We have formulated and sent out our response to management’s dismissal of our demands!
On the 24th of November we occupied the Jeremy Bentham Room. Our aim was and still is to advance a set of demands centred on justice in education and educational institutions. Vice-Provost Rex Knight was sent to respond to us on behalf of the management of UCL. We are highly disappointed that many of our demands were received with evasion and dismissal and we dispute several of his claims; this is a detailed reply to his position.
The statement that UCL has been lobbying against cuts to education funding is currently entirely unproven. Malcolm Grant himself has spoken numerous times in support of attempts to marketise higher education. We demand transparency in UCL’s lobbying process; detailed evidence of this process must be released publicly.
Rex Knight claimed that UCL has been lobbying the government against cuts in public funding for universities. If this is the case, it has been utterly ineffective as we are now two weeks away from a parliamentary vote. We reject his message that a public statement condemning all cuts to higher education would be detrimental to this process. A public position on this matter can only strengthen the lobby against these cuts, especially in the limited time frame available.
Rex Knight stated that responsibility for these issues belongs to the UCL Council, the governing body of the College. We assert that the structure of this body is fundamentally flawed, and therefore lacks legitimacy.
It is unacceptable that on the twenty-three person council, the majority of the members are external to UCL, there are only two student representatives, and there are no non-academic staff members represented.
We demand a reduction in the number of external members on this committee and additionally propose that they be given non-voting member status. This would not affect their capacity to contribute neutral expertise.
We demand an increase in the number of students represented on the Council. These students should be directly elected through UCLU. We also assert that all staff at UCL have a right to representation in the decision making process of the university. We therefore demand that the Council includes non-academic staff.
We require concrete evidence of a plan of action that includes specific time-measured goals for implementing these changes. These measures must be discussed at the next Council meeting, and evidence of this discussion must be made public.
Similar problems also exist within the Academic Board. We demand that genuine democracy be re-implemented through an increase in student representation and the re-introduction of elected Deans.
The fair representation of UCL staff and students is vital to ensuring legitimacy and credibility in the university’s decision making process. Rex Knight claimed he was open to discussing the constitution of the UCL committees. We invite him, Malcolm Grant, and any other senior management figure to come and discuss this issue with us.
Our demand for UCL to implement a complete open books policy did not relate to the information already available online. To clarify: we demand to know where and how the cuts will fall, i.e. which departments, programmes or facilities will be cut or “restructured”.
We are aware that these plans are formulated in advance and demand that this information be made publicly available in plain English. Similarly, we demand sustained and complete transparency in salaries and expenses throughout all levels of staff, particularly senior management. This is our university, and the student body has a right to know how and why money is being spent; this includes personal expenses. This should be implemented as a permanent measure.
We suggest that if expenditure in salaries becomes a serious budget issue that the senior management of UCL, and Malcolm Grant in particular, should perhaps themselves consider taking the London Living Wage for a year to help balance the books.
We were particularly disappointed at Rex Knight’s response to our demand for UCL to guarantee no redundancies. His dismissive manner accurately reflected the management’s hostile position on this matter.
Our demands on this point are centred on fairness, and relate to all and any budgetary constraints on the university. We prescribe the following: budgetary constraints must not result in compulsory redundancies; departmental staff numbers must be maintained; there must be no deletion of posts – any post vacated by a retiring staff member must be filled. In addition, we demand that UCL fully implements the UCU national policy on the treatment of fixed term staff with regard to redundancy avoidance.
It was stated that UCL has no “policy” on outsourcing. Such a response simply skirts around the issues at hand. There is an ongoing and strong trend at UCL to outsource services and staff – this is plain to see. Rex Knight implied this happens for two principle reasons: first, because it saves costs; second, because it is more efficient.
Cost-efficiency must never be prioritised above the lives of those we depend on if workers are to receive any semblance of good working conditions. It is especially obscene that a rhetorically “progressive” institution like UCL would do this.
Furthermore, the management’s argument is economically illogical. The duplication of management structures and the redirection of funding to additional overheads of hosted subcontractors is clearly wasteful.
In his meeting with us, Rex Knight referred to photocopying paper as an example of something which could not be brought back in-house. People are not sheets of paper. All domestic and ancillary services performed at UCL are self-evidently core functions of this university – hence their daily operation on campus.
The staff who perform these services (and naturally all staff currently subject to re-structuring) must be retained and brought back into direct employment by UCL, where workers’ rights are better respected than in the private sector.
London Living Wage
It is in the name of these workers’ rights that we re-assert our demand for the immediate and full implementation of the London Living Wage package (inter alia £7.85 per hour, pension rights, overtime pay) with no cuts to jobs or hours. We acknowledge and appreciate that UCL has committed to meeting with the UCL Living Wage Campaign to propose devised plans for implementation of the wage rate. However, this is in itself still insufficient. We reject as false the notion that UCL cannot afford the London Living Wage, given that it is currently running a significant budgetary surplus. We therefore feel fully justified in reiterating our demand: implement the full wage rate and minimal terms and conditions of employment immediately. This is also the UCL LWC’s ultimate demand. We demand this in full support of their campaign. It is wholly reasonable to demand that workers on our campus are treated with dignity; it would be irresponsible not to call for this. We will not stop short of full satisfaction of this demand.
We find the dismissive attitude of UCL management towards the aims and demands of this occupation utterly inexplicable. The fight against cuts to education and against the increase in tuition fees is not only a fight for the future of UCL and its students. It is a fight for the future of all university education. We campaign for better access to education, better quality in university teaching, and the welfare of staff and students in both the academic and administrative spheres of the university. If universities are run wholly on the basis of tight efficiency and profit margins, they will lose sight of their core purpose. Education is a social good and a right for which generations have fought – not a commodity.
For UCL to take a stand against government cuts would be a significant step in the campaign to secure the future of UCL and university education in general. It would be a move that strengthens UCL’s position, not only amongst staff and students here but on a global level. The eye of the media has fixed its firm gaze on this and other occupations across the country; from China to America, Poland to here in Britain, we have seen numerous media outlets wishing to report on our occupation, our causes and our aims. If UCL wishes to become a global university, as it purports to be, it must set an example here. We demand that UCL fight to support us, just as we fight to defend it.
The evasive attitude displayed to us accurately reflects management’s total unwillingness to engage on these issues. UCL has repeatedly given precedence to monetary issues over the welfare of students and staff. They have refused to compromise on any issue. We welcome a dialogue with UCL, and again invite Malcolm Grant to debate these issues with us.
We are fighting against all cuts to education and fully intend to win.