Reclaim Our Student Unions!

The recent report in the Cambridge Tab concerning the £6,500 pay rise given to the CUSU General Manager is worth discussing. It is important to analyse university and union finances and investigate their impact on students. We should be asking why students should take an interest in the financial decisions of CUSU and the university as a whole, and what role they should play in influencing them.

CUSU has five student-elected, salaried posts (elected by students for one year): President, Education Officer, Access Officer, Coordinator, Women’s Officer and Welfare Officer. These sabbatical officers are paid a meagre £16,000 annually.

The other band of CUSU salaried officers is unelected: the General Manager, Business Development Officer, Finance Manager, IT Manager, Student Advisor, Shadowing Scheme Assistant and receptionists.

With a recent wage increase of 18%, the CUSU General Manager’s annual salary now stands at around £50,000. The other officers earn from £30,000 to £38,000 annually and the two receptionists earn just over the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the budget for student campaigns comes to a total of around £12,000. 64% of CUSU’s total annual expenditure of £541,000 is related to administrative costs – including the massive salaries of unelected officials.

Money for campaigns and salaries comes from three main sources:

  1. Students’ direct contributions through the JCR/MCR (£6.80/student/year)
  2. University contributions
  3. CUSU’s commercial activities (including advertisements for the handbook and stall money from societies at the Freshers’ Fair)

The first two sources of income are from students’ pockets, with the difference being that money from the JCRs/MCRs is completely under students’ control. Money from the other two sources, on the other hand, is controlled by the University and Union administration.

Impact of the Financial Crisis

The quality of student life is steadily being eroded. People are straining under the burden of huge fees and loans. Government cuts in the education sector have reduced the budget of universities. Departments are either being closed down or maintained through cost reduction techniques such as pay cuts to staff, reduction of contact hours and getting PhD students and Post-docs to teach without any compensation (in the name of ‘gaining experience’). All these exploitative methods implemented by the departments are adversely affecting quality of education.

College finances are usually sustained on college fees, commercial activities and donations. Since the financial crisis of 2008, colleges have been increasingly feeling the pressure of reduced incomes, for example, from student defaults, reduced return on investments (forcing colleges to go down unethical avenues of investment and renting for-student-services to the private market), and reduction in outside contributions.

The Role of the University and Colleges

In the current situation, the University and College bodies which are meant to be helping students are gradually doing exactly the opposite – extracting as much money as possible from students whilst simultaneously reducing the services offered. Under these continuous attacks from the University, Departments and Colleges, students will find no proper avenues through which to take their problems except the democratic student structures such as the JCRs, MCRs and the Student Unions (CUSU/GU).

If the Unions were to campaign on the difficulties faced by students and take on a fight with the University administration, that would represent the worst nightmare of those senior University officials mandated to extract money from students and ensure reduced services – the Bursars in Colleges and the University’s student administration. We will increasingly see the development of opposing poles, with the Student Unions on one side and the University and College administration on the other. Each of these groups have opposing interests. Unions are supposed to represent the interests of students, while the College and University administration represent the interests of external contractors and the Tories who are forcing through these cuts.

Senate House

There’s no question that the University and College administration make full use of the resources and tactics at their disposal to weaken the student unions and force through their attacks on students. Some examples of this behaviour are:

  1. The attempt by some Bursars to take control of student contributions (£6.80/student/year) from JCR and MCR committees; thus allowing Bursars to decide how much, when and why to pay the unions, i.e. directly exercising financial and political control of CUSU/GU.
  2. Supporting CUSU’s unelected administrators and giving them lavish salaries and control over the elected student representatives. This includes the recent increase of the unelected CUSU General Manager’s salary, as well as giving him the power and authority to speak to the senior university committee on behalf of students. This action enables university officials to exercise control over CUSU through financial incentives for unelected officials, who are also given excessive influence in the Union. The same tactics are used by capitalists and their governments to control workers’ trade unions through ‘handling’ their leaders – paying them huge salaries and giving them immense powers. This creates corruption and facilitates the diffusion of any potential workers’ movement through manoeuvring at the top.
  3. If there is a threat that the union could adopt a stance fighting for the rights of students, then the University has the power to immediately render CUSU/GU dysfunctional through its control of the union’s finances and staff.

The Role of Students

These are serious and relevant issues for students to consider. The crisis of capitalism is forcing the government to cut funding to universities, forcing universities to pay their own way. Naturally, under these circumstances, universities will increase revenues either directly from students’ pockets or by driving down their academic and living conditions. However, in doing this, the University and Colleges are diverting the money away from students and towards dodgy investments for more profits. The fruits of increasing University and College wealth are not being shared with students, but are instead going into further investments or towards increasing the salaries, bonuses and perks of top University and College staff.

Students should raise their voices against the practices of the university by making use of our JCRs, MCRs and our Student Unions. Students should actively involve themselves in the Unions and remove all the careerists of the University administration from the Unions, who will impede the fight for the rights of students. Furthermore, the Student Unions should link up their struggle with various trade unions and fight for a massive increase in funding for higher education, and the abolition of tuition fees.

Official Picket

Students should stop the involvement of College and University officials in their Unions. Student Unions should be independent and run completely by students. All management tasks of the Unions should be handled by the elected representatives of students, with their wages democratically decided. In case any extra work is required, part time student jobs should be created in the Unions and cash strapped students should be given the opportunity to earn a decent wage.

Students should argue for the removal of all private contractors from the University and actively run the administration of the University and Colleges for the collective benefit of all, through the democratic participation of students. This will reduce academic and finance related stress, increase the quality of education and research via decent remuneration for academics, and reduce prices for better quality and availability of college services, including meals and accommodation. This would greatly improve the lives of students and give them the time and ability to think and act to bring about social transformation of the society.

One comment

  1. […] the controversy over the salary of the General Manager of CUSU (an unelected member of staff at the Union) in […]

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