University language centre privatisation breaches equality requirements

23 February 2007

UCU today called on the university funding body HEFCE to immediately investigate a breach of its own guidance to universities on how to implement new statutory equality duties.

UCU believes that Newcastle University arranged to transfer its English Language teaching services to a private company 'INTO' without having conducted adequate 'impact assessments' on the implications of the transfer for staff and students.

Equality impact assessments are now legally required of public sector bodies when they change policies, to ensure that staff are not adversely affected due to their race or disability. In education it is also necessary to show that ethnic minority students and disabled students would not be adversely affected by changes to policy, for example if the privatised service was somehow inferior to its predecessor.

According to UCU, Newcastle University failed to satisfy equality legislation requirements for a 'robust consultation', has little evidence of data used to inform the university of likely outcomes from the policy change and did not complete the impact assessment in 'timely fashion' before the change of policy and the transfer of the language services.

UCU has consulted the Commission for Racial Equality on the issue and the CRE confirmed that they would be seeking further clarification regarding the processes undertaken.

Concerns are also being expressed by UCU about the transfer of language services to 'INTO' from Exeter University.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at UCU said 'It is clear that there are significant equality issues arising from these PFI style deals as the majority of lecturers are women and the students are overwhelmingly from ethnic minorities. It is also not clear what the impact of hiving off services to private companies may have on disabled students. What we do know is that pay cuts are planned and that cost cutting often means a diminished service.

'UCU (NATFHE) won an important landmark case over the treatment of part-time lecturers in language schools. We do not want to see a return of cavalier treatment by employers.

'The Newcastle University case raises questions about the extent to which HEFCE guidance on equality is being followed. It is a matter which they should investigate.'

Last updated: 14 December 2015