At a time of economic recession, education is more important than ever. But whilst other countries around the world, like the USA, recognise this and invest in higher education and research, the UK is making cuts and seeking to transfer more costs on to students.
Cutting pay, jobs and funding in higher education will not restore the economy. Investment in higher education is already not just cost effective in its own right but helps cut social costs and private training costs elsewhere too.
It is estimated that for every £1 spent on HE then £2.50 is generated in economic and social benefits. Universities and colleges have a key role to play in promoting economic and social well-being, informed debate and provide the basis for the UK to compete in an increasingly skills driven global economy. Investing in HE is investing in the future.
A committed workforce
Higher Education in England is delivered by a diverse workforce of almost 300,000 employees. Around half are employed as academics but the rest play professional and supporting roles.
UNISON is the largest UK trade union for support staff in higher education. Our 50,000 members include registrars, librarians, personnel, technicians, administrators, clerks, secretaries, cleaners, craftworkers, catering staff, porters and people working in IT, finance and estates management. They all play a critical role in ensuring students have a positive learning experience.
“When a student is ill for the first time, it’s generally the cleaner that they see first. Domestic staff look after the students without them realising and are as much a frontline service as others. Site managers are always around to give welfare advice, advice on the accommodation, how to do the basics such as cleaning and doing the laundry. The campus patrol officers act as a security back up.
In the course of my job I regularly help students with a range of issues, from basic home-sickness to more serious mental health issues. Helping a student and then seeing them on the mend and back at studies in the following months is so fulfilling.”
Katie Hall, assistant residences manager and UNISON member
“Some universities are not replacing manual staff and are using agencies and outsourcing to create a two-tier workforce. Staff are being overworked, becoming stressed and morale is plunging. It is not fair on the students who are paying good money for services they won’t get.”
Derek Earnshaw, university employee and chair of UNISON HE
- A reduction in resources means an adverse impact on the quality of education, increased class sizes, and a diminished student experience.
- Increased fees for students that lead to huge debts will discourage less well off students from considering entry into HE.
- Proposed cuts are tied to increasing “contestability” (competitions for internal and external education services — often a forerunner to outsourcing). This will have an adverse impact on quality control of delivery of education services.
- Quick and drastic cuts risk adverse effects to health by poorly managed restructuring or change management and by a reduction in staff.
- A narrowing of mission to the most profitable courses could lead to restrictions on academic freedom and reductions in the range of subjects available.
The high level of skills associated with higher education are good for the individuals who acquire them and good for the economy. They help individuals unlock their talent and aspire to change their life for the better. They help businesses and public services innovate and prosper.
Universities and colleges help towns and cities thrive by creating jobs, helping businesses become more competitive and driving economic regeneration. Cuts to the education service will damage local economies that are dependent on universities and colleges.
Key competitor countries are increasing investment and have higher proportions of their adult workforce with high level skills. Investment in the university sector will enable us to compete in high value-added services and manufacturing. This requires the best trained workforce in the world. Our challenge is to unlock all the talents of all of the people of our country.
Add your voice
We need as many people as possible to add their voice to our campaign. UNISON London Metropolitan University branch added their voice on 20 April 2010:
“Investing in education is vital if we’re going to get out of this recession: no ifs, no buts — no education cuts!”
To add yours, go to the UNISON Million Voices website or call 0845 355 0845.