The “Bloomsbury Masterplan” promises a futuristic Metropolis of “circulations systems”, “cellular spaces”, “key perimeter points”, “enhanced landscaping”, even “enterprise incubators”. But it’s less a grand design than a shocking piece of cloth-eared spin-doctoring. UCL management’s bureaucratic flights of fantasy, business-speak hype, and manipulative rhetoric of modernization all bring a great university into disrepute.
The masterplan deceitfully claims to be committed to making UCL “an enjoyable place to work and study”, thus “enhancing the student and staff experience”. What it fails to mention is the pernicious outsourcing campaign being conducted behind the scenes against UCL’s lowest-paid workers.
OUTSOURCING AND INSTITUTIONAL RACISM
The people who maintain the environment whose transformation is being robotically envisioned will be the masterplan’s first victims. UCL management proposes to outsource the university’s sixty-five cleaning staff. 93% of these staff members are from black and ethnic minority groups. This is by far the highest proportion of any division of staff—overall UCL’s staff is 76% white.
Outsourcing inevitably leads to a deterioration in terms and conditions: staff members will lose pension guarantees and their union rights will be jeopardised. There’s no guarantee that their UCL terms and conditions will be protected in the future.
The outsourcing proposal makes a mockery of the masterplan’s easy slogans about staff welfare. Given the black and ethnic minority proportion of those being targeted, what’s this really if not institutional racism? The UCL staff experience will be enhanced, the workplace made more enjoyable—so long as you aren’t a black cleaner.
The treacherous language of the masterplan is tiresomely familiar. Access, social mobility, enhanced experience, and all the rest … it’s the same empty rhetoric that the government uses to justify education cuts that will drive students into unprecedented debt.
The masterplan tells a story of metamorphosis and revitalization: space-age environments, business development, “global ambition”. It delights in “nimble strategies and a ‘menu’ of individually costed and independent projects that can be implemented as and when funds and partners emerge” (maybe some dictator will oblige with funding). There will even be bunting!
But this story is haunted by a truth: the real crushing economic impact on those who can least afford to bear it, namely the cleaning staff who will—unless the outsourcing is stopped—become the second-class citizens keeping UCL management’s rotten utopia presentable to its cherished business partners.
GETTING THE PRIORITIES WRONG
What are our priorities? UCL management can afford to employ no fewer than six groups of consultants, architects, space planners, and festival directors to produce a new “vision” for the campus. It can afford to sponsor these people to ruminate on the philosophy of doors and on “bins which have a major impact”. It can afford multicolour billboards and slick graphics for the presentation of a masterplan whose jargon is either duplicitous or simply impossible to understand. It can afford enterprise incubators (whatever these may be). It can afford to “enhance” student experience in the only way it knows how … by “upgrading” the student shop.
But management says it can’t afford to provide decent terms and conditions for its most exploited workers.
Oppose the masterplan. Fight back in Bloomsbury!
To read more about bins which have a major impact, visit http://www.ucl.ac.uk/masterplan/
You can tell the provost what you think about the masterplan by writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org