The case for a higher education workers inquiry

Jamie Woodcock and Sølvi Goard make the case for a workers’ inquiry in higher education:

Higher education is the second most casualised sector in the UK economy after catering. It is undergoing huge and far reaching changes, and it is not clear what the results of these will be. The analysis from the industry itself is confused; managers in universities only understand changes in terms of profit margins and league tables. Vice-Chancellors are awarding themselves massive pay rises while staff are having an effective pay cut. There has never been as much cash surplus in the sector, yet when have the horizons for education ever seemed so low?

We don’t think we can explain what this means for workers, we don’t have all the answers. So we need to start asking questions.

What is a workers inquiry?

Our workers inquiry in higher education is an attempt to cut through the bullshit. Management might think universities would fall apart without them, but who, other than staff, know better how universities work? The inquiry aims to develop that understanding of the university: Who works there? What do they do? How do they do it? In doing so it seeks not only for workers to describe, but also grasp the dynamics unfolding in our workplaces.

Why a workers inquiry?

A workers inquiry is focused, as the name suggests, on workers themselves. We want to do more than just survey the conditions of workers in higher education. It is important to understand how workers are exploi.ted, but even more important to uncover how people are resisting and what forms of organisation can be successful. The inquiry seeks to combine a kind of research with organisation, to combine theory with practice.

How can you get involved?

There is a meeting at 12:30 Saturday 25th January at SOAS, University of London to discuss the project. You can join the mailing list and find out more here:


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