Management Discuss Future of HE: “Become a Corporate Body?”

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Today, during a Warwick 50th anniversary administrative staff discussion, it appears that university management were actively discussing the way in which they treat students as consumers, and the transition towards increasing corporate and privatised education institutions.

It is beyond doubt that our university is committed to an ongoing project of neoliberal reform. They want to be dealing with consumers and profit, rather than students and education. The thing is, they aren’t usually stupid enough to say so in public.

Our students union has a very clear democratic stance on these issues: we believe in free education for everyone. As long as the university remain committed to pursing the exact opposite their claims to respect student democracy are laughable.

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Lefty Tidal Wave? NUS Conference 2015

Callum Cant

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The NUS conference has been much reflected on by the left as a great victory. It was my first conference, so I don’t feel able to make grand proclamations with confidence – but from what I saw, the left (in all its various strands) ran riot over the rubble of the Blairite right. In the wake of this shift in power, I agree with some Facebook post mortems that we will see the emergence of two distinct elements of the left, and a division between the ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ left.

The insider left will want to work entirely inside the union, abandon our external and throw our weight behind supporting the new left leadership.  They will argue to push the NUS to the front of our movement, and have them lead the charge against austerity.

On the other hand, the outsider left will want to continue our campaigning outside the union as we have done before – but now using the NUS to amplify our struggles, provide us with resources and access to infrastructures. The difference is, this outsider left will never agree with subsuming itself into the centralised bureaucracy.

For WFFE, this means we can now look to interact with the NUS in fundamentally different ways to before. We should have an internal discussion about which route we want to take, although I suspect we broadly agree with the outsider approach more than the insider approach.

Personally, I think we should begin by placing much greater demands on the union and the leadership. We should tell them to support us in our fight against TeachHigher, we should get them to provide us with resources for mobilising around the Warwick 3 trial, we should begin to build our influence by using all the resources they can make available to us. This is a new situation for campus-based organisations. For the first time, we can ask for help from our national union with no small optimism that we might get it.

This might be the start of a transition towards a militant union. I say might, because I think there is still a sizeable degree of risk that we will not get anywhere, and I’m certainly convinced that a new leadership does not entirely reshape the ‘deep state’ of the permanent staff within the NUS (of whom we were not allowed to talk at conference, but that is another story). It is grass roots campaigning which laid the foundations for this shift left in the bureaucracy, and If we want to begin to transform the NUS into a fighting union (a process which will doubtless take more than one good conference, and which might in fact never be possible) we will need to keep mobilising on our campus and in our community. That autonomous, external pressure is what will allow the people working within the NUS to make ground.

The Logo isn’t Important

John Murray. This is the opinion of an individual, not WFFE.

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Warwick’s turbulent year rolls on, and the new logo is the most recent debacle.

Soon after it was announced petitions were started, and social media went into a flurry. The uni was being slammed on Facebook, and it didn’t take long for the first Nigel Thrift meme to emerge. We have even been treated to the bizarre spectacle of management PR guru, Peter Dunn, arguing with students on Overheard. Now student consultations are being offered, and some are claiming this is a victory for democracy and a sensible move on the part of university management.

They are wrong. In fact, a ‘consultation’ (rather than, say, a vote) after the fact is only a rear guard action against a 4000 strong petition. University democracy, as we have argued before, is fundamentally broken. When the SU passes policy about free education, the living wage, staff pay, fossil fuel divestment, the cost of living on campus, or our lack of confidence in Nigel Thrift we are ignored. A conversation about precisely what kind of management speak the university uses to sell our campus does nothing to change that. The fact is the university loses next to nothing if they back down on this logo. So I, for one, do not consider this a substantial democratic process – nor do I consider the removal of this new logo a substantial victory. We want student and staff democracy, not customer feedback!

I am not trying to say that the petition signing students have done anything wrong. I’ve signed it myself and encourage others to do so – it sends a strong message that students do not support the corporate image which Warwick seeks to develop. Yes, we should feel angry when we see our community being reduced to a marketing strategy designed to build a brand and attract investment. Yes, we should make clear we don’t support it, make clear that we find it ridiculous, make clear that we want to be students not consumers of the Warwick experience. But the logo is the superficial expression of deeper problems. It signifies ongoing marketisation, but it is not the most harmful result of marketisation. We should not get hung up on Warwick aubergine triangles.

Instead, we should be focusing on arguing about things which actually make a large and immediate difference to the lives of students and staff at the university. In particular, the TeachHigher program needs to be fought. Students should be standing alongside staff against the internal outsourcing of teaching and the abolition of employment contracts. Certainly in my time at Warwick there has never been a more important chance for student and staff solidarity to force a victory against management. The English department has just been the first of many departments to unanimously pass policy opposing TeachHigher, and there are rumours of a national demo in the air.

Let’s fight together on the issues that matter, rather than being distracted by the symbolic expression of marketisation. Let’s deal with the neoliberal university as it damages members of our community, rather than as it expresses itself in corporate bullshit.

TeachHigher UPDATE

This update was written by a local trade union branch member 

Significant changes have been made to the TeachHigher website since the pilot was first announced in mid-March. The word “Clients” has been changed to “Departments” and there is no longer any mention of Warwick Employment Group or what was said by the Director of WEG at the TeachHigher launch in January 2015. Management are now saying:
 
1) TeachHigher at Warwick will be an academic services department, not a subsidiary, though they are still intending to sell the concept as a commercial franchise to other universities in due course; 
 
2) The pilot will not start until October 2015 – originally, it was to start with invigilation in the summer term.
 
These two changes demonstrate that a unionised and organised workforce can successfully resist attempts by management to further erode our rights at work. However, there is still much to be done for the reasons outlined below.
 
Warwick UCU and the Hourly-Paid Working Group continue to oppose TeachHigher and believe it remains a pressing issue for all academic staff at Warwick.
·         TeachHigher will institutionalise and entrench a two-tier system of academic staffing at Warwick – further separating off hourly-paid academics from those on more secure contracts.
·         TeachHigher will put HR in the driving seat, reversing the existing balance of power between academic departments and HR. This has many worrying potential implications and represents a significant shift in the way our university is run. Teaching staff could end up being recruited by HR personnel with no academic training or specialist expertise. There is also potential for HR bypassing the preferences of departments and taking full control over the hiring process and staffing of modules. Both academic standards and departmental autonomy are therefore at risk.
·         TeachHigher will make it easier for Warwick central management to recruit ever larger numbers of hourly-paid and casualised staff to teach modules, while continuing to reduce the number of secure and permanent positions.
·         Management have failed to engage productively with Warwick UCU on TeachHigher. What little information we have received has been tardy and contradictory. TeachHigher was established (we believe) in October 2014 and it was not until six months later that management provided Warwick UCU with any information whatsoever about it. It is unacceptable that management provided Andrew Thompson, the Student Union Postgraduate Officer, with more details of the scheme than Warwick UCU, the recognised trade union for academic staff. We learnt things we did not know from reading Andrew’s blog.
 
We also refute management’s claim that staff contacted by TeachHigher will be no worse off than under the existing system organised via VAM (variable monthly) payroll.
The existing VAM paperwork states two things:
 
a) “All individuals who perform work for any department at the University of Warwick will automatically be assumed to be employees of the University” – page 1 of the HR form for a one-off lecture available on the university website.
 
b) “Please note, changes in employment legislation (e.g. the Part-time Working Directive, the Stakeholder PensionsLegislation) mean that there is an expectation that part-time workers should be given the same terms and conditions of service as full-time staff. Where there is a significant commitment over a full academic year, departments are asked to consider the desirability of offering a fractional appointment e.g. Teaching Fellow / Associate. Where the total payment exceeds £5,000, it should be assumed that a fractional contract will be necessary” – page 2 of the HR forms for occasional/daily-paid staff and for part-time teachers.
 
By contrast, the TeachHigher Temporary Worker Agreement requires “candidates” to waive their basic rights as employees. They will be offered “a contract for services” that “does not give rise to a contract of employment between you and us or between you and the Client with whom you are placed”. Moreover:
 
“The Client will be entitled to terminate an Assignment immediately without having to give any reason … TeachHigher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability”.
 
Warwick UCU and the hourly-paid working group wholeheartedly support improved fairness, transparency and consistency in the treatment of hourly-paid academics across departments. In fact, this has been one of the main demands of the Hourly-Paid Working Group since it was formed in 2013. Unfortunately, management have ignored a number of requests to meet with us, and have failed to respond to a letter sent over a year ago by UCU regional office to Mike Blair, Employee Relations Director. This contained 10 questions about hourly-paid Staff which the university ought to have been able to answer within a matter of days.
 
In criticising TeachHigher, we in no way wish to endorse the present VAM system. The rights it offers hourly-paid staff are meagre enough in theory, but we know from working with our hourly-paid members that often even these are denied in practice. We welcome management’s decision to provide more detailed job descriptions for hourly paid staff and to link their pay more explicitly to the National Framework Agreement. We would also welcome any steps taken to put an end to the illegal practice of paying different amounts for work of equal value. We would support improving hourly-paid staff’s access to CPD, though we want to be reassured that tutors will be paid for the time they spend on this.
 
We continue to insist that the best way to increase fairness, transparency and consistency is to place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts, and give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts.

EDL get Stuck in Solihull Pub

Orginally published at Midlands Antifa’s website, here

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It’s been a pretty tough week – we discovered just last Friday that the EDL were planning a march in Solihull, affording us just over a week to prepare for and coordinate an entire counter demo.  We were admittedly dismayed that in amidst the frenzy of organizing for the 2nd and 9th, the fash were again plaguing us with their presence on the 18th of April.  The far right are concentrating their efforts in the Midlands this spring, and for a long time there’s been a lack of effective counter mobilizations and community anti-fascist organizing in opposition.  This has rendered the area particularly susceptible to the bigoted rage of the EDL, materializing in riots and rampages through city centres such as Dudley and Birmingham.  Midlands Antifascists exists to combat this: to not only ensure our streets are fascist-free, but root working class anti-fascism and unity in the collective consciousness of the community, and to foster a shift in culture from competitive and antagonistic relations to networks of cooperation and resistance oriented towards mutual aid and liberation.

These antagonisms were all too apparent as we spent a week relentlessly flyering, postering and raising awareness in the local estates, city centre and community of Solihull.  As has always occurred in proximity to EDL demos, a series of Islamophobic attacks has been inflicted upon a local community hub in the lead up to the Solihull rally.  This hub hosted one sermon on one particular night, attended by the local Muslim community (who, indeed, are constrained to frequently travel to Birmingham to pray due to an absence of this essential service nearby) – and the EDL conjured numerous fabricated stories about how this hub was the subject of an illegal conversion into a mosque, how the Muslim people were abusing and threatening the local community, etc.  Despite some mystification in the planning application and the intended use of the site, the EDL have latched on to this and exploited it as an opportunity to foment hatred and fear, perpetuating the poisonous notion that Muslim people have no place, no right of belonging, within our communities.

They were a recurring presence around the community hub, posing for pictures with EDL flags, and we received numerous reports of them prowling around the area and intimidating Muslim and Asian people.  It is beyond doubt that this cohered activity established a context which enabled and legitimized the smashed windows and the abhorrent leaving of the pigs’ heads outside the hub – if it was not indeed directly perpetrated by the local EDL rabble themselves, led by Paul Locke.

More insidiously it has also established a dangerous precedent which has lured those who might not otherwise have supported the EDL to engage with them even sympathetically, as valiant defenders against some illusory Muslim incursion.  It has coaxed to the surface microaggressions and toxic ideas proliferated in mass media, by politicians, by ruling elites, which are emblematic of a climate of otherising and marginalization of Muslim communities. Engaging with the local people was for the most part positive and people were receptive – however, especially as we ventured around the estates local to the community hub, we were threatened and met with anger and resistance on numerous occasions.

It is, then, evident, that the community hub has been manipulated as a pretext through which these antagonisms and tensions can be stoked, and can crystallise without awareness of their own prejudice.  The EDL’s actions have been lent legitimacy by the conflicts around the community hub, and this has entrenched divisions which are all to pervasive, often as a distanced and muted hostility, throughout our society – the vague belief in equality tempered by the sensationalized disquiet towards Islamic extremism and ‘barbarism’ disseminated in the media as justification for the ‘war on terror’.    It is essential we continue counter demoing and engaging in dialogue with the local community to combat this current, challenge our own internalized prejudices, and re-orient our gaze towards the rich and powerful who are our true enemies.

Now on to the day.  Our consistent flyering, postering, stickering and street art in the local area disconcerted the EDL and encouraged them to assert numerous times that this wasn’t a march, but a local awareness raising event around the prospect of a Muslim cemetery, as much as it unnerved the local police to the extent that they heavily bolstered their presence on the day.  Although our numbers were low (as were the EDL’s), we think this is testament to the power of creating a counter-culture and constructing a visible presence in the lead up to a demo, which we must now work to sustain and fortify against the EDL’s bigotry and to alleviate the animosity that seemed all too present around the estates, reforging those community connections and internal bonds.

We were aware of the EDL’s plans for the day: a short leafletting session followed by speeches in the local gardens, in the midst of profuse drinking, of course.  Upon entering the town centre we were surprised by the police presence but immediately confronted the EDL, whose leaflets an antifascist tried to seize after he aggressively put one in their hand and started swinging for them.  A huge contingent of police appeared and surged forward at this point, detaining the anti-fascist for a few minutes despite the EDL member being the one to raise his fists – which would be testament to the biased policing present throughout the day, and is a constant reminder on anti-fascist demos of who the police truly serve.

We marched around the city centre and the locals seemed pleased to see the opposition.  We sought to navigate our way round to the EDL after the police completely blockaded the road where the confrontation occurred and the racists were prevented from leafletting.  As we did this the police surged forwards on either side and encircled us in a tight kettle, harassing and intimidating us and then escorting us on a long trek to the jubilee gardens, where they imposed a section 14 and basically kettled us in again.  After 10 minutes we decided to leave the area and pursue the EDL again as the police presence waned.  We went towards the park/gardens where they were intending to have their speeches and they were not there.  Returning to the city centre we found them still blockaded in the pub by police, fearful as they were of further confrontation occurring.  Police followed us every step of the way, being verbally and physically aggressive towards us and even shadowing us as we made our way to the train station and called it a day.

Despite our low numbers, the amount of effort exerted in engagement, flyering and postering in the lead up to the demo and some temerity on the day from the few anti-fascists that showed ensured the EDL could not enter into the city centre and poison the community with their hatred.  We contained them in, there was no arrests, and we etched the name of Midlands Anti-Fascists into the culture of the local area – and this in itself is a victory.  We must continue to not only physically combat the EDL but counter the narratives they are seeking to embed in the local community and create robust networks of class-conscious anti-fascist resistance, led by the most oppressed and marginalized, nurturing solidarity and aspiring always towards the eradication of all forms of fascism and oppression.

We have two other demos coming up soon, against the West Midlands Infidels on the 2nd in Coventry (https://www.facebook.com/events/1565934243661277/) and against Britain first on the 9th in Dudley (https://www.facebook.com/events/1573542169530277/).  Come down if possible, get in touch if you’d like to organize with us and donate to our indiegogo if you can so we can continue fighting fascism wherever it arises.  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-midlands-antifascists

TeachHigher and Voice at Warwick

Miguel Costa Matos

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The Albert Hirschmann classic, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, has been used over the decades to explain how organisations can improve. In markets, there is exit. If you don’t like a product or producer, you stop buying from them. That will send them a signal, and if they still don’t listen, then they will eventually be out of business. Exit is also applicable to some organisations (say, our own activist group) or even to countries (you can emigrate!). However, political studies much prefer voice. It is inherently political. It is far less destructive.

Many organisations have opportunities for voice incorporated in their functioning. Even the University, with the Students’ Union, SSLC’s and module feedback, to name just a few. They do this to avoid exit and the destruction that’s naturally associated with it. If they can channel voice, then perhaps they can stay in business. In theory, Universities can experience exit too. Surrey recently laid off its Politics department and many other staff due to insufficient ‘student demand’ and research income. Similarly, academics can decide not to work at some Universities.

Or can they? In reality, the rate of exit is glacial. Institutions with firmer reputations may well be able to survive, especially in a world where access to higher education is hotly contested, and access to employment in higher education even more so. More PhDs graduate than get employed by Universities, leaving many with the freedom to work but not the freedom not to work. (Cf. G.A. Cohen on Proletarian Unfreedom) With students as consumers, the problem is that the vast majority don’t consume more than one qualification and also, the vast majority can’t change where they are consuming mid-qualification. In practice, Universities don’t work as businesses in a market. In practice, exit doesn’t work for Universities.

This is the reason why Universities have so many institutions designed to promote voice. It is baffling then that Warwick should be embarking on a project of mass casualization – or TeachHigher, as we know it. As an organization, it does not make sense to aggravate academic precarity, because of the loss to voice associated. Of course, while entirely non-sensical, it is completely unsurprising. Warwick does not value voice, despite its cleverly worded ‘tone of voice’ guidelines. Academics were taught not to disagree with management, by the infamous suspension of Thomas Docherty for sighs of insubordination. This was only the loudest expression of a latent culture of repression among staff. The events of last December only extended that to students.

TeachHigher further quashes opportunities for voice and institutional improvement. None of us want Warwick to suffer exit, nor do we want it to descend into a hodgepodge of frustrated academics and students, who can neither voice their concerns nor exit an increasingly troubled institution. Our affinity to Warwick should move us to stop TeachHigher before it injects malaise into our community. Let’s make this a positive campaign, of how Warwick can do better by listening and uniting, rather than dividing and instead of ruling, ruing.

6 Things Warwick University’s New Temp Agency Tells Us About Academic Precarity

Originally published by Novara here

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Warwick University is to start trialling a new way of employing hourly paid staff. The ‘Teach Higher’ scheme has been met with strong opposition by both staff and studentsso far – but what does it tell us about academic precarity today?

1. We should get used to the idea of ‘internal outsourcing’.

Precarious work within higher education (HE) is likely to be increasingly channelled through obscure internal mechanisms which aim to confuse, misdirect, and obscure.

Teach Higher itself is part of Warwick Employment Group, which is made up of a number of subsidiary companies and their brands, all owned by Warwick University. This means that it is internally run, funded and controlled – but also retains a complex form of autonomy which allows the creation of plausible deniability. It is interior when it suits managers, exterior when it doesn’t.

This means the university then essentially owns its own outsourcing firm, whilst also allowing Warwick management to make the absurd claim that Teach Higher is an academic department like any other.

For these reason it is precisely not an academic department. Teach Higher is an internal company designed to introduce a new form of relation between employer and employee in order to enforce precarious conditions and lower teaching costs. In other words, internal outsourcing.

‘Outsourcing’ is a term the university seem terrified by: they insist again and again that this is not outsourcing at all. Perhaps this is all the more reason for campaigners to press on with this analysis.

2. Say goodbye to your contract!

Teach Higher will not be directly employing anyone. Instead, academics will be given the chance as ‘candidates’ to enter into a ‘contract of service’ for each ‘assignment’. This is a movement towards an assignment model; an extreme form of precarious labour.  Staff will literally be denied the right to any formal employment, and can be dismissed at any time, for any reason. Not only will they lose the legal rights of an employee, the terms and conditions (now removed from the website) make it brutally obvious that staff will be totally disempowered: “Teach Higher may terminate this Agreement and Teach Higher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability.”

This is not only a way of driving down teaching costs – it is also a disciplinary tool. Members of staff working for Unitemps (another Warwick wholly owned subsidiary aimed at employing precarious students to undertake temporary work for conferences and retail outlets) have had their assignments terminated because they participated in strike action. If successful, Teach Higher will enable this kind of labour discipline on a much larger scale.

3. This is an expanding business model.

Warwick has long had the dubious privilege of being a laboratory for managerial experiments. Ever since E.P. Thompson was lamenting the rise of the business university in Warwick University Ltd., Warwick have been striving to be the most nefarious purveyors of neoliberal marketization in the sector.

The student internal outsourcer, Unitemps, has already been exported to 13 other UK locations. Minutes from a 2014 meeting suggest that Warwick intends to do the same with Teach Higher, and actively take on the role of outsourcing other universities’ teaching in order to fulfil the “aspiration to operate as a commercial franchise.” If the Warwick campaign against Teach Higher fails, we can expect it to be seen on other campuses before long.

4. Service provision is being used as compensation.

In return for accepting an attack on their working conditions, Warwick’s precariat are being offered the chance to invest in their human capital. They can access resources to help theirContinuing Personal Development (CPD), and expand their CV in the process.

In short, the hope of one day possible escaping precarity is being leveraged as a way of binding staff to the very structures which make them precarious.

5. Our own demands are being sold back to us.

Warwick postgraduates and Warwick SU have been demanding parity in pay and conditions across departments for per a year. Teach Higher makes much fanfare of offering this parity – but in a way which totally undermines the fundamental assumptions of that demand: rather than a universal hourly paid contract, it is premised on the universal liquidation of the contract system.

6. Compromise is dead.

The University of Warwick is evidence of a growing trend amongst UK universities. The social democratic university ideal of institutions where everyone shares common goals, common commitment and participated in collective processes of education as guided by democratic structures is very, very dead.

Instead, democracy has been systematically killed off, and there is an increasingly confrontational and repressive approach to dissent. The kettling of students in 2010 and Birmingham University’s vindictive campaign of repressionagainst dissenting students was only the first indication of this sea change. The mediation and negotiation of different interests has been abandoned, and any attempt to force concessions from managerial overlords has led to prolonged antagonism.

We cannot just imagine our way out of this situation. Any progress will rely on making collective interventions in the relations and forces which structure the university.

We are increasingly seeing a polarisation in university life: it’s the yobs versus the managers