The newest University in London, London Metropolitan, is in trouble. Earlier this week, a crowd of over 100 disgruntled teachers, students and staff gathered outside the Holloway campus to protest against cuts of up to 500 jobs. It seems the cuts are the result of bad book keeping by management that led to years of over-reporting of student completion rates to the Met's funding body HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). Now HEFCE is demanding a repayment of £38 billion and, as usual, the tops intend to produce the bulk of it in the form of staff cuts.
Protesters held placards with messages like 'Roper, The £276K Man', referring to the pay of the school's Vice Chancellor, Brian Roper. And, 'Sack Roper and save the Met!' and 'Why should we suffer?'
Megaphone in hand, Mark Campbell, from the coordinating committee of London Met UCU (University and College Union) spoke to the crowd. Pointing to the upper floors where a closed meeting of senior management was taking place he yelled "Get your act together! If you can't get your act together then get out! If you do get your act together, then act with us. Act for us. Act in the name of London and the University." The crowd cheered when he demanded that Londoners deserved education that they could be proud of.
This is not the first time the London Met has had problems. Over the last 15 years, there have been several management-led restructuring exercises resulting in cut-backs and layoffs. Looking at the UCU website gives a taste of the type of previous disputes with headlines like "Management try to gag students", "Past use of anti-trade union laws" and "History of staff demoralisation", to name a few.
Kumari Lane, a former academic leader of the law undergrad program, was sacked last year despite being described by her students as one of the best lecturers in the department who always took extra time to print and distribute material to augment her lessons.
Kumari said that the overall problem with the Met is that, "The managers are in control but they do not consult. Staff and the academics who are in touch with the students and are fully aware of the business needs of the University - much more aware than the managers - but, still, they don't consult us. They can't even produce accurate figures, so they are basically incompetent." Commenting on the pay of senior management she added, "They are getting an enormous amount of money, and for what? They are not producing the goods. If senior managers are supposed to be in charge of the finances and aren't doing so, they should get the sack. Let the staff and academics have control."
Kumari thinks the ultimate strategy of the University management is to sack the permanent staff and employ more temporary, part time staff, driving down wages. This process has left students feeling very concerned.
Claire Harris, a second year fine arts student, said she was there to support her teachers and to help save her Uni from falling apart. She said that "slowly but surely, all the budget cuts have been creeping up on the students with more and more staff being sacked." Claire has already seen one member of staff laid off in her department, and many more in other departments. She added how hard it was for students to find out what was actually going on, despite the fact that the cuts could mean a loss in specialist tutors which would severely affect the quality of her education.
Concerned bloggers claim that over the past 5 years many suggestions were made from the staff to management to produce more accurate student enrolment & retention figures, but management never seemed keen to prioritise these projects. Were figures deliberately exaggerated in an attempt to scam extra funds from HEFCE to finance the Vice Chancellor's vanity project, the Science Block & Graduate Centre (and provide Senior Management with their bonuses & pensions)?
Reports indicate that there have been further efforts by management to weaken staff working conditions with the increase of teaching hours beyond national norms, the reduction of staff being able to take leave, the draconian 'always-at-your-desk' working practices and attacks on the unions. The biggest worry is that as the staff base diminishes and workloads increase, the university will become less attractive, leading to a decline in student numbers, resulting in turn to ever more redundancies.With all these troubles, the call by the London Met staff and students for control of their university may resonate around the country as hundreds of universities face cutbacks and increased tuition fees. The question on many of their minds might well be; surely we could do a better job!