How did we Defeat TeachHigher?

Matthew Jackson

erickson

The University of Warwick has declared their decision to disband TeachHigher. Primarily, it seems, because the TeachHigher project can no longer stand for a ‘practical way of implementing and administering greater consistency of pay and support’ for postgradautes that teach in the face of so much negative press and organised resistance from staff and students across the University; or as Gillian McGratten (director of HR) has succinctly coined it, ‘distraction’.

The public meeting called by the SU was an opportunity for senior management to counter the ‘myth’ of TeachHigher which had been making its rounds on Twitter and in statements from UCU and the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group with the ‘reality’ of what TeachHigher really was from their perspective. Iroinically, this meeting actually served to compound the mysteriousness, pointlessness and inappropriateness of TeachHigher. In particular, the students and staff in attendance did a very good job of emphasising the lack of genuine consultation between hourly-paid teaching staff and the University about the project. Indeed, the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group only discovered plans for TeachHigher by sifting through the minutes of the Board of Graduate Studies. What became clear in this meeting was that senior management had never properly consulted departments, their teaching staff, or collected enough information or spoken to enough hourly-paid staff to really understand the problems that the casualised workforce at Warwick actually face. Indeed, the University’s statement acknowledged that in the discussions and feedback on the project – assumedly referring to the public SU meeting as well as written communication from UCU and the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group opposing TeachHigher – that TeachHigher was increasingly becoming viewed as a ‘vehicle for administering’ the problems rather than actually ‘achieving the outcome of fair pay for our hourly-paid teaching staff’.

I think the opposition to TeachHigher has been successful for many reasons. Firstly, the anti-TeachHigher campaign was building off an already highly politicised campus environment. The recent clashes that protesters experienced on campus with the police, as well as the public demonstrations and Warwick Summit on Protest subsequent to them, have surely heightened suspicion of the University’s position on students’ democratic rights and freedoms. TeachHigher appeared to be another step in this direction. Yet, this favourable political climate stood for nothing without the incredible number of supporters – both staff and students – who were willing to dedicate their time and energy to oppose TeachHigher. We were organised, we had done our homework, we knew our rights, we had a clear message, we shared resources, we conducted opinion polls, and collected data. We compiled all of this research and hard work into letters that were sent to the University asking them to stop TeachHigher and to enter into proper consultation and meaningful negotiations with departments, hourly-paid staff and UCU. Even though the majority of these letters were ignored – further demonstrating the lack of genuine democratic avenues of consultation at this University – this meant that university management could not hijack the public SU meeting by using market jargon to intellectually repackage what was basically a hiring franchise akin to UniTemps. We already knew it was, and had been criticising the fact for a long time.

Despite this substantial success in opposing TeachHigher, we must not lose sight of the larger issue of casualisation still at stake here. The pilot is still happening even though it will be up to departments to develop their ‘own approach based on the principles of transparency and fairness around nationally-agreed rates of pay’. The results of the scheme will be used to introduce a roll out scheme to all departments. What’s most bizarre about the most recent developments here is that the University’s new strategy is to return to an hourly-paid hiring system that was already in place prior to the proposed TeachHigher pilot, except with a renewed encouragement for departments to properly seek ways of improving the working conditions of hourly-paid staff.

Our responsibility now is to make sure that our departments and human resources honour this agreement, and we do this by adopting the same strategy with which we have defeated TeachHigher.

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