University cuts must be fought

On 23rd July, Queen’s University’s (QUB) senate met and agreed an academic plan for the next five years which will see 103 staff being made redundant. The most dramatic effect of the cuts will be the closure of the German department, but all the university’s schools will be effected in some way. These cuts come despite QUB actually receiving an increase in funding of 2% for teaching and learning and 7.7% for research. The university management wish to shift the emphasis away from frontline teaching and local-oriented research towards international research, which lends more status within the prestigious Russell Group. Their stated aim is to make Queen’s one of the top 100 universities in the world within the next 5 years. The idea that this can be achieved while cutting staff and resources is entirely false.

The current management has a track record of cutting teaching staff and privatising support services, leading to worse conditions for workers and a poorer education for students. The latest round of cuts has rightly angered workers and students alike, particularly those effected by the closure of the German department. And no wonder, when recent revelations about the management’s spending sprees are taken into account!

While arguing that students should have to pay fees of £10,000 per year for the ‘privilege’ of third level education, Vice Chancellor Peter Gregson thinks nothing of charging night’s in luxury five-star hotels to his expense account. University funds also pay for his membership of the exclusive Athenaeum ‘gentlemen’s club’ in London. Meanwhile, £43,000 was spent sending delegations of Queen’s management to confer honorary degrees on foreign dignitaries.

The Assembly Committee on Employment and Learning, which is responsible for overseeing QUB funding and expenditure, summoned Professor Gregson to outline the reasons for these cuts, but in reality took no action whatsoever. The Stormont politicians ultimately accept the mantra of cuts, privatisation and running education as a business.

Staff and students have organised protests against the closure of the German department. This is positive, but unfortunately the campaign has largely been limited to lobbying the politicians. To stop these cuts, determined action is needed from the trade unions, linking up with students to fight in their common interests. Socialists have an important role to play in building such a movement, one capable not just of defeating these cuts, but of reversing the attacks of recent years and fighting for decent, free, public education.

Daniel Waldron, 10 August 2009
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