The wet weather didn’t dampen protestor’s spirits on Wednesday 26th September, as around 60 campaigners held the 3rd demonstration against the proposed privatisation of facilities throughout the University.
Wednesday’s protest began in Library Square with a speech from a University porter, whose final line was: “This is not just about the 235, it’s about the future of this campus”.
The protest was then led on a march around campus, past the buildings most affected by the proposals, including Sussex House and Bramber House, as protestors sang chants such as “They say cut back, we say fight back”.
The plans, proposed by the University’s management on May 9th 2012, would mean the outsourcing of 235 jobs in catering, cleaning, security and other areas. These jobs would be outsourced to private companies, in an attempt to save money on service costs.
The University is currently in dialogue with potential bidders, and they have voiced the aim to “ensure the University identifies the best external partner which meets its needs and fits well with the way the University works.”
The University has issued a statement, asserting: “the University is undergoing unprecedented change and development – with student numbers up from less than 11,000 in 2008 to a projected 18,000 by 2018.
“Working with external partners is the best way of enhancing and developing its estates and catering services for its staff and students.”
Staff members whose jobs may be transferred to commercial companies have, however, raised concerns that their working conditions may suffer, pensions may be lost, and ultimately, the future of their jobs may not be protected.
The University has responded to these concerns by stating that: “this process is also not about seeking to reduce staff numbers: the University is not proposing to make redundancies.”
One staff member said there were also concerns that these plans were the beginning of a “gradual drip, drip, drip of privatisation across the whole University”.
These concerns were echoed by a student protester on Wednesday who said that the ability to change how things are run on campus may be lost under “layers and layers of bureaucracy” if a private company were to take over.
The university has stated that: “The unions are fully informed about the process…having had a total of nine meetings since the announcement in May.”
The “Save Our Services” campaigners however, argue that the manner in which the plans were made was inherently “undemocratic”.
They assert that the Sussex Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group did not pass the plans through an accountable process at the University; neither staff nor students were formally consulted on the matter.
They also argue that the University has not provided sufficient grounds and reasoning as to why they wish to make this drastic change.
In opposition to the outsourcing, campaigners have used the example of a study published in May 2012 by the Working Lives Institute, which analysed the effects of outsourcing jobs in higher education.
This study found that outsourcing ended up costing more, while quality was reduced, and that services suffered damage to their reputation, as they no longer came from a trusted source.
What the campaigners wish to see from their efforts is, if not a U-turn on the plans, then a collaborative compromise between the management, staff and students as opposed to what they call “storming blindly ahead on an apparently ideologically-driven privatisation adventure”.