Universities are not teaching factories. They are spaces of critical thinking and debate. Academic freedom cannot survive in a state of perpetual fear.
Yet this is a pretty concise description of the climate at London Metropolitan University, where 395 staff – a third of permanent employees – have been given their marching orders this year. Staff who remain are being told that they must teach 550 hours of contact time a year or have their contracts and pay cut.
Worse still, if staff were in doubt as to what happens to those who challenge authority, in July the university publicly and compulsorily dismissed the local University and College Union branch chair and secretary, Mark Campbell and David Hardman.
We believe that London Met is a test case for UK higher education. The university management is explicit: it is restructuring to run what it sees as its most profitable courses as cheaply as possible. It says it is motivated by the commercial opportunities it sees in the government’s Higher Education and Research Bill, currently passing through Parliament. If London Met succeeds, other institutions are likely to follow its lead in a race to rock bottom.
This is why, on 14 October, the national higher education committee of the UCU unanimously voted to bring down the full weight of the union’s “academic censure and boycott” policy on the management of London Met. The university has been put on notice that if it continues down its current path, it will shortly face a complete national and international academic boycott.
We call on London Met’s management to step back from this self-inflicted abyss. If it does not, we call on colleagues to support an academic boycott should it prove necessary. Hundreds have already pledged their willingness to do so. You can add your name at uculondonregion.wordpress.com.
University and College Union national executive committee member
University College London
UCU NEC member
City, University of London
UCU NEC member
The Open University