Higher Education faces significant changes in the coming years as universities move to a market based model. Tuition and top-up fees are perhaps the more visible signs of this but many institutions are now seeing changes which, among other things, significantly affect education workers’ terms and conditions. Union responses so far have seen conferences like NUS’s (National Union of Students) ‘Reclaim the Campus’ and UCU’s ‘Challenging the market in education’ (University and College Union)
Meanwhile, the more action-minded have been far from quiet. The Universities of Sussex and Manchester, for example, both saw occupations, demonstrations and demands to end this commercialisation process. In both cases, while the impetus for action has come from student activists, university workers have also been involved. In Sussex, the ‘Sussex not 4 Sale’ campaign organised the largest rally in Brighton for 20 years.
In Manchester members of the SF’s Education Workers’ Network have been involved in the ‘Reclaim the Uni’ campaign which organised a march and occupation and put together a list of demands, several of which related to staff issues.
Meanwhile, commercialisation continues apace at Manchester. The introduction of an internal market is bringing about a situation where each building has devolved decision making. Though they use university support staff at the moment there is no reason why work cannot be outsourced and, in the case of one new building complex, private night time security staff are to be used. Also the no compulsory redundancy agreement runs out later this year. Although there have already been upwards of 800 voluntary redundancies, with the university still massively in debt because of its dash for ‘world class university’ status and with an expected squeeze on public spending there are growing concerns that compulsory redundancies are a distinct possibility.
While it has been encouraging to see university staff and students beginning to come together to oppose the current neoliberal climate in universities, it is going to require much more of the same to reverse the flow of change. It is to be hoped that these positive moves can re-gather momentum as soon as the summer break is over.