Online meeting: Tuesday 21 July, 5.30-7.00pm
Confirmed speakers include:
- Emma Hardy, Labour shadow Higher Education minister
- Rowan Williams, Council for the Defence of British Universities chair of trustees
- John Holmwood, Campaign for the Public University chair
- Deepa Driver, University and Colleges Union USS negotiator (Reading)
- Victoria Showunmi, UCU HEC chair (UCL Institute of Education)
- Marian Mayer, UCU national negotiator (Bournemouth)
- + more to be announced
Covid-19 has exposed inequality in UK society in many fields. The winners and losers in the ‘HE marketplace’ are placed in stark relief as they attempt to predict student enrolments. Aggressive attacks on the pay and jobs of staff that began at Durham have spread to Reading, Roehampton, Sussex, SOAS, Liverpool, Imperial… The employers tell staff what they want is ‘uncertainty’, but the greatest uncertainty is due to volatility in expected student numbers as Covid-19 and Brexit create a perfect storm for the sector.
A recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies modelling income lost by the sector predicts that a median 13 universities will be insolvent in the near term. The authors argue for a targeted bailout and debt restructuring to avoid bankruptcy. However welcome this may be, this will merely paper over the cracks in the market.
For Conservative free market proponents, the prospect of university bankruptcy is an opportunity too important to waste. The Higher Education and Research Act 2016 allowed universities to go bankrupt for the first time. The Office for Students is supposed to be able to relocate students, although no-one is sure how this will work. But moving teaching online may be a chance to implement David Willets’ market experiment and irreversibly restructure the sector — closing universities and replacing them with low-cost ‘alternative providers’, with few buildings and pension commitments, that are likely to be the winners in this crisis. Forget academic freedom. Don’t bother with research. Pile students high and teach them cheaply.
But the resistance has begun.
The Convention for Higher Education organised two large online meetings in May, drafting a Statement, A New Future for Higher Education, to begin a necessary debate about alternatives. Branches have passed motions in support of the Statement. In June and July, UCU branches under attack began to organise protests and rallies online to link up their campaigns. The national UCU has launched its Fund the Future campaign.
Come to this launch meeting to hear how we can unite the sector to defend Higher Education.