What was TeachHigher?
TeachHigher was an initiative set up by the University of Warwick that was intended to be a temp agency for academic teaching. Initially, Warwick planned for TeachHigher to be a separate but wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Warwick that would become a UK-wide franchise.
The University conceived of TeachHigher as a response to the increasing use of casualized teaching staff and ostensibly, was meant to fix problems in the current casualized labour system. This system has roundly been criticized for flaws such as inconsistencies in hiring practices, pay, and working conditions. Most egregiously, staff on hourly contracts are expected to do far more work than what they are paid for. TeachHigher would not have resolved this problem. Moreover, where presently departments made their own hires and set their own pay and conditions for casualized staff, under TeachHigher, all non-permanent teaching would have been administrated through a central service. As such, TeachHigher needs to be understood as an ‘internal outsourcing’ strategy.
Why did we oppose it?
While we have campaigned for a fairer and more transparent system for remunerating and managing casualized staff, TeachHigher was not the solution. There were numerous concerns about TeachHigher coming from casual teaching staff, permanent teaching staff, students, and administrators.
At the departmental level, we opposed TeachHigher because it took hiring practices out of the hands of departments, thus eroding departmental and academic autonomy.
At the institutional level, we opposed TeachHigher because it institutionalized a two-tiered academic workforce where one tier were permanent employees of the university and the other was casualized and outsourced.
At a national level, we opposed TeachHigher because it was originally intended to be run along the lines of Unitemps – a service owned by Warwick Employment Group, as with TeachHigher – which has enabled universities to ‘insource’ and casualize their workforces, and because it is indicative of a broader process of casualization in the sector.
In short, we opposed TeachHigher because it degraded the working conditions of teachers and the learning conditions of students.
How did we oppose it?
Warwick’s campaign to resist TeachHigher drew upon the local activist pool and union committee, which were already working against the casualization of academic labour at Warwick. As a group, we developed a three-part strategy.
First, we began to build for a national demonstration against TeachHigher and the casualization of academic labour. We reached out to similar activist groups and organizations across the UK through the network FACE (Fighting Against Casualization in Education). This demonstration was meant to coincide with one of the University’s open days in order to maximize visibility and impact.
Second, we set about to coordinate a campus-wide boycott of TeachHigher at the department level. To do so, we created a network of departmental working groups which would organize within their departments and would also meet together to share strategies and information, and provide mutual support. To support these working groups, we designed an informational campaign at the university level that sought to raise awareness about what Teach Higher was, how it would negatively affect students, casual staff, and permanent staff, and keep everyone updated on a rapidly-evolving situation.
Third, we created a national press and social media campaign. We engaged with mainstream media, alternative media, and social media. We and our friends and colleagues wrote articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts about our struggle against TeachHigher. Because we understood that TeachHigher was not just a local threat, but rather a threat to the foundations of higher education, we worked to make sure that staff and students at other universities were aware of Teach Higher and the implications its implementation might have for them down the road.
How did we win?
There were two minor wins that preceded our major victory. First, the University retreated from their initial plan to have TeachHigher be a private company and instead reconceptualized it as an academic services department within the University. Second, the pilot scheme which was due to start in the summer was pushed back until the autumn, which bought us time to organize.
We won the struggle against TeachHigher because of our success at publicizing what TeachHigher was and why it was detrimental at a national level. The massive press exposure put pressure on management and it also attracted the support of other activists and student organizations across the country.
We also won the struggle against TeachHigher because we were able to work across departments and create a campus-wide coalition.
While this is undoubtedly an exceptional victory, it is only the beginning. The real problem here is not one scheme or another, but the casualization of academic labour more broadly. We need to turn our resistance against one particularly pernicious solution into a campaign for well-paid and secure academic jobs with fair employment rights and benefits.
Keep an eye on this blog for details to follow.