Half a million academics from around the world have joined forces to create a series of new international agreements that will help safeguard academic standards at home and abroad.
Developed from an initiative led by the UK’s University and College Union, unions from North America, Europe, Australasia and Africa sign deals at an international conference – Challenging the global market in education – held at the Institute of Education in London. The agreements make specific references to protecting academic freedom and monitoring the work of private companies in higher education.
The unions are concerned at a growing international market in tertiary education that has seen universities in the UK, America, Australia and Canada open lucrative campuses in the Middle East and East Asia, and say they will use the agreements to hold institutions to account for their overseas ventures.
Signatories will report abuses like those at the Singapore campus of Australia’s James Cook University, where a lecturer was suspended and dragged before a court of law for wearing a pro-democracy t-shirt. The conference will commit unions to discouraging staff and the academic community from working and sharing research with institutions with bad overseas records.
The agreements will also allow the unions to share intelligence and work on joint campaigns against private companies who are looking to set up public-private partnerships with universities to recruit international students. The unions oppose the creation of a two-tier workforce in higher education and believe that in-house alternatives carry far less risk to the reputation, academic standards and financial well-being of universities. The private firm, INTO, for example, has been overwhelmingly rejected by staff at every UK university that has been polled on whether or not the institution should work with the company.