Union puts squeeze on MPs' marginals

February 21, 1997

THE Association of University Teachers has launched a general election offensive on 16 marginal constituencies, warning sitting MPs and parliamentary candidates that they ignore pay and other higher education issues at their peril.

The AUT is targeting those marginal constituencies with large university-employed electorates as part of a wider general election campaign. The campaign, officially launched this week, is a call to arms for the union's 37,000 members to ensure due prominence for higher education issues in a pre-election political agenda besieged by competing demands. The AUT's call for a pay review body (PRB) is seen as a crunch issue.

The union has no party political affiliation but 12 of the targeted marginals are Tory-held. Three are Labour-held and one is Liberal Democrat. The key pre-1992 universities are Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, East Anglia, Essex, Exeter, Leeds, Loughborough, Oxford, Southampton, Stirling, Sussex, Wales (UWCM) and Warwick. Stirling MP and Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth enjoys a tenuous 0.6 per cent (236 votes) majority. Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster holds Bath with a 3.5 per cent (2,009 votes) majority.

The AUT campaign centres on its election programme, Higher Education in the UK: Mapping the Future. Copies of the 20-page "manifesto" have been sent to every MP and prospective parliamentary candidate in the country (roughly 2,000).

They have also received questionnaires assessing their support for the AUT's programme. Members of the House of Lords, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the research and funding councils have also received copies of the programme.

Analysis of the questionnaires returned by MPs and PPCs will be followed by a series of pre-election "question times" in the marginal seats to which local MPs and candidates will be invited. Their views, based on questionnaire responses, will be made known to audiences. Failure to return a response will be noted and made public.

AUT general secretary David Triesman said: "This is a warning to all election candidates that if they do not want to lose their seats then back a pay review body which may, on its own, determine how lecturers will vote. There will be no hiding from higher education issues for any candidate."

The AUT election programme calls for commitments to five key areas: universities, students, professionals, research and the country as a whole. Included are calls for a quinquennial funding system in which the level of UK spending on students stays in the top quarter of the league produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The UK was ninth in the 1993 list of 26 OECD countries, having slipped from fourth in 1992.

There are also calls for legislation to protect academic freedom, a learning bond to raise funding from business (see page 11), a moratorium on redundancies until Dearing reports and a humanities research council.

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