Fighting the commodification and casualisation of higher education

Mark Campbell, London Met UCU (Vice-chair), London Region UCU (Higher Education Chair)

Re-posted with permission from London Met UCU’s blog

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This Monday, London Met UCU published the damning conclusions of a workload survey we recently conducted. It’s main findings were the shocking, health damaging, increase in workload – following continuing mass redundancies, now affecting London Met’s permanent substantive staff. Essentially, contractual workload protections have been subverted through the convenient mechanism of line-managers not recognising ANY work other than face-to-face lecturer-student teaching as needing to be measured (but still expected under threat of discipline to be conducted). The documented survey comments highlighting those appalling lived-experiences are shocking.

However, what our survey also highlighted was the other, even more discriminating, and health-risking, side of the modern commodified dystopian university: a permanently exploited, zero-houred, reserve army of labour. These staff have zero job-security, zero-reward for years of service, zero-protection from redundancy (their zero-hour contract is constructed to allow them to be permanently-redundant between crumbs of work). The appalling conditions of casualised lecturing staff are not unique to London Met, and are shockingly highlighted in today’s Guardian front-page and accompanying articles.

London Met management may be ahead of the pack in their future-imperfect full on rush to a privatised market dystopia, but the rest of the university sector are now snapping at its heals and about to be let off the leash by the Higher Education Bill 2016.

All university staff, permanent substantive or casualised, have a vested interest in fighting to end the commodification of education, and its equally evil twin, the casualisation of university labour. We need permanent secure contracts for all staff, that truly reflect and reward ALL the work that we do, and we need enough staff that allow us to deliver the sort of quality service that our students deserve. The neo-liberal model has failed. Time to remove it from education.

In these circumstances, and particularly at this critical time, its an absolute disgrace that the current UCU leadership have acted to disarm our members in that fight by dropping our national industrial action and pay campaign that was explicitly aimed at taking on all our employers over their collective guilt and complicity over both increasing casualisation and the equally shocking increasing gender pay-gap.

FInally, with regards to the Higher Education Bill 2016, we don’t need fatally flawed measures of ‘teaching excellence’ or ‘student satisfaction surveys’ – indeed, we should be supporting the NUS decision to boycott the NSS. Instead, what we really need is proper investment in the essential public good that a university education is. That starts with recognising the critical role that university staff play in forming and delivering that public good. It means recognising, as the NUS does, that ‘staff working conditions are students learning conditions’. It means recognising that society as a whole inextricably benefits from an educated workforce and critically engaged citizenry, therefore society should pay for it through student grants and direct university block grants via increased business taxation. We need to break the rod of mass student indebtedness and free from their shackles our indentured university employees.

This is why I, and thousands of others, will be marching this Saturday in London, United for Education.

 

Support education workers on strike for #FairPayInHE

fair payThis week, the UCU trade union (representing academic and related workers, including many students who teach as postgrads) announced the opening of industrial action in their campaign for fairer pay in higher education. They will be on strike in universities 25-26 May, and at the same time beginning to work to contract, which means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues. If the situation does not improve, they are planning further strikes and a marking boycott.

They are fighting to reverse pay cuts that have seen their real-terms income slashed by 14.5% since 2009, to close the gender pay gap that sees women systematically paid less, and to push back against the casualization of work in higher education and ensure that casualised staff – like hourly-paid postgrad teaching assistants – are paid equally and in full for their work.

We totally support these demands, and extend our solidarity to staff as they take industrial action to win them. Not only do they deserve better, the unjust treatment of education workers affects students too and damages education. We know that short-term disruption to education as a result of industrial action is worth it to prevent the long-term damage threatened and to push back against the injustices staff face – and we note that the action can be called off as soon as our university managers agree to the demands.

In particular, we would like to extend our support to those workers campaigning to push the often-under-prioritised issues of the gender pay gap and casualisation into the foreground of the dispute, such as the activists of Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (many of whom are students themselves, working as postgraduate teachers).

What can I do?

NCAFC will be organising to support the campaign – keep your eyes peeled for further info. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Sign the petition and share it. This is a simple way to add to the pressure on university managers and show them that students support our staff and we won’t be divided. Sharing the petition is also an easy way to spread awareness of the campaign. You can find the petition here.
  • Reach out to your university’s UCU branch. Let them know you support them, and ask them what you can do together to build the campaign. Maybe you could co-organise a protest or a rally on campus?
  • Build the trade union. If you are a postgrad teacher, join UCU and join the industrial action (and if you’re a postgrad but not teaching right now, you can get involved in the union as a student member for free). And support recruitment drives to get postgrads into the union.
  • Get your student union to support the campaign. Find out what your student union is saying and doing about the campaign. If they’re not already supporting fair pay and the industrial action, call on your SU officers to show solidarity, and if you can, propose a motion for a vote at an SU meeting.
  • Get creative. Think about stunts and direct action to increase the pressure! And ways you can reach other students with information and convince them to back the campaign, from posters all over campus, to social media, to reaching out to clubs and societies.
  • Join the picket lines. On strike days, trade unionists will set up picket lines at entrances to your university – don’t cross these lines, but instead offer them support and help out.