8th June 2012 5:26 pm
Following the University’s announcement that they are planning to outsource their Facilities Management and Catering provisions to private providers, the Students’ Union drafted an open letter to the Vice Chancellor, Michael Farthing, and the Registrar, John Duffy. The services to be outsourced include; portering, security, residences, estates and many more (the full list can be read here).
In our letter we outlined our concerns about the impact we believe these proposals would have on students and the campus community and asked for a number of issues to be addressed. Last week we received our response. You can read both at www.sussexstudent.com/outsourcing along with other stories regarding the outsourcing.
The Union does not feel that our concerns have been adequately allayed. In particular, we’d like to underline that we are not satisfied that third-party providers could be held accountable by the Students’ Union in the same way in-house services currently can be, and the University have not sufficiently addressed this issue in their response. They have given no satisfactory assurances that Students’ Union influence over the running of these services will be guaranteed under the new plans. We see this as a major flaw in the proposals. Given the history of the differences in how the Union has been able to constructively work with in-house service providers as opposed to difficulties faced when trying to influence outsourced providers when issues arise, our reservations around the proposals are only re-enforced by the University's response.
For example, over the years the Students’ Union has worked with the University to achieve positive changes in University operations affecting services that, under the proposals, would be outsourced. On the Food for US campaign, which was around improving the University’s sustainability, nutrition and diversity in its catering, this led to marked improvements, including bringing in a head chef who has since been recognised by a national award for his achievements in these areas. The Eco Uni campaign has resulted in meaningful progressive, ethical and sustainable improvements in the University resulting in the creation of a dedicated staff position where there was previously none. These are two key examples of large campaigns where the Union has been able to affect significant, positive changes to the University. There are also numerous other examples when redress and accountability for students has been required on a case by case basis for whom the Union has been able to represent and help achieve necessary changes.
However, we can see that this is not the case with services that are already outsourced. One such issue arose when a Sussex student had a complaint to make about their accommodation. The assumed line of redress would be through the Housing Office. However, the Housing Office could offer no help as this was a student of the International Study Centre and therefore their accommodation was handled through a private provider. The University’s response was that if this private provider was not breaking its contractual agreement then it would be under no obligation to offer any student an opportunity for redress. And even if there was an opportunity for redress, it would be through a process that the Students' Union would have no part in agreeing, nor any input into. Furthermore, these students had been totally unaware that their accommodation would be handled by a private provider when applying to their course. As they paid their fees to the University, they had naturally assumed that they could hold the University accountable for any issues that may arise.
Because of this we cannot accept merely being offered a discussion with the University about how the 'process operates’. We must ensure that the student voice is heard on proposals that would clearly have a great impact on the student experience, and dramatically reduce students’ ability to have their say in the way services on campus are run.
We therefore feel that if the University are serious about ensuring that student welfare and safety and the so-called ‘student experience’ is a priority, then they must agree to enter into formal and comprehensive consultation with the Students’ Union regarding these proposals. We are now asking this from the University and will keep students up-to-date on how they respond.