Tag Archives: Teachhigher

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

by Warwick UCU Branch Committee

On 2 June 2015, management at the University of Warwick announced that “ongoing scrutiny of TeachHigher has become a distraction and TeachHigher should be disbanded”. Warwick UCU members greeted the announcement with a mixture of joy and disbelief. TeachHigher was set up as an employment agency, in all but name, to try to ameliorate the obvious problems being generated by the university’s extensive use of casualised teachers and researchers. It was disbanded before it had recruited a single worker, and the campaign against it offers some useful lessons about what it takes to persuade university management to do the right thing.

In 2013/14, the University of Warwick directly employed 2,130 academic staff on open-ended or fixed-term contracts. They also used the services of a further 2,725 “atypical” academic members of staff. None of these people had a contract of employment and many had no formal specification of what, exactly, they were being paid to do. Because these arrangements were decided by individual Heads of Department, there were huge inconsistencies and inequalities. The University argued that TeachHigher would address these deficiencies by developing “a fair, transparent and consistent approach” to the recruitment and remuneration of casual staff. Although Warwick UCU was supportive of this broader aim, we organised against TeachHigher for two reasons. Firstly, the Temporary Worker Agreement initially posted on the TeachHigher website threatened to worsen most people’s working conditions, not least by giving the university the right to dismiss them at any time without giving a reason. Secondly, we were worried that, in the longer term, TeachHigher would institutionalise the casualisation of academic work, and thereby facilitate a sector-wide expansion of this type of exploitative contract. We were particularly concerned that Warwick Employment Group, a commercial off-shoot of the University of Warwick, was intending to sell TeachHigher to other universities as a franchise, akin to Unitemps, their existing employment agency.

In Spring 2015,Warwick UCU began to organize against TeachHigher both on campus and around the country. The campaign sought to raise awareness about the negative effects TeachHigher would have on workers nationwide, and to mobilize resistance against its imminent introduction at Warwick. It was greatly helped by two instances of fortuitous timing. Firstly, the 2015 UCU Congress took place a few weeks into the campaign. This meant Congress could pass a motion opposing TeachHigher and that our two Warwick delegates could distribute flyers about an up-coming demonstration and garner support from other UCU branches up and down the country. Secondly, a University of Warwick Open Day was scheduled for two months after the start of the campaign. This gave us just enough time to work with other groups to organise a demonstration for the same day. Shortly before both events were due to take place, management decided to disband TeachHigher. The thought of an unknown number of demonstrators coming face-to-face with prospective students and their parents probably played a part in this decision. The threat of negative publicity can be a powerful lever and it was used to full advantage in this instance.

As well as capitalising on pre-existing events, we also built a wide range of strategic alliances, within and beyond the university. We worked with sessional teaching staff and full-time colleagues as well as student groups to organize across campus. As a result of this work, the Student Union passed a motion opposing TeachHigher, as did a number of academic departments. In one department, 68 people (including several professors) signed an Open Letter to the Head of Department and the Head of Administration protesting at the lack of consultation. In another department, 22 of the 23 Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) signed a letter saying they would boycott TeachHigher in the coming academic year. Some of the GTAs were UCU members; some were part of a self-organising collective called the Hourly-paid Group; some had a foot in both camps, as they put it. Solidarity doesn’t get any stronger than this.

Beyond our own institution, we worked with other groups committed to tackling casualisation, including FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Education). We enlisted the support of neighbouring UCU branches who publicised the demonstration and pledged to send delegates. We also drew upon the expertise of staff in the UCU Regional and National Offices. For instance, Michael MacNeil, UCU’s National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, wrote to the VC saying it was “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. We worked with UCU’s press officers and grassroots activists to orchestrate maximum media coverage, which included articles in outlets from Times Higher Education to Vice.

We deliberately used evidence and detailed argument with just a sprinkling of speculation. Throughout, we offered two concrete alternatives, one deliberately more ambitious than the other. This gave management the opportunity to meet us half-way by agreeing to the first of our requests (“halt the pilot and engage in meaningful discussion”) but not the second (“Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts”).

Because of our organisational efforts and the solidarity we received from groups across the country, Teach Higher was disbanded in June. In August, we started what promises to be a series of meetings between local and regional UCU representatives, on the one hand, and the University Registrar and the Director of HR, on the other. We have also been invited to join the User Group which will provide feedback on the pilot being trialled in seven departments during 2015/16. Of course, there is still a long way to go to ensure all workers on campus receive decent wages and fair treatment but, at least, both sides are now taking steps in the right direction.

This article was submitted to UCU Head Office for inclusion in an anti-casualisation magazine to be published this year.

More information on Sessional Teaching Project (Warwick University HR)

Teachhigher to be disbanded

TeachHigher to be disbanded but VAM to be reformed

University management have acknowledged that “ongoing scrutiny of Teach Higher has become a distraction and Teach Higher should be disbanded”.

Full details are available at:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/th_update

Warwick UCU and the Hourly-paid Group welcome this latest development. National and local UCU representatives have been invited to a meeting with senior management later this month and we hope to start proper discussions about how best to deliver fair pay for all staff at the university.

A statement from the Student Union can be found here: http://www.warwicksu.com/news/article/warwicksu/Warwick-SU-statement-on-the-disbanding-of-TeachHigher/

An update about TeachHigher

TeachHigher Update – Breaking News
 
Are you up for the demo on Friday 19 June?
(12pm at Library Road)
 
Can you spare an hour to make a poster/banner?
(Wednesday 17 June from 4-7pm)
 
Or distribute flyers?
(Wednesday 3 June at 12pm at Library entrance)

Read about the latest achievements below or in the attachments.

National Support for Warwick UCU’s Campaign against TeachHigher

Last weekend, UCU Congress (the body which decides UCU policy for the whole of the UK) voted to campaign against TeachHigher – see motion 66A.1 here. In a letter to Nigel Thrift, Michael MacNeil, National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, calls it “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. UCU have reported Warwick’s story here and here.

UCU – University and College Union – University of Warwick under fire for ‘regressive’ change to casual contracts
UCU has called for a rethink of ‘regressive’ plans by the University of Warwick to change the way it manages staff on casual contracts.

Staff and Student Demonstration against Casualisation and TeachHigher

Please support the demonstration on Friday 19 June – further details here. Alongside the usual elements (a march and a rally), there’ll be lots of creative activities highlighting the human cost of casual contracts – watch out for “Sticky Floor”, “Twins” and “The Alternative Campus Guide”. UCU branches from all over the country are coming as are staff from UCU Head Office.

History and Film and TV Studies join English in voting not to use TeachHigher

Two more departments have exercised their democratic right and voted to reject TeachHigher at a departmental meeting. Please try to do the same in your own department. Contact the committee via administrator@warwickucu.org.uk if you need help with this.    

Boycott of pilot by Sociology tutors

22 tutors in the Sociology department emailed Professor Solomos (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration for Sociology, PAIS and Philosophy) on 27 May saying they won’t apply for sessional work via TeachHigher next academic year. Read the email in the second attachment. About a third of all teaching in Sociology is done by sessional tutors.

Concerns expressed by 68 members of staff in PAIS

68 members of staff have written a series of emails to Professor Chris Hughes (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration) outlining their concerns. The group includes people from all ranks of the academic ladder showing this is an issue affecting all of us. Approximately 53% of all UG teaching in PAIS is done by sessional tutors, 30% by teaching fellows on temporary contracts, and 17% by permanent staff members.

Student Union overwhelmingly rejects TeachHigher despite  management reassurances

The SU invited management to an Open Meeting about TeachHigher on 14 May. You can hear an audio recording here. The students were not reassured. A week later, they voted overwhelmingly to “reject TeachHigher and demand in its place a universal contract system that values and not exploits hourly-paid teachers”. Read the full motion and result here:

Why are staff and students from all over the country coming together to oppose TeachHigher?

1) There is still a lack of clarity about TeachHigher. The website says it’s “an internal academic recruitment and administration services” and that the pilot will involve seven departments (Sociology, Philosophy, Politics and International Studies, Chemistry, Mathematics, the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, and the Centre for Lifelong Learning). This leaves unanswered important questions about its reporting structures, its business model and its longer-term aims. Similarly, the relationship between TeachHigher and Warwick Employment Group, a University of Warwick subsidiary, remains opaque. TeachHigher used to be listed as the sixth brand on WEG’s webpage, alongside Unitemps and jobs.ac.uk – now there’s just an awkward gap in the bottom right-hand corner. Check it out here. Given how much things keep changing, without any explanation, who could blame us for being sceptical?

2) UCU and the Hourly-paid Working Group have not been consulted at any point.

3) The original terms and conditions were deeply concerning because the “candidate” could be dismissed at any time without reason. We know nothing about the revised terms and conditions because we have been excluded from the drafting process. We believe they will still offer a contract for services, denying hourly-paid staff basic employment rights.

4) Warwick already has one of the highest casualisation rates in the whole sector and TeachHigher will do nothing to ameliorate this dubious distinction. Instead, it will almost certainly make the situation worse in the next five to ten years.

5) TeachHigher makes it possible for HR personnel with no academic training or specialist expertise to recruit teachers and researchers. Potentially, under the new scheme, HR could bypass departmental preferences and take full control of the hiring process and the staffing of modules. This isn’t going to happen this year or next, but who’s to say it won’t happen further down the line?

6) Similarly, TeachHigher makes it easier for Warwick central management to recruit ever larger numbers of hourly-paid and casualised staff to teach modules and do piecemeal research, while continuing to reduce the number of secure, open-ended positions. Again, this isn’t going to happen immediately, but it’s a real concern for the future.

What’s the alternative?

1) Halt the pilot; engage in meaningful discussion with UCU and other groups most affected;

2) Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts.

Produced by the Warwick UCU committee and the Hourly-Paid Working Group.
29 May 2015