This morning, staff and students fighting for pensions and against marketisation woke to the surprising news that Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, had emailed staff to confirm the University was reversing its position on pensions.
This was all the more spectacular given that only yesterday Oxford’s famed academic self-governance was derailed by 21 ‘loyalists’ who vetoed a debate on the USS issue. However, when the dons left the room in protest – and passed a motion by an overwhelming majority (418-2) to reverse the university’s position in an informal (and obviously non-binding) meeting outside – trouble was up. On Twitter, dons – including senior professors – began to bemoan the destruction of Oxford democracy, and a number began to openly discuss if and how it would be possible to mobilise to remove their vice-chancellor.
The ‘non-debate’ made the national press. Richardson had to act to survive. And she did so.
Universities UK now stands almost alone. Vice-chancellors up and down the country have reversed positions, and the initial consultation survey figure was proved to have been inflated by the inappropriate inclusion of Oxford and Cambridge colleges as if they were themselves universities.
Some VCs have begun to characterise Universities UK – which was once simply the ‘Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals’ – as a rogue organisation that they cannot influence.
And that’s without getting into the organisation’s idiotic antics on Twitter.
A botched (put generously, some have said worse) consultation, a contemptuous approach to universities and their staff, an attempt to use negotiations as a ruse to end strike action, and rob staff of their only leverage. And a series of PR disasters that make the eyes water.
That’s the measure of Alastair Jarvis’ tenure as chief executive of Universities UK, and that’s why, now, he must resign.
Following Oxford’s change of position, Universities UK’s plaintive pleas to institutions yesterday to hold the line are worthless. Jarvis has presided over a UUK characterised by sheer, unadulterated incompetence and has triggered a dispute of epic proportions within the higher education sector.
When people look for someone to blame for the current disruption, they shouldn’t look at academics trying to save their livelihoods or rescue the university. They should look at Alistair Jarvis and Dame Janet Beer.
In addition to Jarvis, Beer should undoubtedly also step down and discussions should take place on what body should replace Universities UK, which is clearly in no sense ‘the voice of the Universities’ it claims to be. On a small scale, Labour could signal their intentions if Liverpool’s Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham, former PPS to Jeremy Corbyn, dismisses Beer as his higher education adviser. Given Labour’s steadfast support in the dispute and Beer’s leading role in orchestrating it, she can no longer credibly continue to advise a senior Labour figure.
With Oxford gone, one of the last linchpins in the UUK ranks is removed. Cambridge will now come under intense pressure to do the same. None of this would have been possible without the sustained strike action by UCU members and the courageous solidarity of students, especially those who’ve gone into occupation across the county.
At this critical juncture, UCU must not ask but demand the continuance of the status quo in pension rights, and also demand the resignation of Alistair Jarvis and the reconstitution of UUK.
Because the university deserves better.