Anti-Privatisation Win in York – Uni Pulls out of INTO outsourcing plans

It doesn’t happen a lot, but once in a while there’s some good news for lefties in the UK.

After a brewing underground uproar by students and staff, the University of York has decided not to go ahead with its controversial plans to outsource the recruitment and English-language teaching of international students to part-hedge fund-owned INTO University Partnerships, a multinational firm.

Despite assertions in student media that the plans wouldn’t amount to privatisation (since the university would retain a 50% stake), many saw through it. There have been rowdy Senate meetings, mass leafleting by union activists and strong cases made against the proposals in joint union/management forums.

The idea was worrying from the start. Currently in-house staff would have been transferred to the company, and once the private-sector pressure grew too intense, it was likely that that they would leave and be replaced by people on worse contracts. Even the head of INTO has admitted himself that rates of pay are worse at the organisation.

That’s not the only reason it was always a bad idea. I was contacted by a member staff from another UK university INTO works with when the plans were announced. They warned of the disaster that the INTO contract had been, saying the York plans “threaten the fabric of your university.”

INTO contracts which started at other universities with just student recruitment are now allegedly spreading into other areas of campus management. Outsourcing is a “slippery slope”, I was told. Once you lose the capacity to run services in house, it’s more difficult to take them back under university control when companies fail.

The UCU’s briefing at York noted that at Exeter University, where INTO run international student recruitment, “the university council recently expressed concern that students coming via INTO were now of a lower quality than those recruited by the university” – all to reach targets and make a profit.

That’s not all. “In January this year, UEA pulled out of a joint venture in London having lost £2.5 million over two years and written off a further £3 million that it invested late last year trying to save the project,” the document pointed out. The same thing has happened in many other campuses across the county, including Queen’s Belfast, City University, and Manchester College. In Joint Ventures, profits and losses are shared equally. So where the company messes up, students take the hit too.

“Prevent it and you will inspire others” – that was the message from the concerned member of staff at another partner university. We should be congratulate the UCU branch at York for campaigning to prevent this undemocratic and ideological scheme from going any further. They have shown that the outsourcing tide is not irreversible.

A member of staff who would be affected at York told me when the plans were going through their “faith in the integrity of our leaders on campus [was at an] all-time low.” Now, hopefully, their faith can be a little bit restored.

Universities should be run for students, not for private company profits. The message we can learn from this saga is that, when concerns become ever louder, the university has to take heed of this fact. It’s hard to say it, but hats off to them for listening. Although maybe, just maybe, they feared the anti-privatisation unrest that hit Birmingham and Sussex Universities recently could visit our little Northern city…

Greens now third party amongst students

Students are now more likely to vote Green than Liberal Democrat or UKIP, a recent poll has shown.

Support for the Green Party amongst students is now higher than ever before, with 14% of students backing the Greens – ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 6% and UKIP on 5%, the poll conducted by YouthSight found.

The poll, taken as part of the comprehensive Student Vote 2014 survey, follows another from the Tab this month showing Green support at 12% to the Lib Dems’ 10% and UKIP on 8%.

Siobhan MacMahon from the Young Greens, said: “The Green Party is the only party campaigning for university to be free, as it is across much of Europe. This is one of the many reasons students are leaving the Liberal Democrats and joining the Green Party. Pushing the Lib Dems into third place shows they have rightly paid a high price for their betrayals.

“Students are flocking to the Greens as a serious alternative to the right-wing consensus of the main parties, and Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should take notice.

“With Green support amongst students higher than ever before, our progressive message for a Living Wage, an end to zero hours contracts, publicly-owned services and a fair deal for the planet is resounding with thousands across the country.”

The Tab survey also showed students supported Green Party policies, such as same-sex marriage, legalising marijuana and remaining in the European Union. The Conservatives topped the poll with 33%, beating Labour into second with 30%, while YouthSight’s survey had Labour on 43% and the Conservatives on 24%.

The YouthSight poll was conducted at the start of April and surveyed over 1000 students. Over 5,000 students responded to the poll on the Tab’s website.

Young Greens hold unprecedented national ballot for NUS conference

After a national ballot of all members, the youth branch of the Green Party has voted to back University of London Union Vice President Daniel Cooper by 71% to be the next leader of the NUS, and members also decided which other senior executive candidates to support.

Clifford Fleming, Young Greens co-chair, said: “As Greens we are proud to be fully democratic. In running this vote we have sent a signal to the rest of the student movement to follow suit. We have set a democratic precedent, and will be continuing it in future.

“Young Greens have made their decision clear, and we are pleased to announce we will be supporting Daniel Cooper for President. Daniel is a principled left-wing candidate who as ULU Vice President has shown his dedication to fighting for students and university staff alike, whether through the Tres Cosas cleaner campaign or opposing to shut down of ULU by university management.

“Young Greens will be pushing for free education, decent student grants and for an end to the startling inequalities now present in the sector, as well as supporting workers taking action for fair pay and opposing outsourcing and education cuts. Young Greens have voted to back candidates who stand up for justice in Higher Education.

“This is a crucial point just days before the conference begins, and Young Greens, along with activists in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and other progressive organisations, hope to set the tone and make this NUS conference a turning point for the student movement.”

Members were sent candidates manifestos by email on the 2nd April and asked to vote in an online poll of who to support, with the result announced on the 6th April via Facebook.

The vote will be an indicative ballot, and will influence how Young Green delegates vote at this weekend’s NUS conference in Liverpool from the 8th to 10th April.

Young Greens voted to support:

  • Daniel Cooper for President
  • Hannah Webb for Vice President Union Development
  • Kelly Rogers for Vice President Welfare
  • Sky Yarlett for Vice President Society and Citizenship
  • Jesse Dodkins for Vice President Further Education
  • Megan Dunn for Vice President Higher Education

 

 

New Songs and Stuff

Just a quick update on the musical side of life. Since publishing my last post here I’ve recorded three new songs – all covers, for a change. As usual, free to hear/download/pirate/destroy/share/generally defame.

The first I recorded for St Piran’s Day – the Cornish ‘national’ day – and the song is the Cornish anthem Trelawney (or Song of the Western Men). Gets the patriotic blood flowing. Not that I’m in to patriotism generally, but Cornwall is pretty great so I don’t really mind.

The next is a cover of Bob Dylan’s beautiful Song to Woody, an ode to Woody Guthrie, the early 19thC socialist folk hero of America. Hope I’ve done it justice. If not, well, soz.

Finally, another Guthrie-related tune, This Land is Your Land, written by the great man himself. I’ve tried to ‘angry’ it up a bit. The lyrics are brilliant, and still very relevent.

The new EP is coming along slowly and should be released with a launch gig over the next month or so, and I’ve got a gig lined up at the Sage in Gateshead on the 29th April, as well as a couple of other speculative gigs lined up. Everything’s up in the air with the end of my degree, but music is a nice distraction.

Anyway, that’s all, folks.

PS don’t forget to visit my SoundCloud page where all my stuff resides/goes to die - soundcloud.com/josiah-mortimer. I’m also, inevitably, on Facebook. Have a gander, and ‘like’ that shiz.

As Young Workers’ Month Ends: It’s Time to Get Organised

Today marks the end of Young Workers’ Month. The below is my article for the Huffington Post on it.

It’s been a bad few weeks for trade unionism. Two of its greatest champions – Tony Benn and Bob Crow – have both passed away. But beneath the sadness, something interesting has been happening. Something that offers hope for a previously moribund movement.

March marked the first Young Workers’ Month – four weeks of activities organised by the TUC to kick some life back into trade unionism.

It’s no secret that young people, by and large, aren’t members of unions. Just 8% of 16-24 year olds are members of a union in their workplace. That leaves 92% of young people almost entirely dependent on the whim of employers and the (largely right-wing) government. The fact that just a tiny minority of Generation Y are protected at work doesn’t bode well for those seeking a fairer society.

But Young Workers’ Month is trying to turn that around, both through the TUC and the actions of its dozens of its still-powerful member unions. With union numbers at less than half of their 1970s peak of 14 million, now seems the right time.

I spoke to Carl Roper, head of organising at the TUC and the co-ordinator of Young Workers Month. He told me YWM aims to ‘highlight within the trade union movement that there is a crisis with respect to union membership amongst young workers’: a chance to ask, ‘what are we going to do to reach out?’ It’s potentially the biggest issue for the left in Britain.

But perhaps young people just aren’t interested in collectivism anymore? Roper disagrees: ‘We don’t believe there’s a ‘Thatcher generation’ who don’t like unions or collective action. The evidence is the other way actually – young people are political, they are active. It’ just their knowledge of unions is very limited.’

Why? For a start, media coverage of unions almost exclusively tends of focus on when they are at their angriest – protests and strikes. Yet naturally, this ignores the day-to-day role of union representatives, 200,000 of whom deal with the pretty unglamorous case work, from representing staff at employment tribunals to sitting in on management meetings and putting forward an alternative voice. Yet lack of decent media coverage can’t be the only factor for low unionisation rates – after all, it’s hardly new.

One reason for young people’s ‘union apathy’, if there’s such a thing, could be fairly simple. Most of them tend to work in sectors of the economy where union organisation is just non-existent and difficult to unionise – after all, how do you get part-time bar staff on zero-hours contracts out on the picket lines?

’25% of all 16-24 year olds work in retail, where union density is 12%. The next highest proportion is food and hospitality – where density is 3%. So young people just don’t come into contact with unions,’ Roper told me. Turning those stats around is a tough job, but one that Britain’s union confederation seems hopeful it can do. Out of necessity, perhaps more than anything.

But there is a perception, at least from young people I know, that unions – as useful as they are for older people, just aren’t for us. Picture the flat-capped 1960s male factory worker shouting ‘everyone out’.

That, perhaps, is where social media comes in. Wednesday will see an online Q&A over Twitter with the first ever female TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, called, appropriately, #askfrances. It’s a nifty way of piquing the interest of a seemingly individualised (and thus isolated) demographic.

Maybe we’re not so isolated, though. ‘Young people do join unions where there is one – if you work in a hospital, if you’re a nurse, a teacher, a civil servant, or on London Underground, working at a local authority or a car company or an airport, you’re more likely to join a union where the workplace is organised…But too many young people work in places where there’s no union organisation at all’.

The question remains as to why these sectors are unorganised. ‘Young people don’t know about unions, and don’t have the lived experience of them. Over 50% of people in the UK now have never been a member.’ The solution? Roper raised the prospect of teaching about trade unions in school, but it’s hard to see how that will go down with Michael Gove.

Offering better prospects may be something tucked away in the back of last May’s TUC Campaign Plan – ‘gateway membership’. The idea offers a chance for young people to get a taste of being in a union where there isn’t a presence at their workplace. Roper said it was in its ‘embryonic stages’ and was cautious to discuss whether it will go ahead or not, but it seems a chance not to be missed.

2014 seems pretty late to be starting all this. Yet Roper dismisses the idea unions have ignored young people: ‘It was unions that campaigned for the minimum wage, and for it to be equalised among young and old workers now.’ This is on top of the current Fair Pay Fortnight, as well as the TUC’s push alongside the NUS for an end to unpaid internships via a phone app.

The latter is most poignant as it’s students who may offer the best hope for union revival, giving it the radical kick it needs. Campaigns alongside the UCU, Unite and Unison on UK campuses for a Living Wage and an end to outsourcing – whether at Birmingham, Sussex, the University of the Arts, or through the London-based ‘Tres Cosas’ (‘Three Things’) struggle – all serve as testament to what happens when, to steal a phrase from 2010, ‘students and workers unite and fight’. With the ‘cost of living’ crisis raging, Young Workers’ Month offers the prospect of bringing that sentiment back…

 

Young Greens begin week of action against university pay inequality

Fair Pay Campus

The Young Greens launched a week of actions at campuses across the country on Monday as part of a growing campaign against pay inequality at UK universities.

Actions are being held at the University of East Anglia, Imperial College London and Leeds Met to draw attention to the huge rise in senior management pay at a time when Higher Education staff are facing real-terms pay cuts.

The youth branch of the Green Party, which represents thousands of students and young people in England and Wales, has launched the week of action running from the 17th March-21st March as part of its Fair Pay Campus Campaign. Our Fair Pay campaign is calling on universities to:

1. Publish the ratio between their highest and lowest paid worker
2. Commit to working towards a 10:1 ratio on campus
3. Pledge to pay directly employed workers the living wage
4. Ensure your contractors pay their workers the living wage
5. Publish the pay of vice chancellors and senior management

Chris Jarvis, Campaigns Coordinator and organiser of the week of action said: “Fair pay at our universities is resoundingly on the agenda. As part of our ongoing campaign to make pay in the higher education sector more equal, the Young Greens have called this national week of action to demand universities take the huge pay gap in the sector seriously and to treat institutions of education as public goods – not fat-cat corporations.

“Over the past 6 months, education unions have been rightly taking industrial action over a 13% real terms pay cut since 2008 – at a time when the pay of the average Vice Chancellor has increased by 8% last year alone. It’s time for university bosses to treat all staff fairly instead of stuffing their own pockets.

“Thousands of university staff across the country are lingering on low pay and being shifted from outsourced contract to contract, while university heads earn more than the Prime Minister. Our Fair Pay League report shows that if university heads took a pay cut to £140,000 – still an enormous sum – the money raised could bring thousands of minimum wage workers up to the Living Wage.

“As it stands, the lowest paid in HE currently have to work on average 18.6 years to earn the annual salary of the head of their university. This is a national scandal at a time of cuts to education, and it’s time that universities got behind the Young Greens’ call for maximum pay ratios of 10:1. Our week of action will be calling on universities to do just that.”

Charlene Concepcion, Co-Chair of the London Young Greens, commented: “While students are being saddled with debts and workers across the country are continuing to struggle on poverty pay it is galling to see how the heads of our universities continue to line their pockets and those of their colleagues. Education should be for everyone and our foremost educational establishments should represent that spirit of fairness and public service.

“In line with Green party policy, we’re calling on universities to pledge that, as a minimum, all their staff will be paid the Living Wage – a wage they can build a life-around. We also want to see them move towards a fairer pay ratio where no one is paid more than ten times the wage of the lowest earner.”

The demonstration at Imperial College will begin at 13.00 on Friday 21 March and will take place outside the Rector’s Office in South Kensington.

Leeds Metropolitan University Young Greens re-launched their Fair Pay campaign on the 18th March.

The Facebook event for the Week of Action is here: www.facebook.com/events/630502876998854/

Read the Young Greens’ Fair Pay League report on university pay: fairpayunis.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/2013-fair-pay-league.pdf

For more details visit the campaign website at fairpayunis.wordpress.com and Twitter: twitter.com/FairPayCampus. Find the Young Greens online at: younggreens.greenparty.org.uk

Young Greens Logo - Vertical-01

UCU Head Urges York Uni Staff to Reject Recruitment Outsourcing Plans

The General Secretary of the national lecturers’ union UCU has written to hundreds of University of York staff urging them to reject the proposal to outsource the provision of basic English-language teaching and international student recruitment.

In an email last Friday (7th), Sally Hunt warned that the planned Joint Venture between the University and multi-national company INTO University Partnerships was ‘a dangerous and risky gamble’.

The plans are for much of the currently in-house Centre for English Language Teaching’s work to be undertaken by the private company  over at a new building on Heslington East, in a scheme 50% owned by the university. It is expected, if it goes ahead, to begin in Autumn 2015, being fully operational from 2016. However, university staff as well as student union representatives including Kallum Taylor have raised concerns about the plans which some see as ‘part-privatisation’.

Hunt said: “The joint venture will involve the university committing millions of pounds to setting and sustaining a new company with INTO to recruit and teach international students.

“UCU has serious concerns about these joint ventures. We believe that INTO’s need to generate profit will create pressure to cut corners in academic standards. We know that INTO employs staff on lower pay rates and worse terms and conditions than comparable university staff.

“We also know that two of the joint ventures have been dissolved following losses and two more continue to make losses  years after they opened, surviving on loans of millions of pounds from their partner universities. A joint venture with INTO will be a big issue for your university and for everyone who works there.

Hunt said it was “not too late to stop this gamble”, and noted that UCU campaigns have helped persuade universities to avoid these joint ventures at a succession of other universities including Essex, Goldsmiths, Oxford Brookes and De Montfort, where over 90% of staff consulted opposed the plans.

However, the University of York has defended the early-stage proposals, which were put to the Senate in February.

In an article for York Vision, University Registrar David Duncan said: “The programmes would increase the throughput of well-qualified overseas students, especially for undergraduate courses but also for some postgraduate programmes. This in turn would improve the University’s financial position, generate funds for reinvestment in staff and facilities, and raise our profile overseas.

“INTO is regarded as the market leader at the present time. It would provide both capital to build new facilities and recruitment of students through its network of overseas agents who specialise in recruiting students to foundation courses.”

He said that the plans were ‘far from’ the privatisation of Higher Education: “We already partner with external providers to fund capital investments on campus; likewise, we make use of recruiting agents around the world to attract students to York.  Under this proposal, the University would retain complete academic control of entry, programmes and progression, and would have a 50% stake in the joint venture.”

However, the UCU have produced a leaflet at York on what they see as the dangers of the INTO proposals after significant financial losses and underperformance were reported at other partner universities.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,660 other followers

%d bloggers like this: