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


Reports from our 2nd National Conference

Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE)’s 2nd National Conference was held at University College London on November 21, 2015. Below are detailed reports from the day’s individual sessions – we will continue to add to them as new reports come through. (Header image by Samantha Galbraith, @sgalbraith47 on Twitter.)

Opening panel

Speakers: Sanaz Raji (Justice4Sanaz), Craig Gent (Warwick), Mzomhle Bixa (National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union), Tom King (SOAS Student Union) Myka Abramson (FACE). Chair: Tobias Franz (SOAS).

Chair Tobias Franz introduced proceedings by discussing the Fractionals for Fair Play campaign at SOAS and its importance in putting the issues of undervalued and unrecognized junior academics on the map. He then briefly discussed the formation of FACE in 2014 and the work that has been done to build the network subsequently.

Myka Abramson summarized the broader social context out of which FACE emerged. She noted that the university has become a primary battleground of the neoliberalisation of society. The casualisation of academic labour forms part of a wider social project to kill off public education and turn higher education institutions into corporate businesses, and turn students into consumers who are trained to expect more value for their money. She sounded a note of hope by saying that the university is also a space of resistance as demonstrated by successful struggles against neoliberal reforms at campuses around the world, and concluded by saying that FACE is an important site of struggle in this resistance.

Tom King discussed recent developments at SOAS, including potential course cuts and job losses, the occupation enacted to resist them, and the suspension of Sandy Nicholl, SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary. He described the successes in resisting these developments such as the proposed establishment of an academic senate, and the reinstatement of Nicholl after two days of protest on campus.

Craig Gent outlined the victorious campaign against the TeachHigher insourcing subsidiary at Warwick. The TeachHigher arrangements would have entailed restrictions on the ability to engage in industrial action and a potential leveling down of pay. Staff managed to get the university to abolish TeachHigher through a boycott of TeachHigher posts, good departmental networks, collaboration with the Warwick for Free Education student group, national organizing, and media pressure.

Sanaz Raji spoke about her victimization and bullying at the University of Leeds and used her case to highlight the structural racism and other forms of discrimination in UK Higher Education. She noted that the systems which are put in place to adjudicate disputes between universities and students are heavily stacked in favour of universities. She also highlighted how a punitive and harsh student immigration system makes it difficult and precarious to organize against such injustices.

The session concluded with a recorded interview with Mzomhle Bixa, a trade unionist involved in the Feesmustfall movement in South Africa. He spoke off the importance of the alliances between students and outsourced workers. He noted the challenges of mobilising students and workers but emphasized the progress made in their struggle, especially that they had forced the University of Cape Town management to come and negotiate with them.



Precarious organising

The session discussed how precarious workers have organised and what forms of organising might work best in future in precarious workplaces. We heard examples from organising ESOL teachers in FE (Amy), outsourced support staff at Senate House (Henry) and casualised teaching staff in HE (Jack). Jack also reminded us with historical examples that there is a 200 year history of unions organising precarious workers- eg workers in the car industry were very militant but not because they had job security- their jobs were precarious too- solidarity can be made.

• In FE where people were working short term contracts it helped to have a core of people on longer contracts- they were central to the campaign and could see it through.
• An early win (on higher pay) helped get people involved and built a more diverse union branch.
• At Senate house outsourced workers (cleaners, security staff, porters) took unofficial strike action and won after waiting for 3 months without pay. They have also fought for the living wage, pensions, sick pay and holidays. Barriers to organising included the language barrier and the workers’ fear and lack of knowledge about their rights.
• In this case support from students (making leaflets, writing to management, help with union casework) was useful. Among teaching assistants in HE it was also important to link up with other campaigns on campus.
• The workers at Senate house were organised by Unison but felt the union was putting barriers in the way of the campaign. 80-90 of them left and started a branch of the IWGB which meant less financial support but more freedom to make their own decisions.
• However, in FE it helped to use UCU as a tool, to be part of the national anti-casualisation campaign and to try to improve that campaign, but also to put pressure on the national union where they aren’t supportive. The union does have recognition and can be leaned on.
• Among the casualised teaching staff in HE activists needed to work at “breakneck speed”. If people are teaching from September to May starting to contact them in March was too late. Don’t wait until you are big enough- act first and use the action to build the campaign.
• Writing to teaching assistants to encourage them to join a picket line (on a UCU one-day strike) and having a big picket line with a creative banner helped get people talking about the issues.
• With a sympathetic head of department it was possible to win some demands especially around increasing hours of paid preparation time and getting full job descriptions. But pay rates are decided at uni-wide level and it was more difficult to scale up the campaign- people who knew each other personally were easier to convince to take action than strangers and people in other departments have their own distinctive concerns.
• We need to look at how we can turn precarious conditions in our favour rather than always seeing it as a limitation.
• Fear? Some workers have more to lose- for academics there is an incentive to keep heads down and get the future prize- actually casualised work is the new normal and even permanent work will be eroded due to casualisation- need to tell people this.
• Insecurity can disrupt the academic relationship- eg if your supervisor’s job is insecure it can impact on you as a student.
• There are too many unions on campus- it would be better if everyone was in one!
• If we are complaining to HR eg about late payment we need to recognise that the HR staff are also exploited- they are not the enemy, management are.
• There is a question of where to apply the pressure? How can FACE appeal to PhDs with stipends who get their funding from research councils and do not do paid work for the uni?

The Shape of Casualisation

The workshop, ‘The Shape of Casualisation’, saw speakers Jess Patterson, Xanthe Whittaker, Christina Paine, and Noha Abu El Magd. Jess Patterson introduced the components of TEF, its explicit objectives, and the metrics for reaching and pursuing those objectives. Patterson also introduced the subsequent effects and consequences TEF will have on higher education in the UK. Broadly, TEF seeks quantified data that can represent an institution’s value and thus justify increasing tuition fees, while also further enabling the privatization of the universities through the businesses involved in such processes. The TEF will use various processes to pursue these outcomes. One is the already rolled-out REF. The NSS will also have an increased role in determining university value, and increased use of metrics will be issued, such as student feedback forms and monitoring. At Manchester, student feedback forms are already linked to teacher pay, and while the Green Paper notes that their teacher consultants have proposed that permanent contracts be an objective for the new initiatives as well, such metrics seem to undermine permanent contracts or conditions for staff, and increase casualized pay environments.

Such casualized and monitored systems are already progressing at Leicester University, through agencies such as Unitemps, which Xanthe Whittaker reported on. At Leicester, all associate tutors need to be registered on Unitemps. The university is not monitoring how contracts are handled and who (gender/race/background) is affected most. Unitemps is not directly linked to the university and and, as an hourly paid subsidiary, does not need to provide basic rights that the university or other employers must. For example, Whittaker explained that the offering of pension schemes is required by employers, but is not provided by Unitemps. In addition, Unitemps does not pay according to negotiated standards and rates of pay from the national framework. An employee is given numerous contracts, one for each type of work (marking, teaching, etc), while other types are completely omitted (e.g. preparation). Through Unitemps, there is no available route to negotiate for grievances or for cases that require time away, like pregnancy. Nor can Unitemps employees participate in industrial action against the university, as Unitemps is an separate entity so university rights do not apply. Whittaker is curious how to spread awareness and action against such contracts.

Christina Paine presented on the people most effected by such casualized labor, and did so by focusing on women specifically. The Equality Act of 2010 does not guard against today’s casualized environment, which undermines the purpose of The Equality Act. In casualized systems, there is currently no oversight, even if proper legislation existed. Problems have arisen for such cases as: motherhood, gender pay gap, low waged work, access to justice, affordable childcare, are inequality, and marginalized groups. In such casualized environments, women are 55% more likely to have a casual contract, for example. Noha Abu El Magd furthered the discussion by talking about marginalized groups, particularly people of colour and women of colour. By introducing various statistics, such that 99.93% of professors are of white heritage, El Magd showed how people of colour are underrepresented through PhD programs and job advancement in higher education.


Local Anti-Casualisation Campaigns (report in rough note form)

1) Anti-casualisation victories at Warwick University where we have a great example of students and academics crossing boundaries and joining together a struggle to protect Postgrads teachers’ conditions (they stopped the setting up of Teach Higher an agency that would have hired teaching Postgrads as agency workers according to a system of insourcing of teaching taking away control over teaching from academic staff).

How did they organize? Warwick for education students look for bringing students to UCU planning meeting so the campaign against Teach Higher was led by those directly affected which made a huge difference. Strategies involve shaming in public for a of management (that appeared often unprepared) and social media strategy to reach the highest numbers of supporters.

The discussion pointed out that hourly paid staff are under threat all across the country and that was not just Warwick issue. A powerful tool to blame and shame management publicly was to set up a “teach higher trial” web site and of course to threat management to organise a national demonstration the same day of the Open Day.

The students and supporting members of staff campaigned for a universal and fair contract systems for teaching postgrads but Warwick (has not delivered on this yet?)
With regard the role of UCU as branch the process has been positive to the extent that at least they have now to engage seriously with your concerns.
The solidarity from staff was indeed crucial to win and it facilitated access to statistics and information that were important to the development of the campaign and the leveraging tactics vis a vis management.

2) Fractional fair pay at soas
graduate teaching assistances suffer from the multiplier systems according to which the hours they actually work are not rewarded fairly (6 hours to 1 and a half to reply to emails –they calculated 101 hours per term for a 75 hours contract-so the theft is obvious).
They started to organize by conducting a survey – they calculated the hours of unpaid work and that was a successful strategy to get the message across. . They realized the FFFP you tube video also to bring the students on board and make the message clear to them as the first to be affected. From the interviews taken from the video it is interesting to see that just describing ‘who you are/have been’ as a worker for how long tells a lot about casualization in HE the unpredictability of what happens next, the short and intensive nature of teaching for fractionals
Another challenge highlighted by the fractionals is understanding your contract each month, it is understood differently by different people. Realising how much time is unpaid highlight the sense of worthlessness and inferiorisation these students/workers are subject to. In this context the PhD is perceived as a commodity that you buy accompanied by lack of recognition of the value of your work. Recently the fractionals for fair pay have not been so active cause of the new issues that SOAS is facing with cuts and abolishion of many modules.
This is why it is important to continue with Face. It is not about petty demands on terms and conditions specific to each context but a struggle against the precariat more broadly. The campaign has lasted for 2 years. The start was very hard, they took one year to break isolation and forced individualism. Picket lines organised by members of staff and that was an occasion to meet. There was also the issue of invisibility within the hierarchy of academics, and the problem of the transient nature of workforce and understanding the sources of your exploitation- why are you underpaid for your work, and the difficulty of creating a sense of commonality given that contracts cannot be compared with others -sources of exploitation are hidden. The survey was designed to understand where the source of exploitation was, counting preparation time and marking time.
The aim was to opening negotiation with management but eventually even though the management engaged in negotiation the second round of contracts was imposed, against ballots
So now Fractionals for fair pay want to launch a new survey to update what they found to include issues beside the contracts but also casualisation also in relation to the demands developed by FACE at this conference.
With regard the relationship with union branches, there is an understanding that for the negotiation mechanisms you cannot negotiate without a union.
There are 3 reps on the executive committee- there has been a 25 per cent increase in UCU membership since the fractionals organizing but ucu does not seem to appreciate or seize on that result. How to build consensus on the students side?
6 weeks of marking boycott how do you get solidarity from students not as a rant but talking to students at seminars, highlighting that this is a systemic issue and related to commodification (what are you paying for? quality of teaching decreasing if workers are not treated and paid well) Also the relatiomnship with the permanent members of staff is important: make them think that they depend on you and that you need to remind that we are all on the same boat (casualization, intensification of work, lower pay etc). Tactically every year you need to find out who are the new teachers and involve them in the group. Media coverage by face website is important but also newspapers. This is important so that via publicity the new teachers know about the campaign.

The PHd students were required to teach a certain numbers of hours as part of the funding. Contracts in life sciences involved 50 hours of teaching unpaid in exchanged for the scholarship. There was disparity on how teaching was awarded. In Sussex postgraduate reps have been the drivers of the campaign the doctoral school pushed for change and that was very effective.
In theory Sussex is 13th high in the ranking for students satisfaction but national students assessment and feedback are low. Phd students marking this work are unpaid and unrecognized and this is the reason.
It is worth looking into the national student service and use that evidence to show management that bad employment conditions have a direct effect on students satisfaction.

Tactics: students mailing are a good source to have a voice. Thanks to a rep from the doctoral school they found out that they were in breach of regulation accordin to which students receiving funding by UK research council could have have those types of contract requiring teaching. According to the UK research councils guidelines faculities could not attach unpaid labour to scholarship
The result was the repaying of all externally funded PhD students for their previous teaching and the removal of the 50 hours teaching requirement from all phd students contracts in the future. But physic students requirement to teach 130 hours – life sciences teaching contracts are changing making them fair in relation to multiplier- £1000 reimboursement per student was an important victory still.
However school funded students are not protected and there is tjhis two tier workforce that increases sense of unfair treatment for the latter.
There is a lack of protective guideline for school. Postgrads reps are key to push the demands. Faculty members can be your friends
(research done by someone from staff) but management is nasty
No involvement with the union who was not deemed important by the students organizing by themselves, at that point.
teaching requirement no longer there but different stories in different departments differentiation according to departments depends on how much they care about their teaching PhD students.

Summary: 2 to 3 times more money as a result of teach higher campaign
fighting education as a commodity
need to take the students hostage take advantage of this
not agitating them too much cause we want their support
fully funded PhD for everyone
but we are providing work that is needed –value of our work
what happens when you finish your phd fractional working on multiple institutions
casualization continued with senior teaching fellows and teaching fellows-need to think about casulisation more broadly behind PhD students.
student support is crucial
annual reports of university and NSS can be used as tools in the campaign.

Breakout sessions

Citizenship, Borders and Surveillance

In this session we addressed the unbearable discriminatory treatment of international students, international academic staff as well as international support staff within UK Higher Education. Their precarious situation is worsened by the fact that international students and staff members are often facing racism within their institutions and, while having to suffer from the same labour conditions as EU staff and students, they are under the constant threat of deportation. Because of international students’ and staff’s dependency on work and study visas to remain within the country and UK’s restrictive border policies, UK universities as employers and host institutions hold immense power over international students and employees lives. We acknowledged that especially those international students and staff members who speak out against the racist and discriminatory policies and practices enforced by the UK government and by UK universities are extremely vulnerable to having their contracts cancelled and, as a consequence, of loosing their visas and being deported, as recent cases showed (e.g. see Justice4Sanaz). By imposing fear and threat, these policies thus create a huge pressure to comply. One participant remarked the importance of being aware of the additional risks international students and staff face when organising resistance and the need to take these amplified risks into account when organising events.

Furthermore, we addressed how international students and staff who face visa issues are structurally being left alone by their home institutions with little to no effective advice centres in place. Because of this unbearable and isolating situation, we concluded that creating a network offering free legal advice from solidary and reliable sources is imperative. A first step of creating such an infrastructure will be getting in touch with No Border groups within the UK and organising on-campus sessions for international students and staff to inform them about their rights as well as trying to set up legal advice for those who are facing problems. We are also planning to get in touch with the Anti Raid Network based in London to have further support in publicising and stopping potential deportations. Since in visa issues time is of the essence, we concluded the need to immediately make public maltreatment of international students and staff members and to organise protests as soon as we witness these situations in our home universities.

Another related aspect that was raised in the meeting is the enforcement of national policies like PREVENT within UK universities as well as the Monitoring Students’ Attendance scheme. Both of these measures create a situation in which staff members are being forced to take part in border policing and securitisation practices that potentially harm their students visa status. Data from Attendance Monitoring is directly being fed back to the UK Visas and Immigration Office. We criticised UK universities complicity in and affirmation of these practices as well as their strategy to “sell” these restrictive surveillance measures as practices of “care” for the students. One conclusion of our meeting is to call our home departments and universities out to name these monitoring practices as what they are: border policing and racist practices that create an atmosphere of distrust within our institutions and to ask them to stop hiding behind a discourse that tries to sell these practices as “care for the students”. In addition to this demand, we underlined the need for individual and collective subversion in regards to the Attendance Monitoring, which has to be performed by individual lecturers. We encourage the manipulation of registers by teaching staff as well as the need to have as many discussions as possible about these untenable surveillance measures with our colleagues and students and to organise collective resistance to these practices. One participant reported that within her institution the PhD students boycott the signing of the monthly registers.

Finally, it became obvious that our various host institutions are enforcing these monitoring practices quite differently. So, although constantly hiding behind the discourse that it is a national policy they cannot escape from, the individual institutions do have leeway how they enforce these measures. We decided it is necessary to compare these different enforcements to then push our own institutions towards the least strict execution.

Insourcing and Outsourcing

In this discussion, we focused primarily on mobilising specific demands i.e. to shut down the Warwick University-owned UniTemps. Important to note that agency workers don’t have the same rights as other directly-employed workers (whilst doing the same job).

For example, they don’t have access to University ordinances, can’t have time off in emergencies and can’t apply for flexible working patterns.

Quite a few recent developments in this field that are important to note, such as the serial ‘abusers’ of agency workers such as the Universities of Leicester and Surrey.

Opportunities to rely on casual workers maximised of course by shift towards private provision heralded by the Green Paper and the attempts to rely less on in-house academic support staff. See the recent dispute around University of Manchester’s IT provision. Warwick and TeachHigher obvious a worrying indicator of the direction of travel for the employment of academic staff.

At Leicester they have set up an ‘International Year One’ programme to be run by a private company, Study Group, as a form of in-sessional English for Academics Purposes training. Study Group also present at the University of Leeds. This primarily motivated by chasing the Chinese Yuan in a difficult UK funding environment. At Canadian universities new private providers introducing non-union clauses as part of terms and conditions. Also use of PEARL linguistics to provide community interpretation services at Brighton University.

Discussion as regards strategy in the group focussed on the demand—pressing for directly employing staff at Higher Education Institutions, to avoid a two-tier workforce. Also, one must recognise agency workers, alongside their inferior terms and conditions, lack an academic, campus voice.

In this regard, any campaign has to work with support staff in the spirit of the SOAS Justice for Cleaners campaign and the work of IGWB. In terms of focus, it was considered best to focus on UniTemps, to aim to make it a TeachHigher ‘success’ mark 2!

It was also highlighted how we should avoid arguments that revolve around subjective notions of ‘quality’, playing agency staff off against agency staff. Avoid divide and rule. Direct employment would objectively allow agency staff to perform an even better job.

As for next steps, we need to support groups such as IWGB and Corporate Watch as well as get UCU involved for advice. We need to build on local campaigns, too.

National Pay Frameworks and Terms & Conditions

This session focussed on pragmatic questions of how and where to target efforts given the current legal status of the casualised workforce. In discussing our broad demands for fair frameworks, this group had a clear eye on the difficult field ahead. The annotations we contributed focussed on pay frameworks, and the other myriad connected ways in which we are hampered in our jobs by lack of recognised labour rights. Casual staff must be afforded the same rights as permanent staff when doing the same work. We must fight for this with a practical awareness of the powers of our unions and of FACE. And we must do it with a weather eye on the coming storm of the TEF.

We began with some hard truths: the legal support for workers on casual contracts is scant. Without a statutory framework in place there is a risk in taking any case, lest it fail and set a precedent that hamstrings all future endeavours. In demanding better pay and work conditions, we need to be ready to pursue other avenues.

The strongest mechanism currently in place, it was suggested, is the UCU. Christina Paine provided the room with a very useful overview of the means at our disposal to petition the NEC, and to build on the work of the Anti-casualisation Committee. Whether our aims are local or national, getting casualised workers into the union and having them properly heard is key for this kind of action.

The point was also raised to general approval – and with a sense that it would be well to return to this idea at a later date – that FACE could become a known force offering support for casualised workers who find themselves trapped without recourse. Bringing things to light and having a visible wider support network can embarrass institutions and reassure exploited workers. This is a tool we can use.
What demands, then, serve as a rallying cry to get academics working collectively on pay issues?

A key point that emerged was a need to broaden the scope of our original remit. Pay frameworks alone are not enough. There are so many problems faced by casualised workers tied to our lack of official recognition in our departments. Email accounts are suspended between terms. Library memberships are revoked. Sometimes we are not even able to gain physical access to the buildings in which we teach.

Opacity in our contracts was a recurring theme underlying the pay question. Academics on casual contracts often do not know for what activities or hours they will be paid. Others are misled about their rights to longer-term contracts. Some are never issued written contracts at all. Job advertisements, contracting rules, payroll systems, and job titles are shrouded in mystery. As we work towards minimum standards for our contracts, it became clear that it’s difficult to overestimate the dearth of frameworks of any kind currently in place.

However, the point was raised and well supported that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. The basic rights for which we are asking are already mostly in place for permanent staff in our institutions. What we need, then, are not new processes. We need what already exists to be extended to casual staff.

We dwelt upon the importance of this. In framing our demands, we should be aware of the risks of entrenching the ‘casualised worker’s contract’ in the books. In seeking clarity and fair play, there is a risk of allowing university management to divide and conquer by latching onto the idea of casualised labour as an official workforce category, never to be displaced. We discussed the framing of our demands as an extension of existing frameworks to all of us in higher education.

Though some of the main conclusions to which we came were fed back at the plenary discussion, others are worth returning to for further discussion and debate. The outcomes of this session in broad terms:

– Payment frameworks and other rights negotiated by unions must be extended to casualised staff.

– We need transparency in hiring processes and contracting, including mandatory issuing of a clear written contract in a timely manner.

– There is power in having a union rep working for casualised workers. Facilities time for such a rep should be negotiable in a fair and practical way taking into account the nature of casualized hours.

Finally, we need to discuss the TEF. There was not time in this group session to give it the attention it deserved, but further discussion of our pay and employment rights in light of the Green Paper is a key priority. The changes it presages will only make things harder, and will once again disproportionately discriminate against us on the grounds of race, gender, class, and nationality.

Doctoral Researchers—Students or Workers?

This session discussed doctoral labour: all the work that doctoral researchers conduct (our research, organising conferences, “professional development”) which at present takes place outside an employment relationship. All this is work, currently obfuscated by our status as students, and the aim of the session was to formulate a demand in response to this. Discussion centred around whether there is anything to lose by moving from a studentship model to employment and how such a large-scale demand relates to more local and concrete movement-building.

The discussion started off with discussion of a few of the available alternatives to student status in the UK and abroad. In Sweden, for instance, doctoral candidates have a one year “studentship” before being upgraded to research employees from the second year with full employment benefits. Apprenticeships were mentioned as a model separating training and work, but it didn’t seem like this kind of separation would be possible for doctoral researchers and, after all, other employees get trained on the job.

A few consequences of moving to employment overnight don’t seem that desirable: paying tax on income rather than an untaxed scholarship, losing student concessions on transport and council tax, and the harsher visa conditions attached to work visas opposed to those for students. These show how this demand connects with others—accessible transport for all or the end of a racist and classist visa regime.

Funding was a central issue. Would employment status be the end of self-funded PhDs? But many people are excluded by the current system: people who can’t afford to conduct research, whether self-funded or with a scholarship below the living wage, and to demand employment conditions would make it possible for them to do research. Would there be fewer positions available if researchers were paid a decent wage? This looks a lot like an argument that a minimum wage cuts jobs. Again, this shows how the demand connects to broader issues—it has to include a demand not to cut provisioning of research. It was pointed out that this isn’t so unrealistic, because universities need the labour which doctoral researchers do.

There were some differences of opinion regarding how to spell out the connection with broader demands, especially whether we want to specify how employment status should be funded. At the very least, the demand needs to be that universities back up research proposals they accept with decent remuneration.

We also talked about where we might address this demand, and how we would achieve it. If we’re workers not students, we’d need to collectivise with the UCU instead of student unions. This has the benefit of putting us in a closer relationship with other workers in universities and would be a platform for posing a national demand.

Final session

In the final session of a long day, all the conference attendees got together in the lecture theatre, in order to do two things. Firstly to hear reports from each workshop session group about their discussions, and secondly to discuss and agree FACE’s demands, which were to be the outcome of the conference.

The workshop sessions had two, related goals. First to discuss the issues they raised in as wide a sense as possible and appropriate, second to formulate, where necessary, amendments or additions to the existing list of demands that had been drawn up by FACE members following discussions in the weeks preceding the conference. Each group was to bring forward any amendments they might propose to the final session, where they would be discussed and voted.

Most of the demands were agreed un-amended, or only with minor changes, and one existing demand was, for the time being at least, removed from the list. Some changes were to clarify meaning, or as in the final sentence added to the final demand, to propose concrete ways in which more generalised aims might be achieved. The final list of demands as agreed by the conference is here.

There was some discussion, and wide agreement, of the need to also think about two issues that had not so far been specifically raised in FACE’s list of demands. These are the insidious consequences of the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework, and its effect on casualised staff, and the gendered nature of the division of labour in universities. Attendees agreed that one feature of work in academia is the way in which different tasks are gendered in different ways, and in being gendered they are sorted into a hierarchy of value. Thus, pastoral care of students is often pushed onto female members of staff, and seen as less valuable. While this is a problem that is bigger than casualisation, it intersects in particular ways with the precarious nature of casual employment – which is itself gendered. For both this issue and the TEF, working groups were agreed to draw up proposed demands around these subjects to be discussed and agreed in future.

One demand which had previously been drawn up was abandoned, pending revision and further discussion. This was the argument that doctoral students should be treated as employees and paid as such. While there was widespread support for the idea that doctoral study should not require paid work outside of academia to finance it, there was disagreement over whether employment – rather than a system of liveable grants – was the best way to achieve this. Several attendees also pointed out the problems employee status would pose for non-EU students attempting to get visas (and indeed all students having to pay council tax, and so on).

The seven demands finally agreed by the conference are designed to move beyond the meta-demand – end casualisation – to a set of concrete steps designed to achieve this in the here and now. They are envisaged as a set of broad principles designed to unite casual workers across the sector, a programme with which hundreds of local campaigns across the country can align themselves, and a starting point for discussion and debate, as well as action and change!

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.

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.


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