These values are for the students of today, not the past.

Cross-posted From Edd Bauer’s VP Education Blog

The guild of students have just circulated a set of photos for “alumni” celebrating guild of student’s campaigns over the years. This is part of an alumni strategy to build up a alumni network which will generate revenue for the guild. In the selection they choose to celebrate items as radical as “”No debate with the thugs in blue, Spartacist” & “General strike now Spartacist League”. Yet this is from the student union who in response to the ban on protests condemned by amnesty international said it “does not limit their freedom of speech in any way”, despite stanch criticism this statement was never withdrawn.

They are happy to market our past to nostalgic ex-students but not work and live by the same values today. Many of the campaigns celebrated in the alumni album are of great significance and value. Such as the old of photos of reclaim the night marches and the famous picket which drove Enoch Powel’s racist drivel off campus.

I wonder if the guild of students know who the Spartacist League are?

The guild doesn’t stand up for the right to protest anymore, it doesn’t support liberation groups either. It is belittling to reduce the history of student radicalism and liberation movements to a nostalgic kitsch to be marketed to old members as part of an alumni fundraising strategy.These protests and campaigns should be celebrated but not just as a kitsch nostalgic alumni drive but, as a living part of the union today.

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Democratic culture in the guild?

Cross posted from Edd Bauer s VP Education Blog

Today Guild Councillors have been protesting the proposal that the trustee-board should circumvent Guild Council. 22 Councillors have already signed a joint letter in protest to the board. Their excellent letter can be found here and is well worth a read.

A proposal from “team 10”, not elected students.

The motion to the trusteeboard is labeled as having come from the “sabbatical officer team”. This is not the case, I do not support it, the decision to send it to the trustee-board was in fact made by team 10. Which is a guild committee  made up of the three senior managers and the sabbs. Several member of the sabbatical officer team were unhappy with the decision.

Guild Council has already decided the matter.

On 15th of March Guild council was presented with an emergency motion for a new officer disciplinary policy. It was given three options, to one pass it, two defer it or three amend. Guild Council decided to defer it opting to have more time to pass a better policy at the next council rather than rush it and have a bad one implemented in the meantime.

We have seen the damage a bad policy can cause.

The shock today is the revelation that three trustees unhappy with this decision by students at guild council to defer are putting a motion to the unelected trustee board giving the board the same options that guild council had. Surely the decision by guild council should have been the end of it?

What this highlights is we simply don’t have a very deeply rooted democratic culture, in many unions the idea proposing this to the unelected board would be an anathema.

Two questions for the three trustees who proposed the motion.

1. If the three trustees are so unhappy with the decision at guild council and want it reviewed. Then how come they are not petitioning to call an emergency guild council to get a new debate on the subject?

2. Why have the three trustees not even attempted to seek any form of mandate for the decision if they didn’t have the time for an emergency guild council why didn’t they then circulate a letter around guild councillors asking them to sign?

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Clarification on Wednesdays protest, was the guild mandated to support it?

The National Union of students called a National Day of Action on March 14th in response to the white paper being put before parliament and the pledge by the government to put it through before the end of the parliament.

The Birmingham demonstration was organised by Birmingham City University, with the Guild of Students refusing to put any resources or support into the event. Despite being under-promoted the demonstration managed to get media attention by use of direct action with a sit-in at the Vodafone store in the Bullring.

However, since the protest a sabbatical officer has claimed in the press that the Guild was not mandated to support the demonstration.

In a statement Hugo Sumner, Vice President (Democracy & Resources), said: ‘The Guild is not mandated to support the NUS Week of Action, there has been no Guild Council motion asking us to do so.’ (from Redbrick)

This is an outright falsehood; at the last Guild Council students passed the following by a massive majority

  1.  “In the event of the white paper being presented to parliament in for either a bill or reading to as follows.” The guild shall :
  2. Join in calls for the NUS to organise a national demonstration against privatisation.
  3. To organise and participate in mass of lobby of MP’s at local surgeries, with lettering writing and at parliament. 
  4.  Organise a demonstration on campus calling on the vice chancellor to condemn the white paper. For this demonstration to be done in conjunction with trade unions on campus. If a national of local actions are called then this demonstration should take place on this day so as to better coordinate with the student movement.”

The white paper was presented to parliament which activated the clause – specifically section C. Although the paper was later “delayed” under pressure, its proposals are still being implemented and the government have said they will put this in again to parliament in the future. As such, the NUS are campaigning against the paper and local actions were called for. The guild was clearly mandated to support these.

The demo was fully organised by BCU, backed by the NUS and it is was fully risk assessed. The officers claimed that they could not support the demo because another demo organised by a different group hadn’t gone as they wished. This is clearly a ludicrous position – the Guild doesn’t stop using all club promoters if it has a bad experience with one.

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Statement on: Vote of no confidence in David Eastwood

This is statement from defend education campaign to clarify about the vote of no confidence in David Eastwood motion, that has been distributed last night as an emergency motion.

This was not submitted an “emergency motion” as has been communicated, it was submitted on time.  We would not submit such an important motion without warning we want a proper debate in the run up to council on the issue. Steering and the trustee-board blocked this debate. As they have made this discussion impossible, the motion is now being withdrawn.

 What we wanted

 We wanted a debate. Just debating a “no confidence” motion is great way to draw attention to all the extremely worrying practices and policies pushed by the vice chancellor David Eastwood.  This guild council fell in the week of the national union of student week of action to defend higher education, they debate could have been a great addition to the week and contributed well to awareness.

It was our intention to create a debate on the policies of our vice chancellor. We think his actions outlined below require a serious debate in the form of a no confidence motion.

Our vice chancellor is not an ordinary vice chancellor, he become something of a spokesperson and lobbyist for all of the changes happening to higher education at present. His tenure has seen an immense politicization of his position. Since coming into office he has become somewhat of a hatchet man for the government.

What we want to see debated

1)     David Eastwood has not only lobbied for but wrote the Browne Review, which recommended fees to be raised and the sector to marketised.

2)     He immediately raised tuition fees at the university to £9000 maximum, while at the same time as overseeing £10 million pounds worth of cuts and hike in hall fees.

3)     In the press he has worked hard on several occasions writing polemics in defense of government policy.

4)     Not only has David Eastwood fully come in support of the higher education whitepaper but he has actively lobbied for it.

5)     His “ban” on protests brought condemnation of the university in the national press by amnesty international and Liberty.

6)     Year on year he has taken corruptly ever larger pay increases despite the harsh economic environment. He is now the 2nd highest paid Vice Chancellor in the UK causing controversy in the press and bringing the university further into disrepute. At the same he pays many of his staff poverty wages.

7)     His profligacy in personal expenses notably the luxury £282,000 refurbishment of his university provided mansion has been the cause of further media scandal.

8)     Despite his generous pay and perks he has deemed it fit not to dedicate all this time to his job as Vice Chancellor taking a second paid job as a director of the academic pension scheme.

9)     As a director of the pension scheme he has overseen massive and unnecessary cuts to academic pensions that caused academics to go on strike twice once on June 30th and again on November 30th.

10)  He has been exposed as lobbying to allow private companies to set up universities without checks or regulations.

Why are now withdrawing the motion

The motion was quite clearly a political debate, however several officers and members of steering pushed very had for any debate on the subjected to be blocked. The issue of whether guild was going to be allowed to debate the issue was deferred to the trustee board. Several members of the trustee board pushed for the debate to be stopped

 

The debate was allowed to go ahead, this decision was not made until 4pm Wednesday the 14th , the day before the guild council. Our original intention was to create a large cross campus debate on the ten above points; we have been thwarted in this by maneuvers by several officers and trustees. Because we believe unlike the trustees and officers that students should have the right to debate this issue properly we are deferring the debate until a later guild council.David Eastwood should be aware large number of students are opposed to this action and he faces a vote of no confidence in the near future.

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Statement from defend education condemning the University of Cambridge

Written by Jake Pembroke on behalf of University of Birmingham defend education campaign.

Today, one of the most highly regarded educational institutions in the country has shown a flagrant disregard for the right to protest. The University of Cambridge Court of Discipline has suspended a student from his course until October 2014. His crime? Disrupting a speech being given by David Willets, government minister for Universities and Science, by reading a poem. The student has 28 days to appeal the decision. University Dons and students alike have come together to condemn the decision as ‘arbitrary and wrong’ and that the decision to protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is ‘the height of hypocrisy’, with over 60 signing a Spartacus letter calling to be disciplined alongside the student.

Willetts has been instrumental in pushing to raise university course fees to £9,000 beginning in September 2012, and in promoting marketisation and corporatisation of the public university system. Further to this, the government decision to drop the higher education bill will encourage behind-closed-doors discussion of changes to the system, taking it out of the public eye. In light of this, protest actions like the one undertaken by the Cambridge student are of paramount importance in keeping the fight for a public university system alive.

This suspension is further evidence of the increasingly repressive measures being taken by university management teams to silence the dissenting voices of students and to intimidate the student body into silence. The student in question has been singled out for punishment, despite the protest being a ‘collective act’ conducted by a group of students. What is even more alarming about this case is the justification for his suspension is based on the preservation of free speech. Surely, integral to the preservation of the right to free speech is the freedom to express dissent.

The students of the University of Birmingham extend their solidarity to the Cambridge student, and indeed to any student willing to stand up and fight the regressive changes to the public education system. Education is, and always will be, a right not a privilege, and affronts to students like the one today constitute an affront to all.

When University of Birmingham students have faced disciplinaries, like Simon Furse’s, Cambridge students have travelled down to support us. We will be down in force to defend the suspended student at any demonstration called by Cambridge defend education and we call on students across the country to do the same.

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Why Edd Bauer was Suspended

After being arrested (and since cleared of any wrongdoing) for unfurling a protest banner at the Lib Dem party conference on the 16th of Septemer I was suspended from my duties as Guild VPE by the President till January 4th pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation. During my suspension the Guild told the NUS that I had been “suspended pending an internal investigation on matters not connected to the banner drop” and that “Edd was not suspended because of his campaigning activity or remit.” When my suspension was over the Guild released a statement saying “The alleged actions of the VPE at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference were not considered in the context of the allegations” and it has since been reported in Redbrick that my suspension upon returning to work after being imprisoned before trial “was due to five other allegations.”

It’s time the true facts were made public. I’m writing this not only to set straight the record on my suspension but also to make the point of how little control students have in the Guild. As an elected officer not only was I attacked by my own union for being wrongfully arrested but I was also punished for trying to implement my manifesto and speaking out against senior management. Included in this post are several pages from my disciplinary documents which I have scanned. Some names I have blanked out to protect identities.

Upon returning to work on September 27th Mark Harrop handed me THIS letter informing me of my immediate suspension.

The Banner Protest Allegations:

The first allegation reads: “You left work early on Friday 16th September 2011 without permission or notifying any other Guild officer or member of staff, and you failed to attend work during Welcome Week, Monday 18th to Friday 23rd September 2011.”

The reason why I didn’t attend work during that week was that I was being held at Winson Green Prison after being arrested for my protest at the Lib Dem party conference, as is well known. Obviously this allegation is directly related to the banner protest and it is a lie to say it wasn’t. I also deny that I left work early on that day though shall address that later in this post as it’s a separate issue.

The second allegation reads: “You were arrested by the police and as a result of your actions, you were refused bail with consequent imprisonment between 16th September 2011 and 26th September 2011.”

Again, obviously this allegation is directly related to the banner protest. I maintained at the time that I had not committed any crime; and the case since being thrown out of court due to the prosecution’s lack of evidence vindicates my position that the Guild was wrong to suspend and discipline me before trial. I also supplied the Guild’s disciplinary panel with a statement from a consultant solicitor for Frank Brazell & Partners with 34 years of experience stating that my arrest and denial of bail “appears to be a disproportionate response to the alleged offense and, given the time and location, would appear to have a political motive” and so I could not reasonably be expected to have predicted the police’s response to my actions.

The third allegation reads: “Prior to 16th September 2011, you failed to attend formal meetings scheduled with the University acting in your capacity as Vice President Education. This includes Senate meetings, Student Representation System Advisory Board (SRSAB), Graduate School Management Board, and Post Graduate computer science induction.”

Despite the opening passage, all of these meetings in fact took place after 16th of September whilst I was being held in prison (with the exception of the SRSAB meeting, which I did attend), thus this allegation is again directly related to the banner protest. Two months into the investigation against me the panel conceded that these meetings had in fact happened whilst I was in prison and the allegation was dropped.

A New Allegation: Whilst I was suspended I wrote THIS article for the Guardian newspaper in which I spoke about my arrest and suspension. After doing so I was quickly informed that I was also to be disciplined for doing this. The substantive allegation against me is that I said I had been suspended “indefinitely” when my suspension letter says “until further notice” and that misrepresenting my suspension letter constitutes gross misconduct. However Harrop used the word “indefinitely” when he handed me the letter and it was never explained how there’s any contradiction between “indefinitely” and “until further notice” in this context. Again this allegation is related to the banner protest albeit indirectly this time.

Also attached are minutes from an investigation interview I took part in on October 17th.

Other Allegations:

Leaving Work Early:You left work early on Friday 16th September 2011 without permission or notifying any other Guild officer or member of staff“.

The details of this allegation can be read HERE. I did not ‘leave work’. At around 1pm on that day a student contacted me asking if I could come talk to them about cuts to their course, which I consider part of my role. My diary was clear for that time so around 3:45pm I went to go meet that student somewhere else on campus and talked with them for about an hour, after which I went home. I was available if needed the entire time via my phone however I was not contacted. My actions were not out of the ordinary, sabbatical officers are regularly invited to impromptu meetings. Furthermore it’s not clear what leaving work ‘without permission’ means when Guild officers are only obligated to work 36 hours a week on flexible time, nor is there any requirement to notify anyone upon leaving the building beyond signing out, which I did.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of cuts, does a student representative elected on a platform of “fighting department cuts” using an hour’s free time in his diary to talk to a student about cuts to their course sound like a reasonable allegation of “gross misconduct” having nothing to do with his campaigning activity or remit (as the Guild told the NUS it wasn’t)?

The fourth allegation reads: “You were disparaging, intimidating and aggressive towards staff members within the Student Voice department.”

This may appear to be a serious and non-political accusation at first, however I believe the specific details make clear its political nature as well as being weak in itself. The details of this allegation can be read HERE. It actually consists of three separate incidents regarding the Student Rep system, all of which stem from me being overruled by staff when attempting to carry out what I believed was my remit. In fact they even accuse me of “attempting to change the way the Student Rep system worked, as outlined in his manifesto” which I of course fully admit to doing. I think there’s a problem with staff blocking an elected officer from implementing a key part of his manifesto because it was “not acceptable to the university.” But regardless of your position on that, how can this be reconciled with Harrop’s claim that my suspension had nothing to do with my campaigning activity or remit?

Student Rep Video: The first incident (details can be read HERE) is regarding the Student Rep video. I felt it was poorly done and “too corporate in its message”, I wanted it to mention fighting cuts and thought I could have made a better video myself. One of the Guild managers (name blocked out in red) is even described as thinking my requests were ‘reasonable’. The main substantive allegation against me is that I described the video as being ‘crap’ in a meeting, that I was “shrugging his shoulders and rolling his eyes” and that this was “slightly childish… not angry but frustrated.” I only remember saying it was ‘rubbish’, but even if I had said ‘crap’ I think this allegation is far from constituting “gross misconduct” and that its being treated as such a serious matter can only be explained by the political context.

Student Rep Leaflet: The second incident (details can be read HERE) is regarding the Student Rep leaflet. I had wanted to include the phrase “fighting the fight to defend our education” or something along those lines, however staff members told me that including such things was “aggressive” and the university would object and so blocked me from doing this. The substantive allegation is that I said I was ‘sick and tired of staff telling me what to do.’ It should be noted that the staff member I said this to (name blocked out in black, who for the record did not issue the complaint against me herself) said that I did “not attack her personally; it is more fundamental than that” and apparently that I was “polite and lovely” when she was doing admin tasks for me. The allegation is not that I personally attacked any staff member, but rather that I got frustrated when staff blocked me from carrying out what I see as my remit for political reasons. This is fundamentally a conflict over who should run student unions: the elected student representatives or the staff; which is clearly a political issue and should be settled through democratic means.

Student Rep Facebook Groups: The third incident is regarding the Departmental Association Facebook groups I set up in the summer shortly before being suspended. I was told that the university did not approve and a staff member told me that I should delete them. I refused to do so and stated my case that they were a successful initative which no student had objected to, part of my manifesto commitment and remit and that frankly I did not think university management should be able to stop a Guild officer from merely creating Facebook groups. I was attempting to reform the Student Rep system so that names and contact details for every student rep could be publicised online and in posters in each department so students could actually find out who they are (many students I’ve talked to have no idea who their student rep is) however I was blocked from doing this due to ‘data protection’ issues. I thought this was ridiculous and that running in an election to be a student representative implicitly makes you a public personality, and it would not be difficult to get reps to sign a waiver allowing the Guild to give out their contact details to students in their department however this solution was not accepted.

The fifth allegation reads: “Your disruptive and erratic behaviour at the SRSAB meeting of 6th September 2011.”

Firstly, this was the meeting I was also accused of not turning up to in the same suspension letter, eventually they accused me of arriving late and then behaving disruptively. Details can be read HERE. The reason why I arrived late is that I and Mark Harrop had been called into an urgent meeting with Professor Authur regarding cuts to the Education Department, this being the only time he was available to meet us before University Senate. So I had a clash of meetings and since I ran on a platform of campaigning against department cuts I made the decision to prioritise this one, I think this was the right decision especially as Harrop didn’t turn up himself. Whether you agree with my decision or not I believe it to be a political one, and something I should be judged on by students not disciplined in secret for by a mostly-staff panel.

My ‘disruptive and erratic behaviour’ at the SRSAB meeting came down to me criticising the Student Voice report, again on political grounds. I’m accused of being “fairly animated but not over the top” by one witness and “a bit combative” by another. If I’d behaved so badly that it constituted gross misconduct I think they’d use stronger language than that. Furthermore it was not true that I had not informed anyone of my criticisms of the report before the meeting, indeed my predecessor Robert Hunter gave a witness statement describing how I’d let my views on it well known to him.

I am essentially being disciplined here for not toeing the line of Guild staff members present at a meeting; the debate being between myself and two senior staff in the room. The Guild staff wanted their report alone to be treated as “the definitive voice of students”, which I objected to and said this role should be left to Guild Council and the Guild Officer Team. The members of the Student Rep Advisory Board in fact sided with me and the Student Voice Report was significantly amended taking on board my criticisms, which wouldn’t have happened had I not been ‘a bit combative.’ This was a very serious political issue regarding democracy in the Guild as the proposal was to have a report supposedly giving the “Student Voice” that circumvented the opinion of any elected student representative and I believe I was right to speak against it.

Were these incidents gross misconduct? Standard practice states that suspension should be an act of last resort. An officer should typically receive a verbal warning, first written warning and final written warning with regards to their behaviour before more serious action is taken. However I was given no warning about my behaviour before being suspended and put before a disciplinary. Even if you believe that my actions constituted wrongdoing they still clearly come under a “minor fault” rather than “gross misconduct” and should have been dealt with informally under Section 4 of the Guild’s Discipline and Appeals policy rather than an immediate suspension. When wrapping up these allegations against me the investigatory panel states that “It is not clear that he ever intended to cause offense directly to anyone” and that “The VPE felt he was concentrated on issues rather than staff performances, but there are ways by which issues can be addressed that do not cause tension and negativity. On a number of occasions, the VPE did not achieve this balance in his approach to staff.” Even if I didn’t “achieve this balance” in my approach to staff, was moving immediately to a disciplinary with three month suspension the proportionate way to deal with this rather than say a verbal or written warning first?

Why Did This Happen?

The attack on my tenure began as soon as I was elected, after which the Guild started disciplinary procedures against me as a normal student (though VPE elect), based on extremely spurious grounds such as me writing a Facebook post encouraging people to go to Guild Council despite it being ‘shit’ or an absurd allegation that I had attacked a Jewish religious festival when I was in fact taking part in a peaceful protest outside a pro-Israel event (that was not a religious festival of any sort). This disciplinary was dropped with ‘no case to answer’ after I publicised the allegations.

Days before I entered office the university showed their hostility towards me by removing the VPE’s seat from University Council (in place for as long as anyone can remember) and replacing it with the Postgraduate Officer, a position on the Officer Team that was at the time… vacant. During my first week in office I spotted a proposal put before the Trustee Board to cut Guild employees pay by 11.5% over three years, and so in my capacity as a Trustee Board member I sent an email to Guild staff informing them of this proposal and offering to meet with them privately if they wanted to discuss it. All these emails were deleted from everyone’s inboxes when discovered and I was warned never to contact Guild staff again without clearing the communication with the Guild’s Human Resources Committee.

In September the Trustee Board passed a new disciplinary policy despite it not being ratified by a quorate Guild Council as per normal procedure. This new policy gave the Guild President all kinds of new powers and grounds under which to suspend and remove officers. I was then suspended under this new policy a mere two weeks after it was passed. It seems clear to me that this policy was created with getting rid of me in mind, and I think that if it wasn’t for the strong negative reaction to my suspension from the student body I would have most likely been removed. At the next Guild Council after I was suspended students voted to put this disciplinary policy on the meeting agenda and then voted to deratify it.

I repeatedly requested throughout my suspension that all the allegations against me be made public and for the matter to be decided at Guild Council, and that I would gracefully step down if I lost a vote of no confidence there. However the reasons were kept secret (I had been banned from speaking about it publicly) and any attempt to have this matter dealt with through democratic channels was blocked.  A motion to have the matter taken to Guild Council for a vote was blocked by the Steering Committee who said “this motion should not go through to Guild Council as it calls for a change of policy which may contradict current policy within the Guild agreed by the Trustee Board.” Furthermore a motion at the Guild Officer Group meeting to remove the political allegations against me was blocked by the President who also stopped the allegations against me being read out, a recording of this meeting can be found HERE.

After an unjustifiably long investigation and disciplinary process I returned to office on January 4th having been found guilty of gross misconduct for my arrest, my missing meetings whilst imprisoned and for writing the article in the Guardian about my arrest. I was found not guilty of gross misconduct regarding the allegations concerning my relationship with Student Voice staff and the SRSAB meeting but was given a reprimand. Thus all the things I was found guilty of gross misconduct over (the basis for my suspension) were regarding my being arrested for something for which I was later acquitted of any wrongdoing in a trial that lasted less than half an hour.

Upon returning to office the Guild issued a statement stating that my “actions at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference were not considered in the context of the allegations” a total lie as has been shown. I complained about this the day it was posted and demanded it be removed, but after two weeks of me requesting to the President, the CEO and the Trustee Board that they remove this false information from their website none were willing to do so. I then posted what my allegations were on Facebook, after which the Guild took down their statement saying they were concerned it “may be misconstrued” and I agreed to take down my post also. They then told me they would publish my suspension letter along with a joint statement, however after almost two months no progress seems to have been made on this and they’re continuing to deny that the banner protest and arrest was the main reason for my suspension.

A student union can never be functional when its managers fight tooth and nail to marginalise elected representatives for being politically undesirable whilst trying to hide this behaviour from its members through lies.

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by | March 14, 2012 · 2:42 pm

The University of Birmingham needs to “come clean” with its dirty lobbying.

syndicated from Edd Bauer’s VP Education blog

Liam Burns the NUS president, told the independent on Monday “We want MPs, the Government and vice-chancellors to come clean on what’s going on in the HE sector.” “Coming clean on what’s going on” is not the most inspiring slogan for a mass mobilisation, however it is bang on the money. “Coming clean”, is exactly the opposite of what many of the worst universities have on their mind, higher education is being screwed over by the back door and nobody will know until it is far too late.

Private providers; a nightmare coming in through the back door

 Private providers are a death sentence for quality education. Professor Howard Hotson from the campaign for the public university analyses at length how private universities in America are taking short cuts and offering “subprime” degrees. These degrees which are worth nothing, only offering nothing but the illusion of quality and instead of actually teaching are making millions for the universities private owners. They are aggressively marketed with huge campaigns amounting to as much as 25% of the universities expenditure. Such a system entering the UK would be a nightmare; money would be thrown away into the pockets of the rich owners or on flashy marketing campaigns.

The private University of Phoenix has 500,000 students; its degrees are essentially worthless however it aggressively marketed and has driven many competitors who are offering degrees of real value under. It makes millions for it millionaire owners.

The recent withdrawal of the white paper as a bill to parliament has meant that private providers will not be allowed to have degree awarding powers.  When the bill was dropped some thought the bullet had been dodged. However these private providers can still enter the UK now through the back door, as they will able award degrees in collaborative provision with established universities who will actually grant the degrees for the courses they run.  This should be fine as long public universities ensure that any private universities they collaborate with don’t cut any corners in terms of educational standards. Any private university that is allowed to cut corners will be able to out compete their public rivals, so it important that universities don’t start accrediting degrees to companies doing this as it would allow the companies offering subprime degrees to come flooding into the UK sector.

Traitors in the academy; what are they up to

 There is a battle going on to ensure this doesn’t happen. Universities UK, which democratically represents all UK universities, is recommending1 that the role of the Quality Assurance Agency is tightened and strengthened.  Specifically they recommend the requirement to make sure that any public universities using their degree awarding powers in collaboration with a private provider is strengthened so that private providers are put through real scrutiny by the public partner.

Essentially the QAA needs more teeth to ensure that the private partners, in public private collaborations are not cutting corners. If this doesn’t happen the private sector is going to be allowed to fraudulently move in and ruin half of the UK university sector, and then make huge profits from giving tens of thousands of people a worthless education. The Quality Assurance Agency for higher education recently put out a proposal to give themselves new powers to require collaborations between universities and private companies, which would mean universities accrediting private courses with degrees would have to publish the facts about what the private company is actually offering. On this issue they ran a public consultation called information provision by universities2.

However not all universities are playing the team game to protect the public education system. Some are happy to sell out their counterparts down the river in anticipation of a useful income provided by offering accreditation services because of a deep managerial buy in to the idea of privatised free market in education.

There is significant pressure to allow university to accredit private companies with their degrees, without any real checks. The University of Birmingham responses to the QAA consultation on “information” is revealing and shows the university is joining in with this pressure. The strongest worded segment in the entire response is on the issue of information provision when collaborating with a private provider.

In response to Indicator 5 (page 7) “Full and up to date information on the program of study is provided to current students at the start of the program and at appropriate intervals throughout their studies.”, Which is supplemented with a further statement further down page 7,“It is sound practice that a provider who operates on several campuses or collaborates with partners details how students’ learning is supported on each site.”

The University of Birmingham responded surprisingly candidly with this statement: –  “with reference to the statement that “It is sound practice that a provider who operates on several campuses or collaborates with partners details how students’ learning is supported on each site.” We do not believe it reasonable, or practical to expect an awarding institution to set out in its own information details of the process support etc. with exist in other collaborative organizations. In practice a web link to the collaborative institutions website would provide information and ensure it is up to date”

All they want to do is put a hyperlink to the private providers own sharp, well marketed website. They don’t want to host any information themselves on the actual quality of the education people will receive from these private providers, there is no guarantee any checks will even take place.

Throwing half the sector to the wolves

 These private providers are not a threat to the elite of UK universities which have massive budgets and well established reputations. Their cheap courses that offer the illusion of quality with massive marketing campaigns will be able to buy out or drive under the other good universities which are not in UK “elite” cohort.

In response to the white paper Cambridge University (page 11, point 37), said they were afraid that private providers could run at a loss to drive their public competitors under; the government has made it clear that it will allow universities to fail, so what is stopping private companies from “cannibalizing” the market?

Vice chancellor David Eastwood has actively helped with the conservative’s assault on higher education. He helped write the Browne review, laying the ground work for higher fees and privatization. He as a director on the USS has been instrumental is taking apart academic pensions, causing the recent strikes. Now he is betraying the rest of UK universities by lobbying for the private sector to be allowed in via the back door. Some executives like Eastwood have clearly become personally tied to government’s agenda; they will sink or swim with it.

What we could well see is the public universities in the UK at the lower end of the league table, which offer courses of real tangible value being replaced by private providers who are only offering the illusion of value. These universities don’t have the established reputation of the elite UK “Ivy league” to protect them. They run the risk of despite offering better quality courses of being out competed and out marketed by cheaper private providers which can run at a loss to drive their better public rivals under.  It is just so happens that the same elite universities which aren’t really threatened by these subprime degree companies are also the least accessible to anyone coming from a poorer background.

Flashy marketing campaigns will allow private providers to get away with offering the illusion of quality because unlike the public sector there won’t be any watch dogs to hold them to account, collect statistics or regulate3.  So if the public partner awarding the degrees won’t give them scrutiny then no one will. If this is allowed to happen we will create a truly two tiered education system with a well a funded valuable UK “Ivy league” for the rich and a set of subprime institutions run by private providers offering the illusion of quality for everyone else.

At a time when many universities, academics and students are clubbing together to defend our excellent public education system, others like David Eastwood’s University of Birmingham are actively taking part in the attack. Helping usher in the private sector through the back door into a market where without any public scrutiny they will be able to out drive under their public rivals – public rivals offering decent degrees where any profits made get reinvested back into the university to benefit future generations, rather than to line the pockets of the rich.

Appendix

  1. page 7 of “Universities UK the growth of private and for profit HE providers in the UK”.
  2. QAA: Information about higher education provision page http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/Quality-Code-Part-C-Information-about-higher-education-provision.pdf
  3. page 32 “of Universities UK the growth of private and for profit HE providers in the UK.”

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Second vote of no confidence vetoed

cross posted from Edd Bauer’s VP Education blog

I’m not writing this to have a go at anyone in particular I don’t see the point. This is a serious failure in good governance. I don’t think it can pass without comment. When two votes of no confidence are rejected by an unelected committee, denying debate at guild council it does need some analysis of what has gone wrong.

Last December 34 Guild Councilors called for a vote of No confidence in the trustee Andrew Whitehead    A few weeks ago the vote of no confidence in Mark Harrop was rejected, now the vote of no-confidence in Andrew whitehead has also been rejected. On both these important and highly politicised issues students have been denied the right of a debate at guild council. All the grounds of the dismissal of the votes of no confidence are ludicrous. You can read about the dismissal of  Mark Harrops VONC here.

The vote against Andrew Whitehead, was rejected on this single ground  

 1.      The Committee noted that the Alumni Trustee was appointed to the Trustee Board in a personal capacity and that, as his own practice area is energy (advising utilities), he had had no connection whatsoever with the injunction commissioned by the University. It had not been discussed at his firm’s Management Board, nor had it been discussed at the Guild of Students Trustee Board, so there was no conflict of interest.

This is ridiculous because the vote of no confidence asked Andrew to step aside because

“We believe that Andrew Whitehead’s position as a Trustee is no longer tenable due to his association with Martineau and demand that he step down immediately”.

At no point does it make any reference to Andrew Whitehead being “personally” responsible for the Injunction. Making it ludicrous that it should be rejected because he doesn’t have a direct personal responsibility.

The claim is that due to the injunction being dealt with at a lower level in his firm to him, that there is therefore “no conflict of interest”. This is impossible to judge and clear jump of logic, certainly not reasonable for the scrutiny committee to assume on behalf of students. Further the claim that it had not “been discussed at the Guild of Students Trustee Board” is completely ridiculous as the board are well aware that the injunction was on the agenda of several upcoming trustee board meetings.

The motion of no confidence is requesting his removal because of his association and management of firm that is so directly counterpoised to the values of the student union. It is asking for Andrew to be symbolically removed because the board should be representative of the values of the union not his personal actions. Further the assumptions about “no conflict of interest” being possible are clearly wrong, are not based in fact and should be the subject of debate. see the rejection letter in full in the appendix below.

It is interesting to see how these two applications for votes of no confidence have played out. The grounds of the rejection of Mark’s VONC was even more spurious, the most important point, his giving evidence against Simon Furse, was rejected because the committee “couldn’t find a copy” of Mark’s witness testimony. This is despite it having been widely available in the public domain and Mark having a copy himself.

The motivations for clique who are in control of the trustee board protecting some of their key members are obvious. I’m amazed however that they feel they are able to veto both these motions in an openly ridiculous way and expect to maintain any sense of legitimacy.

Appendix

Dear Ben,

In respect of the recent petition for a vote of no confidence, please find the outcome from Scrutiny Committee below.The Guild of Students Scrutiny Committee met on 27 February 2012 to consider a petition for a vote of no confidence submitted to the Guild on behalf of 26 Guild Councillors. The petition alleged that one of the Guild’s Alumni Trustee’s role was incompatible with his employment at SGH Martineau LLP due to the firm’s involvement in obtaining an injunction commissioned by the University of Birmingham.

Both parties were invited to provide further evidence to support their positions and to attend the Committee meeting if they wished to make further representations. Neither party chose to avail themselves of that opportunity, so the Scrutiny Committee considered only the petition and the response provided by the Alumni Trustee.

The Committee noted that the Alumni Trustee was appointed to the Trustee Board in a personal capacity and that, as his own practice area is energy (advising utilities), he had had no connection whatsoever with the injunction commissioned by the University. It had not been discussed at his firm’s Management Board, nor had it been discussed at the Guild of Students Trustee Board, so there was no conflict of interest.In the absence of further arguments or evidence the Scrutiny Committee agreed unanimously to reject the petition for a vote of no confidence.

[Name Removed]

Chief Executive

(On behalf of the Scrutiny Committee)

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Why we fight – find out more about “Defend Education”

Part of the NUS “Come Clean” Week of Action

  • Tuesday, 13 March 2012
  • 18:00 until 19:00
In the: Guild of students Common Room

Universities like much else in our society are changing dramatically. The public education system as we have known it is no longer going to be a system that is accessible to all; cuts are threatening many disciplines and departments. The creeping marketisation threatens the university itself…

This is not for fun – the university and West Midlands police do not like student activism. In the past two years University of Birmingham students in campaigning to defend education have been arrested 21 times, with a total of 36 days behind bars racked up. Only one (for a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason) has led to any conviction and this is currently being appealed in the high court. In total 42 university disciplinary charges have been brought against students, although they all seem to have been routine intimidation as none have led to any punishment being handed out.

This is a vital campaign we are not going anywhere, we won’t be stopping anytime soon.

If you have watched our campaign, if you want to find out more about why are fighting? Then come along.

If you support our campaign but don’t support our tactics then come along let’s talk about what we should do next year.

The meeting will start with short speeches from the floor from:

Kelly Rogers – Guild of Students Women’s officer, talking on equality and the cuts.
A UCU national executive committee member talking about the public education systerm.
Edd Bauer – the Vice President of Education at the Guild talking about what has been going on in Birmingham. Then open debate and contributions from all.

After which we will be in the pub come join us for a few drinks xx

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Unelected Trustee Board votes to give away more powers from students to management

Earlier tonight, Trustee Board papers from a meeting earlier this year were leaked onto the Indymedia newswire. They detail yet another power grab (though this time it’s an effective coup) in the Guild of students by the senior management team. If you want to know why having an elected student Trustee Board is so important see what they get up to when you don’t have one.

Here’s the article:

At a recent Trustee Board meeting of the University of Birmingham Guild of Students the board voted to approve a new ‘delegation of authority’ granting new sweeping powers to its CEO, Jo Thomas and the two senior managers Mike Garrett and Adrian Blower. The proposal itself being written by none other than… Jo Thomas!

Delegating a great amount of authority to staff members isn’t an unusual thing for a trustee board to do in a charity. However student unions are not supposed to be run like a normal voluntary sector charity, they are supposed to be representative organisations run democratically by their members. This recent delegation of authority represents a power grab by the senior management team and a severe attack on democratic student control over their union.

It doesn’t help that the trustee board making these decisions behind closed doors is the only student union in the Russell Group with a non-student majority on its board. Neither does it help that the only board members who are elected are four sabbatical officers, with everyone else being selected by an appointments panel which includes university managers some of whom are then ‘approved’ by the union council which has no choice over who gets put forward.

New powers given to the Guild CEO and the two other senior managers include:

1. “Proposals for small scale redundancies”

This power used to lie with the Human Resources committee which sabbatical officers sit on, but now the senior managers can make up to three staff (a small department) redundant on a whim without the slightest consultation with any elected official. Redundancies are often controversial such as the loss of full time staff for volunteering societies last year. This is a key power that should be with students.

2. “Overall management of the budget to ensure that resources are utilised efficiently and effectively to deliver the strategic plan”

This is most worrying as it effectively gives total control of Guild finances to senior management, taking it out of the hands of committees which elected sabbatical officers sit on. Giving overall management of the Guild’s budget to the CEO and the two senior managers to “ensure” it delivers the strategic plan is bad enough, but wait till you find out who gets to write this plan…

3. “Reporting on the needs of the membership and ensuring that the plan continues to meet them”

This comes under section 3 – Setting & Monitoring Strategy. So what this effectively means is that the CEO and senior managers also get to unilaterally decide what the needs of students are without consulting with any actual student and thus write the strategic plan themselves. Elected student officials (nevermind Guild Council) now have no say in determining what the Guild believes its members interests to be.

4. “Reviewing performance of all service areas and providing reports to the Board”

1, 2 and 3 give the CEO and the two senior managers dominating executive control over the Guild. However they are still theoretically “accountable” to the Trustee Board for their actions and can have their powers taken away again by vote. This power means that the three people who have all the executive power in the Guild also get to “review” the performance of the Guild and report back to the Trustee Board. In other words they get to review themselves, no doubt they’ll come back with very positive reports! And since the Trustee Board consists of mostly unelected non-students who meet very irregularly and have next to no knowledge of the actual goings-on of the Guild they’re not likely to object to these reports. Thus this power blocks holding the managers accountable for their use/abuse of powers 1, 2 and 3.

5. “Organisational Training & Development within budget”

Sabbatical officers undergo six week training period 9-5 before taking their posts. Previously this training schedule was set by the outgoing sabbatical officer team, however now the senior managers have the power to train incoming officers as they see fit. This is important because key to maintaining their effective control of the Guild is the managers already strong influence over the sabbs. The sabbs give a public face of the Guild’s operations to students, creating a facade that it is run by elected representatives when really it is shadowy managers who we’re forbidden from even naming who really run things. This new power strengthens further the managers ability to influence the officer team. Give them a student for a month and a half and they’ll groom a loyal sabb.

With these changes the Guild is less democratic and student orientated than ever. Sabbatical officers are now little more than interns in a senior management run student union. By these changes Guild Council is made mostly irrelevant as the officers who receive council mandates find themselves without the powers to meet them even if they tried.

But it looks like the students might have had enough of their union turning into the university management’s student branch…

The full motion to the Trustee Board can be seen here:

Motion  http://www.mediafire.com/?shtl9cl96og6lsm

Appendix to motion including full breakdown of delegation of authority  http://www.mediafire.com/?mkhbtnn14t4s248

Which was originally posted HERE.

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