With the snap election just called, you might have thought that the current government’s Higher Education and Universities Bill was going to be delayed, but it looks as though they’re going to try to push it through next week before Parliament is prorogued. On 6 March the House of Lords voted for amendments to two of the most controversial features of the Government’s HE Bill: (1) the intention to link TEF to the ability to raise tuition fees, and (2) allowing new private providers degree-awarding powers without four years of validation by a university or approval by a quality assurance body. This was a rare instance of good news for our sector, and was the result of intense lobbying: from UCU, but also from concerned academics, students, parents, and others worried by the ramifications of these ill-conceived proposals.
With the final reading of the Bill looming, we cannot let up on the campaign now: the Lords were receptive to individuals raising their concerns, and when it returns to the House of Commons, we need to put pressure on our local MPs–especially for those of us who live in a constituency with a Conservative MP–to agree to these amendments. With the election foremost on MPs’ minds, they’ll be particularly likely to be attentive to their constituents’ concerns, especially where a university is so integral to the economic and cultural life of the area.
Make no mistake: the HE Bill as it currently stands is an existential threat to academic life in this country. And it is UCU that is fighting it: the representative bodies of university leaders, GuildHE and UUK, sent out a joint letter on 2 March ‘signalling [their] strong support’ for the Bill, so we cannot rely on our employers to defend British Universities.
Sitting in a windowless hall during a debate on the amendment of a motion, I wondered this.
And realised – it’s democracy in action, which isn’t always as exciting as it sounds!
UEA UCU President Amanda Williams speaking to a motion
Like everything, there are good and bad bits.
Procedure, policy, rule changes.
But also networking, inspirational stories, different experiences.
I’ve come back fortified by solidarity, and reminded of everything a union achieves, not just pay, but much, much more: improved, fairer working conditions and rights, highlighting the issues faced by those on casual contracts, or because of colour, gender, sexuality, or disability.
The incoming Trade Union Act means all members need to engage, not just the activists.
It’s our union, our voice, our vote.
Had an excellent day at this conference. Jotting down some notes:
in opening speech “…skewered perceptions of reality become received wisdom” – in a Trade Union context makes me think of the so-called union barons.
talked about the importance of journalism starting at the local level. Importance of local journalism is crucial in holding those in power to account.
Diversity of ownership for healthy press & society – uncovering corruption
Levison – NUJ had to appeal to take part. They were the only means for anonymised, confidential voices from journalists to be heard
Drastic cuts in newspaper industry – union opposition not about wanting to preserve old ways of doing things, it’s about the value of good journalism – providing the analysis on stories, not just pumping out press releases. Media owners used austerity as excuse to cut jobs.
Women in media
Bit depressing in the lack of progress, but the vibrant voices of the panel bear testament to the value women’s contributions can make in all areas. Reflecting on trade unions, there are a lot of female voices. Politics more widely – interesting point from Young green activist that men will often offer to do the outside facing roles such as being a candidate. And observation that politics requires a lot of confidence – private schools instil that in their pupils. Greens actively approach women to encourage them to stand – also aware of middle class domination & lack of BME women in the party.
Also noted the lack of working class women’s voices in media.
There were other sessions, it was a very rich day, in ideas and inspiration, thanks