Following a demonstration of over 300 staff and students in opposition to the privatisation of services at Sussex University; a large group of people have occupied the conference centre on the top floor of Bramber House.
In May 2012, the University announced its unilateral decision to sell off most services provided on campus, over 10% of its workforce, to private investors. This announcement came with no student consultation, and next to no consultation with the 235 workers and trade-unions concerned. In the months since, management has failed to offer anymore than a series of “negotiations” and piecemeal Q&A sessions, which only occurred after repeated requests by students and staff, and the conclusions of which it repeatedly proceeded to ignore. The biggest effort from management to secure outside approval was in the form of a report from 3 undisclosed members of Council/Senate, which cannot be expected to represent the interests and variety of opinion of the wider community.
Before we detail our demands we would like to express that the occupation of the conference centre comes as a last recourse for action in order to ensure that student and staff voices are heard. Sussex University Management has made it clear that it is not interested in the views expressed by thousands of its students, staff and lecturers. This occupation comes after every negotiation table, public meeting, demonstration, motion and petition failed to spur management to halt the bidding process. We would like to iterate that this occupation was entirely peaceful from the onset. The attendees and speakers completed their conference as timetabled. The delegates also gave the students a platform to speak about the campaign at Sussex and endorsed both our cause and method.
We stand in opposition to the attempts by university management to unilaterally impose a highly unpopular wave of privatisations which will see provision of services handed over to the highest bidder. As well as a colossal transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, privatisation has time and time again been shown to negatively impact on employees and service users. Our Vice Chancellor, Michael Farthing himself dabbled in a similar escapade to privatise services at St. George’s medical college, it failed miserably and had to brought back in house. In the past, all surplus generated from the provision of these services has been reinvested in the University’s facilities – Sussex stands to see that surplus extracted by private companies and financiers if these plans go ahead. For the 235 workers affected (see list here) this will mean reduced job security, the handing of control over pensions to private companies and the deterioration of pay terms and working hours and conditions. A recent review in the guardian of how outsourcing fails to deliver and betrays the public sector vindicates our concerns.
Perhaps most importantly the decision to bring private providers into the education sector reflects a larger ideological push by this and previous governments to marketise education as a consumer good. For management at Sussex this is certainly a continuation of departmental teaching and university-wide job cuts over the past 5 years under the guise of “deficit-cutting”. We stand firmly against the segregation of our campuses along producer/consumer lines and reject this false dichotomy. Moreover, we reject the way in which outsourcing further segregates different members of the campus community, whose job statuses, though necessarily complementary in practice, become suddenly dissociated financially and institutionally, leading to a complete breakdown of the social cohesion intrinsic to any healthy and normally functioning organisation. We wholly reject the undemocratic and unaccountable structures and procedures which this management has procured in order to force its agenda on members of the Sussex campus community. We reassert that Education is a public good that is and should remain free of perverse market incentives in every aspect of its provision.
1. A complete halting of the ongoing bidding process and end to the entire privatization program, effective immediately.
2. A commission of students, staff and lecturers to be formed. With full remit to re-evaluate procedures and channels for holding management accountable as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in these decisions.
3. An end to the intimidation that senior and middle management have used to deter students and workers for airing and acting on their concerns.
Taken from Sussex Against Privatisation.