Sunday, 2 October 2011

Joint Ventured, Nothing Gained?



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.

10 comments:

Nik_TheGreek said...

You know the answer to your questions. The teachers nor the students will benefit, the managers and directors on the other hand...

Vilges Suola said...

I fear it will end up being such a disaster that they'll wish they'd left things alone. It isn't a done deal yet - other departments in other universities (Essex, Reading, Oxford Brookes) have successfully defeated proposals to go into partnership with UpYours.

Fionnchú said...

You are correct in your prognostications, VS. I know of more than one "employer of choice" among an increasing number (about 10% of higher ed students enrolled now nationally) in my homeland who increasingly take over smaller institutions and "market-fund" them. That is, students sign up and get financial aid (25% of all such government aid paid out), and then the shareholders of said employer benefit from the doling out of these loans as tuition, spun into institutional profit.

For, regardless of student completion or attrition, the loans must be repaid. Many students come from "underserved" demographics, often first-generation or immigrant families. Many are the first students in their families to try to finish college, arguably their needs are often not met by traditional schools, and these schools also arguably might not admit many of them. Therefore, many drop out even from the "minimally selective" student body enrolled at "market-funded" and career-oriented entities. This caused the government, as taxpayers foot the bill while the institutions gain the profits, to investigate.

The efforts of the government to tighten restrictions were met last year with a coordinated letter-writing campaign by hundreds of thousands of "market-funded" students told of the government legislation. This was in tandem with strategic lobbying on behalf of the "market-funded" entities. So, the standards on graduation rates, job placement, and attrition were eased considerably by the lobbied legislators, as expected.

Meanwhile, f/t faculty lack tenure and are hired "at will"; unions are non-existent and an effort years ago at one local campus to organize met with concerted suppression or silencing of those who tried to carry out their rights.

The most widespread of these entities has modules and pre-fab courses, so if any instructor is observed at, say the second hour of the fifth week, he or she should be on task. This curricular consistency makes it easy to hire new faculty, makes it easy to "deliver" pre-packaged, often e-book or online, content to students overwhelmed by learning, and makes the professor into a "facilitator" rather than an innovator, as deviation from the curriculum may be prohibited or minimized in the name of common standards and institutional objectives of one size fits all.

The pay by hours in the class taught (no pay for grading, prep, meetings, and no benefits) for a "visiting" faculty member has not increased at one local campus since the '80s, by the way. Its full-timers (outnumbered by part-timers) teach about 30%-40% more than counterparts in traditional higher ed, easily, per year. As they do not do research as part of their duties, this is explained as the rationale for high course loads.

Vilges Suola said...

We are fortunate in having the full backing of the union, branch and nationally, to oppose the joint venture. Other universities have successfully defeated the same commercial company's attempts to muscle in. Management are at least aware now that they do not have an easy job ahead of them after an abraisive meeting with the teachers last week. What you describe sounds appalling - no creativity on the part of the teachers, no individuation, no recognition of teachers' input, no value placed on expertise or service.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to see what reasonable pessimism would be in this situation.

If they drop assessment standards faster than the teaching standards, they'll be able to claim that progress is being made, and that under their brilliant leadership they could put semi-literate teachers in the classroom and still churn out grade A students. And probably will.

Many universities are already pimping their courses, so who cares if the students can't understand- they'd probably cheat anyway. Sadly, it's becoming just a piece of paper to people on both sides.

Vilges Suola said...

Indeed. The assessment standards are umm - *generous* enough as it is.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

the world has now evolved to the all-out marketing stage - this phase has to pass (in teh same way that everything reaches full circle and then fizzles out) for those in power to put some sense into their brain

every now and then, i like to remind myself that even though i am very lowly paid among the teaching staff at this Mediterranean island academic institute, i am indispensable, too useful to get rid of, and even if this were to happen, well, i'd probably have the last laugh when i see the institute hire two people to do the job one person used to be doing...

Vilges Suola said...

Here, nobody's indispensable - we can all be ditched for cheaper models if UpYours get in. I hope the marketing stage passes in my working lifetime.

ydnacblog said...

It's a travesty and will continue to be so. EFL - among other proessions - is doomed to function at the level of the lowest common denominator. and that's the accountant. Bastards, the lot of them.

Vilges Suola said...

Hear, hear. Anyway, the JV is being fought against - hard. It won't be an easy ride the bastards.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin