The (further) Marketization of HE

In November the Government published the Green Paper, Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. This, along with changes announced by George Osborne in the Spending Review are widely seen as heralding a root and branch transformation of Higher Education. This transformation has several aims.

A government priority is to pave the way for new entrants into the sector, including existing global for-profit providers, such as the Apollo group, by lowering the threshold for entry. The US experience (see for instance The Harkin Report) shows that the entry of for-profit providers is especially harmful for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are most likely to succumb to the aggressive marketing that is used by these organisations and enrol in unsuitable courses, after which they are left encumbered by debt that they cannot pay off. As this debt is underwritten by the state this situation is lose-lose. For-profit universities are equally disregarding of their staff, with lecturers paid for teaching only, often working remotely seeing neither students nor colleagues. None are given research time.

To facilitate new entrants into the sector the government is determined to make it easier for existing institutions and departments to fail, with an entire section of the Green Paper devoted to ‘Provider exit and student protection’. In the government’s words (p.54):

In a changing and more competitive sector, providers that innovate and present a more compelling value proposition to students will be able to increase their share of total students – in some cases this may be at the expense of other institutions.

Continuing to support providers that are struggling is undesirable for various reasons. Difficulty attracting students or poor quality provision would not be in the long term interest of students, and could damage the reputation of the sector. Removing provision may indeed lead to it being replaced by higher quality provision.

If university exit has thus far been frustratingly difficult for the government to achieve, the new Teaching Excellence Framework (or TEF) has been designed to change this. Despite its name, as currently conceived the TEF is not a measure of teaching, but of a range of somewhat cobbled together ‘metrics’. In the first instance these are likely to include employment and earnings at six months post-graduation, retention and continuation and student satisfaction (see Mark Leach’s visual guide to the TEF). Universities will also be required to meet widening participation criteria. Success in the TEF will allow universities to raise fees (albeit within limits); failure will constrain this, and threaten the viability of courses, and ultimately institutions.

The objections to this crude process are manifold and many have been well rehearsed. For instance, earnings are only marginally related to teaching or anything else that a University does, and much more strongly related to a range of other things, including social networks formed before as well as during university (various criticisms of using graduate ‘outcomes’ is outlined here). Similarly student satisfaction, as currently measured by the NSS rarely highlights important quality differences. For instance a report for HEFCE suggested that ‘in most cases, the differences between whole institutions are so small as to be statistically and practically insignificant’ (p.4). Once the NSS (in its current or revised form) feeds TEF it is likely that small (insignificant) differences will be of increasing consequence, triggering ever more panicked management responses. Moreover, as the TEF develops and the measures used are ‘refined’ it is likely that, as happened with the REF, the bureaucratic burden will increase, requiring increasing organisational resources and staff time.

While the prioritisation of widening student participation is welcomed, the lack of any resources to achieve this is notable. Instead George Osborne’s Spending Review cut approximately £380 million currently set aside as ‘Student Opportunity Funding’ targeted at disabled and the poorest students. In this context it is likely to be much easier for institutions with otherwise privileged students to funnel resources towards a small cohort of ‘widening participation’ students, ensuring their success, than it will be for universities with large numbers of working class students all calling on limited resources.

Meanwhile for those whose primary concern is research, the Spending Review was equally worrying. Building on the Nurse Review the proposal is that an overarching body is created Research UK (RUK) to replace the various research councils. This body will operate with much closer links to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and with ministerial priorities. This is already apparent in the ring-fencing of 1.5 billion research funding for ‘Global Challenges’. While this may not concern you if your research fits within government priorities (although what these are remains somewhat unclear), it is likely to herald serious cuts to public funding for arts, humanities and (critical) social science. In the longer term it poses a threat to academic freedom.

Other changes, not discussed above, will have a huge if not yet fully defined impact on particular departments or disciplines. For instance the removal of grants for nursing students and their replacement with loans and an unregulated market.

So, what will that mean for us at City? The first thing is that since none of these plans are fully fleshed out, in the immediate future it will produce uncertainty. Senior managers at City and elsewhere are desperately trying to position themselves in what they think will be the new market. But in lieu of any concrete evidence of what success will require, this amounts to little more than rearranging the deck-chairs.

Past experience suggests, however, that these changes are likely to ramp up the pressures on us all to be ‘excellent’ in ever-expanding ways, since in a marketized HE sector the costs of ‘failure’ will be greater. This may mean that we are held responsible for things that are largely outside our control – for ensuring excellent NSS outcomes, for student ‘employability’ (notwithstanding cuts to the Careers service), for chasing harder after ever-diminishing pots of research funding. In this context we need to be vigilant about resisting further performance management (such as management’s inappropriate use of the ARQM).

As a union we must also reassert the value of higher education and of research, whether or not this fits with the government’s short-term priorities.

 

We will be posting further updates to this blog and encourage members to contribute, for instance by sending us their experiences or commentary.

 

We encourage City UCU members to register to attend The Second Convention for Higher Education on ‘The HE Green Paper: The Threat to the Public University …and what we can do about it’ at UCL on Saturday 27th February.

 

Recommended Further Reading:

John Holmwood’s ‘Slouching towards the market

Charles Kowalski’s ‘Not learning from error: Teaching Excellence Failure

THE The higher education Green Paper: Everything you need to know

UCU (brief) response to the Spending Review

Athena SWAN and staff representation groups

After the university’s unsuccessful Athena SWAN application the Gender Equalities Working Group (GEWG) has been set up. Two members of the UCU committee along with other members of staff sit on this group.

We would encourage all members of staff to consider joining one of several staff groups, such as:

  • The LGBT+ group, which is active at City. Several UCU members attend the group’s meetings
  • The BME network, which meets tomorrow
  • The Staff Disability Network
  • Women @ City

For details check the City website www.city.ac.uk.

Education-Only Academic Contracts at City?

The report from Senate on 8 July mentioned the University’s plans to introduce a new education-only contract for academic staff, i.e. for those not engaged in research.

It also reported that the University was working with the unions on this. In fact, the previous week the UCU branch had been invited to a confidential discussion with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor about the plan to have a new education-only contract available (for new starters only) from September.

We voiced our opposition to any plan which permanently blocks off the option of research from any academic and which has the potential to create a two-tier system in academic contracts. By the following day however we were already hearing reports from some schools about plans to move existing staff onto such contracts.

This matter, along with the fact that academic role profiles which have still not been discussed with the unions, will be pursued at the Joint Consultation and Negotiations Board (JCNB) which next meets in August.

Notes from meeting on ARQM

Following our request for information from members on how ARQM (Annual Research Quality Monitoring) data is being used, we received a lot of useful information with which to engage management in a review of the process. Any information you send us will be treated anonymously. It is essential that we can give examples of how the process is being implemented across the university.

The UCU is committed to continuing to protect members of academic staff who are affected by ARQM. At our last meeting with the Pro-Vice Chancellor for research we highlighted several concerns regarding the accuracy and reliability of ARQM scores, concerns about scoring individuals’ performance, and discrepancies between the intended purposes and the actual uses of ARQM.

UCU ARQM meeting 140515 

Your new branch committee for 2015-16

Congratulations to the new branch committee for 2015-16 who were elected at the AGM on 9th June.

President Keith Simpson, Law
Vice President Chris Flood, SHS
Vice President Rebecca Lewis, LEaD
Secretary Morris Pamplin, LEaD
Membership Secretary Greg Wellington, SAS
Equality Officer Martin Chivers, SASS
Health and Safety Officer John Saunders, SHS
Health and Safety Officer Chantal Hill, SASS
Ordinary Member Rachel Cohen, SASS
Ordinary Member Grietje Baars, Law
Ordinary Member Hayley McBain, SHS
Ordinary Member Alison Macfarlane, SHS
Ordinary Member Leon Cuthbertson, Cass
Research Students’ Rep Swetha Bobba, MCSE

Minutes of the AGM will be available shortly.

AGM 2015 and Committee Posts

This year’s UCU AGM takes place on Tuesday 9th June at 5pm in C320.

Agenda
This year’s meeting will be held in two parts.  The first part will be open to all staff, with the following agenda items:
1.       Update and discussion on employee relations and the Vice Chancellor’s vision for the future of the University
2.       President’s report

The second part will be restricted to UCU members only, with the following agenda items:
3.       Minutes of the previous AGM
4.       Treasurer’s report
5.       Election of branch committee
6.       Any other business

After the meeting we will be adjourning to the Sekforde Arms for drinks and food, and we hope you will join us.

Elections
Officers and ordinary committee members are re-elected each year, with the new committee formally commencing on 1 September.

We welcome any enquiries from members about standing for the committee. There are a range of posts, which require different skills and entail different responsibilities:

President leads on all union- and employment-related activities the branch undertakes, chairs all general meetings and all committee meetings, and takes any other action on behalf of the committee.
Vice President takes on duties in the absence of the President and deputise for him/her.
Secretary calls general and committee meetings of the branch, circulates minutes of meetings, organises membership communications, and arranges notifications of local elections and ballot results to members.
Assistant Secretary takes on duties in the absence of the Secretary and deputises for him/her.
Treasurer has custody of the funds of the branch and makes payments as needed in accordance with the branch rules. The Treasurer keeps the books of the branch and presents the accounts of the branch for auditing as necessary, and presents the audited accounts to the AGM.
Membership Secretary is responsible for recruitment, for keeping membership records, and sending membership information to UCU head office or regional office.
Equalities Officer is responsible for staying up to date with relevant issues and monitoring development of equality policies within the institution, where appropriate encouraging and supporting local negotiations on equality matters. He or she monitors the casework relating to equality issues, supports members experiencing issues, and attends national and regional UCU meetings.
Health and Safety Officer represents UCU members on health and safety issues including participating in health and safety inspections and risk assessments, being the branch’s point of contact over health and safety issues, attending safety committee meetings, and investigating notifiable incidents.
Postgraduate Student Representative leads the branch committee’s work relating to postgraduate students. He or she is the primary point of contact for student members, the Student Union and UCU head office in relation to postgraduate student matters.
Ordinary Members sit on the committee and participate in the work of the branch as needed, including contributing to communications to members, attending meetings, sharing information from schools and services, and supporting union events.

As well as joining the committee, there are other ways you can get involved in the work of the branch, such as becoming a local rep. Local reps act as the link between members in their school or department and the committee. All types of skills and experience are valued.

Contact the secretary (morris.pamplin.1@city.ac.uk) if you would like more information on any of the committee posts or to find out more about becoming a rep.

Leaflet on ARQM distributed to Senate, 6/05/15

UCU members of Senate distributed the leaflet below to Senate on 6th May. The UCU has a meeting set up with the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise on Thursday 14th. We are asking all academic members of staff to send us feedback on your views of the ARQM process, and how it has affected you or your department. You can send feedback to the Branch Secretary morris.pamplin.1@city.ac.uk. Any information you send will be used anonymously.

ARQM City UCU flyer