On Wednesday 30th November 2011, the management corridor of Royal Holloway was occupied. (For more information see here: http://www.occupyrhul.blogspot.com). We had previously released ‘The Principal’s Pledge’, a pledge not to make any cuts and to oppose privatisation and fees. In response, the management had two meetings with us to further discuss our demands, and ultimately released a statement, which we assess below.
Management have claimed that this occupation is costing them £3000, in terms of additional security and cleaning costs. A complete breakdown of those figures would be appreciated. We have not asked for the security presence and feel it is not necessary to ensure the safety of this occupation. Cleaning is surely done daily anyway, so we fail to see how our presence has incurred additional costs. To put the costs quoted in perspective, this figure is 1.25% of Paul Layzell’s annual salary. Management also claim that we have -disrupted their activities, but we have maintained that they are welcome to use their offices as usual and they have chosen instead to work elsewhere of their own volition.
The claim from management that there was at one point only four people in the occupation is a factual error. Whilst at some points our numbers have fallen as low as fifteen as people left to cook, attend lectures and shower, at peak times we have counted in excess of 70 students. This does not count the numerous students and staff who have come to visit briefly, often bearing food and money in support; augmented by the huge amount of online backing received through e-mails, Facebook responses and over two thousand hits on our blog. This is indicative of the overall sympathy towards our aims, from those who may not be able to physically join the occupation for a variety of reasons.
Management claim that the occupation is not representative of the student body.
However, the Students’ Union; democratic voice of all 9000 students of Royal Holloway, has debated, voted on, and then passed a motion, supporting occupations – and other forms of direct action, both current and in the future. To say this occupation is unrepresentative of the student body’s beliefs is to say that its own Union is unrepresentative. There is undoubtedly an irony in this claim when the decision making body of this university is comprised of just 24 people (only two of whom are students, and four of whom are academics), which makes long-term strategic decisions about the future of the university.
Management have attempted to compare the costs incurred by this occupation to the legal costs they chose to pay in order to evict the Bedford Square occupiers. We feel that this is not directly related to the current occupation, and does not merit further response.
We see the commitment that management have made to ‘new thinking, debate and challenge’ as highly ironic, considering that it has taken an occupation to truly open discussion with management. Previous attempts to request meetings with management to discuss these issues have typically been refused, and indeed the Principal was given the pledge two weeks ago, and only responded after the occupation began. With these things in mind, we fully condemn the implied threat of legal action from Senior Management.
We are prepared to stay in the occupation until our demands are met. If senior management feels they have to take action such as taking out a court injunction in order to evict us, then the eviction will happen. However, continued harassment of students only serves to galvanize the anti-cuts movement.
Given that management identify the need ‘to demonstrate the consequences of current policy’, we question the speed through which their cuts proposals have been rushed through the College Council (the highest governing body of Royal Holloway, containing only two students and four staff). The University and College Union has called the consultation period “farcical” considering the lack of proper dialogue and time given to consider all options. Meanwhile, alternative proposals have been either ignored, denied the opportunity to be presented, or have not been engaged with on a meaningful level.
Many universities will suffer as a result of the White Paper and we believe co-ordinated condemnation would contribute to its defeat. We have called on the management of Royal Holloway to lead a wave of universities calling for withdrawal of the White Paper. As we have stated before, even universities, which may in some way benefit from small aspects of the White Paper have opposed the proposals, on the grounds that it has further reaching consequences on the future of education. Universities are more than businesses that have to balance their books but institutions that should be run in the public interest with fair access to all. On that basis the White Paper’s exclusion of many students from non-traditional backgrounds, the cuts to funding and the opportunities for privatisation are more than enough grounds for its condemnation. This is despite breadcrumbs of progress within the White Paper, such as proposals for part time students or short-term considerations of finance. We agree that there are aspects of the White Paper that are positive, but we do not believe that a small positive should be allowed to outweigh a major negative.
We welcome the university’s commitment to bursaries, and request more information as to the formation of these proposals. We do not wish students to be pressured, or have to choose between courses, because bursaries might be discouraged, limited in number, or affect acceptance of offers, in preference to fee waivers.
AAB+ students. Royal Holloway is also in the top quartile of universities in terms of surplus as a share of total income. Therefore, ‘squeezed’ may not be entirely accurate. We believe that the management’s commitment to “improving Royal Holloway” is covert complicity in the government’s reform of higher education. We have the ability to challenge and change the government’s plans. There are fifty other universities in the same situation as us who could be reasonably be expected to campaign with us, and therefore any attempts at ‘damage limitation’ are not out of necessity of circumstance as college insist, but either a cynicism over our ability to win our demands or a passive support for the government.
We agree that the AAB cap will prove problematic but the management have not released research or statistics regarding the AAB cap, and so the pace of their cuts is again premature.
Because the policy allows universities to take as many AAB students as they wish, it will have a detrimental effect on many universities including Royal Holloway, therefore we are calling for an end to this policy and requesting the public support of management in doing this. We strongly believe that reductions in funding and student numbers can be fought effectively if the management of universities are willing to do this.
We believe that the problem with the concept of ‘student demand’ is that it takes a ‘snapshot’ of the university as present, and doesn’t contextualise the changing nature of course intake. Some years there are more students, some years there are fewer. Instead of recognising this cyclical progression, the management’s plans are that as soon as a department fails to reach a target (defined not by academics and students but by management), it will be cut severely – which serves to further worsen student demand. Many of the previously appealing aspects of a course (specialist modules, acclaimed academics and so on) will be lost. We believe this will create a downward spiral and eventually a slow death to these departments, despite management’s insistence that these discipline areas will remain intact. We consider this to be the inevitable result of the marketisation and commodification of education.
We feel strongly that reducing numbers of staff and issuing threats of redundancy will not strengthen the position of Royal Holloway and will instead lead to the loss of valuable lecturers such as Edith Hall, as well as decrease interest in working at Royal Holloway from other high-profile lecturers. We are also asking not that this guarantee come from management to students or the student union but to the public as a whole.
During the occupation we have also had concerns raised from students who have lost seminar time between last year and this year, or who have been forced into ‘study groups’, which are perceived by many students to be ineffective.
We are glad that we can agree with management over the importance of access to higher education for students from lower income families but feel that offering a choice of fee waivers or bursaries doesn’t go far enough when all students leaving university, bar those from very wealthy families, will be starting their careers in prohibitive amounts of debt. We also require a guarantee that there will be no pressure on students to choose between fee waivers and bursaries, and that the choice between the two should not affect academic offers made to students.
We are also in agreement with management over the importance of expanding rather than cutting access to library, student resources or learning support. We do however seek clarification about proposals to put student support services into the library, and the impact this might have on vulnerable students not wishing to be seen accessing support resources. This would clearly also have effects on the library as a service, as its planned expansion should be used for study space and materials. This however needs clarification, as previously stated.
Given the claims from management of uncertainty about future funding, surely the most important thing Royal Holloway can do is guarantee access schemes for people from non-traditional backgrounds, (for example lower socioeconomic backgrounds, BME communities, and students with parents not educated to degree level) as they are most likely to continue study at Royal Holloway. Furthermore, given that students from non-traditional backgrounds are those most likely to be disproportionately affected by the cuts, we believe that continuing these schemes is incredibly important.
We consider that Paul Layzell and other members of senior management are actually major players in the White Paper, by permitting private institutions to offer degrees under the name of Royal Holloway. For-profit providers by their nature will always prioritise profit over the education and welfare of students, and the pay and conditions of staff. Privatisation would allow these providers to take over parts of courses, service provision, or even whole universities, and money from these things would be not reinvested, but given in profit to their bosses and shareholders. No wonder the senior principal of the Parthenon Group, a major consultancy to for-profit providers, recently described the UK higher education system as a potential ‘treasure island’ for for-profits.
The model of education that the management team appear to be moving towards has revealed huge flaws when implemented in the US, and indeed isn’t always profitable; for example the BPP University College, which is owned by the US for-profit education company Apollo, has had a quarter of its value written off after poorer than expected performance. Private companies that fail in universities may saddle colleges or universities with liabilities that would be paid for with staff jobs.
We are aware that Royal Holloway currently has relationships with private providers, but feel that the White Paper exacerbates the issue of the comparatively limited private provision of services and property ownership in universities to an unparallelled expansion of the private sector into the public education sector.
Royal Holloway is currently negotiating privatisation agreements with three different private companies, including the textbook publishers Pearsons. (First of all, has proper research into the impact this will have on the college been created, and if so, why has it not been published?) We take inspiration from the successful campaigns against privatisation, which are happening already. At Oxford Brookes, Essex, Reading, and Goldsmiths, proposals for joint INTO university partnerships was defeated, and at Manchester Metropolitan, a partnership with the Australian company Navitas was defeated. Similar defeats have happened at many other universities.
In a UCU survey, 81% of the professors questioned said they believed an expansion of for-profit providers would lead to a decline in the UK’s global reputation, and 79% warned that qualifications offered by for-profits would be viewed as inferior by employers. We believe that Royal Holloway will only lose reputation if it offers degrees funded by for-profit providers, and indeed numerous complaints have been made against Study Group, who are currently offering an on campus foundation program for international students. We would much rather that management do not follow through their privatisation agreements, but we are prepared to campaign against it.
We are aware that there is a nominations and honorary awards committee for positions on College Council, but considering that there may be no more college non-lay members than lay members there is technically the option for adding another six non-lay members. As a result we demand three more student spaces on College Council. We understand that quorum is only met with a majority of lay members, but also find it irresponsibly negligent based on the College’s power that people should accept a place on college council and yet not be able to attend a meeting every three months.
We also fully support attempts for more (academic and support) staff representation on college council, and suggest that the senior management team start negotiations with the relevant unions on this matter in favour of such a proposal.
We also propose that before College Council meets, the non-lay members (including the Principal) should organise a cross-campus meeting open to all students, staff and academics to discuss the agenda of the council so that non-lay members can gauge the opinions of the university beforehand.
Point nine is demanding the circulation of the pledge once management have agreed to it, rather than the circulation of the current response.
Staff redundancy notices are in the process of being prepared. Under section 188 of the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA), the obligation to consult collectively arises when an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less, and notices under section 188 have been received, and the issue of redundancies have been circulated to staff. The fact that no physical copies of redundancy notices have been issues yet does not mean they will not be introduced in the future. We question why the change from long-term to short-term contracts for language staff, and the option of voluntary redundancies, has occurred at a time when management have been discussing the prospect of compulsory redundancy; it is clearly causal. As we have referenced above, the proposals for cuts to departments will ultimately lead to the closure of whole discipline areas.
At Sussex University during Professor Layzell’s previous employment, he was responsible for 200 job cuts, and oversaw the violent eviction of an occupation. Simon Higman was responsible for 220 job cuts at Southampton University. Upon arriving at Royal Holloway, cuts were implemented in 2010 to English seminars, the music library, and the language courses that students of non-MFL courses could attend – nearly six months before the tuition fees vote in December 2010, and nearly a year before the White Paper was introduced. This combination of factors strongly indicates that rather than the cuts being a necessary response to the White Paper, it is instead being used as a smokescreen to justify cuts that were already happening.
The best way to create a surplus which can be used for reinvestment into student services is by guaranteeing that lecturers can provide specialist courses which attract a wide range of students, and that the research they do is well-funded and internationally acclaimed. It is this approach of the past that has led to both Royal Holloway’s acclaimed reputation (88th in the world in 2010), and a surplus of £6 million in the same year. Cuts to departments would deter students from applying to Royal Holloway because of the lack of course options and the decrease in Holloway’s research and teaching reputation, leading to a decrease in surplus and student applications, which would exponentially compound these problems.
As we have addressed above, the trouble with management’s proposals is that they do not contextualise the performance of departments. For example, the drop in applications to Classics over the last two years is part of the natural ebb and flow of student numbers in departments. Student numbers rise and fall naturally. Indeed, this is demonstrated by the rise in applications this year to Classics courses. Additionally, lecturers’ output of research similarly rises and falls. Several Classics lecturers have many pieces of research due for publication soon. This was not factored into the RAE performance scores. We are also concerned about the cuts to the Computer Science department, which can surely not be justified on an economic basis, considering this department is running a surplus. This more broadly links into the White Paper’s reduction of cross-subsidy which would address the natural changes in departmental surplus and deficit. However, the reduction of cross-subsidy by the White Paper does not mean that the management are unable to help departments in a period of ‘downturn’. Paul Layzell personally said that the management has “always allowed a certain degree of deficit”. The decision to cut departments rather than help them is not one of necessity but of choice. If management, however, believe that some departments’ losses are not part of the usual swing of academic and financial performance, they have not provided any evidence for this assertion.
To summarise the content of the Principal’s response, there are clearly many options in place of cuts, job losses and privatisation that management have either failed to consider or will not listen to. We hope that our in depth analysis and offer of alternatives will be met with a commitment to the Principal’s Pledge.