The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation in response to the Covid-19 crisis that is now being followed by the imposition of 20% cuts, is threatening significant job cuts and loss of valued colleagues, fuelling unsustainable workloads, cancellation of programmes, feelings of alienation and disaffection. More specifically, many casualised contracts have been cut for this academic year, without any consultation with the union or front-line teaching staff, many QM casualised contracts have been effectively cut from the top, with departments forcing staff to make a business case to the Principal for the work that many precarious and underpaid teaching staff had already been promised, putting our most precarious and under-paid workforce at risk.
This is clearly harmful to the careers of many of our dedicated casualised staff but also results in the intensification of work for all those who remain. This is exacerbated further since for next academic year, many schools feel under pressure to implement expanded class sizes, and cuts to modules and programmes, before we have been able to consult as schools and faculties. Queen Mary expects staff to return to campus imminently, but this approach is not only putting the health and security of colleagues at risk, it threatens the long-term stability of our institution since a panicked reaction to present events fails to take account what will follow the end of the crisis.
For example, while this 6-12 month period will be the most difficult the university and sector has faced, 2021-22 will likely see a huge rise in student numbers due to demographic change and the return of many students who will interrupt their studies or have postponed their first year. Losing the expertise of many precarious colleagues who know modules currently suspended will leave departments weaker and slower to respond to the uptake in the following year; and passing of the crisis. While government has not agreed a substantial bailout now, it is too early to simply accept this opinion will not be overhauled as the situation of the sector becomes impossible to ignore. It is also not clear what the national position will be regarding bailouts, lowering unemployment rates, and government and the OfS response to the NUS ‘Student Safety Net’ campaign call for students right to re-take this year for free in 2020-21.
We must not diminish the University to such an extent in the short term that we cannot function effectively just one year later. We call on senior management not to buckle at the first sign of trouble. No pre-emptive action; no short-term thinking. We need an approach that is premised on utilising Queen Mary’s sector level lobbying and influence to demand funding and a New Deal for HE. We need a plan that is designed with full and meaningful consultation with campus unions and all staff; a proper assessment of the period that faces us ahead not 6-12 months, but 24 months and later; the re-establishment of proper employer/trade union relations; and a shared set of demands for how Higher Education will work in the future, as set out in the demands below:
- Queen Mary to prioritise and take appropriate measures to protect the health and jobs of all staff as we face both short and mid-term consequences of Covid-19, by complying with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations.
- Queen Mary to provide to staff groups all financial data necessary for meaningful consultation and bargaining purposes:
- high level summaries and updates;
- scenario plans;
- and all information sent to OfS.
- Queen Mary to engage meaningfully with campus unions and staff groups, with regards to all planning for summer and the new academic year
- To safeguard jobs as a matter of priority by drawing, where necessary, on reserves, loans, salary savings (as above) and cuts to non-essential budgets
- The pandemic must not become an opportunity to accelerate Queen Mary’s 2030 strategy. The strategy must be subject to new consultation given the current financial position of Queen Mary and the Higher Education sector, with a view to a new deal for Higher Education.
- Queen Mary to suspend all major capital projects until there is a return to financial stability.
- The Chancellor and senior management team, and all those earning over £100k to take a pay cut. No member of Queen Mary staff should be paid more than the Prime Minister.
- Queen Mary management must meet with campus unions to draw up a plan for steering us through the Covid-19 crisis, which has protecting jobs as it core principle and must engage in genuine and ongoing consultation with the unions regarding all proposals for change within the institution as a result of the Covid- 19 crisis.
- Queen Mary to focus efforts on national lobbying for bailout and long-term new deal for education.
- Consideration of appropriate solidarity actions by senior staff, for example a voluntary solidarity levy ring fenced for continued employment of casualised staff members (dependent on senior management implementing actions listed above).
- Permanent members of staff should agree not to cover work that was previously assigned to hourly-paid or fixed-term contract staff who are now being targeted for redundancy due to the Covid-19 crisis.
- Creation of joint campus coronavirus action groups (of staff representing all grades working collectively with students) to devise institution-specific ‘Corona Charters’ to protect working conditions and health and safety, support student campaigns for ‘no detriment’, and press for democratic governance arrangements.
- A professor’s forum
Any work we undertake to fight the myriad practical issues that confront us during the early stages of this pandemic, is not so that we can return to “business as usual”. We do not want to go back to how things were.
Universities were in crisis before Covid-19: ravaged by marketisation, financialisation; mental health crises, and deep levels of precarity and inequality. Many institutions were already on the brink of bankruptcy (25% were in deficit before Covid-19 crisis). This was part of the conservative government’s vision in 2010: institutional ‘failures’ would be a sign that education was indeed a market, and it didn’t matter if turning student grants into loans saved any money (it didn’t), once debt discipline was installed and the accounts were re-cast. Within Queen Mary and across the sector we must collectively ensure the violence of the crises in Higher Education is not allowed to happen again. We must fight for a different reality for Queen Mary and Higher Education. As a branch we must do this by fighting for short-term concessions and building our power; while simultaneously formulating and moving towards another horizon.
As part of a Post-Covid Settlement we demand:
- Funding of Higher Education in UK to be brought in line with OECD countries; to increase proportion of UK public expenditure devoted to higher education from 0.5% of GDP to at least 0.9%, the OECD average;
- A bailout for all universities until 2023 and until new systems of funding in place;
- Immediate introduction of an institutional (not overall) cap on student recruitment for 2020/21 that is based on a fair distribution of students across the sector and that will protect more vulnerable universities;
- A moratorium on all redundancies and re-structuring until after crisis has ended;
- The end of student fees;
- The reintroduction of a grants system for undergraduate and postgraduate study;
- Casualised staff to be made permanent;
- A cap on Vice-Chancellor and management pay;
- The flattening of management structures;
- An end to UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) monitoring of the attendance of international students and the scrapping of the Prevent programme;
- A complete re-writing of University governance charters along cooperative principles;
- Democratisation of governance at all levels within institutions and their departments;
- A student and staff commission to develop programmes and curricula needed to grasp the new world we are entering and to prepare us to fight climate breakdown;
- A student and staff commission on de-colonisation, anti-imperialism and anti-racism implementing changes to funding, governance structures and pedagogy that reflect its findings;
- Meaningful reflection on teaching and learning; satisfaction’ and quality control, to be replaced by forms of feedback that encourage (TEF) and other examples of audit culture that perpetuate cultures of ‘customer Scrapping of the National Student Survey (NSS), Teaching Excellence Framework
- A substantial green new deal for all universities, democratically managed and implemented
- A large pay rise for all cleaning, security, catering and service staff;
- A fixed wage differential between top and bottom earners so gross inequality cannot happen again;
- An end to corporate copyright on intellectual labour;
- An end to all remaining outsourcing;
- Development of sustainable procurement policies and local supply lines