UCU wins landmark victory against casualisation

Duncan Moore, Plymouth Socialist Party and UCU member (personal capacity)

UCU activists in the Open University branch have secured permanent contracts for 4800 teaching staff, the biggest decasualisation victory ever to take place in higher education. 

These staff will now benefit from enhanced job security, a pay uplift of between 10-15%, additional annual leave, and staff development allowances.

Casualisation is now rife across the tertiary education sector, with 46% of universities and 60% of colleges using zero hours contracts to deliver teaching, and 68% of research staff on short term contracts, with many more reliant on short-term funding for their projects. 

University bosses use fixed term contracts to stretch their staff to breaking point, exploiting the competition for the preciously small number of permanent positions by piling on extra teaching and marking responsibilities. The result is a toxic environment for staff, with one in five working up to 16 hours a week over their contracted hours, and most early-career academics having to reapply for their jobs and relocate to other institutions year after year. Little wonder that over half report signs of depression, a report by Education Support found last year. 

This win for OU tutors comes after years of hard negotiations and struggle with the university bosses, with the branch membership growing in size and militancy since the strikes against regional centre closures in 2016. 

Branches across the country can take confidence from this victory to push for the highest possible turnout in the national ballot over pay and conditions, launched today (10/08/2022).

——————————————————————————————————————–

Socialist Students groups will be organising campus meetings next term in solidarity with the UCU, as the union prepares to ballot 80,000 workers at 149 universities next month ahead of potential national strike action in November.

Get in touch to find out how you can organise with Socialist Students to support your local UCU branch in their fight against low wages, overwork, casualisation and discriminatory pay. Join us in the united student-worker fightback against the cost of living crisis and capitalism!

  • No to all job cuts and course closures on campuses. Students should link up with campus trade unions to fight all cuts.
  • Fight for free education – scrap tuition fees, cancel all student debt and introduce living grants for students. Make the 1% pay.
  • Build a national student movement – democratic and active – linked up with the campus trade unions and wider trade union movement.
  • Fight for a socialist alternative to capitalist chaos.
Socialist Students supporting striking UCU staff at Oxford Brookes University in March. Photo: Kris O’Sullivan.

Save English literature at Sheffield Hallam

Jo Hall, English Literature student, Sheffield Hallam

Bristol University students marching against cuts last year

Don’t let Tories scrap my degree and others like it.

Sheffield Hallam University plans to scrap the stand alone English literature course for new entrants in 2023. From then on, it will only be buried in another degree course as a secondary module.

Sheffield Hallam has given no explanation beyond a ‘shake-up’ of how English is taught. This is part of a wider attack on the humanities.

The Tory government is planning new attacks. Universities could face penalties for courses where less than 60% of graduates are in study or professional jobs 15 months after completion.

Dr Mary Peace, an English literature lecturer at Sheffield Hallam, described these cuts as “cultural vandalism… what kind of society will we have if there is no place for people from all social classes and backgrounds to have the chance to read and think?”

The Tories’ Office for Students has threatened to cut funding for ‘low-value’ courses. By ‘value’, they mean what matters to the capitalists.

We face real dangers to education. Limited academic freedom is under attack, with the government’s focus on ‘financial return’. They want to keep the next generation right where they can.

Assault on poor students

This is an assault on working-class arts. Just over 40% of Hallam students are from poor economic backgrounds.

Michelle Donelan has now resigned as Tory education secretary. But when she was in the Tory government, she said: “Courses that do not lead students on to work or further study fail both the students, who pour their time and effort in, and the taxpayer, who picks up a substantial portion of the cost.”

It is true that graduate work for humanities and arts students is low-paid, with many courses under the Tories’ self-imposed thresholds for beginning to pay back student loans. But that is the fault of private companies as well as the government failing to create decent jobs.

Donelan claims certain courses will inevitably result in underemployment. However, it is only inevitable under one context: capitalism, which Donelan and peers want to protect.

The Tory government isn’t interested in education but, rather, what education can do for them – streamlining people into profit-making industries. The Tories don’t want the arts to be for us, despite it often being made by us. They want to keep it an elite pastime, not a legitimate working-class livelihood.

Students – unite with workers to fight the cost of living crisis!

Noah Eden, Sheffield Socialist Students

One in ten students are having to use food banks, according to a recent survey by the National Union of Students (NUS). One in five students can’t afford toiletries, and a further one in ten can’t afford sanitary products when they need them. In June it was also reported that there has been a 3,000% increase in the number of graduates who owe more than £100,000 in student loan debts.

The fact of the matter is simple: student loans aren’t enough to provide students with the money that we need to survive. The average maintenance loan is £5,640 a year – nowhere near enough to cover typical extortionate rents, let alone buy food, energy, travel and the rest.

The NUS survey found that a third of students are being forced to live on less than £50 a month because of rent and bills, leaving many students unable to carry out proper weekly food shops and not being able to afford to travel into university.

Many of us take minimum wage jobs with dodgy contracts at the same time as being expected to carry out a ‘full-time’ degree.

The NUS has called on the government to provide a cost-of-living support package for students, and for maintenance loans and the apprentice minimum wage to be brought into line with the ‘National Living Wage’ – just £6.83 an hour for 18 to 20-year-olds, and £4.81 for under-18s.

But we need to go further than that. Demanding a decent living grant for all students is necessary, and could be linked to low-paid workers also struggling for a £15-an-hour minimum wage. But an increase in maintenance payments for students cannot be funded by simply plunging us further into debt. We must fight for maintenance grants, not loans! We also need to outline how it can be fought for and won. With the ongoing summer of workers’ strikes, and further strikes looking likely in the autumn, why doesn’t the NUS build on the March student demo, and organise students to take to the streets alongside striking workers? To bring together the fight for a £15-an-hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hour contracts and right for everyone to be able to attend university without the fear of a lifetime of financial burden.