Language firm offers new terms

June 15, 2007

A private sector company that has controversially taken over language centres at several universities has responded to a key criticism against it by suggesting that university staff could remain on their existing conditions of service, writes Olga Wojtas.

The University and College Union has been warning institutions against links with Into University Partnerships, which provides English language and other preparatory courses for international students. It says such deals threaten academics' jobs and conditions.

Into already has agreements with East Anglia, Newcastle and Exeter universities, and hopes to add another three within the year.

But Oxford Brookes recently backed off from a partnership, a move hailed as a victory by UCU.

Into's chairman Andrew Colin has now invited UCU general secretary Sally Hunt for a discussion, arguing that an "anti-privatisation" campaign against Into is misplaced.

He suggested that UCU's employment concerns could easily be removed "by retaining staff involved in future partnerships on university conditions of service".

Mr Colin this week told The Times Higher : "We want to secure our common objective of strong universities welcoming a sustainable flow of well-prepared international students. This will not only help to assure the future of those universities and the jobs of UCU members who work in them, but will meet the challenge facing many in the profession of teaching under-prepared international students."

Malcolm Keight, head of higher education at UCU, said Mr Colin's invitation would be considered at a committee meeting at the end of next week.

"Mr Colin makes some interesting points," he said. But he warned that UCU felt there was incompatibility between a university as a public sector service and "an organisation which has to concentrate on profitability as its bottom line".

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