UCU elections
Taking action in higher education

Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds)

Election address

I have been an academic and Union member since 1992, working in Business, Cultural Studies and Sociology Departments and am currently Professor of Gender and Culture at the University of Leeds. Attending my local comprehensive, I wasn't a great fan of school. But I was lucky to attend college (to study a BTech Diploma in Electrical Engineering) at a time when FE was still properly funded and that experience, being taught like an adult, opened my eyes to education's possibilities. I subsequently received a BA from Keele University and PhD from Staffordshire University and have since worked in both the pre- and post '92 university sectors.

Until five years ago I experienced universities, old and new, as collegiate, if sometimes paternalistic, environments where there was mostly mutual respect between academic and support staff and their managers. However, the hard-nosed management culture introduced alongside the £9k fees has shaken those of us who experienced another professional culture, and witnessed the creeping marketization of HE- something my FE colleagues have already seen.

In my own teaching the numbers of international students have increased dramatically to unprecedented levels, but with little or no corresponding investment in staff supporting these students. Increasingly new colleagues are on precarious contracts making plans for their future careers, homes and families, as well as planning teaching and research development, impossible. Teaching workloads have skyrocketed for both new and existing staff, alongside intensified REF pressures. And amidst all this we now have to fight for what's left of our pay and pensions and against gender and 'race' pay gaps that would look bad in merchant banks!

Whilst many problems are caused by the privatisation of HE, and the cutting of the capital grant, others are caused by poor sector management and excessive building programmes. Some senior managers imported from other sectors have little understanding of the value of academic work. From their point of view cheap, casualized labour, widespread use of involuntary teaching-only contracts, or technological substitutes, makes good business sense - excepting a few star professors. And they reward themselves for these 'cost savings' with huge pay and benefits packages.

Persuasive arguments will not convince such managers that research is a collective and collaborative enterprise or that excellent teaching needs continuous updating through new research and scholarship. We will have to fight hard to protect our pay, conditions and pensions. And I will fight against this degrading and deskilling of our profession to protect it for future generations of students, and bring expertise on gender and sexuality and commitment to LGBTQI equality.

I am an unaffiliated UCU member but support Ed Yates and Matilda Fitzmaurice for UCU UK-elected NEC member HE (North East).

 

Last updated: 30 January 2020