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


FACE 2nd National Conference – Schedule

FACE’s 2nd National Conference will be held from 10:30 to 18:00 on November 21st at the UCL Cruciform Building. The day will be divided into two sections: the first half will be dedicated to panel discussions on the broad structure of casualisation as it faces education workers, while the second will consist of in-depth workshops on specific issues, with participants helping to finalise a set of national demands for FACE. These will feed in to a final, open session in which the demands will be discussed.

If you have any dietary, access or childcare requirements PLEASE LET US KNOW BY THE END OF THE DAY, FRIDAY 13th NOVEMBER.

Confirmed participating campaigns include #FeesMustFall from South Africa, Justice4Sanaz, Tres Cosas, SOAS Fractionals for Fair Play, and the Warwick Hourly Paid Campaign on Teach Higher.

11:00–12:15: Opening panel
A panel discussion introducing FACE and considering casualisation from a variety of perspectives. Speakers to include representatives from FACE, SOAS, Warwick and a #FeesMustFall activist from South Africa.

12:15–12:30: Coffee break

12:30–13:45: Panel discussions (running simultaneously)

Local Anti-Casualisation Campaigns
Practical advice on and political analysis about how to build a local anti-casualisation campaign in your institution: what are the first steps? what models work best where? how do you relate to established union branches? And what kinds of solidarity can be built with students? We will also introduce you to and invite you to contribute to the FACE wiki, which is collating campaign resources and experiences from across the UK.

Precarious Organising
21st century academia is precarious. We all know that short term contracts and high turnover mean that few workers remain in an institution to see an entire campaign out from start to finish, while a sense of vulnerability sometimes make workers less willing to organise. All these conditions are intensified for non-EU workers dependent on work visas. This panel aims to move beyond mere acknowledgement of precarity, to focus on particular forms of workplace organising that have already, and might in the future, work best in precarious workplaces.

The Shape of Casualisation
In this panel, we will consider what at the casualised university looks like today: how it functions and what its particular effects are on women, people of colour, and non-EU citizens.

13:45–14:30: Lunch

14:30–15:45: Breakout sessions (running simultaneously)
Throughout this conference we are building towards formulating and finalising our demands. These breakout sessions have two purposes. First, they are intended to build on the morning panels, providing a space for participants to discuss ideas and concerns and share skills and strategies. Second they are spaces where participants can apply these discussions and strategies to formulating our demands. In these sessions, participants will consider the provisional list of demands from the perspective of their session and come up with concrete amendments or additions, which will be voted on in our final session.

Citizenship, Borders and Surveillance
Casualisation has a disproportionate affect on non-EU workers whose residence in the UK is often dependent on their employment with the university. This means non-EU workers are particularly vulnerable as they can be threatened not just with unemployment, but deportation and recent changes to visa requirement exacerbate this effect. At the same time as non-EU workers are becoming increasingly vulnerable, universities are also increasing their surveillance of non-EU workers and students as the University and begun to work increasingly closer with the UK Border Agency. These issues affect us all. As teachers, we are now being asked to monitor all of our students, and are ourselves being increasingly monitored, while the university’s often inhuman treatment of non-EU workers offers a worrying precedent. This breakout session will provide a space to discuss the relationship between casualisation, and increased surveillance, monitoring, and border controls. We will also discuss how we can organize within and around this culture of surveillance, monitoring, and precarity.

Insourcing and Outsourcing
For many universities, insourcing and outsourcing are their go-to tools for creating a more flexible, casual, and low-paid workforce. One of the great victories of the past year, was at the University of Warwick where local and national organizing forced the University to halt its attempt to insource workers and force the university to bargain with them as direct employees. One of the most important battles on the casualisation front is to make sure that everyone who is working for the university is recognised as a University employee. This breakout session will provide an opportunity to discuss how insourcing and outsourcing works at our campuses and how we can strategize against it.

National Pay Frameworks and Terms & Conditions
Where permanent staff have national frameworks, casual workers are ostensibly tied to those frameworks, but do not have frameworks of their own. Moreover, the implementation of those frameworks is partial at best: pay rates and conditions – whether teachers are paid for prep time, attending lectures, grading, or office hours – vary wildly between institutions and even departments within an institution. This panel will discuss how to both build our own campaign and work with existing organisations like the UCU  to achieve a national pay framework and a national agreement on terms and conditions for casual workers

Doctoral Researchers – Students or Workers?
Unlike in many other countries, doctoral researchers in the UK are treated not as employees but as students. We lack guaranteed employment rights over pay, hours and working conditions, and cannot obtain recognition for trade unions to defend ourselves or negotiate collectively. Many of us don’t receive a stipend and so are working unpaid, or even paying fees for the privilege of producing research for our institutions. The first step of the academic career ladder is treated as an extended internship, for which we should be grateful if we are paid anything. Is the solution to this to demand status as employees? What do we stand to lose from such a change – are there benefits to student status? How do we fight for all doctoral researchers to be paid while ensuring that the number of places isn’t cut? This breakout session will consider these questions and ask what FACE’s demands and goals should be in this area, and how we could win them.

15:45–16:00: Coffee break

16:00–18:00: Final session (report-backs and ratification of amendments and demands)

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!


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

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.