Join the picket lines – solidarity with staff!

We encourage all students to join us alongside staff on the picket lines tomorrow and Thursday, commencing outside the Gatehouse at 8am.  The UCEA have offered staff a paltry pay rise offer of 1.1%, despite a real terms wage decline of 14.5% since 2009 – and all the while salaries of management soar, casualization in the sector continues to proliferate and gendered and racialized inequalities in pay remains firmly entrenched.

With the threats to the sector posed in the recently released White Paper – particularly in its commitment to the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework, which will further distort critical and cooperative learning practices in favour of satisfying commercial objectives and spurious metrics, and impose ever-intensifying bureaucratic constraints on over-worked staff – it is vital we express our solidarity with all members of the University community jeopardized by this continuing programme of marketization.  If we are to defeat these consistent attacks on the conditions of staff and students, and defend a public higher education system, we must be ready to engage in this kind of escalation and more.

We must band together with staff and recognize that not only is an attack on their working conditions also an attack on our learning conditions – but that an injury to one is an injury to all.  We will not stand by whilst workers are shafted and exploited by employers and a Government who have no interest in fair negotiations or the wellbeing of our community, and pursue an increasingly ruthless project of cuts, pay repression and erosion of job security to line their own pockets.  We encourage all students to join the picket lines to support staff – but we also encourage a broader fightback which rallies against the assault being waged on education as a public good.

We have organized and agitated with staff throughout the year against the Green Paper and Prevent, fought the cuts to maintenance grants, and won numerous concessions and victories from management, not least an overwhelming democratic mandate from a staff Assembly to fight the attacks on Higher Education.  The industrial action over the next few days must be considered another stage in a local and national strategy to force the government and employers into retreat.  By continuing to maintain strong alliances with staff, standing together in unity and solidarity, we are confident that we can win and reclaim education from the clutches of the market.

We will not be deceived by management rhetoric which attempts to pit students and staff against one another: our interests are fundamentally intertwined and one in the same.  We recognize that the same system which has abolished our grants is also devastating the wellbeing and working conditions of staff.  Workers engaging in this short term disruption are only doing so to defend Higher Education from catastrophic damage in the long term – it is the Government and employers intent on subordinating our education to the interests of profit, not staff, who are our enemies.

Now more than ever, it is essential we organize and fight together towards a vision of education which is just, free and democratic, and reject the Government and management’s vision of a privatised, savagely cut, inequitable system where education is treated as a transaction and staff as disposable service providers.  Students and workers defeated the White Paper in 2011 – and we can do so again.  We have demonstrated this year that change is possible, and that students and workers are willing to fight for it.  We encourage all those who can to join the picket lines to continue to escalate this struggle.

Direct action gets the goods! A report from our meeting with VC Stuart Croft

On Thursday 4th February, a group of Warwick For Free Education activists staged a noise demo inside the finance office of University House, in protest against the scrapping of maintenance grants. These maintenance grants are used by the million poorest students across the country, including thousands of Warwick students. The cutting of grants and their conversion to loans are symptomatic of the wider marketization of public education, in which university managements are complicit, and against which we seek to protest. Our demand to the University is that they publicly oppose the scrapping of maintenance grants, and use their position within the Russell Group to lobby other institutions to do the same, and to put pressure on the government to reverse the cuts. Alongside this, in line with our vision of free, democratic and liberated education, we demand: that the university lifts the repressive, indefinite injunction which bans occupation-style protest across the whole of campus; that the university reverses its anti-democratic position on being exempt from the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act; and that the university implements absolute minimal compliance and full transparency over the government’s racist and Islamophobic Prevent agenda.

The noise demo on Thursday followed an extremely disappointing Vice Chancellor’s Question Time last Monday, at which questions were asked regarding all of these demands. The new VC repeatedly evaded questions and refused to give clear answers on almost everything; the one exception being that he affirmed the University had “no plans” to lift the injunction. This was an unacceptable response to these fundamentally important issues, and demonstrated very little will to properly engage with the student voice. When university managements behave in this way, we are left with no choice but to use direct action and disruptive tactics to drive forward our just and legitimate demands.

As a direct result of this noise demo, we were able to force the Vice Chancellor to meet with us that afternoon to discuss our demands. You can listen to a full audio recording of this meeting here.

We must first make it clear that none of our demands were met outright, exactly as we had expected. As such, it is unequivocal that we will continue to protest until these demands (and more) are realised, in whichever way we see fit. However, through this meeting we were able to get the VC to make some key pledges around our demands, which we see as small but significant victories for our direct action, as well as a foundation upon which we can build for further change.

MAINTENANCE GRANTS:

Our meeting with Croft began with a discussion surrounding our first demand: that the University publicly oppose the cuts to maintenance grants, and lobby the Russell Group to pressure the government to reinstate them.

These grants are crucial for the poorest students, and the introduction of loans as an alternative is a blatantly ideological move to extend and perpetuate debt culture and wealth polarisation within society. The decision to scrap grants was forced through Parliament undemocratically, with only 18 MPs taking 90 minutes to reach an outcome. The feelings of students nationwide was made evident by the incredible blockade of Westminster Bridge a few days after.

Croft stated that he is “really worried” about the grants cuts, having been on the maximum grant himself when studying. He added, however, that for the University to take an official position on the issue, and for him to feel more comfortable voicing his concerns publicly, a motion would have to be proposed to Senate and then navigated through various bureaucratic procedures. Croft claimed he would be unable to propose such a motion due to his position as Chair of Senate, but suggested there were some sympathetic voices on the committee. Three SU Sabbatical Officers sit on Senate, and it is being looked into whether or not there is still time for them to submit a motion on maintenance grants to be considered at the next Senate meeting (March 8).

Nevertheless, Croft was willing to offer us something concrete – he pledged to invite us to write a piece on maintenance grants for his blog, which would then be distributed via email, unedited, to the entire student body.

THE INJUNCTION:

Our second demand made to the Vice Chancellor was for the University to lift the injunction against occupation-style protests on campus.

The indefinite injunction, put in place last year following the events of December 3, infringes on the rights of all students to protest on campus, and is unprecedented and anti-democratic. Occupations at Warwick have historically been an integral and successful method of dissent. They have played a key role in the struggle for the SU building, enabled Warwick students to voice their opposition to international student fees in 1979, and pushed the University to divest from apartheid-linked shares and boycott of Barclays (then heavily involved with the white supremacist regime of South Africa). The University chose to pay £12,000 for the injunction, rather than engage with the legitimate grievances of the occupiers, and to this day they have not apologised for both the way in which Warwick Security were complicit in the police violence against students, or the way in which Nigel Thrift abused his power to one-sidedly frame the debate as in his public statements.

While the Vice Chancellor seemed open to the possibility that the University may, at some point, consider apologising for the way in which it handled the police violence of December 3, and was keen to hear how we might want that apology expressed, he did not make any pledges to lift the injunction. Rather, he said that he needed to hear other voices and opinions on this issue, following which he would communicate with WFFE – through the Sabbatical Officers – with regard to what progress was taking place. While he refused to give us any time scale for when these discussions would occur, he did seem to acknowledge our assertion that we will continue to protest and disrupt the University until the injunction is lifted.

  

FOI REQUESTS:

We also demanded that the University reverse its lobbying to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests, and in turn lobby for private universities who are currently excluded from FOI requests to be included as well.

FOI requests are essential to our notion of a free and democratic university. Their removal would result in a significant reduction in the transparency, accountability and democracy of University structures. They are regularly used by student journalists and activists, and last year WFFE revealed through a FOI request that 241 staff at Warwick weren’t being paid the living wage.

Croft responded to our demand by saying that, in order for private providers to be included in FOI requests, the legislation itself would need to be changed, since it was originally set up for the public sector. He also questioned the ability of the Russell Group to press for minimal change on this issue, attempting to shift responsibility away from himself, the University, and Russell Group, and onto the government. One has to ask: if the Russell Group has so little power over the issue, why are they lobbying to be exempt from the FOIA? This proposed change would only impact the higher education sector; it therefore seems highly plausible that any public position taken by one of the primary lobbying groups for British higher education would carry considerable weight.

However, if it were the position of the University to remain included in FOI requests, Croft said he would take this to a future Russell Group meeting. Since the consultation period is now passed and the Russell Group has spoken, he said we will need to wait until the government responds to the consultation of the HE Paper until it can speak again.

In order to make the demand to remain included in FOI requests the official stance of the University will need to be debated in Senate – which led us to discuss the problem of student representation on Senate, as well as the huge lack of transparency when it comes to University committee meetings, as highlighted by our Postgraduate Officer. Consequently, in order to make Warwick more transparent and the committee structure less cumbersome, Croft pledged to carry out a transparency review between now and the summer. This would also include a review of student representation on Council and Senate. Given that there has been little change in the level of student representation on committees since the 1970s, this is a significant opportunity.

PREVENT:

The fourth demand of our action regarded the government’s “counter-terrorism” ‘Prevent’ programme. Our demand is that Warwick follow a policy of “minimal compliance”: only carrying out those duties under ‘Prevent’ which are statutorily required of the University. We also demand full transparency with respect to all the University’s interactions with Prevent.  We further demand that the University publicly acknowledges and supports the University College Union’s call to boycott Prevent.  This union represents the majority of academic workers on campus and its democratic voice should be respected.  

Prevent is a blatantly racist and Islamophobic programme which encourages invasive profiling of students by turning our staff members into spies. Furthermore, it is used as a sinister tool to monitor student activism and those who seek to defy or oppose the government. Part of the problem with Prevent is that the criteria and the process through which it acts are shrouded in bureaucratic opacity, and the programme thus operates in incredibly undemocratic ways.

We know that numerous members of University Senate, have spoken out against Prevent. Stuart Croft said that as Prevent is part of the law, he does not envisage any way in which the University can boycott it, but he was interested in hearing our definition of “minimum compliance,” in order to explore how the University could adopt this. As such, it was agreed that in collaboration with our Welfare & Campaigns Officer (Luke Pilot), a report would be produced detailing the minimum requirement of universities with regards to Prevent that would be presented to the VC. On the subject of transparency, we forced the VC to pledge that the University will hold an open consultation on Prevent that all staff and students can attend to find out exactly how the University is interacting with it. We pushed for the VC to make this happen before the end of term, and will be following up closely to ensure this pledge materialises.

For us, this meeting has truly demonstrated the power of direct action and grassroots student campaigning. Whilst the outcomes of the meeting and the pledges that we secured are not nearly sufficient – and we are under no illusions about that – they represent significant victories and at least some progress towards our vision of a free, liberated and democratic university. Despite the fact that a surprisingly positive dialogue with the Vice Chancellor has been initiated, we will not be satisfied until the pledges he made are acted upon. Furthermore, there is no doubt that we will continue to organise and protest until our full demands are won. Whilst we celebrate the hugely successful action that took place last week, we will not be complacent – there is still a long way to go in the fight for free education. But it is a fight that we cannot and will not give up on.

Watch this space for more action coming soon….

WE WON: TeachHigher is Dead

Today a statement from the university confirmed that we have defeated TeachHigher.

The scheme, which was little more than a badly disguised attack on vulnerable staff, is not going ahead.

This is, however, not enough. Halting the pilot is a first step towards better working conditions for hourly paid workers, it must be followed by concrete improvements. UCU are demanding that the university place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts, and of course, we whole heartedly support them.

Fighting together, as students and staff, we can win. It is possible to reshape the university. Warwick For Free Education looks forward to the many more victories to come.

students against casualisation poster

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.

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

general poster 1

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

TeachHigher: a critique of claims from the University of Warwick

Initially published here.

Last week I received an email from a departmental secretary about TeachHigher. The department I am based in – Sociology – has been enrolled in the TeachHigher pilot scheme for several months now, but this is the first time that PhD students have been officially informed of this.

TeachHigher emailI strongly suspect that this email (identical to emails also sent to PhD students in the Politics & International Studies and Philosophy departments) was written to counter some of the negative publicityreceived by TeachHigher over the past couple of weeks. It repeats a number of claims also made on social media and in press statements by University management and their representatives.

It’s a horrible feeling to have, but I honestly believe that our institution is being deeply dishonest with us.

In this post, I outline why this is the case, with reference to claims both made in the above email and more widely.


“TeachHigher [is] designed to give a fairer, more transparent and consistent approach to the recruitment and remuneration of hourly paid teachers and researchers”

The actions of the University over the past few months suggest that TeachHigher will be anything but fair, transparent and consistent.

  • Hourly-paid staff have not been consulted about the implementation of TeachHigher.
  • The TeachHigher website has been edited on numerous occasions over the past few weeks in order to remove elements that have attracted criticism. [1] For instance, all references to Warwick Employment Group (WEG) have been removed from the site. However, it appears that TeachHigher is still part of WEG. [2]
  • The University of Warwick has a poor record on remuneration. Hourly-paid teachers are usually not paid for preparation time, office hours or module meetings. In many departments, hourly-paid teachers are also not paid for marking.
  •  At present, hourly-paid teaching and research staff at the University of Warwick are provided with contracts of employment. [3] TeachHigher will instead provide “Temporary Worker Agreements” that “[do] not give rise to a contract of employment”. This will have a significant (negative) impact upon the employment status of hourly-paid staff.
  • The University and College Union (UCU) has made numerous requests for information about remuneration for workers hired through TeachHigher. It has still not received a response.
  • At the University of Leicester, hourly-paid teaching staff employed through TeachHigher sister company Unitemps are paid £11.75 an hour for teaching, with no payment for preparation time. [4] This is not an inspiring record for WEG.

These concerns could be dispelled if the University was to share information demonstrating that hourly-paid staff will be paid fairly.


TeachHigher is “not an outsourcing”

Many critics of TeachHigher have described the new body as a scheme for outsourcing teaching work within academic departments. Warwick has been keen to counter these claims, noting that TeachHigher is owned by the University.

This situation is not a straightforward one, and the comparison with Unitemps is important for understanding why.

Unitemps is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Warwick. This means that it is owned by the University, but also that individuals working through Unitemps are technically working for a body distinct from the University. This has consequences for pay and conditions (as Unitemps employees can be treated differently to other University staff effectively doing the same work). It also has consequences for industrial action, which I discuss later.

This is a very canny business move. Rather than use an external employment agency to hire workers on less favourable terms and conditions, Warwick has created its own.

All existing evidence points to TeachHigher also being a subsidiary.

Warwick map

In a sense, hiring teaching staff in this way could more accurately be described as ‘internal outsourcing’. I have also seen it described as ‘insourcing’. Regardless of what you choose to call it, however, the entire point of these organisations is to create a situation where university departments have (at least) two tiers of academic workers. This makes it easier to treat the lower tier poorly, and to prevent different groups of academic staff from working together for better conditions.

It’s also worth making the point that Unitemps is already used to employ hourly-paid staff at a number of universities (including Leicester and Nottingham) and Warwick is intending to roll out TeachHigher to other institutions also. This will by definition amount to the outsourcing of teaching and research staff.


TeachHigher is “an academic services department”

I’ve seen this phrase used a lot by University management and their representatives. The more prominent recent example would be in the Warwick Insite news article Update on TeachHigher, which states the following:

“Discussions over the last few months clearly established that TeachHigher should be constituted as an academic services department. That has been done and staff and students will now find it listed amongst the other academic services departments on the University’s website.”

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. TeachHigher is indeed now listed on the “Services and facilities” quick links mean at the bottom left of the Warwick home page; as is Unitemps. This classification, however, tells us nothing about TeachHigher’s place in Warwick’s corporate structure, nor about the way it will treat hourly-paid staff.


Staff hired through TeachHigher will have the same opportunity to participate in union activity

There have been no official statements on this issue, but numerous discussions have occurred both on social media and in private correspondence. The University line appears to be that TeachHigher will recognise UCU, and that staff hired through TeachHigher will therefore be able to participate in union activity in the same manner as at present.

However, the TeachHigher Temporary Worker Agreement clearly states that: “TeachHigher may terminate this Agreement and TeachHigher or the Client may terminate any Assignment at any time without prior notice or liability.”

Whilst in theory hourly-paid staff working through TeachHigher cannot be fired for participating in industrial action, in practice it will be hard to prove that this has happened.

Moreover, as Philosophy Head of Department Matthew Nudds has noted, hourly paid staff will “not [be] covered by collective bargaining”.


An equitable solution?

There are two actions that senior University management can take to dispel criticism around TeachHigher.

1)    Provide written confirmation that TeachHigher is not (a) a subsidiary company, (b) run through a subsidiary company.

2)   Replace the Temporary Worker Agreement with a proper contract of employment that clearly states how staff will be paid for every hour worked.

I would like to see more than this, of course, but would personally welcome these actions as important steps in the right direction.

I’ll end with a quote from UCU Warwick:

“Teach Higher claims that it wants to make the employment of casualised academic staff more ‘standardised and efficient’. We say that the best way to achieve this is to end casualised contracts and give fractional and fixed-term staff the same rights as permanent staff.”

[1] TeachHigher front page before and after modification (click to enlarge):

TeachHigher front page old
[old front page]

TeachHigher frontpage new[new front page]

[2] Note: the WEG website has also been edited. The site previously stated unambiguously that TeachHigher was part of WEG. This has been replaced with a somewhat more coy (and less meaningful) statement: “[WEG] is also supporting the new TeachHigher service at Warwick which is an Academic Services Department designed to support university departments engage their flexible teaching resource”. However, TeachHigher is listed as part of WEG in this mapof the University’s services (also reproduced above).

[3] In theory. In practice, contracts can take months to arrive, and are often inaccurate.

[4] Source: PhD student teaching at the University of Leicester.