London Metropolitan University looks set to become the first British university taken over by a private company, reports have indicated.
Our management, over the last year, has gone out of its way to tout our university services to the private sector—everything except teaching, research and the vice chancellor’s office.
They are pushing a so-called “shared service” model, and are at pains to deny it is either outsourcing or privatisation.
Bosses argue that “the shared-service facility will be 100 percent owned by London Met”. They claim that “over time, as we scale-up the service, other participatory universities will be invited to join”.
Management’s emphasis on a “shared service” is key. With their VAT exemption, shared service initiatives effectively allow university services to be outsourced and privatised by the back door. London Met will create a holding company and then buy in a private company to manage and run the service.
The bidding for a £74 million contract to run IT, libraries, student services, consultancy and careers advice is now taking place. Private contractors BT, Capita and Wipro are all in the bid.
The costs of shared service models could easily leave the university in a far more vulnerable financial position. The supposed “savings” are explicitly based on cutting staff terms and conditions.
Malcolm Gillies, London Met vice chancellor, said, “this model would cut costs by up to 50 percent over five years” and that universities “should not feather-bed staff costs if we cannot provide them cheaper than private universities”.
As Jeremy Corbyn, our local MP, has pointed out, “The only way the contractors make a profit is by cutting jobs and wages—that is the essence of privatisation.”
Max Watson, chair of the Unison union at London Met Unison, says, “Unison members will never agree to the wide-scale privatisation of our university. We shall do everything within our means to stop this nightmare from becoming a reality.”
The concerted campaign by Unison with the support of the UCU lecturers union has already pushed back management’s timeline to announce preferred bidders from March to October.
The UCU passed motions at our recent congress pledging to resist privatisation initiatives by all means including industrial action. Unison are stepping up the campaign and preparing to ballot for industrial action unless management abandon this disastrous initiative.
And at London Met UCU, we pledged to do all we can to provide effective solidarity in the event of such action. That will include calling on our students—also victims of privatisation—and all who want to keep our universities public to do likewise.
Mark Campbell is a lecturer at London Met and member of the UCU union’s national executive