Endorsement from Mr Adam Ganz, Royal Holloway, University of London
It’s fifty years since the founding of the Open University, the inspirational creation of miner’s daughter Jennie Lee and a Labour government which used the power of technology to make higher education available for all. Lee saw education as a public good which made a society wealthier in all kinds of ways that can be measured, and lots that can’t. It was a transformational moment which is rightly being celebrated across the country.
In the last years Higher Education has been treated less and less as a public good, and more as an opportunity for private enrichment or personal power. Universities and colleges are engaged in increasingly arcane and statistically bankrupt forms of rankings in a spurious competition. Fortunes have been spent on buildings and new campuses in unsavoury regimes. Working conditions of staff have deteriorated, and pressures on students and are treated like customers—valued as long as they can pay.
Our Union hasn’t kept up. Previous General Secretary Sally Hunt and her would-be successor Matt Waddup have been working there for more than 15 years, when it was still called the Association of University Teachers. Perhaps that’s why UCU has found it so hard to respond to the changes in education. Despite the increased cash flowing into universities like monopoly money, pay and conditions have got worse overall. Part of that’s bad management—and part is bad representation.
The strike showed how much talent there is in our Union. UCU members are great researchers—often the very best in the field, whether in Trade Union law, pensions, or graphic design and social media. We tell great stories with verve and passion and we inspire people to learn in FE Colleges and Prisons and Summer Schools and online classes as well as in lecture theatres.
So why are our union communications so turgid, and our research often inadequate? Over the last decade and more our Union has failed to respond to the crisis Higher and Further Education is facing in governance, in management, in employment conditions and access. As senior manager roles and their salaries multiply, bread and butter academics don’t have careers that allow them to plan a career or a family—the jobs often don’t even last a calendar year these days.
The private education providers welcomed to the party by the current government—and a number of institutions that should know better—are about to start feasting on the public good. We need to act now.
I’ve been privileged to see USSBriefs at work. Right from the start Jo Grady was at the heart of a small group of volunteers who produced the resources that the Union was not equipped to or not ready to do, both for the strike and for the ongoing crisis in Higher and Further Education. She represents the new spirit we need. She has spoken out clearly against the erosion of our pay and conditions and the degradation of our institutions—how they have allowed themselves to be used to implement the Hostile Environment, to rely on increasingly meaningless statistics to compete for positions in meaningless league tables whilst institution after institution in both FE and HE has been rocked by scandal. Her excellent manifesto is full of ideas about how we can bring about the changes we so badly need—leading by example and matching analysis and organisation with practical and achievable goals.
I care about my pay and conditions and I know Jo will use her subject knowledge to ensure we get the very best possibles. I care even more about what’s happening to our universities and colleges. Jo Grady, like Jennie Lee, is a miner’s daughter who knows from experience how education is crucial in changing minds and transforming lives and can help to fight to make tertiary education not a profit point but a transforming presence at the heart of the towns and cities of this country again, a change as necessary as the Open University was fifty years ago. She’s getting my vote.