conference. If you have any questions about the meetings, then get in touch.

Campaigning

Following the success in opposing Teach Higher, we decided that it was essential for FACE to gather information on the ‘bigger-picture’ when it comes to out-sourcing.  There will be a more specific call-out for information soon.

It was agreed that the group would like to express its solidarity with several on-going disputes, including the long-running strike action against privatisation being taken by workers at the National Gallery, as well as the cross-union dispute currently developing in Manchester. We are also keeping an eye on the dramatic developments at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, Maharashtra.

Work on the Wiki campaign toolbox is well underway, with materials designed to help you discover what casualisation looks like at your university and tips on how to get organising casualised workers. We aim to finalise this in a working group after the meeting in Manchester. If you have anything you would like to contribute, then again, do let us know! We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline for the blog, so look out for that and share it with your friends!

See you at our next Open Organising meeting in MANCHESTER on the 26th of September! 

Also, for more information about the current landscape in terms of casualisation and out-sourcing, see this article in the THE, featuring FACE!

Job losses and Privatisation at the University of Manchester

Currently in Manchester the three campus Unions, UCU, Unite and Unison, are mobilising to take action against management over the announcement of hundreds of potential compulsory redundancies. After a huge cross-union meeting on Tuesday the 11th of August, this is the situation as it currently stands.

A basic summary

The University of Manchester is in the process of making a growing number of staff redundant – over 250 workers have been told that they are ‘at risk’ of compulsory redundancy, on statutory terms. At the same time, the University is attempting unilaterally to push through a change in the Redeployment Policy (the system whereby eligible staff, whose jobs are being altered, can apply for vacancies elsewhere in the university) so that in future people will no longer be able to remain on the Register until an alternative position can be found for them. Instead anyone who has been on the Register for three months will face compulsory redundancy.

The situation in Manchester has several complicated factors, including questions of trade union procedure and quality impact assessments, with the disproportionate effect of the changes on BME and disabled members of staff being of particular concern. It also has some interesting implications for the prospects of increased out-sourcing and the casualisation of academic work. The aggressive erosion of job security that the restructuring plan represents will make it much easier for the University to get rid of unwanted members of staff whenever such cost-saving initiatives demand it.

Is there a Dispute?

Bizarrely, despite UCU’s insistence and several huge cross-union meetings, the University itself is refusing to recognise this as an official dispute, on the basis that any redundancy made would be ‘in line with existing University policies and processes’. The University has even announced that the consultation process is now concluded, while UCU has released a statement that it does not consider any meaningful consultation to have taken place.

This position ignores the fact that the willingness to use compulsory redundancies and the proposed changes to Redeployment represent a dramatic change in the University’s approach. In the past Manchester has always ruled out compulsory redundancies in an effort to reduce costs or achieve organisational change, even when the University has been going through significant financial challenges or large-scale restructuring such as the merger with UMIST in 2004. Such a measure has always been regarded inappropriate to a University setting, on the basis that the resulting atmosphere would damage the culture of a higher education institution; in particular, collegiality, academic freedom and job security.

So far the University has not shown any willingness to consult or negotiate meaningfully with the Trade Unions. In fact in several instances UMUCU was only informed of major decisions affecting their members after they had been made. In one particularly telling incident Union reps were only given 38 minutes notice of a major change of circumstances prior to an “informal” meeting with management. Before the meeting, due to take place at 11am, Trade Unions received notification at 10.22am, that 219 IT staff were now at risk (with 68 redundancies ultimately being sought), and were informed that the scheduled “informal” meeting would in fact mark the start of formal collective consultations. They were also informed that the announcement would be made to IT staff at a meeting later the same day at 3pm.

UCU thus holds that this rapid escalation of the dispute constitutes a breach of the Recognition and Procedure agreements between the Union and the University, amounting in essence to the de facto de-recognition of the campus Trade Unions. No doubt this unprecedented level of hostility is linked to the general threat to Trade Union activity, proposed by Sajid Javid’s Trade Union Bill. As campaigns such at The ‘Right to Strike’ have been highlighting, such a climate has created a situation in which the power of union activity seems almost inevitably diminished. In Manchester, the timing of the threat seems to further prompt cynicism as to the university’s motives.

Re-structuring and the threat of encroaching casualisation

Such moves also represent a risk to academic workers, with the increased threat of out-sourcing. In the past, when Schools have been closed or restructured, academic staff have been accommodated into new structures and have generally been allowed to pursue their research interests. In future, re-structuring schemes such as the model currently being imposed in IT could be applied to academic departments, with the same result of compulsory redundancies. As in the case of Trade Union disputes, such a prospect is made more likely by the current political climate. Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson’s, proposed TEF (Teaching in Excellence Framework) and its accompanying metrics of graduate earnings makes the threat to certain departments seem all the more imminent. Just like in some cases following the assessment of the REF (Research in Excellence framework) management may target staff whose research is not within arbitrary ‘priority’ areas, or which is currently unfashionable, or, in the case of the TEF, whose students simply do not go on to high-earning careers. These changes make a move in that direction both more feasible and more likely.

Another potential threat is the increased and very likely use of out-sourcing in the case of re-structures like this one. In a cross-union meeting this week, staff from other areas of the University explained how the end result of similar re-shuffles had been the increasing use of agency staff to plug the gaps where staff, now made redundant, would have been working. This seems a very likely outcome in the case of IT, where 68 redundancies is the stated target, without sign of a significant reduce in work-load. Moreover, the disproportionate targeting of mid-career, middle-aged staff, suggests an increasing separation between senior posts and agency-covered work.

This is the sort of work-force pattern that schemes like Warwick’s Teach Higher out-sourcing model proposed, which separated permanent staff and researchers for agency employed teaching staff, on a much lower wage. Thus, although not necessarily apparent at first, such changes do represent a considerable threat to early-career researchers and teachers. Unlike staff employed on a permanent or ‘core-funding’ basis, those on fixed term contracts or contracts based on fixed-term funding are already in a precarious position. In that sense these changes may not immediately threaten them. However, this is also precisely the group aspiring to attain those mid-career posts that are currently being erased. These sorts of changes are aimed at undermining long-term job-security and in effect threaten all those ‘more secure’ permanent positions with the University that already casualised workers are demanding.

What’s going to happen next?

The cross-union meeting concluded that it was now time for staff and students to collectively put pressure on the University to take the dispute and the need for negotiation seriously. There will be several days of action, both leading up to and during Welcome week. The Unions are also currently conducting a survey to test the appetite for industrial action, with the likelihood of calling for action short of a strike, unless management significantly changes its stance.

Grass-roots organisations, such as FACE have been quick to notice the wider ramifications of such changes, hence the effective response of the local campaign group ‘hourly paid at Warwick’ against Teach Higher. Recent developments at Manchester, however, demonstrate how this fight is far from over. Those concerned with the marketisation of Higher Education and its damaging effects on the labour force, ought to watch the developments at this Russell-group university closely. There is increasing evidence that similar things are happening in different ways across different campuses. It is, therefore, essential that we are able to view these various attacks as inter-connected. By linking activists across the country we can go some way to achieving this.

In our next meeting at Birmingham we will be discussing developments in the Midlands.

You can receive regular updates from UMUCU on their website and twitter feed. It is also worth considering getting your local union branch to pass a motion in support of the Right to Strike campaign (The campaign has supplied a model motion here).

(This log post was contributed by Jess Patterson, who’s on the UMUCU exec and is also a FACE activist)

FACE Open Meeting Report – 28th July

Last month a group of FACE activists met up to discuss recent events, our plans for the organisation and future action. Here’s a quick summary of what was discussed:

What we talked about

On 28th July delegates from UCL, SOAS, King’s College London, Birmingham, Sussex, Manchester, Queen Mary University London, Goldsmith’s, University of London, Warwick and Leicester met for the latest FACE meeting. A lively discussion rattled along for 90 minutes, including a report back from the recent national assembly held at Warwick (in lieu of the demonstration against TeachHigher. We got reports on two upcoming events, the Higher Education Convention (28th November) and a conference on sexual harassment in HE at Goldsmith’s (2nd December). We also discussed recent contact with IWGB members at University of London looking for help with their own campaign over casualisation of academic staff.

 What we decided

 Most of the meeting was dedicated to deciding what to do about having a National Conference this year, for which 14th November was pencilled in as the date, with content decided at the next FACE meeting in Birmingham (25th August). So if you’ve got an idea for that, come to the meeting or contact us to put it forward for discussion.

 Meetings from now on will be regular (monthly for the moment) and will rotate between different parts of the country. So after Birmingham we’re going to Manchester for 26th September. October’s meeting will be in London, then we’ll have the national conference. If you’ve got a new campaign up and running and think a FACE meeting at your university would give it a boost, again, get in touch.

 Campaigning

 We were pretty happy with the publicity we helped win for the Warwick campaign and the outcome, and were overwhelmed by how widespread opposition to “Teach Higher” was from many in HE. Just goes to show what good local organisation and a national network can achieve, so make sure you keep us in mind if you need any help round your way!

Between now and the next meeting, we’re planning to get started on a Wiki campaign toolbox, with materials designed to help you discover what casualisation looks like at your university and tips on how to get organising casualised workers. We’re also hoping to get more stuff on the website, so it can be a hub for campaigns across our network and the sector (if you’ve got something you want to put up here, let us know)

And finally

 We’re getting a banner, so look out for that at your next demonstration!

See you at our next Open Organising meeting in BIRMINGHAM on the 25th of August!