Roger Kline: If I were voted general secretary of the UCU

January 5, 2007

The first in a series of three articles in which candidates vying to lead the University and College Union explain what distinguishes them from their rivals

Staff at a major university told me that they were recently instructed to carry a mobile phone at all times. They are to be subjected to "spot checks" by managers to confirm their whereabouts.

At London Metropolitan University, resistance to a similar drive for "presenteeism" was at the heart of the recent 18-month dispute. A focus on where people are, rather than whether they are working effectively, is symbolic of a wider misplaced notion of management. As one scientist noted, her best ideas come when walking on the moors, not sitting in open-plan offices.

Efforts to quantify what staff are doing abound, linked to an ever-increasing number of targets. Attempts to link the "performance" that these various measures record to staff pay are also mounting.

Unfortunately for the bean-counters, what counts can't always be counted. The production of more research papers doesn't mean better research is being conducted, any more than increasing class sizes (which means more productivity) increases anything other than staff stress levels and student drop-out rates. Bean-counting exemplifies low trust. The relentless search for "value for money" and income generation requires the marginalisation of academic and related staff within governance.

The same goal drives the privatisation of language departments and the continuing use of casual contracts; the university business model is an increasingly "industrial" one. No wonder the 2006 pay dispute was partly a surrogate for wider discontents.

Academic freedom is not just a precondition for scholarly work, it represents a space of resistance to Fordism as universities transform from ivory towers to knowledge economies. Division of labour between institutions accompanies a changing division within, not least as research and teaching are separated within and between institutions.

The central challenge facing the University and College Union is the need for action, not just press releases. So here are five suggestions: n Use every possible legal and collective avenue to limit hours of work and paperwork and to protect time for research and scholarly activity. Remind institutions of their duty of care. In new universities, we need renewal of the national contract. In old universities, we need to limit teaching hours and paperwork

* Secure equal pay for fixed-term researchers, postgraduate teachers and hourly paid lecturers and move staff to permanent contracts. Seek to extend to old universities the minimum grade (Ac2) for academic staff gained in 2004 for new university staff by Natfhe - without that salary floor, there is less incentive to place casual teaching staff on permanent contracts.

* Seek statutory protection for academic freedom linked with a renewed effort to seek more open and accountable governance

* Challenge the market-driven efforts to separate teaching and research within and between institutions and to privatise academic functions

* Use the new equality statutory duties effectively, not least to challenge the intensification of work.

The UCU should be the guardian of all that is best in higher education, making the link between the university's duty of care to staff and to students. Our 120,000 members should have a voice that the Government takes note of. We need a union that employers might fear and ministers respect, in ways they didn't sufficiently during the recent pay dispute.

Roger Kline is head of equality and employment rights, University and College Union, and general secretary candidate in the forthcoming election.

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