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Student Union kept in the dark by University

November 20, 2009
Leeds Student

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The front-page article in today’s Leeds Student presents damning evidence that the Students’ Union is being kept in the dark by the University. In a balanced article by Joey Severn and Virginia Newman, that details both the University’s position and the unions’ reasoned opposition, Jak Codd, SU communications officer states “until we know exactly where those cuts are going to be made, we are not going to come out formally and lambast the university.” Alarmingly, it is well known where the University will focus its cuts, and therefore which areas will take an immediate hit on their SSRs as evidenced by what has happened in areas which have already lost staff, and in the phase 2 review document from the Faculty of Biological Sciences, which admits that SSRs must necessarily rise when staff jobs are removed.

The University told the trade unions on 5 November that there would be “no pan university compulsory redundancies”, but that “compulsory redundancies would be focussed on current university reviews”. That is to say – The School of English, the School of Computing, The Faculty of Biological Sciences, The Department of Colour Sciences, The School of Mathematics and the Institute of Transport Studies. All other areas still need to find up to 20% cuts, which too bring the threat of redundancies.

A question students in these named areas will want to know is why the Student Union officials had not been given this information, such that they today state that they do not know where the cuts will be focussed. UCU believes that it is unacceptable that this information was not shared with the Students’ Union.

UCU are not surprised by such open contempt for students. They have been deliberately excluded from the list of stakeholders who are to be kept informed by the University on the progress of the economies exercise in the only formal document that details protocols for the exercise (Download here, see paragraph 28). Instead, students are mentioned only in the phrase “Heads of schools are encouraged also to keep their students in the picture as the exercise unfolds”, which clearly does not amount to anything like the ‘consultation’ that the University is now paying lip-service to.

Jak Codd offers a measured and reasoned argument in the article as to why the SU has not spoken out against either the UCU or the University, nor adopted a position of support of either, and we assume therefore that he and his colleague Mike Gladstone abstained from the vote in Council yesterday evening when the job cuts were proposed formally.

We feel we should point out that Jak makes one factual error about the UCU, so that members and students can be clear on this important issue. He expresses some anger with the UCU when he asks “where were [the UCU] when we were fighting tuition fees in 2005?” which seems to indicate to the reader that we did not support that campaign. Nothing is further from the truth. The AUT (as the trade union was known in 2005) campaigned alongside students nationally, and at local protests, against the introduction of top-up fees (see, and which show how the NUS and the AUT were united on this issue). At Leeds specifically, at an AUT General Meeting on 23 November 2005 we discussed and passed the following motion: “Leeds AUT fully supports our union’s latest pay campaign and calls for full funding from government for all pay rises so-gained.  We oppose the coupling of pay to student fees.” Mandy Telford, then NUS president, stated after the fees debate that “Relationship between NUS and AUT has strengthened significantly over the past couple of years”.

On the 2006 dispute, which Jak also mentions, former NUS president Telford stated at the time: “Alongside all that is happening in the world of student finance, members of AUT are also facing some of the biggest proposed changes in pay and conditions in the history of HE. The new pay and framework proposals are a threat to the future of HE, to equality of opportunity and to sustainable career paths for both academic and academic related staff […] It is for all these reasons that the NUS support you and your action. […] We applaud you and we support you.” Students across the UK adopted this position and supported lecturers in their thousands in the 2006 dispute, and we won that dispute only with the help of students locally. We continue that mutual support in this current dispute by publicly supporting the Students’ Union in their attempts to have full consultation with them, and with students more widely, embedded into formal documents that concern the economies exercise.

The LS also today published a letter to students from Viv Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. In it, she contextualises the economies exercise against the background of the recession. The University had an Integrated Planning Exercise (IPE) in May and June, as they do every year. The IPE is the process by which all departments project their budgets forward and present them to the University for approval. The recession began months before the IPE, in January 2009. The outcomes of the IPE have been torn up by the economies exercise. Students will want a better explanation than the recession, unless they are expected to believe the University was not aware of it during the IPE.

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