On Saturday 23rd July, the UCU held a protest at the Holloway Road campus and a march along Holloway Road to a small rally at Highbury Fields.
They were highlighting the massive job cuts recently announced by management, with 395 staff, a third of the university workforce, facing redundancy.
Prior to negotiations, in an act widely regarded as union victimisation, the University has targeted two chief union negotiators, branch chair Mark Campbell and branch secretary David Hardman, for compulsory redundancy.
A long list of speakers represented academics, unions, students, and Labour councillors, all concerned about education, privatisation, and union victimisation.
Various threads interwove to warn of a stark and privatised future for higher education in the UK.
Back in 2010, the Conservatives did their deal with LibDems, bringing in the £9000 tuition fees with a promise that this amount wouldn’t rise with inflation. Two days ago, that deal was formally over, as the Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced an end to the cap. Students who are already enrolled will face new increases.
Government figures show that fewer than 50% of loans are expected to be repaid by graduate students, leaving the rest to be paid by the tax-payer, among them future students who in effect will face double taxation.
Some say that the Higher Education and Research Bill is so horrific that the Government is trying to pay off Vice-Chancellors to stop them from criticising and highlighting the excesses of deregulation it contains. Despite this, the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, in a scathing attack on one of the new bill’s hallmark policies, has described the ‘teaching excellence framework’ as a “mere kite mark”.
However, the current VC at London Met, John Raftery, is a great supporter of the bill, and the Chair of the Board of Governors, Mark Anderson, used to work as the Head of Global Growth for Pearson UK.
Pearson is a very successful FTSE 100 and listed global publishing and education company, which has recently sold off its ownership of the FT and The Economist, announcing it will now “concentrate 100% on education”.
Insiders have labelled the £33 billion market in student fee income as ‘the mother lode’ and venture capitalists are eager to grab a piece.
A student activist broke into tears while speaking about the intransigence of the current VC and the closure and sell-off of The Cass Arts Faculty buildings in Whitechapel (a very lucrative area for private development). Many art classes have been cut, and those remaining are moving to the cramped campus at Holloway.
She paid tribute to the staff saying that “when I speak to managers at London Met, I get the feeling that they’re important and that they make decisions about my education, but when I speak to the staff, I get the impression that I am important and that I get to make the decisions about my education.”
Some observers are alarmed that London Met might be being set up to fail, as a laboratory experiment for the Government to try out ‘resolution techniques’ in which a private provider, perhaps Pearson(?), moves in and takes over. The dismissal of Mark Campbell and David Hardman, along with increasing casualisation, is seen as further proof of that scenario. This current policy trajectory is overseen by external consultants and a few unaccountable senior managers, who are refusing to consult with staff, students or unions.
The first speeches took place on the Holloway Road opposite a massive new build of private student accommodation – this seemed particularly apposite, given that an estimated 80% of student loans end up going towards rent, a massive flow of public money into private hands. (see my film on the UCL rent strike for more on this).
After a short march to Highbury Fields, there was a second rally there, at which John McDonnell was billed to appear, but he sent his apology and support, and there was also a statement of support from Jeremy Corbyn who was launching his official grassroots leadership campaign in Salford this afternoon.
Mark Campbell and David Hardman are fighting their dismissal and taking London Met to court. The staff cuts will be fought with further action too.
You can sign up to a thunderclap social media protest until 9am on Monday (25th)