Hunt to attack Labour's manipulating agenda

June 1, 2007

The Government is exploiting academics to further its economic policy, the new general secretary of the University and College Union was due to warn this week.

At the UCU's inaugural congress in Bournemouth, Sally Hunt will say that the Government "increasingly sees us as instruments of economic policy and ignores the wider benefits to society that universities and colleges provide".

She will also lambast ministers for attempting to manipulate the sector.

"They intervene in the curriculum in the name of quality; they direct funding towards some and away from others in the name of the so-called skills revolution; they choose to protect some subject areas while throwing others to the wolves," she will tell delegates.

A policy of "control more, spend less" has ensured that unprecedented Government interference in academics' professional lives has been accompanied by cuts in public funds, Ms Hunt will say. "That is why students now pay top-up fees in our universities. That is why adult learners are paying progressively more for a second chance. That is why we face the beginnings of privatisation in both sectors."

Where the Government does formulate sensible policy, it frequently fails to meet its own objectives, she claimed.

Pointing to ministerial rhetoric on the importance of lifelong learning, she explained that it accompanied cuts in funding that led to a 17 per cent reduction in adult learners last year.

Ms Hunt will also call on the newly merged union to take its own advice on strategic vision.

"I counted 45 different motions and amendments on our agenda this week that call for campaigns of one kind or another," she will tell the congress. "I can pretend that we can do them all - but is that really a good use of your subscriptions?"

Members must prioritise, she will argue. She believes that most of all members want better representation, credible advocacy on behalf of their professional interests and effective negotiations to improve their working conditions.

Speaking ahead of a debate about an academic boycott of Israel, she will say that she does not personally believe that most union members would support a boycott.

"The same goes for motions that seek to fundamentally alter the rules voted for by members in overwhelming numbers in the merger ballot," she will say.

"Seeking to turn the clock back to the good old days of the Association of University Teachers or (the lecturers' union) Natfhe is not what our members voted for."

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