The Education International President Susan Hopgood inaugurated the first ever Further and Higher Education Caucus at the EI 7th World Congress on 20 July in Ottawa, Canada.
“In the past you have met separately, but today you are united,” Hopgood stressed, adding that for far too long we have allowed arbitrary divisions to separate us as academics and non-academics, support staff and researchers.
These divisions are not noticed by the forces seeking to “casualise” and privatise our sectors and make “fixed-term contracts the norm, tenure a distant memory and competitive university rankings our only indication of quality,” she deplored.
Saying that Education International (EI) and its affiliates “have not spent these last four years idly watching and describing our decline,” she reminded the audience that they have strengthened as a sector and continued to grow.
However, she noted, further and higher education “has its fair share of bad ideas that won’t die,” and research is important for education unions to mobilise and organise.
Hopgood went on to say that there is a need for both a clear political vision of the world we want and an action oriented approach for realising it: “We must be the unified, clear defenders of our members’ rights in the face of serious challenges.”
Grahame McCulloch, EI Executive Board member from the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia underlined this event as a great opportunity for education unions to share experiences.
He also thanked participants for the opportunity given to him to serve as FHE representative at global level on the EI Executive Board.
The key speaker for this Further and Higher Education (FHE) caucus was David Robinson from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
There is a “false promise,” he underlined, that the existing shortage of skills for the job market and economy is due to the failure of education systems.
He later introduced participants to resolutions related to FHE to be debated during the EI Congress, entitled “Unite for Quality Education”.
Education International and its affiliates have developed policy on massive open online courses.
He finally acknowledged “the challenge of reaching within, in our own unions, and beyond, in our communities”.
A passionate high-level panel discussion about how central development cooperation work is for strengthening unions’ capacity to organise and mobilise for their members’ rights, and the common good, also took place in the morning. It included David Dzatsunga from the Zimbabwean union COLAZ, Yamile Socolovsky from the Argentinian union CONADU, Christian Addai-Poku from the Ghanaian union NAGRAT.
Then later in a day, a roundtable event continued the discussion on fixed contracts, including speakers Marlis Tepe union GEW, Caroline Senneville union FNEEQ-CSN, and Elizabeth Lawrence union UCU.
Fixed terms and hourly paid contracts are an issue for all members of a union, noted Dr. Lawrence, the President of the University and College Union (UCU) in the United Kingdom (UK) on fixed terms and hourly paid.
She said it is “critical” that all members, in the UK and internationally, join together in this struggle to stop these fixed contracts. This support could have various benefits, some of which include: union participation, quality in education, increased job security and rate of salary, and dignity at work.
In 2013-14, she detailed, an estimated 35.7 percent out of 195,245 UK academic staff were employed on fixed term contracts, with another 75,050 employed on an ‘atypical’ contract, which includes hourly wages. The idea of “zero hour contracts” are a concern as well, she said. Based on the UCU Freedom of Information Survey, as given by Lawrence during the meeting, approximately 53 percent of university and 61 percent of further education colleges used this type of contract.
Lawrence demanded that a discussion among those full-time and fixed term contract employees on human rights, addressing inequalities taking place in the workplace.