Equality for higher education workers when universities go international

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2014 Higher Education Service Group Conference
8 November 2013

Conference notes that universities are responding to restrictive border regulations, which damages their intake of international students, by opening campuses abroad and having collaborations with overseas universities. Many more are likely to join this trend.

The universities and science minister has previously appealed to private investors to support overseas expansion for UK universities and stated that investment bank Goldman Sachs is “keen to investigate this possibility”. Mr Willetts also highlighted the government’s drive to introduce private providers into English higher education.

Conference believes that HEIs need to be aware that not all HE staff feel safe and confident to be out at work as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). This takes on an additional importance when universities expand abroad. Same sex relationships remain a criminal offence in at least 76 countries and in seven countries the death penalty applies. Commonwealth countries have the worst proportion of criminalisation, with 80% of countries retaining criminalisation introduced under British rule. Where homosexual behaviour attracts criminal sanction, or there is widespread prejudice, LGB staff posted to such countries need to be aware of the situation. Further, same sex civil partnerships or marriages are not be recognised in many countries. Attitudes towards trans people may differ from those to LGB people, but violent transphobia is also widespread, often condoned by the authorities.

Conference further notes that whilst our HE employers have a general duty of care towards anyone they send abroad and must take into account the different conditions that may apply. Identifying the legal and cultural situation in a particular country is necessary, but is not in itself a sufficient measure. UNISON has a crucial role to play in negotiating with HE employers so staff, including LGBT staff, do not work to a lower standard of safety just because they happen to be working abroad. We should demand the same standards be adopted wherever staff are working.

Conference calls on the HE Service Group Executive to:

a)Maintain a high profile commitment to LGBT equality in all negotiating, organising and campaigning;

b)Negotiate with HE employers so when LGBT staff are to be sent abroad for work, employers carry out a proper risk assessment;

c)Call for HE workers to be made aware both of the legal position, but also of the prevailing culture, in the destination country;

d)Promote the use of UNISON’s LGBT bargaining factsheets and other materials;

e)Provide HE branches with advice for workers who are not out to their employers and may feel pressured to go to a working environment where they will not feel/be safe