MARGARET HODGE, minister for lifelong learning and higher education, succeeded in alienating every single delegate at the university lecturers' AUT union conference last week. She enraged people by insisting on calling students 'customers'.
Delegates held up placards saying things like 'No more casualisation'. When questioned Hodge replied, to the fury of the conference, that casualisation was 'a matter between you and your employers', and that it had nothing to do with the government.
Student numbers are set to continue expanding at 1 percent a year for the next decade. Employers predict a further 17,000 staff will be needed to support this expansion. The AUT says more like 22,000 will be needed. On present performance most will be appointed on fixed term and casual conditions.
Margaret Hodge's speech succeeded in uniting conference behind a more radical agenda than would otherwise have been adopted. An emergency motion was passed that dissociated the union from the government's lifelong learning strategy, as it is tied to a limited role for universities. Other motions passed included one calling for European Union sanctions against Israel and affiliation to the Anti Nazi League.
A meeting is also due to be held in September to consider industrial action over pay.