Why we need to Reclaim Our University
UCU engaged with the restructuring process being carried out by the University in response to the cut in DEL funding. However we have grown increasingly alarmed that there appears to be no overall plan for how the restructuring is being conducted across the University, no vision for what kind of institution the University is now or will become when this continual restructuring ends. Because there was no strategy as to how Ulster would maintain its relative strengths. Those strengths have been undermined and the quality of the “student experience” has greatly deteriorated. Across all Faculties, staff accepted that they must have heavier teaching loads but they are concerned that the high levels of pastoral care for mature students, for those with particular needs and those coming from more disadvantaged backgrounds, for which Ulster has had an excellent reputation, will not be possible with such high student-teacher ratios – one of the reasons we’ve slipped so far down the league tables.
There has been little or no meaningful ‘consultation’ with the unions. Rather, ‘consultation’ has meant the unions merely being told what is happening. Following consultation with members in each area, UCU made detailed, written responses to restructuring proposals in the hope of helping to shape the restructuring in a way that will maintain the University’s strengths as a Higher Education Institution for the region. However, over an 18 month period of making such written responses, we have not had any written answers from the University and the verbal responses have ignored the points raised by staff.
The University of Ulster has outsourced support services such as catering, cleaning and security. Information Technology (ISD) is being restructured with the objective of outsourcing up to 80% of its work. This business model has failed in other public services and is much more expensive in the long term. The provision and security of an IT infrastructure, of student records, academic information and audio-visual support to lecturers should be a core university service as it is critical to the University’s operation. The failure of the ‘print, scan, copy’ contract and its huge unpopularity with the students leads us to believe that such a major change in the provision of services to students and other staff, should not be introduced without full consultation with staff and students and without a full and open debate across the University about the merits and demerits of such proposals. Similarly, restructuring in ADL has potential to impact seriously on staff and students while Estates is also facing restructuring and staff made redundant from Communications and Media are leaving at the end of November.
This is why UCU and the other unions started the campaign to Reclaim Our University. We need to go back to the days when staff and students had a real say in how the University works and when academics like the Deans of Faculties had more say than the University Officers who appear to care only about bottom lines, and not about the quality of education we can provide.
UCU wants to ensure that the University of Ulster remains a top-class Higher Education Institution which serves the needs of a wide variety of students, provides a broad range of courses and contributes to the development of cultural, intellectual, economic and business life across the entire region of Northern Ireland. If you want to help us in doing this, you can email UCUcampaignsUU@gmail.com or contact any one of the committee.