Student Support Services On Zero Hours Contracts

This is a 2015 social document of the transitioning of some student support services in British universities to Zero Hours contracts. Over the years, I have had many conversations and emails with various people involved in formal education – much of which remains private between myself and those individuals.  Occasionally I ask if I can share some of these conversations and personal correspondences in the public realm as I think they are important first hand accounts of what is happening.


What follows in the quotation marks is a verbatim excerpt from a private correspondence with an academic in a UK university sharing their feelings about what is happening to the higher education environment where they work.  The commercial forces are replacing values of learning and nurture with those of ‘cost effectiveness’ and profit.


The individual who has shared this wishes to remain anonymous as they are concerned about the implications which come with speaking out about the changes which they are experiencing as negative:

“….we had a rather depressing meeting today at work – results of ‘consultation’ and how they see our job as higher education study coaches disappearing in a couple of years’ time. Dyslexia support will definitely go, dyspraxia and probably Aspergers. The universities are meant to ‘take on’ the support but of course none of them have the means or the staff to do so. give it 5 years or so and watch the drop out rate amongst such students soar!


Having been involved with higher education since the glory days of the late 70s then postgradding just as Thatcher brought in fees and said that universities would have to ‘earn their keep’ have watched the very sad decline of everything that to me ‘means’ a university – they have utterly pimped themselves out to private sector profiteering in every field including new buildings, research funding etc. etc.


Where you once had heavily subsidised canteens, cafes and bars you now have Starbucks & Costa; lecturers are made redundant and ‘professionals’ from ‘industry’ (i.e. non academics) brought in on short term contracts to deliver a set number of lectures and mark the assignments.


Of course in my field, support that was once paid for by the university is now pimped out too, to commercial agencies who employ us on zero hours contracts and who take 10% of our hourly rate whilst another 50% goes to the ‘non-profit making’ organisation who supplies us with the students (yes, I get less than half of the hourly rate that taxpayers are being asked to fork out for the support – no wonder the government is clamping down – it is greed that has caused this).


Students are effectively ‘clients’ paying money to ‘buy’ a degree and getting very upset if they do not get the grade they feel they are ‘entitled’ to. It is almost impossible to get thrown off a course now for failing. The result of course is a massive decline in academic standards. As the Telegraph states:


‘Research by the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 16- to 24-year-olds lag close to the bottom of global league tables in literacy and numeracy. England is ranked 22nd out of 24 western countries in terms of literacy and 21st for numeracy – being outperformed by nations such as Estonia, Poland and Slovakia.


In a damning conclusion, it was also revealed that levels of basic skills had effectively worsened over the last 40 years, with recent school leavers registering lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation.’


To make matters worse, these parts have the poorest rates of literacy and numeracy in the country. These are the kids who are coming to university and literally have such a poor vocabulary they do not even understand words used in assignment briefs never mind knowing how to present an argument in writing. So dumbing down is the only answer with degree certificates from the dozens of non red-brick universities (or ‘polyversities’) barely worth the paper they are printed on never mind the £ 27,000 of fees that students have incurred years of debt to pay for….”


The Marketisation of higher education

Independently of the excerpt, I introduce some further reading which can help flesh out the issues at stake.  This is my selection of reading (Alex Dunedin), and is done so only to enliven the debate and need for critical analysis.  I am keen to find anyone in formal education who would like to share their critical thoughts on the educational environment they are working in.


If you are interested in writing or sharing your thoughts anonymously, please do get in touch via the contact page or Twitter (@raggedtalks)…


In this context there is an interesting book that discusses these types of issues which are arising. It is called ‘The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer’ by Mike Molesworth (Editor), Richard Scullion (Editor). It is worth investing in buying a copy to read various deconstructions on the issues surrounding the commercialising of education going on right now.  As a volume it is important for criticism and review.


This article is in the interests of reportage and to lift the lid on some of the missing discourse that does not commonly make it to the press and public realm.  It is more important than ever to support and protect each form of education – formal and informal – as important provisions are being lost and replaced by consumerist options.


An interesting paper exploring some issues in this area is ‘The Modern University, Ltd.’,  written by Tom Frost who is Lecturer In Legal Theory (Law).  It was presented at the Critical Legal Conference 2012, School of Computer Science and Communication, Stockholm University, 14 September 2012: