I mentioned the other day the intention of management to allow the courses of our little department to be taken over by UpYours, the Ryan Air of education, a private company that offers a ‘world class learning experience’ to overseas students who do not meet the English language requirements for direct entry to university. This is something we at the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) have been offering for some years already without the intervention of UpYours, so here I’m just wondering aloud why we apparently need their, umm, help, especially the sole owner of UpYours is not an educator but a property speculator.
I got my present job four years ago because I sent my CV on spec at a time when the Little CHEF was preparing to undergo the white-glove inspection that leads to British Council accreditation, and as a qualified teacher who’d been round the block a few times in ELT terms, I fitted in with everyone else there. After a couple of years’ preparation that involved some very hard work, the accreditation was awarded. That our last two pre-sessional courses had over 500 students each may be largely attributable to that accreditation.
Now, if UpYours goes into partnership with the university, full-time staff and hourly-paid staff with length of service will be given the option of remaining with our present pay and conditions and being seconded to the joint venture for such hours as they might see fit to grant us, or under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), going over to the joint venture with our university conditions preserved for ‘up to two years’. Two years, that is, unless UpYours decide they have ‘good reason’ to change conditions. This means you could sign a contract and have your university conditions terminated a month later, should UpYours come up with ‘good reason’ to do so: 'why should we pay you forty quid an hour when we could pay you fourteen?' being a possible one. Any new staff taken on by the joint venture will not receive university levels of pay, will not be able to contribute to the teachers’ pension scheme, and will not have their union membership recognised. Thus a two-tier system will be created in which a university teacher and a joint venture teacher could share the same class, with the JV teacher receiving considerably less than half the pay of her colleague.
If this happened, we would certainly lose those teachers who join us each summer for the mad months of July to September. Since they are as experienced and qualified as the regulars, they would be barmy to sell themselves so cheap. Who would we get instead? Perhaps they’d be rookies just off basic training courses. These may well be bright and competent people, but they won’t be teachers of English for Academic Purposes, not yet, and will need to be mentored by the regulars. Meanwhile the quality of the teaching would suffer and the fact that the JV employed under-qualified people would lead to the withdrawal of the British Council approval - and if it didn't, that would in itself be a scandal. If the quality of the teaching goes down, many of the students will not meet their required grades. Large numbers of failures would redound very badly on a commercial enterprise that promises ‘dynamic teaching’ and a ‘world-class learning experience’, so the grades would no doubt have to be massaged, just as Greek language schools terrified of losing custom whack up the grades of kids who underperform. Students with a less than adequate grasp of English would then be bundled into their chosen departments, which would have no choice but to accept them and attempt to make silk purses from a bunch of sow’s ears.
I'm no business man, no politician, just a teacher. Am I being naïf? Unreasonably pessimistic? Somebody has to gain from the joint venture, after all, but it doesn’t look to me as if it will be teachers or students. And since students are not stupid, will they not eventually cotton on, and go elsewhere?
Like de man say, if it ain't bust, don't fix it.