Support the ongoing occupation at Sussex Uni against privatisation

10:38 am - February 22nd 2013

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by Luke Martell

The Sussex University sit-in against privatisation is in its third week. Josie Long and Mark Steel have performed on-site. Will Self and the university’s MP Caroline Lucas have been to speak.

Support has come from Billy Bragg and Frankie Boyle, not to mention professors and public figures worldwide. Owen Jones and Laurie Penny come next week. Even Malcolm Tucker has sent his best wishes!

Sussex University proposes mass outsourcing of 10% of the workforce, 235 individuals, and vital services like security, care of student residences and catering. Every day hundreds are part of the occupation. They hear a stream of lectures by supportive academics from Sussex and elsewhere. And they dance. Affected staff send food, letters, and call in, in contrast to the management claim that the 235 oppose those occupying on their behalf.

The occupation is a last resort. It’s a widespread topic of discussion at Sussex that there’s no meaningful consultation. Adult education has been closed down, a high-prestige research unit moved from its specially designed building, and 112 employees made redundant three years ago. In these cases staff feel discussions with them started after the decisions were made, or not at all.

Staff and student unions feel that managers had decided on outsourcing before talking to them. Meetings seem to be so the management can say they’ve had them, but empty of substance. The sit-in is searching for dialogue. They invited the Vice-Chancellor to their hub for talks. There’s no sign of him yet.

There isn’t much evidence of, well, evidence behind the proposals. The management say there’ll be no redundancies. Yet the 235 have been offered severance and retirement. They say pay and conditions will stay the same. But admit that pensions will be much worse. After staff have transferred, new contractors are free to hire on lower wages and holidays or sack employees.

The management say the change is to free up funds for more students. Yet applications to universities are plummeting because of the eye-watering fees being charged.

Sussex is renowned for community. But outsourcing would create a divided university: its own employees, workers transferred to contractors, transient staff provided by private operators like G4S, and students becoming customers rather than citizens of the university. Services would be accountable to external privateers, not the campus society.

It’s the thin end of the wedge. Outsourcing across universities will follow. It will expand to education where only courses that turn a profit will run. This will restrict learning to the rich and rule out what doesn’t make big bucks. Don’t plan on taking a degree that involves thinking critically. Or support the sit-in, which does.

Luke Martell is Professor of Sociology at Sussex University

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Reader comments

Glad that Lib Con is covering this

I wouldn’t worry, the only people who will be able to afford a university education soon will be those Bullingdon types who burn £50 notes in front of tramps.

This no doubt will be another short term cost cutting measure like when they did the same with cleaners in hospitals. And MRSI rates shot up.

‘plummeting university applications’

Plummeting from 2.4m in 2009 to 2.6m in 2012 according to UCAS.

Still – can’t expect a Sociology Prof to understand numbers?

Max, your figures are out of date. Last year higher fees led to a an 8.7% fall in applications on the year before. Last month applications were down down when compared with January 2011 (-4.2%) and January 2010 (-2%). It’s widely accepted that applications have been dropping with the new fees regime.

5. Just Visiting

Luke / Max

would save us all time if you quote a URL for your sources instead of just jousting with numbers.

Luke – what I heard was that 2011 was unusually high, because the rise in new student fees meant the folks who would in a normal year done a gap-year: chose not to in order to avoid hitting the new higher fees.

So to say that figures have dropped since 2011 without mentioning that complexity is, well, less than transparent.

6. Just Visiting


so to show that your own ‘critical thinking’ skills are fully functional: how about you do a bullet-point ‘pros and cons’ analysis here, for Universities for outsourcing each of:
* security
* care of student residences
* catering.

Outsourcing is not the same thing as privatisation.


Err – my link is there to UCAS.

Luke @4

They’re not ‘my figures’ but from UCAS as it says. I don’t disagree that there is some reduction from immediate previous years, but applicants are still around 20% higher than 2007 and about the same as 2009. Not much sign of a plummet there. Maybe in 2010 & 11 applicants were getting in before the fees hike instead of taking gap years.

Anyway,who is to say that 2012/13 numbers are not the level we need?

5 and 8. For sources just read back through the Times Higher Education articles this year on applications. Or the Guardian education. There has been a big drop this year on the year before where the first 9k applicants applied. No-one disputes it. (This also relates to 5 Just Visiting’s point about 2011).

7. Tone. Outsourcing is not the same as privatisation. Not necessarily. But in this case universities are charities and therefore not permitted to make a profit. Things they run in-house are being transferred to outside private providers who run the services to make a profit. So this is outsourcing from non-profit charities to profit making private providers.

6. Just visiting. My point is that there are no pros to outsourcing, apart from profits for the private company owners and cost-cutting (eg on staff pensions) for university managements, which I mentioned. I have mentioned the cons. If you think there are other pros then please do supply the pro- bullet points yourself.

8. Re, the numbers are the level we need. The point I was making is that the outsourcing at Sussex is being done to free up funds for student expansion at a time when student applications are contracting at this university and elsewhere. So whether the numbers are what we need or not the reason for the outsourcing does not hold up.

Luke @ 9:

“Outsourcing is not the same as privatisation. Not necessarily. But in this case universities are charities and therefore not permitted to make a profit. Things they run in-house are being transferred to outside private providers who run the services to make a profit. So this is outsourcing from non-profit charities to profit making private providers.”

But it is still not privatisation, which is the transfer of ownership or funding to the private sector. Outsourcing is contracting out by organisations in any sector of particular functions. In any sector, the ownership of organisation does not change when it contracts out a function. To conflate privatisation and outsourcing makes a mockery of your claim that the sit-in “involves thinking critically”.

What you say about charities not being permitted to make a profit is not strictly true. What charities cannot do is cream off any surplus (ie profit) they create and pay shareholders: rather, the surplus must be invested by the charity in its reserves or charitable activities. The term ‘not-for-profit business’ is therefore rather misleading.

I work for a national charity and it outsourced payroll and legal services because it was cheaper and so it could do more charitable work with the donations it received. By outsourcing certain functions, a charity can do more with less or the same money, and that is a good thing that the regulators will approve of. Sure, the firms that take on the outsourced functions make a profit, but what is wrong with that when the object of the exercise is to enable the charity to achieve greater value for money?

Of course, outsourcing can go horribly wrong if it is incompetently managed by outsourcers without commercial management experience…But that is not a principled but a practical objection to outsourcing.

10. Tone, thanks for your points.

a. Privatisation – the 235 workers will no longer be employed by the university. Their employment will be transferred to a a private sector organisation/s which will provide the services and keep any profits from doing so.

b. Not being allowed to make a profit. I think having to reinvest a surplus rather than keeping it is not being allowed to make a profit. At the end of the day you do not have a profit.

c. Outsourcing being cheaper and leaving more money for the organisation’s own use. i) In this case the savings are to be used for student expansion when the university sector is contracting. So the reason for the saving does not stand up. ii) In this case the savings will be made by worse pensions and, it’s likely, by lower wages and shorter holidays. That may not be the case with your organisation but will be in this instance.

The overall point here is that workers and services will be transferred to private sector organisations who want to make a profit by cutting the pensions and wages and conditions of their workers so having a negative effect on the workforce and dividing the university community.

I also make the point about lack of consultation.

I agree with you about practical objections to outsourcing. I think I am making practical as well as principled objections.


(a) is not privatisation, and trying to pretend otherwise is disingenuous of you.

(b) “I think having to reinvest a surplus rather than keeping it is not being allowed to make a profit.” A surplus is a profit; and a profit is a surplus. The destination of the profit/surplus does not change that. The charity I work for banks after costs (salaries, property maintenance, office expenses, advertising, etc) about £1.5m a year (or about 15% of gross expenditure), excluding donations. It has £60+m in the bank. That money will be invested in services over the next 10-15 years, though it will be accumulating more in that time.

(c)(i): This is surely your strongest point…?

(c) (ii): “In this case the savings will be made by worse pensions and, it’s likely, by lower wages and shorter holidays.” No, that’s not very likely. See:

Regarding consultation, I have sympathy with you here. Every organisation I have ever worked for – in the private, public and voluntary sectors – had senior managers who decided what they were going to do before they consulted. All organisations should be obliged to consult in general terms before specific policies and strategies are formulated. For instance: ‘We must cut costs, because…; and, before we go any further, we would like you, the workforce, to let us have your ideas…Moreover, the door will always be open for you to come back to us…’.

If I were you, I’d forget your ‘privatisation’ and ‘profit’ issues and focus not only on (c)(i) but also on the practical problems. Does the management team have the relevant commercial experience? Who will write the specifications? If they are going to use consultants, they may be ripped off if the manangement team does not have extensive experience of managing consultants! Who will write the brief for the consultants? Who will evaluate their proposals and how? And keep asking questions about how they will ensure that the contracts don’t go wrong, how the contracts will be monitored, what the penalties will be for contractor failure, etc, etc.


We’re going to have to disagree about (a) and (b).

c) tupe does not cover pensions, newly hired workers and employers can change pay and conditions for workers covered by tupe if they plead an economic, organisational or technical change requires it. Outsourced workers are commonly on worse terms than directly employed workers at the same organisations for these reasons.

Talk face to face with Sussex Occupy this Thurs & Fri
using Google+ Hangout

as part of their open day : ]

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