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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

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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.

The privatisation of education: what is York getting INTO?

[More to follow, but here’s an uncensored version of an article I wrote for York Vision]

You’ll be hard pressed to find much about it online. Or in any emails from the university. Or any consultation with lecturers and students. York’s proposed ‘joint venture’ with INTO University Partnerships – a for-profit company which focuses on recruiting and teaching international students – has largely gone under the radar – in all likelihood, deliberately.

I came across the plans not through the university or YUSU, but through a UCU lecturer’s union briefing chucked on a few tables in Vanbrugh.

The plans are to half-privatise the recruitment and English language-teaching of international students by 2015, to an INTO-run building on Hes East near Goodricke. It appears they’ve already started the outsourcing process, with closed-door talks apparently being underway for half a year. According to my source, the UCU only found out through a ‘by-the-way’ comment during an unrelated VC presentation late last year.

Although the full plans aren’t completely clear yet – due to a notable lack of information and transparency – it looks likely that the uni will emulate other universities that have bunked up with INTO in the past. Almost all of which seem to have ended in disaster.

Let’s look at the partnerships at UEA, Exeter and Newcastle universities. According to Freedom of Information Requests, in the best case scenarios, four or five in every ten international students ‘recruited’ failed to progress onto one of the university’s courses. That opens up the risk of huge financial losses for the university.

The joint venture at Queen’s Belfast lost over £1.5 million in 2009/10, and was still losing £630k two years down the line. At Manchester College, the whole venture was called off in 2009 following £1.4m losses.

It was a similar story for City University – £2.5m losses in 2009/10. That’s nearly 300 students’ £9k fees down the pan.

INTO promised profits but actually wreaked financial chaos. Does the university really want to take such an enormous gamble with students’ money?

Where profits are sought and achieved however, the means are risky. In a bid to fill international student numbers paying sky-high fees at Exeter, the quality of those recruited was said – by management – to be ‘lower than those recruited by the university’. What can the university do about it? Locked into a long-term joint venture, not a lot. Moreover, the university – not INTO – sponsor students’ visas, meaning if INTO messes up, it’s the university that gets hit.

Moreover, new workers’ pay and conditions are likely to be affected. With no union recognition or public service ethos, INTO could put non-transferred staff on zero-hours contracts, lay off workers, and strip back hard-fought conditions. Even the company’s chair said ‘rates of pay are probably worse’. Their contracts say you can be sacked for actions which are ‘likely to prejudice the interests of the Company whether or not such conduct occurs in the course of your employment’. What could that mean? Speaking out against malpractice and mistreatment? Pushing for better working standards? It’s vague enough to be very dangerous indeed. The situation looks frightening for our Centre for English Language Teaching and its extremely (and rightfully) worried staff.

Finally, a company part-owned by a private equity firm is likely to want to expand its involvement with the university in the future. Will we even know the extent of its involvement? After all, it will be allowed to trade under ‘University of York’ branding.

Students and staff should – like 96% at Queen’s University, 94% at Goldsmiths and 90% at Essex – reject this whole dodgy scheme and keep services in-house. Many universities have indeed done so. Now that the lid is blown on the bid, York should follow suit.

Unions strike gold: York Uni’s lowest paid get a raise after industrial action

[My latest news article for Nouse, the UoY campus newspaper]

The University of York has increased the pay of its lowest-paid staff, in a move welcomed by unions on campus.

Management said they made the move as they were “concerned” to protect the worst-off at the university.

It comes at a time of national negotiations over a below-inflation pay offer of 1% by HE bosses’ group the University and College Employers’ Association, in what appears to be an initial strike victory by Unison and Unison who took co-ordinated action alongside lecturers’ union UCU on the 31st October.

In a statement, the university said: “We have decided that, regardless of the outcome of the [UCEA] pay settlement nationally, we will ensure that no employee of the university is paid less than £14,719 per annum (pro-rated according to the number of hours worked).”

The figure equates to £7.65 an hour for a 37 hour working week – the new non-London Living Wage – in a move that affects the first two salary points of Grade 1 staff. The rise will also be backdated to August 1 2013.

UNISON regional organiser Steve Torrance said: “This is a positive step from a university in the Russell Group of universities.

“While we welcome moves from any employer towards implementing the living wage for the lowest paid, all of our members need a fair pay rise of more than 1% after five years of real terms pay cuts.

“We echo York University management’s call for all parties to return to the negotiating table to resolve the current dispute.

“However, negotiations are like dancing and it takes two to tango. So my message to UCEA is strictly come dancing!”

With an £8.7m trading surplus, unions are convinced that the university has the money to afford an at- or above-inflation pay rise for all staff who have seen a 13% real-terms pay cut over the past few years.

Statement: We Condemn the Crackdown on Campus Activism

This open statement from University of York students and alumni was drafted following ULU President Michael Chessum’s arrest on Thursday. To add your name, write in the comments box or email jm1053@york.ac.uk. Other university students and groups across the UK are encouraged to write similar statements and share widely.

We, University of York students, alumni and society representatives, condemn the arrest of University of London Union President Michael Chessum on Thursday 14th November and the broader clampdown on activism on campuses across the UK.

Though Chessum has now been released, we write to wholeheartedly oppose the police’s behaviour and indeed treatment of peaceful protesters in the UK today. Chessum was arrested after leaving a meeting with University of London management over the forced University takeover of the Union, the largest SU in Europe, which hundreds of students had marched against the day before.

It is understood that the arrest was in response to this demonstration, organised by ULU. Thousands of students are demanding the Union remain student-led and the response from both the University and the police has been incredibly heavy-handed.

We, joining with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) state our full support for Michael Chessum and the campaign to defend ULU.

We call for all charges against Chessum to be dropped and his highly restrictive bail conditions – preventing him from engaging with any protest – removed.

The arrest comes in the same week that the Guardian revealed that police in Cambridge have been attempting to recruit students as informants to spy on student union activities, and the activities of student environmental and anti-cuts groups.

This follows a number of recent crackdowns on student demonstrations and a worrying increase in collusion between the police and our institutions. This includes the recent arrest of ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper for challenging the police stop-and-search policy, the arrest of two Edinburgh students for being on campus and nearby Princess Anne without permission, and the heavy-handed and violent police response to student chalking. Moreover, new legislation is currently being passed to further curtail protests that ‘disturb local residents’ – effectively crushing freedom of assembly at any point it is deemed a ‘nuisance’ by the police.

At this time of police repression and the withering of our democratic rights it is vital that students stand firm to defend these rights. We demand the right to protest when, where and how we see fit. We demand the right move freely through our campuses. We demand the right to organise autonomously, free from management interference.

As a movement we cannot allow them to succeed in quashing dissent.

We call on students nationally to stand together to protect the right to organise freely without fear of intimidation.

Signed:

Nick Devlin – University of York Green Party Chair
Rachel Statham – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Euan Raffle – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Melissa Saviste – University of York People and Planet Chair
Dylan Wilby – University of York Amnesty International Social Secretary
Hannah Jeans – University of York Palestinian Solidarity society Co-Chair
Sophie Mak-Schram – Student Action for Refugees Co-Chair
Katie Mapp – University of York Oxfam Chair
Denise Wong – People and Planet Secretary
Elizabeth Sheerin- Vice President Politics Society
Josiah Mortimer – University of York Green Party Press Officer
Leon Morris – YUSU Campaigns Officer, York Vision’s News Editor
Shakti Shah – University of York Green Party Campaigns Officer
Dave Taylor – former student, York Green Party councillor
Emma Brownbill – former YUSU LGBT Officer
Josh Allen – community journalist, UoY alumnus
Helena Horton – student journalist
Harkirit Boparai – Applied Human Rights MA 2013
Sanja Billic – post-graduate student
Sarah Vowden – 1st Year rep Politics Society
Alice Kewellhampton – 3rd year student, University of York
Sami Al Suwaidi – 2nd year student
Robin Monckton-milnes – 3rd Year Historical Archaeology
Indrani Sigamany – PhD student, Centre for Applied Human Rights

More names forthcoming

Caroline Lucas and others line up to back campus Living Wage campaign

[This article is from a press release published here at the Yorker]

The University of York Living Wage Campaign continues to grow as Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, and co-author of ‘The Spirit Level’ Richard Wilkinson became the latest to sign a pledge of support for the cause.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader, with the Living Wage pledge

The figures’ backing comes as a petition for the Living Wage at the university has acquired over 800 signatures in the last few weeks.

The Living Wage campaign on campus was formed in response to FoI requests which found that over 100 members of staff, and up to 640 including casual workers, currently receive less than the Living Wage.

Campaigners are soon to meet with senior management to discuss the implementation of the £7.20 pay rate deemed by the Centre for Research in Social Policy to be the necessary amount outside of London needed in order to enjoy a comfortable standard of living.

Fourteen London universities have already implemented the higher rate of pay, and the campaigners feel that York should be the next to implement the scheme to tackle what many have called “poverty-pay”.

Lisa Camps, chair of the University of York Green Party, said: “The fact that we have distinguished members of parliament offering their support just goes to show the national importance of the Living Wage campaign and compels senior management to listen. At a time of economic hardship, paying the Living Wage is the right thing to do.”

Camps added: “In the UK, only the pay of those at the very top has risen in real terms for the last three decades, hopefully this will be a step forward in redressing that balance.”

Campaigners argue that awarding the Living Wage to staff at the university will help to decrease the growing pay gap that currently stands at 16:1, with Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor earning around £260,000 – which equates to £5000 for every week of the year.

Commenting on the campus campaign at the launch event on March 5, Richard Wilkinson, an expert and author on inequality, said: “I’m quite sure you will win this.”

Attendance at Living Wage events held at the University of York has been growing as the campaign builds and has attracted the attention of Heslington Cllr David Levene and YUSU President-elect Kallum Taylor, who were among the attendees of the launch event on the 5th March.

Labour Club Chair Rhiân Davies commented: “The reception we’ve had from students has been overwhelmingly positive, people really appreciate that everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

The Living Wage campaign is a cross-party campaign, with Labour, UoY Greens and the Liberal Democrats all involved, and the committee meets at 14:15 every Thursday in V/122.

The Verdict: Sarah Newton’s Visit to Tremough Campus

Last Saturday students occupying the library at Tremough Campus asked Truro & Falmouth MP Sarah Newton to come in order to receive a petition with over 1,000 signatures which condemned the cuts. Students used the opportunity to question her about the rise in tuition fees and the £81bn in spending cuts being made by the government.

Though the visit obviously did not lead her to denounce the cuts, it did present a clear idea of the scale of opposition among her constituents toward the government’s economic policy. Around 50 undergraduates and a couple from Truro College came to challenge her about everything from EMA to Cameron’s FIFA visit.

Her responses at the beginning were standard Tory arguments. ‘The cuts are necessary’ (myth), we need to ‘rebalance our economy’ (myth), we have ‘ran out of money’ (myth), just a few of them. But when asked about EMA, her response was both disturbing and ludicrous. I asked how the scrapping of EMA fits in with her vision of so-called ‘compassionate conservatism’, to which she replied that it was not being scrapped (when it is facing over a 90% cut) and that most people on EMA abused it and shouldn’t be receiving it. She claimed it was ‘very poorly means tested’ – a claim that students who have tried to apply know is completely false, as applications have to be checked by the appropriate tax agencies. EMA helps thousands of students go to college, and without it, many from poorer backgrounds simply won’t be able to go.

She also said she ‘didn’t have an opinion’ on Trident funding, despite being an elected MP with a responsibility to at least have a vague idea about appropriate spending.

As the debate went on, she became more defensive, and somewhat patronising. Of course, MPs have time constraints, but by the end her constantly looking at her watch gave an indication that she could not handle the discussion, eventually leaving because she ‘had to be somewhere’. When she said she would respond to any unanswered questions via email, I had to add that she had not responded to my email sent on the 18th November asking her to vote against the rise in tuition fees.

Ironically, the Tory society’s ‘counter-protest’ against our meeting only served to boost our numbers, and the false-conscious, pompous remarks they occasionally interjected with from the background were dwarfed by the overwhelming indignation in the room about the cuts to education and the rest of the public sector.

The discussion was a valuable exercise in scrutiny and accountability. The Sarah Newton visit was invaluable, because now the action over the next few months against fees and cuts is wholly justified – because when MPs ignore the concerns of ordinary constituents, the argument must be taken to the streets.