American education dream has become government's nightmare

29 May 2014 | last updated: 18 April 2016

The general secretary of UCU today launched a scathing attack on the government's lamentable record on education.

In her keynote at the UCU annual congress, Sally Hunt accused ministers of being so blinded by ideology that their bundled £9,000 a year student fees risk costing the public more than the system they inherited.

She also drew attention to the current scandal where for-profit higher education colleges are raking in millions of pounds of public money with lamentable standards, poor quality checks and what appears to be an optional attendance policy for students.

'We owe it to our members to hold the politicians to account for the mess they have made. And of course for the solutions they now offer to clear up that mess.'Speaking about the government's misguided efforts to allow more private colleges into the higher education sector she will say 'David Willetts's American dream has become an English nightmare.'

Sally Hunt said: 'Lecturers sometimes joke that this would be an easy job without the students. But some of the for-profit colleges at the centre of the scandal about poor standards and little attendance by students, this seems to have been taken literally.

'Lectures with literally no one in them except the tutor. Paid for by the taxpayer. UCU warned time and again that for-profit education would lead to the kind of free for all we saw in the America and the many problems it created. Poor attendance, huge debts, low standards.

'David Willetts's American dream has become an English nightmare. His ideological adherence to privatising colleges and universities is a disaster for education. But it is also creating massive instability across our system.

'The Coalition once claimed to have settled the funding of our colleges and universities for a generation. But the reality is that it is now a disastrous, unstable mess. Despite the tripling of tuition fees, experts now think we are not far away from the point when this new system will actually cost the public purse more than the old one.

'People cannot commit to their employer when they have no job security. People cannot plan their lives when they don't know where the next contract is coming from. And people cannot produce their best work when they are frightened.'

'Meanwhile the further education loans system has been completely abandoned for apprenticeships and is running woefully under target for other adults. All this means funding must be an issue at the general election.

'We owe it to our members to hold the politicians to account for the mess they have made. And of course for the solutions they now offer to clear up that mess.'

She also lamented the rise of insecure contracts in colleges and universities. Speaking about the proliferation of casual contracts, she said: 'We have a government that seems to revel in the creation of insecurity at work.

'Zero-hours contracts used as a threat against the unemployed. Fair access to justice has been destroyed by the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees. Wages have been kept low while pension contributions and prices have shot up.

'This low pay, no rights culture has become the norm for countless employers in our country. And that includes, to their shame, far too many of our colleges and universities too. People cannot commit to their employer when they have no job security. People cannot plan their lives when they don't know where the next contract is coming from. And people cannot produce their best work when they are frightened.'

In a wide-ranging speech, Sally Hunt also spoke about being diagnosed with chronic ulcerative colitis, which kept her away from work for six months of last year.

A full copy of the speech is available from the UCU press office.

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