Higher Education as a Public Service

Back to all Motions

2018 Higher Education Service Group Conference
21 September 2017

Conference notes that:

The history of degree level education provision in the UK is long and complex, but current and recent changes are fundamentally shifting the scenario in which our members work.

As a trade union which organises public sector workers, we find our particular Service Group having to deal with the consequences of delivering a public service, which is resourced by a fragile pyramid loan scheme, where institutions are forced to compete for “customers”.

Whether Higher Education is public or private sector is to some extent an abstract question.

What we would like, and what we should be fighting for, is a fully funded system, entirely free for all students, bankrolled by general taxation and providing a service for all of society.

What we have, is a system driven by questionable league tables, open to manipulation, where universities are ranked from excellent to poor, and potentially any person or group with enough cash and self-belief can provide Higher Education on the cheap, motivated by profit.

This matters to us, because the strategy and tactics of a trade union depend on the nature of management and ownership of the “business”.

Public sector workers say, “If management can’t afford our demands, they should campaign for more funding and we will support that campaign.”

Private sector workers say “We will campaign as long as we think you have the funds to reward us properly.”

What do Higher Education workers say when their employer is genuinely short of funds and the government is happy to see institutions fail?

A fragmentation of the sector presents enormous challenges for our movement and weakens our ability to deliver collective benefits to our members. Vice Chancellors might be in competition, but we are not, and have to act collectively.

We have to recognise the situation we face and arm ourselves with the correct strategy for each scenario. Despite the changes taking place, we have to be clear about what we want and communicate it widely.

Conference therefore calls of the Service Group Executive to:

1)Be clear in all public material, that Higher Education is best delivered by public funding, with directly employed workers and regulated and accountable management.

2)Campaign against privatisation, fragmentation and competition between institutions.

3)Support the existing national pay bargaining system (for those institutions in it), as the best way of uniting workers in a common pay campaign for 2018-19.

4)Promote the argument that those institutions which claim they cannot afford to reward their workers properly must campaign for more government funding.