All UEA students will recall the strikes from February to March by the UCU over pay, pensions, casualisation and rising workloads. Marketisation of universities was blamed by many teachers on the picket line, so why are universities focused on generating income for the Vice-Chancellor and senior management instead of improving the lives of those who allow it to run? A mistake students may make is thinking that marketisation only affects teachers; however, as we’ve seen over the last few months, the SU funding crisis has shown how marketisation affects students just as much.
I believe that marketisation means UEA will put profits over the wellbeing of both students and staff. How the university treats the SU is an obvious example. Since UEA works for profit, it squeezes the SU for as much money as it can, charging them £700,000 a year for union house rent. Because it works for profit, it provides the SU with so little money it may have to use restricted funds to stay solvent. Because it works for profit, it has the incentive to keep the SU cash strapped so it can acquire their lucrative properties such as the waterfront, SU shop, and Unio. In fact, the actions of the University of Aberystwyth is an example of such dirty acquisitions, with them taking control of the SU shop from a low on cash SU.
Putting the SU under such financial strain, thanks to marketisation, makes student life worse. It means the SU will also begin placing profit over people, leading to it struggling to promote healthy behaviours which are unprofitable for the SU, such as binge drinking less. Societies will also struggle. To quote the SU’s activities and opportunities officer in response to news of financial issues “There’s definitely not a necessity for us to run 250 societies”. Ellie Robson’s article in response to this shows succinctly how such an attitude, born of necessity, will hurt students.
But what about less exploitative universities? Surely if the university put less emphasis on profit and treated its SU with more care, such as universities of Bristol and Reading charging less than UEA for rent, marketisation wouldn’t be the issue it is. However, while universities, just like all companies, may act more or less ethical than others, the fundamental drive for profit remains in all of them. As profit is the ultimate goal, it will always take precedence over the needs and wants of both students and staff when at a crossroads. At a time of crisis such as this, that can be clearly seen as all universities, no matter how “ethical” they may be, force all students to pay their tuition fees. When push comes to shove, profit comes first.
One would hope that with so much emphasis on it, the profit of the university would go towards its improvement. While it’s true that it allows for the building of new facilities (while exploiting those who work in them – to quote a staff member at the picket line “people are universities, universities are not buildings”), vast amounts of profits go directly to the Vice-Chancellor and other executive staff. The Vice-Chancellor’s total remuneration for 2017-2018 was £305,000 alone, not counting the £45,000 pension pot contribution. And while staff wages have stagnated, the Vice-Chancellor salary has increased 31.1%, pension contribution increased 45.2%, and expenses claims increased by 147.5% since they entered office! Imagine the good that could’ve come if such funds went to the SU, or teacher’s pockets instead. Your tuition fees pay for first-class plane rides while SU cash dries up and teachers are forced to the picket line. Such is an inevitability when universities are run like businesses.
Our university should be run in the interests of those who work to let it run – the students and the staff. To quote the late Ted Grant: “Not a wheel turns, not a phone rings, not a lightbulb shines, without the kind permission of the working class”. Indeed, not a single person learns either. Students should push for a national education service, similar to the NHS, run by and for students, teachers and staff, with instantly recallable officers, paid the wage of the lowest-paid member of staff, elected to organise it. With a system like this, vital organisations such as the SU can finally be run for the ultimate benefit of students, instead of being beholden to the interests of the Vice-Chancellor and profit.
Harvey Tingle is a committee member of UEA Marxist Society