Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/612/8852
Oppose university cuts - defend jobs
Universities today are under attack. The Socialist has reported in recent weeks on attempts by bosses at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to cut 127 members of the university's support staff. Meanwhile, Manchester's newspaper, Student Direct, carried a report in December on the "involuntary redundancy" forced on Professor Hillel Steiner by university bosses, despite widespread protest from students and colleagues alike.
More generally, there has been nationwide concern about the introduction of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) - a New Labour proposal to measure and assess research quality and publications.
The REF proposals have received widespread condemnation from academics throughout the country and the University and College Union (UCU) has been very critical. A petition opposing them received over 17,500 signatures. But the government refuses to listen.
One of the proposals contained within the REF is that 25% of its assessment is to be based on the economic and social impact of research. It is not clear how such a policy might be implemented, as the impact of a particular research project can rarely be predicted in advance.
The UCU has expressed concern, therefore, that research funding bodies would become increasingly averse to investing in research that was not guaranteed to produce a solid return on investment, thereby undermining research across all disciplines.
Academics fear that the impact proposal is intended to ensure that research funding will be used to serve the interests of big business and government policy, rather than to advance human understanding.
Against this backdrop of discontent, bosses at the University of Manchester are already preparing for the introduction of the REF. In September, all members of academic staff were given just three weeks to submit their complete research profiles.
Bosses were unsympathetic when staff experienced technical problems, meaning that many researchers were unable to complete the task. As reported in the national press, UCU members at Manchester are very angry about the situation and are now boycotting aspects of the exercise.
The hard line taken by bosses has caused concern that the results could be used to change lecturers' contracts of employment, to block promotion and ultimately as selection criteria for redundancy.
At Manchester University, the performance of researchers and lecturers is already assessed through well-established peer reviews and appraisals. Staff and the union branch are keen to protect that system.
In 2008, the Research Assessment Exercise (predecessor to the REF) was used by universities to justify the closure of departments, the sacking of staff, and the narrowing of research opportunities.
In a period of fundamental financial crisis in higher education, and in the run-up to a general election in which all three main parties have pledged to wage war on public spending, the REF will provide bosses with a tool for cutting costs.
The UCU insists that the use of results from the REF must not be used to influence job cuts, promotions or pay.
The Socialist Party calls on all staff and students to oppose all attempts to commercialise research and to cut staff at universities.
In The Socialist 17 February 2010:
Socialist Party campaigns
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party news and analysis
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis