On Warwick’s Outsourcing (a few updates)

A few days ago news surfaced of the University of Warwick’s plan to outsource some of its teaching to a company called Teach Higher. According to the website Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE):

Hourly paid academic staff… will no longer be employed directly by the university but by a separate employer: ‘Teach Higher’. Teach Higher has been set up by Warwick University-owned ‘Warwick Employment Group’, and is about to be piloted at Warwick University. But it is a national company, which intends to be rolled out across UK universities… Teach Higher is about to be piloted with six Departments at Warwick; Sociology, Philosophy, Politics and International Studies, Mathematics, Chemistry and Modern Foreign Languages. This academic year hourly paid academics will be recruited via Teach Higher only in order to carry out exam invigilation. They plan to pilot it with all other academic work (e.g. teaching) from October 2015 onwards.

FACE raises concerns about this.

Teach Higher represents a significant threat not only to working conditions of casualised academic staff, but also to the possibilities for organisation and resistance… Because staff employed by Teach Higher will no longer be employed directly by the University, this means they will lose union recognition, will not be covered by national pay bargaining etc., and, crucially, will not be able to participate in national industrial action voted for by UCU in Higher Education.

I contacted Matthew Nudds, head of the Department of Philosophy at Warwick, to see how his department would be affected and whether they were consulted about participating in the plan. He writes:

The new organisation will take over the management of contracts for hourly paid staff that are currently the responsibility of individual departments. In philosophy, the only people we employ on such contracts are Graduate Teaching Assistants who teach seminar classes that back up the lectures taught by academic staff (actually that might not be strictly true: we sometimes pay UG and PG students for doing things like helping out at open days). We try to give all our graduates an opportunity to do such teaching and view it as good for them – as part of their professional development and as a way to earn some money – and good for us, but it means that there is quite a lot of administration involved in setting up contracts, managing timesheets, and so on, which at the moment is done in the department. Teach Higher will take that over, but it will also ensure that GTAs have the same terms and conditions whichever department they are working for, and are paid the same for doing the same work (my sense is that at the moment there is quite a lot of variation across departments – some departments pay extra for preparation and marking and some don’t, for example, and I’m not sure we all pay the same for invigilating, and that’s rightly viewed as unfair). It is also likely to reduce the mistakes that can occur when there are so many different contracts, for doing what is basically the same job or jobs, across the institution.

So, all in all, I view this as a good thing. The philosophy department has been consulted, and we are happy with what is being proposed, at least as I understand it. I asked whether our GTAs would be worse off because of the changes, and have been assured that they won’t be. It won’t make any difference to how we select GTAs to teach, nor to what we ask them to teach, how we mentor them, or to how we monitor their teaching.  

On his understanding, the outsourcing to Teach Higher will neither increase the number of temporary contract (casualised) employees nor worsen their working conditions.

UPDATE (4/8/15): See the link that Daniel Brunson posts in his comment below. It appears that Teach Higher is offering to pay associate tutors £5/hour, which is less than the minimum wage. Anyone have an explanation for this? (It may not be a real ad, but instead a dummy ad or placeholder. I don’t know.) UPDATE 2: via Twitter, Maarten Steenhagen informs me that the ad linked to in Brunson’s comment appears to be either an old ad, a mistake, or a doctoring, as the same job description appears on an ad from the University of Leicester offering £20.95 per hour. Note: Brunson is not responsible for the image in the linked post!

UPDATE 3 (4/9/15): Warwick University has released an “update on TeachHigher” that includes some clarifications, including:

Discussions over the last few months clearly established that TeachHigher should be constituted as an academic services department. That has been done and staff and students will now find it listed amongst the other academic services departments on the University’s website. Some staff and students may have seen in some social media a reference to a suggestion that this would be an outsourced service, an interpretation taken from the minutes of a Board of Graduate Studies meeting. In fact hourly teaching and research will never be outsourced at Warwick and TeachHigher will start and remain as an academic services department at Warwick.

UPDATE 4 (4/15/15): A look at the various claims made about TeachHigher at Warwick, here.

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