Support the livelihoods and careers of Turkish academics and PhD students who are victims of repression

solidaritycampaign_0Posted on behalf of BAK (Academics for Peace) Edinburgh

Background: In an increasingly authoritarian political climate in Turkey, dissident views are being repressed and one of the areas hit hardest has been academia. The state has recently assumed control over all public universities, using the state of emergency to give President Erdogan the right to appoint rectors. Academics have been dismissed from their posts by decree, with no legal mechanism to appeal. So far over 11,000 have been purged (the last 4,000 by decree just a few days after Erdogan’s victory in the recent referendum), and those who have lost their jobs describe their situation as a kind of “civil death”, in which they are unable to find employment in academia or even in the private sphere, where employers fear retribution for taking on a person labelled by the state as a “terrorist”.

Among the most vulnerable of these academics are the signatories of the Academics for Peace (BAK) petition. These are the 2,212 academics, including over 800 doctoral candidates, who signed a petition calling for an end to state violence in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. In consequence, many of them have been subjected to death threats, prosecutions, harassment, scapegoating by state-controlled media, and the “civil death” described above. The state is targeting voices like the Academics for Peace as a way of suppressing dissident views, of polarising society and of mobilising support. The ongoing state of emergency provides virtually unlimited powers to do so.

Our group and aim: In this context, BAK support groups have been set up in Universities in the US and Canada, Germany, Belgium, France and the UK, which seek to provide support for these academics. Our group is one of these, and includes PG and UG students, as well as academics, mostly from SSPS and LLC. We are in close contact with another such group at the University of Stirling.

 Through the BAK network, we have carried out a survey among the 800 PhD/graduate signatories, and received 63 responses. Among these 49 are under investigation; 25 have been removed from their studentships; and 21 have had their passports confiscated. A small number are in dire straits financially. Unfortunately, as PhD students these individuals are not eligible for the hardship support provided by Egitim-Sen, the Turkish HE Union. Furthermore, PhD students and recent graduates are not covered by the definition of “academics” used by groups like CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics).

 Our aim is to work with the University and UCU to provide support particularly for current PhD students and recent graduates, signatories of the BAK petition, to continue their studies, and maintain an affiliation to the academic community. To achieve this, we are working to set up a Remote Visiting Student Scheme, involving financial hardship support, online access to UoE library resources and academic mentoring on a voluntary basis by UoE staff.

Your Support is Vital: To achieve our aims, particularly in relation to hardship support, we urgently seek donations from all colleagues who are concerned by the plight of their fellow academics in Turkey. This support could make all the difference for early career scholars who are at risk, enabling them to continue with their dissertations and expand their academic opportunities and horizons beyond Turkey.

Support for 6 individuals to continue their PhD studies for a year, calculated on the basis of the Turkish minimum wage, would require fundraising of £23,000. 

We plan to launch an online fundraising platform soon. In the meantime, we will be collecting cash donations at the UCU Edinburgh AGM on 13 June. Please consider making a contribution: no donation is too small.

If you would like to be actively involved in the BAK Edinburgh group please drop us a line: edinburghbak@gmail.com

Stand up to Racism demonstration, Glasgow 18th March 2017

Stand up to Racism Scotland calls on everyone to mobilise to ensure that the March 18th 2017 demonstration in Glasgow is a massive success. Following Trump’s ban on Muslims and refugees, we will send out a clear message that we will not tolerate racism, discrimination, and division in our community.
STUR demo Supported by EIS, Peoples Assemby Scotland, RMT Scotland, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, STUC, UCU Scotland, Unison Scotland, Unite Scotland, Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh.

Assemble 11am in Holland Street, Glasgow
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Holland+St,+Glasgow+G2+4NB/@55.8643181,-4.2690656,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x48884428787a6345:0xfe7cd9ee5cfb781d!8m2!3d55.8643181!4d-4.2668769

March to George Square, 12 o’clock rally.

Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1584165985223946/

Change!

change

As part of the Scottish Union Learning young workers’ project, you are invited to “Change!”, an evening of literature hosted by young and migrant workers.

Taking place from 6.30pm on Thursday 16th March at the STUC building on Woodlands Road in Glasgow, we hope that you will help us celebrate the launch of our new book, which has been written about and by people on zero hours contracts. With the title being revealed on the night, we’ll hear excerpts read by young writers and activists who will share their lives on zero hour contracts with us.

Pinar Aksu

Pinar Aksu

We will also hear from Pinar Aksu, Community Development worker with Migrant Voice, and participants from the “A Story in a Poem project” who will read some of the poems they have written about their journey to Scotland.

Refreshments will be provided so get there early to avoid missing out!

From precarious work to precarious lives, the theme of the evening is ‘Change’ and what this means for us in 2017. As a labour movement, we want to ensure that we are inclusive and seek new opportunities of integration for all.

More information

UCU Elections: a message from the Branch Committee

UCU Edinburgh branch committee would like to take this opportunity to clarify the situation in relation to the event taking place on campus on 6th February.  The Future of Higher Education and UCU: UCU General Secretary Election Hustings is being held as one of four such events across Scotland over 6th-7th February.

For the avoidance of doubt, these have not been organised by UCU Edinburgh, UCU Scotland or UCU nationally and we are unable to answer any queries about them.  Please address any questions you have to the event organisers.

Individuals and groupings within UCU are at liberty to organise independent events as they so choose. We do not seek to make any recommendations for or against.

The branch committee did discuss the possibility of holding a hustings but decided that, within available time and resources, this was not feasible.  If you are interested in us doing this for future elections, please let us know.  If you can volunteer to assist, even better.

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Links for more information

TEF: Joint statement from Edinburgh University Students’ Association and UCU Edinburgh

Edinburgh University Students’ Association and the University and College Union Edinburgh (UCUE) branch welcome the University of Edinburgh’s decision to not enter the second year of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The Teaching Excellence Framework is a criterion that has been imposed on universities by the UK Government, ostensibly designed to measure teaching quality, but ultimately deepening the commodification of Higher Education.

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The Teaching Excellence Framework uses flawed metrics to measure teaching quality – teaching quality should not be measured arbitrarily by student satisfaction.  The implications of entering the UK Government’s framework for measuring teaching quality may be profound, and will dramatically change the Higher Education sector in the long-run, as the various ways in which students and staff engage in learning and teaching are reduced to measurements that do not capture either students’ or staffs’ experiences in the classroom.

The Students’ Association and UCUE recognise their mutually reinforcing interests, and will continue to work alongside each other in the future.  If the University reconsiders engaging with the Teaching Excellence Framework, the Students’ Association and  UCUE will ensure that appropriate preventative action is taken.

Response to The Student

This is written as clarification to an article in The Student, 29 Nov 2016

The below is the comment sent by UCU Edinburgh officers to The Student newspaper, a comment from which quotes were included in their recent article on tutors’ working conditions. UCU Edinburgh committee thought it might be useful to publish the full comment below, including statistics and references.

A note of clarification: The Student article mentions two surveys, one carried out by UCU UK (not UCU Edinburgh) in 2015, and one currently in circulation at the University, the latter carried out by a group of tutors based in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures. The latter survey is carried out both to gauge University of Edinburgh tutors’ view of the cap on working hours for PhD students, and to follow up from the petition letter penned by tutors in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences earlier this year, as the tutors in question reportedly have not seen enough positive change from the University.


UCU, or the University and College Union in full, is the largest trade union representing university staff and postgraduate students in the UK. We have over 110,000 members across the country, with over 1,500 members here at Edinburgh. We represent casualised (that is to say, people employed on precarious contracts, with limited or no job security) researchers and teaching staff as well as permanent lecturers, and also ‘academic-related’ staff such as librarians and administrators. As a union we believe that higher education should be a public good, and have campaigned for decades against the marketisation of our profession, including campaigning against tuition fees for students and for better working conditions for our members.

The University of Edinburgh is one of the country’s worst offenders when it comes to employing its staff on precarious contracts. UCU has campaigned against the extended and ever-increasing use of hourly contracts for a long time, but at the University of Edinburgh this work was picked up also by major newspapers. Following on work in previous years, including a 2012-2013 survey on the conditions of casualised staff members (https://ucuedinburgh.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/zero-hours-survey/ ), in 2013 a Freedom of Information request showed that 23 percent of all staff, and 47 percent of staff in Humanities and Social Sciences, were employed on zero hours contracts (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/ucu-homes-in-on-widespread-use-of-zero-hours-deals/2007035.article ), that is to say hourly contracts with no guaranteed minimum hours of work (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/ucu-homes-in-on-widespread-use-of-zero-hours-deals/2007035.article ). Despite the University’s promise in 2013 to improve job security for its workers (http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/university-of-edinburgh-agrees-to-stop-using-zero-hours-contracts-8802279.html ), and despite tutors and demonstrators having issued two petitions (in 2012 (http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/professor-sir-timothy-o-shea-university-of-edinburgh-principal-ensure-fair-treatment-of-tutors-demonstrators-and-hourly-paid-staff ) and in 2016 (http://blake2.ppls.ed.ac.uk/~s1264545/petition_tutors) ), not much progress has been made. While many staff members previously employed on zero hours contracts have now been moved to ‘guaranteed hours’ contracts (a type of hourly contract stipulating a specific guaranteed number of hours of work for a year), the use of such contracts has not decreased; instead they have been accompanied by an increased use of one-off payments (so-called ‘form 100’) which is an even more precarious way of employing staff.

While employers maintain that insecure contracts are needed to maintain ‘flexibility’, or that hourly paid teaching provides a ‘valuable opportunity’ for PhD students, in reality insecure employment causes anxiety and stress among staff as well as far from ideal learning conditions for students. The move to ‘guaranteed hours’ at Edinburgh should in theory give hourly paid staff an improved job security, but in practice they are very similar to the older zero hours contracts. Some hourly paid staff the union has talked to report not receiving their contracts until the end of term, which means they have no guaranteed hours of work at all and could be fired (or could quit) the next day. Others report being given only a small number of guaranteed hours but then being asked to work above this minimum, which means those extra hours are in-effect on a zero hours contract. Many tutors and lecturers are also employed on very short fixed-term posts, only covering term time, meaning that they have work for twelve weeks at a time (twenty-two weeks of the year), and without a guarantee for continued work. Many of us on casualised contracts do not know how to pay our rents, or where we will be living in a few months in case we have to move to another city or country for work, or – for those daring enough to start a family while in such a precarious working situation – how to feed our children. Many of us work up to five jobs at different workplaces in order to make ends meet. A survey of members in insecure contracts in 2015, carried out by UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7279/Making-ends-meet—the-human-cost-of-casualisation-in-post-secondary-education-May-15/pdf/ucu_makingendsmeet_may15.pdf ), revealed significant numbers of them struggling to get by:

  • 40% said that they earned under £1000 per month.
  • One in seven (14%) earned less than £500 per month, which places them below the Lower Earnings Limit for National Insurance Contributions.
  • 17% said that they struggled to pay for food.
  • One third (34%) said that they struggle to pay rent or mortgage repayments
  • 36% said that they struggled to pay household bills like fuel, electricity, water and repairs

One respondent states: ‘I especially dread the summer and Easter periods as I have no idea how I will pay the rent.’

Like permanent members of staff, who often struggle to cope with unrealistic workloads and other increasing pressures, casualised staff suffer from deteriorating health caused by prolonged insecurity and overwork. A 2015 article (http://www.jfsonline.org/issue7-8/articles/lopesdewan/ ) highlights the emotional impact of job insecurity and exploitation on tutors and lecturers on casualised contracts. Interviewees mention anxiety and negative thoughts of the future, some of them mentioning ‘being close to “breaking point”’. One respondent states that ‘“I’ve reached the stage where I’m thinking I don’t even know if I can do this anymore, I really don’t”’. As the comments from tutors in The Student article shows, hourly paid teaching staff at the University of Edinburgh are no strangers to unpaid work and anxiety caused by their working conditions.

As data released this month shows (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/16/universities-accused-of-importing-sports-direct-model-for-lecturers-pay ), the University of Edinburgh is still – in 2016 – one of the universities in the UK with the largest percentage of staff on casualised contracts. This is one league table in which we should be ashamed to be in the top three. In terms of employing numbers of staff on ‘atypical’ contracts, that is to say hourly rather than fixed-term contracts, the University of Edinburgh is still – as in 2013 – the worst offender, with the largest number of ‘atypical’ workers: 3,760 staff members (https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8384/Precarious-work-in-higher-education-November-2016-update/pdf/ucu_precariouscontracts_hereport_nov16.pdf ). Importantly, most tutors and lecturers on hourly contracts do not get paid for research, which goes directly against the University’s aim to provide research-led teaching. Many also do not get paid, or are insufficiently paid, for meeting with students, or to prepare their classes properly.

We in UCU know that bad working conditions for teachers means bad learning conditions for students. As we have seen casualised staff members’ conditions deteriorate, with many of them living hand to mouth with no job security, we have also seen – despite our best efforts as teachers – education becoming less of a priority for UK universities. While the university cares about getting good NSS results, when teachers and researchers raise issues regarding workloads and insecure working conditions – both of which ultimately impact students – we are not listened to.

Lena Wånggren, UCU Edinburgh Vice President

Clara Martinez Nistal, UCU Edinburgh Officer for Fixed-term and Hourly-paid Staff

St Andrew’s Day Anti-Racism March and Rally 2016

The STUC is organising the annual St Andrew’s Day anti-racism march and rally on Saturday 26 November. The march will assemble at 10.30am at Glasgow Green and from 11.00am will progress through the streets of Glasgow to the Glasgow Film Theatre on Rose Street, where there will be a rally with speakers from 12 noon. The theme of this year’s march is ‘No Racism: Protecting Rights, Defending Communities.’

sta2016