university

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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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.

University of York plans to part-privatise international student recruitment

The UCU union have revealed that the University of York – without student consultation – is planning to go into a joint venture with for-profit company INTO to recruit international students. Read the excellent York UCU briefing here and share it widely.

This has thus far gone completely under the radar without democratic discussion. Student media are about to break the story, with a comment piece by me plus news articles are to follow in the coming days.

I’ve asked the UCU what their campaign plans are and will be looking at how students can get involved. Let’s bring the Sussex and Birmingham protests to our own university which is faced with back-door privatisation. The neoliberal paradigm ain’t welcome in York…

#No2INTO, anyone?

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

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/