The University of Essex has backed down on its plans to privatise its International Academy, which provides English language teaching and foundation degrees for international students.
An email from the Vice-Chancellor announced that: “The University believes the risks involved in engaging an external partner in providing all pathway provision could outweigh the potential advantages in terms of numbers, quality, and diversity.” This is a pretty remarkable climbdown from the beginning of April, when the VC was arguing that a private provider was the only viable way forward for the IA.
So has the VC seen the light, and decided he’s against privatisation? Hardly. Rather, this is the result of an excellent campaign run by staff within the IA, with support from other staff, students and the local UCU branch. The campaign highlighted a series of glaring factual errors in the University’s report, which was clearly skewed in favour of privatisation from the start. Whilst this was important, and a crucial part of it was the detailed alternative proposals drawn up by staff in the IA, just as important was the feeling that the VC would not get away with this without a serious fight, a fight which he clearly did not have the stomach for.
This is an impressive victory, and shows what can be achieved when staff under threat organise themselves, and draw in support from across the University. But we should also be vigilant. The University will still “continue discussions with potential external partners regarding marketing and recruitment of international students to pathway programmes, and about potential new areas of pathway provision at other sites such as Southend or London.” A battle against privatisation has been won, but the war will continue.