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.

Developing some demands ‘in and against’ the neoliberal university

In FACE we have been discussing what a national strategy for higher education anti-casualisation struggles might look like. At the moment there are a number of campaigns and organising projects springing up at universities in the UK, which have an overarching meta-demand (treat us the same as permanent staff, end casualisation) and also very important micro-demands (things like demanding office space for hourly-paid tutors, or getting paid for added extras like invigilation and marking). But what we often lack is more intermediate/transitional demands (call them what you will), which can offer links in the chain to move towards a bigger but also more transformative anti-casualisation movement.

At the assembly against casualisation held at Warwick University in June this year, we discussed how one of the reasons the fight against TeachHigher ignited so much energy was that it provided us with something to target in a very immediate, concrete way, while also symbolising and encapsulating wider processes of casualisation and neoliberalisation that affect universities nationwide. We started to throw around ideas for some other similar targets/demands  demands that link the local with the national and immediate problems with wider political processes. And demands that reject the logic of the privatised university rather than re-inscribing it. We are not saying “we want a fair share of the £9,000” or “students paying this much money deserve more value for their cash”. Instead, we want better conditions for lecturers and better education for students so that together we can break down the consumer/service-provider relationship and fight for universities that encourage critical thinking as a tool for social change.

Below is a very preliminary list of demands that we’ve come up with. We’re going to continue this conversation with as large a group of activists as possible at the next FACE conference in London on 14 November 2015. In the run-up to this we invite you to send us your demands – what issues are most pressing to you as university workers at the moment? And how would you best formulate a demand to change that situation, a demand around which all of us can struggle collectively across our institutions?

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 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

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.

Shut down UniTemps just 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. Targeting UniTemps could be an effective next step in opposing not just casualisation, but the introduction of internal markets within universities and profit-making franchises across the sector. 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 make more of an effort to 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.

Photo: Tongji University Library, by Matthias Ripp

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!