Unions sign historic international deals to protect academic freedom and staff conditions

9 May 2009 | last updated: 11 December 2015

In an historic move, UCU has join forces with half a million academics from around the world to create a series of new international agreements that will help safeguard academic standards at home and abroad.

UCU, together with unions from North America, Europe, Australasia and Africa will sign deals at UCU's international conference - Challenging the global market in education - at the Institute of Education. The agreements make specific references to protecting academic freedom and monitoring the work of private companies in higher education.
 
The unions are concerned at a growing international market in tertiary education that has seen universities in the UK, America, Australia and Canada open lucrative campuses in the Middle East and East Asia, and say they will use the agreements to hold institutions to account for their overseas ventures.
 
Signatories will report abuses like those at the Singapore campus of Australia's James Cook University, where a lecturer was suspended and dragged before a court of law for wearing a pro-democracy T-shirt. The conference will commit unions to discouraging staff and the academic community from working and sharing research with institutions with bad overseas records.
 
The agreements will also allow the unions to share intelligence and work on joint campaigns against private companies who are looking to set up public-private partnerships with universities to recruit international students. The unions oppose the creation of a two-tier workforce in higher education and believe that in-house alternatives carry far less risk to the reputation, academic standards and financial well-being of universities. The private firm, INTO, for example, has been overwhelmingly rejected by staff at every UK university that has been polled on whether or not the institution should work with the company.
 
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, will say today: 'Higher education is becoming a huge global business and it is essential that staff, wherever they happen to be working in the world, are given the same academic freedoms and conditions of service. These unprecedented agreements will allow UCU to work closely with our sister unions in holding universities to account for their overseas campuses. It will allow staff to record any abuses, and for us to report them to the academic community. Institutions who allow academic sweatshops to be set up in their name will face a boycott from the best minds and will struggle to find research valuable partners.
 
'These agreements will also allow us to concentrate resources more effectively, especially when it comes to campaigning against private companies. The likes of INTO and Navitas have global strategies and we need to develop similarly international plans for dealing with them.'


Notes to editors
In the UK alone the University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, Bedfordshire University, Leeds Metropolitan University, and Queen Mary University have all established links and joint degrees with China. The University of Liverpool was the first to open a foreign branch campus, in Suzhou Industrial Park (which attracts more foreign direct investment than any other zone in the People's Republic of China), and advertised entry-level positions with salaries as low as $750 per month.

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