UCU

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.

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.

The #fairpayinHE battle is about the future of education. Time for some solidarity

[A version of this article was first published by The Yorker]

York strikers rally outside management's offices

You’d think for institutions that pay their Vice Chancellors nearly £250,000 on average, over £100k more than the Prime Minister, the rest of the staff would be paid pretty handsomely as well. Universities with millions in surplus, raking in £9k-per-student fees, should be able to remunerate their staff fairly. They should. But they don’t.

At the same time as 1,633 members of Senior Management are paid more than £140k – the salary of the government’s Secretary for Higher Education – nearly 5000 struggle to get by on the Minimum Wage in HE.

This is the national trend, made clear after a Young Greens report, The Fair Pay League, revealed last week that If university heads took a pay cut to £140,000, the money raised nationally would be more than enough to pay every minimum wage worker (there’s nearly 5,000 of them in the sector) a Living Wage. At the current rate however, the lowest paid have to work on average 18.6 years to earn the annual salary of the head of their university. At York the figure is similar.

Indeed, the same report revealed that in 2012, the number of senior staff paid over £140k in our universities:

‘…gives a total of over £228 million spent annually on high wages in Higher Education. If the 113 highest paid employees are not included, the remaining 1,520 paid over £140,000 could take a reduction in pay of no more than £10,774 each (a maximum of 7.7%) in order to give the other 6,769 lowest paid staff in the Higher Education sector a raise to the Living Wage.’

So the level of inequality in Higher Education is staggering. It’s no wonder then that workers launched the first ever joint national university strike on the 31st against a measly 1% pay offer – a real-terms pay cut when inflation is taken into account.

The lecturers’ union, the UCU, was joined by thousands in the Unite and Unison trade unions in an unprecedented move of unity following strong votes in favour of action last month.

It’s about time. The 1% pay offer comes after 4 years of pay freezes and below-inflation rises, equating to a 13% cut in university workers’ incomes. This is happening while the highest paid in our universities are seeing their pay rise, while tuition fees have been hiked and while courses are closing and universities face privatisation by the back door. Even the student loan book is being sold off to private companies to make a quick buck – and make no mistake, our debt will soar as a result.

So these striking workers are fighting for education as a whole in the face of brutal attacks from central government in terms of nigh-100% cuts to humanities subjects, the butchering of other departments – and eternal attacks on pay and conditions.

If you care about the people who teach us, who clean up after us, who serve us in canteens and who keep our university going, back the campaign. If you care about what this government is doing to education, and you think sky-rocketing inequality in the education system has to stop, back the campaign. If you think everyone deserves fair pay and not an endless race to the bottom, back the campaign.

How? The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have put out the following call for students to, over the coming days and weeks:

  • Hold meetings, protests and rallies on your campus in support of the strikes, and against the privatisation of student debt
  • Build contacts with staff and co-ordinate action at every level: across cities, on campuses and in departments
  • Hold flash occupations – ‘shockupations’ – in solidarity with the pay dispute

To sign the call, email againstfeesandcuts@gmail.com. Get organising, folks. With Sheffield, Sussex and SOAS all going into occupation over the past few days, this is a rare radical upsurge the left can’t afford to miss.

Young Greens join university strike pickets and call for student support

[My first press release for the Young Greens in my new post at Press Officer on the national committee! See original here]

Young Greens groups across the country will be backing lecturers and other university staff on strike this Thursday, following a unanimous vote by the Young Greens National Committee to support the industrial action over pay and other issues.

Members of the Green Party’s youth branch will be joining picket lines in Manchester, Norwich, York and elsewhere.

The strike action is over a 13% real-terms pay cut over the last four years and a below-inflation 1% pay offer this year, as well as calls for equal pay between male and female workers. There is currently a £1bn surplus in the higher education sector which the Unite, Unison and UCU unions argue should be used to ensure fair remuneration.

Manchester Young Greens will be joining the action, with Young Greens national Co-Chair Clifford Fleming speaking at a strike rally on the day, where he will say: “We are united against an ideological affront to Higher Education, an affront which has resulted in tripled tuition fees, course closures, cuts, and the shoddy treatment of workers in the sector.

The attacks to university pay and conditions are part of a broader attack on education by the coalition government, and it’s vital that students support the strike.”

In Norwich, University of East Anglia Young Greens will be joining picket lines on the day. Chris Jarvis, society Equality & Diversity Co-Ordinator, said: “The UEA Young Greens are proud to support our lecturers and other university workers faced with a measly 1% pay offer – a real-terms cut in the income of thousands of staff at the University.

‘Students must show our solidarity in the face of the government’s attempts to undermine education and the public sector as a whole. This race to the bottom has to stop. With 15 members of staff at the top paid more than the Minister for Higher Education, decent pay for our cleaners, catering staff, technicians and other workers should be a given”.

University of York Green Party members have launched a student petition in support of the workers taking action. Chair Nick Devlin said: “We are encouraging all students to visit the picket lines during the strike and show some support for the people who keep our university running. This petition is calling for fair pay for all at the University and is a show of solidarity from students.

“With the Vice Chancellor paid nearly 18 times more than the lowest paid, it’s time for fair pay on campus – a Living Wage for all and a maximum pay ratio of 10:1.”

The petition is available here, and calls on students to boycott lectures and seminars in support of striking staff.

The strike comes after the launch of a Young Greens report, The Fair Pay League, which shows that the average Vice Chancellor pay is over £248,000, and 1,633 senior staff members in the sector are paid over £140,000 per year – more than enough to pay the nearly 5,000 workers on the Minimum Wage at Universities a Living Wage.

More information on the strike and a petition for those backing the strike to sign is available here: http://www.fairpayinhe.org.uk/

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.