International Boycott of London Met
Following a strong vote in favour by London Met UCU members, and an evaluation that negotiations to date had failed, UCU’s Higher Education Committee has actioned a full-scale international academic boycott of London Metropolitan University.
We recognise this is an extreme step but the behaviour of London Met management has left us with no choice if we are to defend our members’ jobs, terms and conditions. We hope this action will be short-lived, and that management will quickly see reason and enter in to meaningful negotiations to arrive at a settlement that fully defends the interests of our members.
Boycotting London Met is about drawing a line in the sand. No community should allow its democratic and social ethos to be destroyed, and no community of educators can stand by and watch education reduced by a continual cycle of staff cuts. It is because London Met staff care for our students and the education we deliver that we call on staff everywhere to observe this boycott and press London Met management to stop destroying our university and the lives of those who work and study within it.
What is happening at London Met?
London Met is in effect a test case for the future of UK Higher Education as envisaged by the government. Having axed many valuable and renowned courses, sold off much of the university estate, carried out round after round of mass redundancies, and tried to silence the union by removing its leading reps, management are now engaged in an assault on staff terms and conditions. The university has shrunk to less than half the size it was only a few years ago. Staff numbers have been cut by even more, and those staff left are having their workloads massively increased whilst having their contracts either disregarded or further casualised.
Workloads and casualisation
London Met management are engaged in a race to the bottom:
- Management have unilaterally ripped-up the previously negotiated Academic Workload Allocation Model (AWAM) for permanent academic staff and replaced it with something they simply refer to as the ‘Formally Scheduled Teaching (FST) Model’ or, even more euphemistically, the ‘Demand Model’. This only accounts for direct teaching hours and excludes all other substantive activities. Staff are automatically timetabled to the maximum possible number of FST hours in the Post-92 academic contract, 550 per year, and takes little account of preparation and assessment associated with such high levels of teaching and none of associated course and/or module leadership or management, or with ANY research, scholarly activity, third-stream income generation, etc. Staff who are currently timetabled to less than 495 hours of FST (90% of the contractual maximum), regardless of how much non-FST work they are doing, have been told they will be ‘fractionalised’ according to the amount of FST they are doing! This drives a coach and horses through the national academic contract and is an assault on terms and conditions.
- Two recent staff surveys indicate that these attacks are leading to dangerous levels of overwork, very high levels of stress, and increased physical and mental illness. These findings are further evidenced by recently published staff annual sickness data showing that the level of mental health and stress-related absence at London Met is significantly above the sector average. HPL staff report high levels of anxiety about their job and income security (given they are on zero-hours contracts with work allocated entirely at the behest of their management).
The timing and intensity of these attacks is no accident. The situation at London Met is the result of the very marketisation process and managerialism enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Bill. This Bill is designed to deregulate the sector to allow private companies to set up as universities and compete for government-backed fee-paying students. This explains London Met’s attempt to position itself in direct competition with future cost-cutting, fly-by-night, dodgy ‘universities’. London Met management’s attempt to emulate a highly casualised employment model needs to be viewed, and combated, in full recognition of this fact.
London Met – a warning to the sector
If London Met management can get away with these attacks other employers will follow suit. If the HE Bill goes through, there will be many more fights in defense of our public universities. The battle at London Met is therefore not just a local one but the first in direct opposition to the HE Bill and the model of higher education education it espouses. Private companies are waiting in the wings to exploit the next generation of students, university managements are eyeing-up the model of cut-price teaching and full-price fees: it is now up to us decisively to resist both.
London Met and the fight to defend Higher Education
Ultimately, the fight at London Met is a fight to defend a university system worthy of the name, where education is a social good, a means to enable the self-discovery of every student, not an expensive vocational rubber-stamping exercise that profits few. Despites years of cuts, London Met still predominantly caters for a London working-class and black and minority ethnic student body. To this day, it has a far higher percentage of UK BME, mature, women returners and working class students than any other university.
Currently, if a new company wants to become a university and get degree awarding powers, its management must go through a complex process of evaluation. The HE Bill proposes to abolish this process and replace it with the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) that is expressly designed to let in these companies. The entire purpose of the HE Bill is therefore to allow multinational companies to set up universities, and to milk the public purse for £9.25k student fees. Without regulation, as in the USA, these ‘alternative providers’ will simply cherry-pick profitable subjects to teach, shut down courses with no notice if they fail to recruit ‘enough’ students, and employ staff on the worst possible contracts to maximise ‘flexibility’ and profit margins.
The fight to defend London Met is therefore not only a fight to defend the jobs, terms and conditions of current staff and students, but also a fight for the kind of public university education system we want for future generations.
How management can end the academic boycott
To resolve the dispute we require management to:
- Negotiate a workload model (equivalent to the previous “AWAM”) that is in-line with national contractual protections. Explicitly, this model must account for, and where agreed, impose a limit on, all non-FST activities including scholarly time; ensure a minimum of 1.5 hours for preparation and assessment for every 1 hour of associated FST (as in the consolidated HPL hour); ensure reasonable and agreed FST reductions for all identified major roles and activities (PAT, course leader and module leader for example).
2. Reduce casualisation by agreeing with UCU:
- A ‘freeze’ on the recruitment of new HPLs other than in exceptional circumstances (for example sickness and maternity leave) and that new HPLs should only be employed if cover cannot be found via present HPLs or permanent lecturers.
- Improvements to contractual protections and career opportunities for all HPLs including the implementation of an agreed scheme of transition to fractional roles which considers a minimum of years of service (4 years in line with Fixed Term Regulations), the pattern of work, and Equality legislation;
- All HPLs will have at least two months’ notice of any variation to their teaching hours, and any such change to be subject to formal negotiation between the HPL concerned and management (with the right of union representation).
How you can support the boycott
Members are asked to support the academic boycott in any way that they can. This may include not doing the following at London Met:
- applying for any advertised jobs
- speaking at or organising academic or other conferences
- giving guest lectures
- accepting positions as visiting professors or researchers
- writing for any academic journal which is edited at or produced by the institution in question
- accepting new contracts as external examiners for taught courses
- collaborating on new research projects.
NB: UCU members employed by LMU itself must not participate in the academic boycott in order to protect their contractual position.
Please note that the above advice will not ordinarily preclude members from supporting the boycott with regard to such things as refusing to apply for, or accept an external examiner’s contract, choosing not to provide a visiting lecture at LMU, choosing a research partner and so on since these are generally matters of individual academic autonomy. Members in any doubt about their contractual position should seek the union’s advice before acting.
For the avoidance of doubt, where any of the above activities forms part of your existing contractual duties or where you are otherwise unsure about this you should only refrain from doing them after your head of department (or line manager) has given you prior permission to do so. UCU is not asking or encouraging academics to act in breach of their contracts of employment.
If you have any queries please contact Matt Waddup at firstname.lastname@example.org
What you can do to support us?
However, even if you do not currently engage in any of these activities, we would ask you to make a public commitment to boycott in advance, and ask your colleagues to do likewise. Further, we would ask you to write to London Met’s Vice Chancellor and Chair of Governors to pledge your support for our campaign. Finally, we would ask you to do your utmost to publicise the boycott and the issues at stake.
Pledge your support
You can add your name to our “Pledge of Solidarity” https://uculondonregion.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/statement
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Please download a copy of this statement from this link for printing and sharing.
You can download a copy of this statement for London Met students from this link