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90% of Essex University staff oppose privatisation plan

20 June 2008

Staff at Essex University have delivered a massive rejection of the university's plans to set up a joint venture to teach students with private company INTO.

In an open referendum, hosted by UCU, 90% of staff voting said they believed that any 'partnership' with INTO would damage the university.

INTO has a track record of paying staff less and signing deals that consign land over to property speculators while locking universities into highly disadvantageous 35 year leases. UCU members in INTO ventures have raised concerns about the quality of INTO provision. INTO's chairman Andrew Colin has admitted that 'rates of pay are probably worse' at his ventures, while INTO does not recognise unions. INTO failed to declare its company accounts on time last year and made a loss of £1.7 million in 2006.

The referendum is a blow for the university's plans, indicating that the Vice Chancellor has failed to convince staff that the joint venture would do anything other than damage their university.

It is also a blow for INTO, which is trying to sign a series of deals with universities in the face of growing opposition from university staff.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'I urge the vice-chancellor to draw back from plans which have little or no support among the staff and students of the university. This vote is yet another indication that UCU is right to oppose the creeping privatisation of higher education. Unless the university starts to listen to its staff, it is the beginning not the end of our campaigning at Essex and elsewhere against the privatisation of learning. We are not prepared to watch our universities risk hard won reputations and future financial health by signing capital and revenue over to what are in effect private sector property developers. We've seen the disastrous consequences of this kind of privatisation across the public sector and will fight it wherever it rears its head.'

Essex UCU vice-president Steve Sangwine said: 'This referendum shows that staff at Essex have deep concerns about anything involving INTO. This is a company that is known to pay below university rates and its proposals represent a serious financial risk for the university. If any proposal involving INTO were to go before the university's Council in the wake of this vote, it would show that the senior staff of the university do not care about the views and opinions of the hard-working front-line staff of the university. We are calling on the vice-chancellor to listen to the growing chorus of opposition from staff across the university and put an end to this proposal here and now.

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