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12 July 2011 @ 12:52 pm
UCU Petition  
Inevitably I have been linked via Facebook to the UCU petition of no confidence in the government's policies in further, higher and adult education.

Now, I think its fair to say, that I think the government doesn't have a good grasp of the higher education sector. It is probably also fair to say that I'm not convinced the UCU actually has any better a grasp of the situation. The sector is riven with elitist divisions between "old" and "new" universities, between researchers and teachers, between science and humanities teaching styles, between businessmen, scholars and engineers, between those who study out of interest and those who study to obtain a qualification, between the worth of the theoretical versus the worth of the practical (however you choose to define those two terms), between the sense of entitlement held by students and the sense of entitlement held by lecturers. The higher education sector has proved itself adept at optimising whatever short term targets the government has chosen to place before it, often to the detriment of researchers, teachers and students and any stated government long term goal the target was intended to encourage. A side effect seems to have been increasing and entrenched factionalism within universities. It would be nice to see the sector more united, with a clearer understanding of its own value and the reasons it does things the way it does. The government could play a part in that, though it would be a brave politician to try. But I don't think tuition fees are, per se, wrong if we know why we are charging them and how a student is meant to make ends meet while studying as a result and I strongly suspect the above petition will primarily be read as "I believe tuition fees are wrong under any circumstances" and not as a wider criticism of successive governments and the higher education sector itself in failing for decades to adequately define its role.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/48192.html.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on July 12th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
UCU couldn't find their arses with both hands and a road map. I've been a member twice and resigned twice because they pissed me off so much. I just maintain my NUJ membership now.
louisedennislouisedennis on July 12th, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
I think it's a facet of the factionalism within the university system that the UCU only really well represents a subset of the interests of academics. I was AUT rep for my dept (in pre-UCU) days and I got increasingly irritated by the total lack of any attention paid to the concerns of research staff in its rag, not to mention being put in the ludicrous position of being placed on a picket line petitioning for the rights of support staff (when Unison wasn't on strike) and with literature to hand out that complained that the university's pay scale reforms would cause teaching quality to suffer with more time devoted to research (not an easy position to justify to my colleagues as well as being completely daft and unrelated to the issue at hand).

I'm not even a member any more, though one of the subsets of academia they do represent pretty well are staff on short-term and open-ended contracts like mine.
Susanlil_shepherd on July 12th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
This is one of the best statements by someone in academia I have read for a while.
louisedennislouisedennis on July 12th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I suspect we are not so thorny nor tangled a web as the NHS but HE is a large and complex sector and much of what we do is done simply because it has always been so, or based on blind articles of faith.
Kargicq: Neuromancerkargicq on July 12th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
I have never heard an intelligent or helpful comment from a union. - N.
louisedennislouisedennis on July 14th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
I can't say they've ever impressed me much in person. Someone somewhere must have done some negotiating to get my fixed term contract converted to an open ended one though, which may or may not be of any use to me.
Kargicq: Neuromancerkargicq on July 14th, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC)
If it's like our uni, it's precious little use to you. In our case, it means that when you get a grant to fund your RA for 3 yrs, instead of having a 3-yr fixed-term contract, they get an open-ended contract and get made redundant after 3 yrs. I assume they are entitled to some redundancy pay when that happens, which if true is certainly helpful ... but it's not really an "open-ended contract" in the same way like say if you get a job as a teacher.

However, yeah the unions probably helped achieve that. They are probably also responsible for all the employment law which makes it a complete nightmare to actually take anyone on even when you have got the funding for them ... a real problem when you have very small and short-term pots of cash, as you risk the recruitment procedure eating up a large chunk of the time which would potentially have been available to do the project.