Thursday 7 April saw the beginning of a fight back by workers and students in Higher Education. UCU members at London Metropolitan University staged a walkout, and the Universities UK conference on privatisation of higher education was disrupted by free education activists.
London Met is threatening to cut 550 full-time equivalent positions, potentially affecting over 800 staff — a quarter of the workforce. This comes after gross mismanagement by the college’s Vice-Chancellor, Brian Roper, who fiddled the books, making up paper students in order to secure extra £56 million funding over several years. When the university watchdog, HEFCE, found out about the fiddle, it imposed a “claw back” of £38 million, starting with a £18million cut to next year’s budget.
The workers at London Met have organised. They fought off the victimisation of their rep. After a very public battle, they built enough pressure to force Roper’s early retirement. (Albeit on a fat pension and with nine months holiday on full pay!)
The 7 April strike saw a large picket lines of workers and students across the various London campuses. Unfortunately, Unison did not call out its members on the day although it is balloting as we go to press.
The strikers are calling on HEFCE to bail out the university, correctly arguing that the workers and students shouldn’t be punished for the corruption and incompetency of their management. They are demanding London Met “opens the books” so they can see exactly where the money is — if that had been standard practice, this disaster would not have happened.
Staff know that the university has just pocketed £25 million for the sale of a building, and they also know about three management positions being advertised on salaries of £60,000. However, there is still no transparency, management is still fudging, and thousands of workers, students and family members are left worrying about an unknown future.
Workers on the picket line in East London talked about a plan to not teach for the first week in the autumn term. Students have now gone into occupation.
The problems at London Met show the need for universities to be run under democratic worker and student control. Currently if the bosses screw up, then they just line their pockets before heading off for long retirement. Meanwhile, workers and students are left to pick up the pieces, pushed onto the dole. What is happening at London Met is a taste of what is coming to other universities. We need to link up the struggles and build a fight not just for jobs, but for a different form of education under worker and student control.
• A large online network has grown up around this dispute. See
Facebook: “Save London Metropolitan University”