South Bank Socialist Society

 

 

Manifesto for South Bank

 

London South Bank University faces two serious threats. First, all universities face major cuts in funding. We will not know the extent or impact of these cuts until the new government is in office and reveals its plans in full. However, we can be certain that all the main parties have plans to cut the public sector through job losses. Second we face the threat from the Corporate Plan. This promises a series of measures including so-called Performance Related Pay, an end to nationally agreed pay scales and an end to pensions for new starters. The first steps on this road have been taken by the governors refusing to pay the nationally agreed salary award of just 0.5%.

 

I believe that the cuts implicit in the Corporate Plan would, if implemented, prove divisive and harmful to staff morale and pose a risk to the quality of educational provision. The costs of this will be borne by staff and students in job losses, pay cuts, higher fees, and fewer resources devoted to teaching and research.

 

September 2008

 

The most important date to remember is 15 September 2008 when Lehman Brothers, a major US bank, collapsed. The failure of the banking system as a result of the sub-prime mortgages scandal led to the ‘credit crunch’. In the UK the government took majority shareholdings in RBS, and Lloyds TSB and HBOS and pumped billions into the banks to prop them up. The US government took over General Motors and Chrysler. The banking system was destroyed by free market forces and saved only by the intervention of the state.

 

It was not just state budgets that took a major hit but the dogma of unregulated or free markets. A theory derived from the 18th century was used to justify economic and education policy in the 21st. New Labour embraced “Thatcherism” and applied it to the public sector with renewed vigour. In 2008 Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve Bank, apologised for the free market dogma that had driven banking policy. The Economist summed it up by quoting Rudyard Kipling: “the gods of the market tumbled, and their smooth tongued wizards withdrew” (Economist 23 January 2010).

 

Two conclusions can be drawn. First ‘free market’ banking, or gambling with other people’s money, is the direct cause of the funding crisis in the public sector and higher education. Second, corporate management with rigged markets and the bonus culture failed spectacularly. I consider the LSBU Corporate Plan to be built upon free market principles which I believe to be inappropriate to the collegiate ethos of a University. The Corporate Plan has its roots in the world before the credit crunch. It is a plan built on the ideas which ran the world before September 2008. It is therefore a plan for yesterday and not for tomorrow. Since the credit crunch the world has to wise up. So do we.

 

The Genesis of the Corporate Plan

 

Since the 1980s higher education has increasingly moved towards the market system based on ‘free market’ dogma. Government ministers and civil servants created policy on the basis that the market is best and the market should decide. Universities have become Higher Education Corporations competing in a bureaucratic-market controlled by the government operating through the Higher Education Funding Council. After 1997 New Labour has continued and accelerated this approach.

 

Free higher education from which government ministers benefited in their youth was being replaced by a whole complex structure of finance, loans, debts, grants and marketing. Each university “competes” with every other not by the size of its profits but through artificially constructed league tables. University priorities are increasingly determined by the game of moving up or down these tables. LSBU is now working under the long shadow cast by this and the need to dance to its tunes.  

 

This is a costly and wasteful way of organising education. Significant resources have to be devoted to managing the market. Competing universities have to fight it out with their marketing budgets and marketing teams. A whole bureaucracy is devoted to fees, loans and bad debts. Students are treated as customers. This means they are seen as walking pound notes. Keeping our customers ‘happy’ takes priority over the needs of their education. The irony is that the more customer care is proclaimed the less education is actually delivered. As real funding goes out the back door charity funding comes in the front.

 

The Corporate Plan

 

The LSBU Corporate Plan does not benefit staff and students. It takes us further down a road that September 2008 told us not to take. This is not to deny that the Corporate Plan identifies some real issues for reform but its proposed solutions will make matters worse. In any case, the Corporate Plan must be seen as a whole and more than the sum of its separate parts.  

 

The Corporate Plan will concentrate more power at the top of the organisation. It pushes responsibility down the hierarchy. Responsibility without power is a recipe for frustration and alienation. It means that staff lower down the hierarchy take the blame for failures but are powerless to prevent them in the first place. The Plan is designed to separate staff. Performance Related Pay sets up a system of competition over a pre-determined pay budget. Apart from being expensive to administer it divides the very people whose co-operation is essential. It does not build co-operation. It destroys it. It cuts corners to cut costs. The rewards will be bigger salaries and bonuses for those at the top.

 

‘Customer care’ is part of the same divide and rule model. Students become “customers” as if they are going into a supermarket to buy a degree. This creates a false divide between staff and students. If the customers are everything then the staff become nothing. This ideology is open to manipulation and could be used to bully staff. In my view “customer care” is not about a better education. It pays lip service to the students. It is about the concentration of management power over the staff.

 

The South Bank Plan - for a democratic and social university

 

The future of South Bank depends on staff and students working together for a common policy which not only defends the university from those seeking to divide it but promotes progressive change. LSBU needs change. It cannot be defended by simply saying “No”. There has to be change and the kind of change that improves South Bank rather than weakens and destroys it. Staff and students must unite and create the kind of university which serves the public and meets the needs of those who work here and those who benefit from the teaching and research the university provides.

 

The university of the future will be less hierarchical and bureaucratic and more co-operative as a partnership of staff and students. Evidence shows that the production of knowledge benefits from an atmosphere of freedom and enquiry. The democratic and social model combines the idea of public ownership with the values of co-operation and public service and harnesses this with the discipline of democracy. The university should be organised as a publicly owned partnership or co-operative. The aim is not profit making but public service providing the best quality higher education for young people and mature adults.

 

The staff and students should be the university’s main stakeholders. Of course LSBU does not exist in a vacuum. There are wider economic and social interests that must have an input into the success of the university. We are part of the economy and of a system of higher education which involves our external examiners, professional and trade union associations and external inspections of our work. LSBU has to be part of a co-operative network of staff and students in and from other universities not only in the UK but internationally.     

 

Democratic Governance

 

The present corporatist form of governance is not satisfactory. The governors are largely outsiders cut off from direct contact and involvement with staff and students. The governors are not elected by or accountable to the university. They are mainly political appointments which reflect the views and priorities of the government of the day. A majority of governors should be elected either by the staff or the students. 

 

  • University surplus

 

Each accounting year the university makes a surplus or loss.  The surplus is a result of the past and present efforts of the staff. The distribution of the surplus should be decided by trade unions representatives in consultation with management and the governors. This will either be saved for example as a fund to avoid future redundancies, invested or paid in staff bonuses.
 

 

  • Co-operative reward scheme

 

There is no reason to reject incentives as such as long as they promote the co-operative public service ethos. Any such co-operative reward scheme would have to be paid at a flat rate to all staff to promote and reward the collective effort of the staff in improving the service we provide. This is not a substitute for national pay and conditions but a bonus in addition to it, which may or may not be paid. LSBU is part of the education sector and staff and pay and pensions must be in line with colleagues in other universities.

 

Democratic management

 

The management of a co-operative enterprise has different norms from corporate management. It is to facilitate the process of co-operation for an efficient and effective service. Democratic management must be accountable to and supportive of staff. They must enjoy the confidence of their staff. In the corporate model staff are stuck with poor management or have to tolerate bullying. Co-operative management is a different style. If managers were elected by staff many would be confirmed in their posts. But others would be removed. South Bank needs managers who support their staff and work in a co-operative and professional way. Those who fail to do that should be removed by their staff at the earliest opportunity.        

 

Co-operation of staff and students

 

The administrative, catering, cleaning, maintenance, teaching, technical, research and other support staff are South Bank’s most important resource. For the university to work effectively there must be co-operation not only between all the staff but with students. If the producers and consumers don’t work together then the education process fails. The university already has means of encouraging co-operation between staff and students such as course boards. These and other means have to be strengthened and encouraged.  

 

It is essential that staff and students have their own independent democratic organisations able to promote their views. The trade unions provide staff with the opportunity to meet independently and decide what works and what doesn’t. All staff and students should be members of their appropriate recognised trade union. The university must ensure there is the time available for staff to attend regular meetings whether trade union, students union or staff meetings. In a co-operative culture such meetings are a requirement for effective work not an optional extra. Working for the collective effort is the priority not narrow individual self interest. If the university is to improve our public service it depends on empowering the staff in a collective and co-operative effort.

 

The democratic and social model has implications for students. Education should be, like health care, free at the point of delivery. There should be an end to student fees. We should oppose the marketisation of students and their transformation into alienated customers burdened with ever higher fees and debts. Students should be supported with student grants with the expectation and requirement to achieve higher standards.

 

Conclusion

 

The ethos of a university will not differ significantly from the society which shapes it. If profit, greed and selfishness are promoted as the values by which we must live then such norms will be transmitted through education. However, nothing is fixed. For many years the pendulum has swung against the values of democracy, social partnership and co-operation and firmly towards ‘free’ markets, greed and self-interest. The disasters that have hit the banking system with its mountains of debt find reflection in the burden of debt that every student must face. Society must draw the obvious lesson that it is time to change course and go in the opposite direction.
 


Part 1 of Steve Freeman's Election Video

 

 

Part 2 of Steve's Election Video

 

 

Here are pictures of students demonstrating in support of LSBU and of the right to education

 

 

Demo at LSBY

 

 

Demo at LSBU

 

www.republicansocialists.org.uk

 

 

Copyright © Republican Socialists 2015

Designed by Millbank Design 2015