Coventry University blasted in The Guardian

Last week The Guardian newspaper published a letter from UCU general secretary Sally Hunt – scroll down to the bottom if you haven’t yet read this.

This letter made the point that public outrage about University leaders paying themselves outrageously high salaries is not the full story of what is happening in universities today. It also concerned the new terms and conditions staff working in these institutions are having to face. Sally singled out a CU Coventry (formerly Coventry University College) as an example of this.

While this ‘no-frills’ provision is trumpeted by our Senior Leadership team as a “life shaped learning”, the lower costs for students at the College are entirely at the expense of staff, who are not covered by existing collective bargaining agreements, earn earn lower wages, work longer hours, have shorter marking turnaround times and are not allowed to join the Teachers Pension Scheme (being offered instead a scheme where the employer makes half the contributions). As we have argued, the whole purpose of these “wholly-owned subsidiaries” within the Coventry University Group is to drive down costs and create a surplus for the main University.

What has this got to do with members of staff at the main University? The answer lies in the New Academic Year that the Deputy Vice Chancellor Ian Dunn has recently proposed (2/11/17). This asks you teach across three semesters for 13 weeks at a time, to halve your turnaround time for marking, to keep on top of the ballooning volume of administration, and maybe make some time for research as well.  In other words having got away with creating mini institutions with lower pay and inferior conditions, the plan is now to make the university more like the subsidiaries.

While the New Academic Year plan has been delayed for a year – reality had to bite somewhere – the plan is still to proceed with this no matter what the cost to your well-being, to the student experience, or to the quality of the teaching and learning on which our reputation is based.

Indeed the long term game plan was expressed by Ian Dunn, deputy vice chancellor for student experience, in The Guardian (5 December, ‘U-turn on two-year degrees predicted as fears grow over funding’) when he said the main university would be keen to introduce two-year degrees on its bigger courses if higher fees were brought in.

Our deputy VC qualifies this statement with a recognition that not all students would want to study on accelerated degrees, however, we would argue that any introduction of 2 year degree within the main University – and the massive restructuring such changes would require –  will push the university staff and systems to breaking point. They will not raise the quality of education at Coventry University – this will be cheapened.
As is the habit of University management, the Academic Year plan was announced in an email with absolutely no consultation with the recognised trade unions, staff or students. It is for this reason that UCU, alongside the other two recognised unions Unison and Unite, have called on the management not to proceed with these plans without thinking about the impact they will have on staff and to consult with those recognised trade unions.
We are taking this stance because we are already aware of the stress staff are under fulfilling existing demands. We want Coventry University to be a place where staff who work very hard and care about the quality of education our students receive are listened to and consulted on changes that affect our working lives.
More than ever, we need our recognised trade unions to remind our disconnected leadership team what is going on.
Sally Hunt’s letter in The Guardian:

Your article on university attitudes to accelerated degrees (U-turn on two-year degrees predicted as fears grow over funding, 5 December) makes reference to Coventry University College’s “no frills” educational offer.

Let’s be clear about what “no frills” actually means in this context. Coventry University College, or CU Coventry, as it’s now called, charges lower prices for its three-year degrees and claims to offer students a more flexible experience.

But if you teach at CU Coventry – a subsidiary of Coventry University – “no frills” means you get paid much less than your colleagues at the university, your teaching year is much longer, your workload heavier, and you have no access to a decent occupational pension. About 40% of the teachers are paid by the hour and this “sweating of the assets” means there is a heavy turnover of staff.

All of which helps to explain why these teachers are fighting hard for a union. Their colleagues at Coventry University can be in a number of unions that are recognised by the university. Appallingly though, the board of governors at CU Coventry decided recently to resist any approaches from unions at the college.

CU Coventry’s “no frills” model is highly profitable. In 2016 it registered post-tax profits of £3.8m which it then gift-aided to its sole shareholder, Coventry University. The CEO of CU College is the pro-vice-chancellor of Coventry University and the board includes two deputy vice-chancellors and the university secretary.

The university sector is currently beset by scandals over senior pay and perks, and it is right that a light is finally being shone on the murky world of remuneration committees. It is also time to take a proper look at the role of subsidiary companies and how they treat their staff.

Sally Hunt,
General secretary, University and College Union


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