Following the announcement by the Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University (LMU) that there are to be almost 400 more job cuts, staff are organising a fightback with an initial public meeting tonight (7 June 2016).
The university has suffered a huge reduction in size over the past few years. When originally formed in 2002 by a merger, it had a total of 28,000 students. This has been cut to the current level of 12,000 and management aims to reduce this by another 16%, to 10,000 by 2017.
In addition to the management austerity campaign at London Met which has resulted in the closure of 70% of courses over a five-year period from 2010, they oppose the further government initiative to increase tuition fees and commodify higher education by encouraging private universities which have the avowed aim of making profits. This is part of the Government’s recent White Paper proposals (for more on this see: http://www.socialist.net/university-fees-set-to-increase-the-vultures-are-circling.htm).
Last summer, the Unison Branch Secretary, Max Watson, was singled out for redundancy for his part in campaigning against the 165 threatened job cuts. That vindictive trend has continued this year when the management has targeted UCU officers and made compulsorily redundant Mark Campbell, UCU Chair and David Hardman, UCU Secretary.
As a research student at London Met, I am directly affected and, although I have written assurances that my course will continue to its completion, in reality the Working Lives Research Institute, where my studies began, has effectively ceased to exist. The vast majority of the staff has either been made redundant, retired, or left in disgust. This makes me angry partly as it denies others access to a course where there is sympathy for a trade union viewpoint as opposed to a management ethos when studying industrial relations. The institute had received very positive feedback for its research and a community of scholarship had existed, which has now been dispersed.
London Met University has traditionally offered access to education for many less privileged students and has had both the highest proportion in the country of women returning to study and more black students than the top 20 universities combined. That door is now effectively being slammed in their faces.
Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time supporter of LMU, speaking at last year’s campaign ‘hands off London Met’, criticised management’s belief in allocating resources to the needs of business. He said: “A society that doesn’t value poetry has lost its soul. The poetry which is being written this evening has the rhythm of the coming struggle, under any government, in defence of jobs and public services.”
The UCU has called this ‘a campaign of national significance’ and correctly appealed to other unions for help. It is being supported by the students and also by the South-East Region of the TUC. When I raised the matter at my local Portsmouth Trades Council, they unanimously agreed to send a message of support.
I was fortunate, when I studied for my first degree, tuition was free and students were eligible to apply for a (means-tested) maintenance grant. Without that, I would not have been able to afford to study. Things are so much harder now when students have to take on a huge debt-burden, especially with the government hiking up the interest rates.
We need to fight for educational opportunity for all regardless of their age or means. We must therefore build an alliance with other unions and the students to oppose these cuts.
- For free and properly-resourced education for all.
- For adequate maintenance grants.
by Sylvia Courtnage, Professional Doctorate Student, London Metropolitan University