We have reached agreement to bring a peaceful conclusion to the student occupation that has been taking place at the University of Warwick since 2 December 2016. Here is my letter to the protesters following engagement between the University, the Students’ Union and the protestors to reach this conclusion.
I am writing to confirm Warwick’s position on the issues on which you sought to mount a protest through your occupation of the Slate since 2 December 2016. I hope to continue to engage with you through the Students’ Union in order to further progress resolution to the issues we have discussed with you. As we reach a point in our engagement at which you agree to bring a peaceful conclusion to your occupation, I am happy to publish this letter online as a statement of our agreed intentions.
Teaching Excellence Framework and Higher Education and Research Bill
You have emphasised your opposition to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This is in line with the campaign in 2015/16 led by Warwick Students’ Union sabbatical officers and the University Assembly motion opposing HE reform.
I recognise that your opposition to the TEF does not arise from disagreement with the fundamental proposition that universities should provide high quality teaching. Indeed, we all agree with that principle. It is because the proposed metrics will not measure that. TEF will not do what it says on the tin; it will not measure teaching excellence. However, the University of Warwick, along with most other UK higher education institutions, will submit to TEF. This is because of the government’s proposal that the TEF might be used to decide which universities would be able to recruit international students. Failure to make a submission to the TEF represents an existential threat to the diverse and global contribution that our international students make to the very essence of our university. At Warwick, we do not believe that the two should be linked.
But TEF is not the only problem facing higher education. The Higher Education and Research Bill signals a far more significant threat. Key challenges within the Bill include who will be granted degree awarding powers and on what basis, and very real questions about the autonomy of universities.
This Bill has just started its progress through the House of Lords. In the initial debate, over 60 Lords argued against elements of the Bill. There is, I hope, the very real prospect of significant changes. I am currently meeting with key influencers and decision-makers to seek to secure some of those changes, as are many others. I am willing to publish a press release setting out my concerns on HE reform and increasing marketization, which will also reflect the concerns articulated by a wide range of staff and students to make public these views. Between now and January, as the Bill goes through its parliamentary stages, is a critical time for us all to focus on the Bill itself.
I recognise the genuine concern expressed regarding status of our hourly-paid teaching staff. We have been working to standardise the terms and conditions of hourly-paid teachers to ensure that they are treated consistently and fairly across departments. Our sessional teaching project has involved input from hourly-paid staff and from the Students’ Union Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer. We are also exploring models that have been adopted elsewhere for possible adoption at Warwick. We recognise there is more to do.
In order to ensure that the concerns of our hourly-paid teaching staff are most effectively heard I am happy to commit to organising a meeting with the Trades Unions during January to discuss formal TU recognition agreements for these staff. I hope that this will provide a formal mechanism to consider the specific issues that have been highlighted in relation to casualisation. I have also agreed to meet with members of Warwick Anti-Casualisation (WAC) in January to begin a process of dialogue on their concerns, which will involve the Students’ Union as well as the University and College Union (UCU) once the recognition agreement is in place.
In December 2014, we saw incidents on campus, most notably those at Senate House on 3 December, where there were accusations, and evidence, of intimidation and violence inflicted on members of our community. There were subsequent court cases, and an examination by the Independent Police Complaints Commission which is still not fully resolved. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on those processes, but what I do want to comment on is the reaction of the University at that time.
I know that the formal statement issued by the University on 4 December caused enormous upset across our community, because it placed blame on one side of the dispute. There was ample evidence on social media of significant distress and concern amongst our students and staff, which continues to contribute to further demonstrations on our campus.
These events, and the University's initial reaction to them, caused significant shock. I do know that. I was on University business in Singapore at the time and was profoundly dismayed by the messages and reports I saw. The distress suffered by our community had a very real impact on me.
Given all this, as Vice-Chancellor, reflecting on those dark days, I want to express two points. First, I very deeply regret the violence that we witnessed and the great upset amongst the students and staff involved, and the community beyond. I never want to be in a situation again in which CS spray or a tazer is deployed on our campus. Second, I regret that in the University's communications that immediately followed what took place, the principle of neutrality fundamental to our University community was evidently broken.
We are now committed to removing the injunction put in place after the events of December 2014. In closing this letter I do hear the call for increased urgency for the resolution of these matters. I am committed to continuing to pursue deeper engagement and ongoing dialogue between the University, Students' Union and the breadth of our student body. There are lessons to learn, and I hope that we are collectively starting to do that.