What happened at our emergency meeting on job cuts?

On Wednesday 8 August, representatives from 12 branches (UCL, Middlesex, Bradford, LSBU, East London, Liverpool, Exeter, Bournemouth, Leicester, Roehampton, Goldsmiths and Croydon College) met to discuss the growing number of redundancies across the sector.

Two things are clear: first that there is a wave of job cuts driven by a determination to cut costs better to compete in what we’re told is a higher education market. Our audit suggests that well over 1000 jobs have been placed ‘at risk’ over the last two years and that involves just a minority of institutions. Second, we discovered that there are some rather predictable names for these redundancy programmes including:

  • Bradford Excellence Programme
  • Getting LSBU in Shape
  • Transforming Our Departments
  • Transformation Programme
  • Flexible Futures
  • Transforming our Professional Services (TOPS)

Some key action points

  • We will work through branches and regions to press for a national day of action against redundancies
  • Be aware of your statutory rights concerning in relation to redundancy. ‘Redundancy’ can also be proven to be an inaccurate statement because mangement is hiring casual staff and forcing people to take hours beyond contracted hours. We believe that, in many cases, we are seeing examples of ‘wage theft’.
  • Need to prepare counter-business cases as early on in the process as possible
  • To organise locally: update membership records, build local and departmental networks of activists, go for a ‘no confidence in the VC’ vote where appropriate
  • Be impatient (without cutting corners): we can’t operate at the pace of the slowest
  • To insist that ‘meaningful consultation’ HAS to be based on full documentation and reasonable time periods
  • To generate publicity – writing news stories that contrast e.g. VC salary with savings from job cuts and impact on students, ideally using staff and student voices
  • To prepare a dossier, based on the audit, and to circulate to national press.
  • Mobilisations of whatever size are key to generate confidence and avoid isolation: e.g. lobbies of governors or prestige events to highlight and challenge institutional priorities
  • Need to generate pressure to move local executives as well as regional and national officials where they are not moving by themselves
  • Link redundancies to other issues including for example pensions, capital programmes, VC pay etc.

UCU’s full document on challenging redundancies is here

An employers’ checklist for initiating redundancies is here. (These are the minimum steps that employers should be taking but worth checking that they are following even these steps in a meaningful way).

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Resist the tyranny of audit culture

by John Holmwood, University of Nottingham

Although in aggregate terms, audit is a proxy for the market, the increased marketisation of higher education is likely to increase, not decrease, reliance on audit measures. This is because they have become effective tools of managerial control and the elimination of collegial forms of governance. Indeed, audit has shifted from being a government-produced device to provide transparency to a managerial device to ensure corporate goals in a competitive higher education market. For example, most UK universities operate local ‘shadow’ exercises to mirror the ‘national’ exercises. Whereas the latter take place every 5-7 years, with most institutions in the past conducting a shadow exercise in the year before, now institutions are conducting continuous readiness exercises including the use of metrics to calibrate local judgements. Moreover, where the national exercises anonymise their outcomes, local shadow exercises are not anonymous and are associated with performance management of individuals. This includes changing their contracts – for example, from research and teaching to teaching only.

In fact, the impact of the digitalisation of audit goes further. It facilitates the separation of teaching and research functions and the independent management of each with far-reaching consequences for staff precarity. Marketisation includes the opening-up of the sector to for-profit providers. Notwithstanding the neo-liberal representation of public universities as forming a cartel, for-profit providers include some of the largest transnational corporations – for example, Pearson, Apollo Group and Kaplan. Pearson, for example, is larger than English universities put together.

Most for-profit providers utilise online materials, which they combine with face to face support at local centres. It is the combination of the two that represents the saleable commodity. This depends upon available content which can be provided at scale. An example will illustrate the real problem facing traditional universities and their modes of traditional autonomy.

Let us take the example of an undergraduate degree in sociology available at all universities within a public system of higher education, by, say, 65 different universities. Each department of sociology currently develops its own curriculum taught by staff on research and teaching contracts, though there may be some teaching adjuncts to help deliver large classes. The degree is typically provided at each institution via lectures and seminars. Now imagine one large transnational for-profit provider. It has resources to develop a sociology curriculum centrally – these resources include the overall curriculum itself, as well as integrated online packages of material. These packages may include filmed lecture material and documentary elements, invited specialist or academic ‘celebrity’ segments, as well as links to online reading. At the same time, tutorial support is provided at centres conveniently located close to student audiences. These can mirror the provision at each individual traditional university, as well as going to smaller centres that are not usually able to support a full university.

Now imagine, the tech-savvy introduction of new technology at the traditional university. The Pro-Vice Chancellor for the ‘Student Experience’ has already promoted the development of an on-line platform for all teaching material, including the submission and marking of all assessments, and has arranged for the installation of lecture capture in all lecture theatres to record lectures. In principle, there now need be no real difference between the traditional university and the for-profit provider from the point of view of the student experience – each delivers teaching online with face-to-face tutorial support.

What should be evident is that this is dangerous form of development from the point of view of the traditional university. The latter are now at a disadvantage. Not only are their faculty more expensive – not least because they combine research and teaching in their contracts – they are also employed in more expensive proportions. The highly centralised for-profit provider, for example, needs a smaller proportion of experienced curriculum specialists and has a higher proportion of cheaper tutorial staff. In a fee-based system, it is in a position to compete on costs while providing returns to shareholders and venture capital investors.

This is a taster from our forthcoming Branch Activists’ Handbook, due out this autumn. If you want to contribute, please email branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com

 

Emergency meeting against redundancies

We’ve heard back during our redundancy audit from some 20 branches who are facing job cuts. We can’t afford to wait until September to devise strategies to oppose these cuts.

So we’ve called an emergency meeting:

6pm Wednesday 8 August, Room 261, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1 (nearest tubes: Russell Square, Goodge Street, Euston and Euston Square)

Facebook details here

And if you haven’t reported yet on your own institution, please email branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com

Fighting redundancies at London South Bank University

by Russell Caplan, LSBU UCU Branch Secretary

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On 2 May 2018 the the Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University called officers of the joint unions (UCU, Unison and GMB) to a meeting informing them that the university needed to make savings of between £5-8 million in staffing costs across the university. We calculated that this would amount to large scale redundancies of well over a hundred jobs.

At this meeting, UCU enquired what the state of the university reserves were. We were told that they were around £43 million. UCU with the support of the other unions then challenged the VC in the spirit of meaningful consultation to put the plans for staff reductions on hold for a year in order to fully consider the situation and what was best for the university, both students and staff. Any budgetary shortfall could be met from the cash reserves. This would be less than what they needed to save because the courses they plan to close would continue with the resultant income from students attending these courses. The VC flatly rejected such a proposal.

Tactically it was important to establish how much the university held in reserve so that we could put management on the back foot with the unions assuming the moral high ground by proposing a reasonable interim alternative.

On the conclusion of this meeting the joint unions put together a joint statement for all members and staff that would immediately follow the VC’s communication to all staff informing them of the university plans the next day. The statement on the home page of our website attacked the plan for staffing cuts for the damage it will do to the university in terms of teaching quality, student choice and staff morale. We were able to occupy the moral high ground of being reasonable and interested in defending HE against greedy Vice Chancellors and their Executive teams.

While it is important to coordinate a joint union response, it becomes more problematic for a number of reasons that at LSBU hinges on the balance of membership forces and the nature of branch leadership. UCU is the biggest and most militant of the union branches and tends to take the lead but not always followed by the other unions. We called an emergency branch meeting on 4 May that was well attended where we unanimously passed two motions. The first was to declare an official dispute and oppose compulsory redundancies and resolve to ballot for industrial action should there be a threat of compulsory redundancies. The second was an emergency motion for the Higher Education Conference Sector at UCU National Congress calling for UCU solidarity and support from UCU region in our dispute and in preparing for a ballot in the event of compulsory redundancies.

It was a important to establish a sense among members that we are not fighting in isolation but that our struggle is connected to other branch struggles and that the union bureaucracy is available to support us. Here it is worth mentioning that in the statement referred to above we already sought to feed off the recent successes of other branches in resisting wholesale redundancies such as the Open University and Oxford University and in particular the USS strikes across the country. To this end we set up

The situation at LSBU began to take on a national profile. But the other unions were not mobilising with same sense of urgency. In order to try and get them to do so we would send them every bit of communication we were sending to our members and to management.

So far this is all good news (with the exception of the lack of urgency among the other unions). We have been doing all the right things. But from the time of UCU Congress up to now things have become stalled while management has been ploughing ahead with its plans. Here is where lessons can be learned. While we have now succeeded in opening a consultative ballot with the other unions doing the same, this may turn out to have been too late.

1. To some extent we lost control of joint negotiations. This coupled with the reluctance by the other unions to take a more militant stance led to a situation where we were persuaded to talk with management to see if we could get any concessions. The carrot was to open the ‘enhanced’ voluntary severance scheme to the entire university where it was originally to be targeted at those areas that needed to be cut. This we were persuaded would reduce compulsory redundancies. We also requested that the severance package be improved. At the moment it is described as enhanced because it lifts the statutory cap. Management agreed to open it up with some caveats about being able to refuse it if they felt they could not operate certain posts without the respective post holder. They also refused to improve the severance that would have made it more attractive for people to take up.

2. Having lost local control of negotiations, we lost control of the timing so crucial when management deliberately implements redundancies at a time they know is least propitious to union action.

3. Realising that we were being outmanoeuvred we sought to insert some urgency in to the process by calling another branch meeting and passing another motion calling on branch officers to begin a consultative ballot should management not provide assurances that there will be no compulsory redundancies. We then conveyed this to our Regional Official and the other unions. Unison was at this point having its own branch meeting. The majority of officers were opposed to running such a ballot. Fortunately the members voted in favour.

4. At a joint union meeting of branch officers and Regional Officials we agreed that at the next meeting with management we will seek an assurance that there will be no compulsory redundancies failing which management will be informed that we will be moving to a consultative ballot.

5. While it is important to be seen to be reasonable and amenable to talk to management, talking on issues such as redundancies without some kind of leverage that the threat of a ballot, albeit only a consultative one, provides, is really a waste of time. Unless management knows that the unions have a credible threat that can do damage to the business of the university and its reputation, you are pissing in the wind.

6. Finally, we tried to speak to LSBU Student Union even though we anticipated the response. They think what is happening at LSBU is what is required to be competitive. The neo-liberal university is a force of nature to these student ‘leaders’. I write this not to write students off. They can be an important constituency in the fight. But we need to find student support elsewhere among the politically conscious and interested students if the student union does management’s bidding.

Talks with management are proceeding. There have been a couple of meetings these last two weeks. I am waiting to hear what transpired and how the ballot is playing out.

The biggest lesson to be learned is not to delay. The union needs to prepare as quickly as possible for action. Even if it does not take it. But to face management on the other side of the table with any sort of leverage, you have to have something to make them sit up and think.

Dismissed for being “uncooperative”? Support Jim Newell

Dear all,

On 12 June, I was, as some of you may know, dismissed with immediate effect after my performance had been found wanting in terms of Salford’s Professorial Review Policy – a policy that was introduced, unilaterally, after my appointment as a prof in 2005, and which neither I nor UCU, to my knowledge, were asked to sign up to.

Looking at my record, I do not think that any reasonable person could conclude that my performance was any worse at the time of my dismissal than it was when I was appointed as a prof in 2005.

I made it clear to Allan Walker – head of Arts and Media at Salford – that I understood the pressures he was under, as a manager, to ensure certain targets were met. I was therefore willing to engage with him on a consensual basis. After 27 years’ service, however, I was not prepared to submit to the threats implicit in his decision to subject me to the University’s Performance Improvement Procedure. Given the discretion I expected to be able to exercise as an academic, I would not agree  to the notion that my continued employment could legitimately be made conditional upon success in meeting the series of market-driven targets imposed on me as part of that procedure.

Despite this, I met the targets I was asked to meet – and yet I have still been dismissed, thanks, I believe to my refusal to sign up to a market-driven narrative of my role and responsibilities, or what Allan Walker calls my “uncooperative attitude”.

A large number of splendidly supportive colleagues, by whose gesture I am deeply touched, and of whom I am hugely proud, have organised a petition to Salford’s VC, Helen Marshall, demanding my reinstatement. You will find it here:

https://www.change.org/p/prof-helen-marshall-reinstate-jim-newell-to-his-job-as-professor-of-politics-at-the-university-of-salford

If you would please sign the petition and pass it on, I would be enormously grateful to you.

Many thanks.

Jim

A summer of redundancies?

Summer seems to be the timeframe that university managements work with to announce cuts and redundancies, since they do not think branches will campaign against them.

We’re worried by news coming out several institutions including LeicesterLondon South BankPortsmouthand Bradford, about potential redundancies. No matter that the university sector is holding a record surplus, institutions are reacting to the volatility of a discredited higher education market by looking for staff cuts.

We’re running a redundancy audit in order to get a picture of what’s going on so that we can better coordinate and make sure that the union develops a national response along with local resistance. Please email your answers to the questions below to branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com

  1. Is your institution planning redundancies at the moment?
  2. What is the rationale being provided by management?
  3. Are management following formal consultation procedures?
  4. Are people being offered meaningful career support i.e. redeployment?
  5. What plans do you have to counter these redundancies?
200617mmustrike1.jpgOn strike against redundancy at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2017