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Staff slam privatisation plans at Queen's University Belfast

12 December 2008 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Staff at Queen's University Belfast have delivered a damning verdict on management proposals to privatise the recruitment and teaching of international students.

In an online poll hosted by UCU staff were asked what effect they thought a joint venture with the private firm INTO would have on the academic reputation of the college.

  • 95% of those voting said a joint venture with INTO would adversely affect Queen's academic reputation
  • 96% said they thought such a venture would damage the university's reputation as an employer

The company has already been rejected by four English universities and its plans to move into Northern Ireland appear to have been hit by the strong message from the staff. The poll at Queen's is the third the union has run at institutions where joint ventures with INTO have been proposed. In every case where staff have been consulted, they have overwhelmingly rejected INTO. Previous polls at Essex University and Goldsmiths College revealed similar results.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, has written to the Senate asking them to listen to the growing discontent among staff in the sector. She has also called on Queen's to join the growing number of universities who are turning away from INTO and exploring in-house options instead.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This result shows that whenever and wherever university staff are asked they are overwhelmingly against these joint ventures which privatise academic departments and reduce staff working conditions. I have written to the Senate clearly outlining UCU's opposition to the proposed joint venture and urged Queen's to explore the options to keep and expand in-house provision in the recruitment and teaching of international students.
'We will continue to campaign against the privatisation of higher education because we are not prepared to watch our universities risk their hard-won reputations and future financial health by signing capital and revenue over to what are in effect private sector property developers.'
The union has campaigned vigorously against INTO as it believes privatisation will mean a worse deal for staff and students. UCU has raised concerns that staff in particular would get a raw deal if INTO were to take over the running of educational courses in universities, especially following the admission by its Chairman earlier this year that INTO's rates of pay for teaching staff are 'probably worse' than in their host universities.
The union's concerns include:

  • INTO's chairman, Andrew Colin, is on record as saying that 'rates of pay are probably worse' at his Joint Ventures than those for equivalent posts in the partner universities. In 2000, he was also quoted in the Times Higher Education Supplement saying 'there is nothing to stop undergraduate teaching being outsourced'.
  • In May this year, Colin revealed that the company's accounts showed losses of £1.7 million. 
  • INTO's Joint Venture at Glasgow Caledonian University has set itself a target of recruiting 120 students this year. It has recruited 11 so far.

The four universities that have now rejected joint ventures with INTO are Oxford Brookes, Essex University, Royal Holloway and Goldsmiths College in the University of London.