Flyer for UCU National Strike (May 25-26)

FACE has produced a flyer for the two-day UCU national pay strike. Download it here, print it off and hand it out on your picket line! We believe that creating a fair and equal higher education system is about much more than headline pay figures: we’re striking to resist the racial and gender pay gap, unpaid teaching and the broader spread of casualisation. If you support these aims, please take a minute to Tweet a picture of yourself with the flyer to @FACEanticas.

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Still No Fair Deal for Hourly-Paid Teaching Staff at QMUL

Photo: Pooley House, by TECU Consulting UK

Queen Mary Against Casualisation

Queen Mary is one of the worst institutions in the country for its reliance on casualised teaching staff. 66.1% of teaching at the university is delivered by staff on precarious contracts. This is precisely what QMAC have been campaigning against over the last two years.

Queen Mary university has finally decided to review some hourly paid teaching staff’s pay and conditions, and accepted the need to integrate them into the pay spine — something that should have happened 8 years ago.

Whilst QMAC welcomes the decision to treat us like any other employees of the university, there are some worrying developments in the manner in which HR are proposing to implement these changes. Previously TA pay was paid on a 2.5 multiplier — meaning that the pay for each hour of teaching was multiplied by 2.5 in order to accommodate preparation and marking. The university is now proposing to…

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Yes to the pay campaign, but more importantly, yes to a proper fight against casualisation!

If you are a member of the University and College Union (UCU) and work in Higher Education, over the past couple of weeks you will almost certainly have been bombarded with emails, adverts and messages exhorting you to vote YES to strike action over this year’s pay offer. You will also have received a ballot through the post giving you the opportunity to vote for a strike or to vote for action short of a strike.

There are, as there usually is during our national pay negotiations, plenty of reasons to vote for a strike. As the UCU points out there’s the sustained decline in our real wages (14.5% since 2010), the ongoing pay gap between men and women (£6,103 a year), the number of teachers and researchers in Higher Education on fixed term and casual contracts, including the 21,000 teaching staff on zero-hour contracts. For those reasons, we at FACE give a resounding YES to national strike action this Autumn and we’re happy that the union has raised casualisation in the sector as one of their demands.

However… We are, like many people in Higher Education, wary about what exactly a YES vote will mean. We’re wary that what it will mean is HE workers being marched to the top of the hill for a single 2-day strike, staying there for a brief, half-hearted marking ban, before being marched back down again when the employers offer us another fraction of a percent. We’re wary that little effort will be made to energise branches and improve union organisation in Higher Education. We’re wary that activists will be wound up to fight, but that the official union will be looking to de-escalate as quickly as possible. We’re wary of being told that the dispute is about a long list of things but that, in the end, a pay increase will be all that really matters.

And we’re wary because to a great extent that is exactly what happened in 2013-14. Back then the joint pay demand put forward by the UCU, UNISON and Unite contained a whole bunch of lovely goodies. There was an end to low pay, action on the gender pay gap, a cap on Vice-Chancellor pay, an increase in London Weighting, an end to zero-hour contracts, fractional salaries with time for admin and prep for all hourly-paid staff, new agreements on disability leave, and agreements on limiting workloads. But what was the actual substance of the fight our unions waged? How often did the union talk about anything other than the headline percentage figure? How much progress has been made on those issues, given that they’ve been raised in almost the exact same format two years later?

Our experiences of the UCU’s priorities in previous fights have made us wary of our union’s priorities. We worry that these issues will be treated as marginal, when to the people our unions are seeking to represent, they’re really not. For casualised workers in Higher Education, pieceing together fixed-term, hourly or zero-hour contracts, being paid for a fraction of the time they actually spend working, an extra 0.5% doesn’t mean very much. 0.5% on a casual contract is 0.5% of whatever we can cobble together and 0.5% of whatever arbitrary number of hours our employer decides we are working. We worry that any progress the UCU makes on the gender pay gap will inevitably be partial, and slanted towards senior permanent faculty, if the casualisation which disproportionately affects women and people of colour is once again sidelined.

Moreover, we worry that with the rise of temp agencies like Unitemps and the now dead (and unmourned) TeachHigher, as well as the point blank refusal of universities to consider taking low-paid catering, security and cleaning staff, back in house, there will still be many thousands working in HE for whom national action on pay will bring not even the meagre benefit in-house casualised staff will get.

We worry, but we have hope. We have hope that this time YES will mean something more. Not just YES to a fight over a percentage point on our hourly rate, but YES to a real fight over what employment in Higher Education really means. YES to a real end to zero-hour contracts across the sector. YES to an end to gender pay discrimination. YES to realistic job descriptions that pay for every hour worked. YES to an end to contracting out exploitation to unscrupulous employment agencies. YES to really, genuinely dismantling discrimination in Higher Education. YES to mobilising casualised staff and permanent staff to fight against all forms of exploitation in Higher Education.

YES to all these, and YES to making them central not marginal to our fight in 2016.

Photo: ‘UCU’, by Simarchy.

The BME attainment gap, education and ‘the student experience’ at King’s College London

In 2014, King’s College London embarked on an enormous project to assess the value of ‘rebranding’ the university as ‘King’s London’. The project failed, with students overwhelmingly opposing the proposal, though nonetheless cost an estimated £300,000. Though the change did not go through, it was an instructive moment. Dropping the word ‘college’ might seem superficial, yet it indicates the university’s current identity crisis, its confusion as to what it is, what it’s for, what it does. A college is evidently place for education, but King’s London could be anything; a consultancy firm, a property developer, a tourist attraction, a hedge fund… anything.

The vocal opposition from students, however, suggests that despite the attempts to turn them into passive consumers, many retain a commitment to universities as a place of learning. This commitment was displayed again a few weeks ago, when students from the King’s Ethnic Minority Association (KEMA) stepped up their campaign against the BME attainment gap, which is 7% higher at King’s than the national average. They pushed for an open meeting with the Principal, Ed Byre, to air their concerns. They spoke with anger and passion, sadness and fear about the despair and alienation they sometimes felt in the university. It was powerful and moving. It was also evidence of how deeply they cared about their own education, how invested they remained in the university, even as they recognised that it was failing them.

When the students spoke, they were concerned about the fundamentals of teaching and learning; classroom dynamics, module choices, teaching styles, marking criteria. They were worried about how the Prevent duty and Islamophobia were corroding their relationships with their teachers; they were appalled at the lack of diversity on reading lists; they were disappointed by the lack of academics of colour. Unfortunately, universities seem increasingly preoccupied by issues tangential to teaching and learning. The relentless pursuit of the ‘student experience’ has reoriented focus away from education itself, diverting time and money into shiny new buildings, apps, and websites, none of which addresses the racial inequalities in higher education.

As the KEMA campaign has gained in strength, so has the KCL Fair Pay for GTAs campaign. King’s College London relies heavily on GTAs, employing around 700 across the university. In some departments, such as English, GTAs deliver the majority of the first year teaching. The reliance on PhD students and early career academics on precarious contracts is part of the wider trend towards casualisation in Higher Education. It is also evidence of the university’s dismal attitude to teaching in general, seeing it as incidental rather than central to its existence. Take marking, for example. The current contracts see GTAs required to mark a 1500 word essay in just 18 minutes. It’s impossible to do justice to a student’s work in that time, so GTAs work well above their contracted hours to deliver fair feedback. Feedback is crucial to student development, perhaps even more so for students from less privileged backgrounds who will have received less personalised attention throughout their education. As many GTAs can vividly recall being undergraduates, they shoulder a huge sense of responsibility to give fair, honest, detailed feedback, despite the poor payment.

Worse still, the already-notorious Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the proposed government solution to the uneven quality of teaching looks set to entrench the disparities that are already rife. Early plans for the TEF will see mass data collection in the style of the National Student Survey, with students ‘ratings’ for teachers gaining increasing power in determining hiring, salaries and contracts. This change will likely be a disaster for equality, as there is plenty of research showing that women and ethnic minorities are consistently rated lower than their white, male peers in student feedback, even under controlled tests.

In response to concerns about inequality, universities like to invest in outsourced programmes to school teaching staff in equality and diversity issues. But no amount of ‘implicit bias training’ can improve the education of BME students in a system in which teaching and learning are themselves derided. It’s time to put education back at the top of the agenda. Not ‘the student experience’, not ‘luxury accommodation’, but the very basics of teaching and learning. This process begins with investing in teachers, putting money into better training, more permanent teaching roles, and fair contracts for those who do teach on a part time basis.

Casual contracts disproportionately impact on those whose position in academia is already the most precarious: young black and working class academics. These are precisely the teachers who are most able to give BME undergraduates the sense that university is for them, and that it’s possible for them to achieve highly and stay in Higher Education.

Bridging the attainment gap and making universities into spaces where students and staff from all backgrounds can flourish will not happen overnight, but the first step is simple: invest in the very thing the students came to ‘experience’: education.

Photo: King’s College Diagonal, by Istvan

NUS: Sabotage the 2017 National Student Survey to stop the higher education reforms

Fighting Against Casualisation in Education supports the motion (Amendment 201B) going to a vote at the National Union of Students Conference this month, proposing that NUS should plan a mass sabotage or boycott of next year’s National Student Survey (NSS) and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE), until the government drops its damaging higher education reforms. These reforms pose a serious threat to education, to students and to workers, and we welcome ideas and discussion about ways to gain the material leverage necessary to force the government to back down.

FACE has written previously about our opposition to the marketising, privatising reforms, and how they will lead to increased casualisation and the exploitation of workers. The NSS and DLHE are key features of this marketising agenda. They are both proposed as key measures within the so-called “Teaching Excellence Framework”, which has been designed to create a marketplace in which teaching staff and institutions must compete according to a series of metrics. This is a mechanism for the government to impose its neo-liberal agenda on education. In addition, the NSS – which casts students as consumers against staff as commercial service providers – is already used to discipline and bully us as a workforce, to justify managerial reorganisations in which jobs and areas of study are lost, and as one of the tools for managing and marketising higher education as a whole. Recent investigation even revealed a racist bias in NSS results against black and ethnic minority teachers. And other studies have shown that this type of satisfaction rating can reflect sexist biases against women teachers too.

Given all this and the severity of the threat posed by the higher education reforms, as a campaign representing workers in higher education, we support the proposed idea to organise mass disruption of these surveys in order to gain leverage over the government, helping to pressure them to withdraw the reforms.

As a more general point, FACE believes that students should have a genuinely democratic say over the delivery of teaching. The NSS does not do this. Instead it treats students as passive consumers, and the data collected from them is used by government and higher education managers for their own ends. Too often that means disciplining staff, individual departments, and entire institutions, through austerity measures, forced competition, and the imposition of underfunded targets. Looking forward, we want universities where students and staff work together in participatory and collegial democratic fora to govern our institutions, including the design and provision of teaching. We hope that student-worker cooperation on this action, and the defeat of the higher education reforms, can be the first steps towards a more democratic future for our universities.

For more information, the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts has written a more detailed explanation of the motion and how you can help the campaign to pass it and created a Facebook event to spread the word and keep up with the campaign. The motion itself can found in this document, listed under 201b.

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

7 Demands for Casualised University Workers

This is the text of seven key demands agreed at our 2nd National Conference, held at University College London on 21 November 2015. We continue to work on them, and welcome further input – come along to our next organising meeting, or contact us via email, Twitter or Facebook to get involved.

An end to 9-month and other contracts that don’t pay us outside of term time

We are people, not machines! We still need to feed ourselves, pay our rent and raise our families over the summer. We do not all have families or partners to financially support us whilst we pursue work in academia as a hobby. Moreover, we use vacation periods to undertake research and publications that our employers directly benefit from when they contract us to teach. We refuse to do this work for free.

A cap on the percentage of teaching done by casualised staff at every institution

University departments are increasingly structured around the assumption that a large portion of teaching will be done by hourly paid and short-term staff who can be hired at the last minute, and disposed of just as quickly according to the demands of the ‘market’. We all know the damage this does not only to the lives of these teachers and the quality of the education they are able to provide, but also to the conditions of permanent staff who have to take on a far greater proportion of the administrative and pastoral care within their departments. This is also a feature of an intensifying two-tier system of higher education, whereby Russell Group universities may advertise the possibility of being taught by ‘top professors’ as a selling point, while working-class students at post-’92s will suffer from a high turnover of especially overworked and underpaid teaching staff. Ultimately, we want an end to all casualistion in the sector, but as a first step a demand to cap the percentage of casualised teaching will both make visible the extent to which departments currently rely upon it, and insist upon more consistency in conditions across institutions.

Payment for all hours worked on an equal basis

Those in casual academic positions often work far in excess of their contracted hours, meaning that they end up doing a lot of work effectively for free. This is due to a range of factors: the often irregular nature of teaching work, especially the need to respond to students out of hours; outdated or inaccurate mechanisms for calculating hours; the inclusion of a huge number of tasks either in unrealistic “multipliers” or bundled together with payment worked out for contact teaching hours alone; the pressure put on junior staff to take on extra work as a part of unpaid “training”; and even pressure put on PhD students to do teaching work for their supervisors for free. These unfair and unlawful practices need to stop, and they should be replaced with a simple principle: payment for all hours worked, calculated through a fair and transparent mechanism based on actual job requirements and on an equal basis with permanent staff. Hourly pay rates should be consistent across all the tasks that go into casual teaching work, rather than differentiating between different aspects like contact time, marking, office hours, etc. All are part of the same job and should be recognised as such.

Shut down UniTemps like we shut down TeachHigher!

In the face of criticism from both unions and the press, Warwick University rapidly backpedalled on TeachHigher and, before getting rid of it altogether, claimed that they had no intention to ‘outsource’ academic staff. Yet Warwick University-owned UniTemps, an agency for cleaning, catering and security staff across hundreds of UK universities, is already employing academic staff in some institutions including the universities of Leicester and Surrey. Insourcing and outsourcing function as direct attacks on unions, workers’ rights and the public university. In practice, outsourced and agency staff are frequently denied access to sick pay, holiday pay and compassionate leave. Targeting UniTemps is our next step to ensure that all university workers are directly employed. It also represents the possibility of making links with other university workers, cleaners, caterers and security staff who have as much right to secure working conditions as academics.

National pay frameworks, currently negotiated between the UCU and employers, should also apply
to hourly pay rates

In theory, even casualised workers should be covered by the union-negotiated national pay frameworks, but in practice the hourly wage and what it is expected to cover varies not only between universities but even between departments. University employers should be forced to make transparent how they calculate the hourly rate, and how this meets criteria established by national framework agreements. The UCU should ensure that casualised workers benefit from these hard-won union gains as much as permanent academics, and that employers fully implement the framework agreements at all levels of staffing.

Universities must address the racism and racist practices that lead to the casualisation of black staff and People of Colour in universities

British higher education is institutionally racist, a fact which is reflected in the racial stratification of employment where black people and People of Colour (PoC), especially women of colour, are less likely to be promoted to professorships than their white colleagues, are more likely to be on casual contracts and are most likely some of the most precarious workers in HE — working as cleaners, maintenance staff and in catering. Black and PoC academics find themselves with fewer or no job opportunities, a lack of support for professional and career development, are over-scrutinised compared to their white colleagues and receive lower pay than white colleagues — in some cases, thousands of pounds less. There are black and PoC staff who have challenged this racism and have been forced out of their institutions. British universities must cease these colonial practices and stop privileging whiteness within hiring practices and the educational structure within institutions.

Universities must not be complicit in the deportation and harassment of non-EU university workers, and provide security of work and residency for non-EU staff

Universities are increasingly becoming sites of border enforcement. Where non-EU staff are on casualised contracts, it is extremely difficult for them to be shortlisted for positions and even gain working visas, despite offers of em­ployment. Non-EU scholars are increasingly denied visas to attend academic conferences and work on collaborative projects with their British counterparts. There are several cases where non-EU workers in HE who speak out against racism or have actively organised in their workplace have had their migration status used to threaten and silence them. For example, in 2009 when SOAS cleaners were organising to improve their working conditions, university man­agement allowed the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)/UK Visas and Immigration on campus to conduct immigration checks on cleaning staff, resulting in the detention and deportation of nine staff.  Students are also policed and surveilled in the name of Prevent legislation, which places a burden especially on Muslim students, at whom it is most targeted, and also on staff who are forced to implement it. Universities must provide certainty of employment for non-EU workers and ensure that they are able to obtain the visas they require and ensure that casual workers are not deported when their working terms change or come to an end. And universities must not be complicit in the de­portation of staff, neither should university staff be required to enforce border regimes and the threat of deportation should not become a way of victimising activists or disciplining non-EU staff or students. Towards that end, universities will take no disciplinary action against staff for failure to implement related policies.

Image credit: ‘Cubicus, Universiteit Twente’, by Eenoog.