From the TUC

Professors of the World Unite

09 May 2009, By

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) held a conference today about ‘Challenging the Global Market in Education’. The backdrop to the event was the signing of multiple international agreements with unions representing higher education in many countries around the world.

As well as privatisation, the higher education world is facing all the same issues of globalisation that the rest of the economy is. Of course, international travel has always been a feature of ligher education. Professors have always travelled widely as part of a global labour market and their students have always been mobile too.

But the scale has increased hugely and new developments are the intervention of multinational enterprises into delivery, and widespread offshoring – such as UK universities opening up abroad (a phenomenon previously confined largely to US universities opening finishing schools in Europe).

The agreements cover issues such as campaigning for union rights as well as academic freedom and standards, exchanging information about terms and conditions, bargaining to produce a common employment framework which raises wages rather than allow a race to the bottom, and provisions to retain members who travel in search of work.

What I talked about on the panel session this afternoon was the necessity not just to sign such agreements, but to implement them – and widespread knowledge about them among union members is a vital element of that. And I also made the case for working through national trade union centres and global union federations (UCU belongs to Education International, whose Deputy General Secretary Monique Fouilhoux spoke this morning) to maximise our influence over global institutions like the IMF and World Bank, whose anti-union and pro-privatisation policies are under increasing challenge.

Agreements were signed today with UCU sister unions in Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, as well as Australia, Canada and Israel. Negotiations are still underway with unions in Italy, Latvia and Spain, as well as Zimbabwe. Everyone agreed it was vital to work with unions in the south as well as developed countries, but this is still a huge achievement.