higher education

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…

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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.

Lecturers and university staff in first UK-wide joint strike over pay

Originally published by Nouse, the University of York student newspaper

Thousands of lecturers and non-academic staff will go on strike over pay on Thursday 31st October, after members of the University and College Union, Unite and Unison each voted strongly for joint action over the coming weeks.

The announcement follows a ballot of academic staff in the UCU – the union representing nearly 120,000 workers in colleges and universities – which saw 62% back strike action and 77% support action short of a strike in a long-running pay row that has led to increasing tensions between higher education workers and the Universities and College Employers Association, which represents university managements. It will be first ever UK-wide joint strike by university unions.

UCU representatives called the ballot after university bosses allegedly refused to budge on a 1% pay rise offer, and the industrial action will hit nearly all UK universities, including York, unless university employers’ representatives agree to urgent talks.

Speaking to Nouse, Joanna de Groot, President of the University of York Branch of UCU, said: ‘At a time when universities have healthy financial surpluses of around £1bn, and feel able to award senior staff substantial pay rises, their offer to the staff who deliver the core activities of universities leaves us with something like a 12-13% fall in our pay over the last four years.

‘Industrial disputes in universities are always challenging for university staff who are very committed to students, to colleagues and to the work they do; having received a mandate to take action we shall work with all our members to ensure they understand how important it is to support it’. She noted that locally the union has good relations with Unison and Unite.

UCU head of higher education Michael MacNeil said: ‘staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay. Quite simply, enough is enough. We urge the employers to reflect on the fact that they are about to face their first ever strike by three unions at the same time and come to the negotiating table to resolve this dispute.

‘The suppression of academic pay is one of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War and, while strike action is always a last resort, the fact that staff are prepared to take this step demonstrates just how angry they are.’

A former member of the UCU’s National Executive, Doug Rouxel, told Nouse: ‘Ultimately, this industrial action is about protecting the Higher Education sector from a dangerous gamble being made by Vice Chancellors.

‘The employer representatives must start negotiating with the unions on the claim, not dismissing it out of hand, as they have done so far.’

A Unite union ballot of 20,000 non-academic staff at universities, including York, saw 64% also backing strike action. The staff include technicians, laboratory assistants, administrators and facilities’ management staff. Unison members, also represented at York, voted for strike action by 54%. Solidarity action from students is expected after a statement of support was launched on Wednesday by the Student Assembly Against Austerity.

Speaking before the announcement, a University of York spokesperson said: ‘We have contingency plans in place in the event of industrial action, and will keep staff and students informed as and when we hear of any plans for action’.

The pay campaign will include action short of a strike including slow-downs and an overtime ban.

Should students welcome today’s fees annoucement?

The universities minister David Willetts suggested today that poorer students could have their fees covered for the first year of university by the government. The announcement was immediately denounced by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts as ‘appeasement politics’. Education activists maintain that the proposals still base university opportunity on parental wealth. Ed Miliband calls the bill an ‘assault on social mobility’ and strongly opposes the government’s plans.

While these criticisms are valid, I think the move should be partially welcomed. It is a concession that has only happened in the light of the recent student protests. But it is only that – a concession – and the fees package should be rejected by all those who campaign for free, universal education. The ability for universities to effectively set the rates of fees on courses, up to £9,000, creates a market in HE, forcing the notion of profit into education, and opening up the possibility of departments, universities and whole courses being abandoned merely because of competition or low take-up.

One problem that hasn’t yet been fully explored is that of antipathy. With the present £3k cap, everyone pays the same amount. And while this is not preferable to free education, it does establish a sense of unity and cohesion between students. With variable fees, antipathy could grow between those on lower incomes who may not have to pay for their first year (under today’s announcement) and those paying the highest rate. Thus the level of social division and inequality actually increases.

Universality is what makes public institutions, such as the NHS, last – shared identity, common interest. The rise in fees and the subsequent privatisation of higher education removes this fundamental premise and could be incredibly disruptive for students who currently share classes with people from all economic backgrounds.

The protest on the 9th will go ahead as planned. The coalition’s aim to increase fees and cut funding to HE should be resisted by all students, regardless of little sweeteners such as the one announced today.