Declaration by the union

Declaration by the Inter-regional trade union of higher education employees “University Solidarity” 

This declaration, adopted by the 27 April conference, is published on the organisation’s web site, unisolidarity.ru. The site has also published the discussion drafts that preceded this final statement, with the aim of making transparent the discussion prior to its adoption.

The Russian system of professional and higher education is going through a deep crisis: education’s share of budget spending consistently falls; teachers in higher education face humiliatingly low levels of pay, attacks on their rights and constant dictates from civil servants and administrators; endless top-down reforms of education are conducted without the participation of higher education professionals or wider society. The authorities’ actions have recently become particularly cynical: an absurd rating system has been put in place, which has, without proof, deemed a range of educational institutions to be “ineffective”; a sharp reduction in public sector jobs is planned; and the Ministry of Education and Science has shamelessly pronounced that the majority of teachers. whose pay is today less than 30,000 rubles [£623 or $957] per month, “low-grade specialists”. All this has provoked teachers’ anger, expressed in the Open Letter to the Non-Existent Community of Teachers in Higher Education, signed by thousands of university staff, and in a whole series of public statements by teachers’ representatives.

Under conditions in which civil society is becoming more active in our country, the question of setting up an effective professional organisation that defends the social and labour rights, freedoms and interests of teachers and other employees in higher education is on the agenda. The absence of such an organisation, which is able to stand up to the authorities’ arbitrary bureaucratic power, is one of the reasons that the higher education system has deteriorated and the prestige of the teaching profession fallen. The so-called “Trade Union of Education and Science Workers”, which is affiliated to the official “Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Russia” [FITUR], only collects membership subscriptions, which are deducted automatically from teachers’ pay and go to pay for an enormous bureaucracy – and, recently, also for the organisation of public political events in support of the present government. The FITUR structures, legacies from Soviet times, are in reality not trades unions but servile objects of state manipulation, tied to the university administrators. The real interests of higher education employees can be expressed only by a trade union set up by them themselves, self-organised and free from the influence of state and administrative structures.

In setting up the Inter-regional trade union of higher education employees “University Solidarity”, we are confident that it brings together the most active of our colleagues, who are prepared to take concrete action to defend higher education and to defend their professional, social and labour rights and interests. We will work towards winning the support of, and becoming the real form of self-defence of, the majority of the academy and teaching staff. Our organisation must define itself as a classical trade union, independent from employers and civil servants, uniting employed staff and prepared to achieve its aims by collective action from negotiations to strikes. The trade union will use all the means envisaged by international legal norms and Russian legislation to work for the defence of our members, to receive and circulate all necessary information from state bodies and university administrations, and to mobilise teachers in defence of their rights, freedoms and interests.

However, the place of higher education in society, and the specific social-political and economic situation in our country, means that the new trade union will not be able to limit itself to the narrow trade union function. Our organisation must also initiate a wide-ranging discussion of current issues concerning education policy, of the mission of higher education, of the defence of access to it for all citizens that have the necessary abilities, and the democratisation of the universities and the whole political and economic system in Russia.

We are convinced that the teacher and the student must become the main figures in Russian higher education, and that the role of administration must be to ensure that conditions for effective education and research work are in place (and not to impose brutal bureaucratic control over them). The teachers and students of Russian higher education institutions are ready to realise the principles of academic autonomy and self-management.

Our trade union is prepared to fight for:

1. An increase in budget spending on higher education. Without this it will be impossible to ensure reasonable levels of pay for teaching staff and the training of highly-qualified specialists in the necessary quantity. The reduction in education’s share of budget spending, while the outlay on military and policing increases, is intolerable. Education’s share of budget spending should be no less than 7%.

Finance from the social fund is the basis for ensuring the right to education, considered internationally to be one of the fundamental human rights. Access to higher education should be guaranteed for people from any section of society; alternative sources of finance should only play an auxiliary role. Considering the international trend towards general higher education, the Inter-regional trade union of higher education employees “University Solidarity” considers that the number of public sector jobs in higher education should not be cut but increased.

We also stand for scrapping the “per head” system of financing universities, which leads to an unhealthy scramble to retain students at any cost, regardless of their success or otherwise, or their attitude to study.

2. An increase in the pay for university teaching staff, which should be correlated to a rate not less than two times higher than the average for the whole economy. The pay of faculty members in higher education should be based on a rate that does not include administrative employees. We stand for the abolition of the so-called “sectoral wages system” that undermines professional solidarity and makes teachers dependent on management. The formation and level of pay must be worked out with the participation of representatives of the faculty. The basic (guaranteed) pay must comprise not less than 70% of the total pay. We consider it urgent to work out – with the participation of free trade unions and the whole higher education community – a system of pay for teachers that takes into account their qualifications, real work load and the quality of their work. Such a system must be implemented in the universities according to the principle of “equal pay for equal work” (including for cover staff and hourly-paid staff) and a guarantee of the two functions of wages: (i) reproductive – the basic (guaranteed) pay level should be worked out according to this principle, i.e. the fulfilment of teachers’ material, professional and spiritual needs, and (ii) stimulative – (stimulative payments, prizes etc). Such a system will preserve the best that there is in the unified tariff scale, without reproducing its failings, and will reduce to a minimum the arbitrary power of managers to determine teachers’ total pay packages.

The system of pay must be transparent. It is unacceptable to apply principles of “commercial secrecy” to pay. The pay levels of managers in higher education institutions must be no greater than three times that of teaching staff.

For this reason we stand for the abolition of the Government of the Russian Federation’s Decree no. 583 of 5 August 2008, “On the Introduction of a New Wages System for Employees in Federal Public Sector Institutions and Federal State Bodies”, which introduced serious disproportions in the pay of employees in education, undermined professional solidarity, gave rise to real social injustice, and opened the door to almost unlimited possibilities for university bureaucracies to expand their arbitrary power.

3. The autonomy of higher education, in three respects:

— The development of bases for democratic self-management (including the election of those in responsible positions) in education institutions, the guarantee of the rights of teachers and students to participate in deciding on questions that affect their work;

— No ideological control or dictates to universities from the state – which includes not permitting the clericalisation of state and municipal educational institutions; and

— No ideological control of teachers’ professional activity and, especially, of their political activity outside of working hours.

4. Reduction in the number of compulsory audited hours in teachers’ timetables, and a change in the organisation of teachers’ workloads. As well as the considerable time required for non-audited work and individual work with students at both undergraduate and post-graduate level, timetables must include time for research and planning of teaching.

5. Reduction in the student-teacher ratio, which will make possible an improvement in the quality of work with students and create new posts in universities. The government’s plan, announced in December 2012, to reduce higher education academic staff levels by 44% and to raise the workload of those that are left by 28%, must be scrapped.

6. Cutbacks in the university administrative apparatus and the setting-up of an effective system of inspection of its activity.

7. An end to the arbitrary administrative method of merging higher education institutions that damages the staff community.

8. Stimulation for, and material encouragement of, research activity by teachers, and the formation of a system of dedicated and independent grant support for such activity.

9. The development of conditions for academic mobility for teaching staff both throughout Russia and abroad. Teachers who are engaged in research and academic work should be able to arrange study leave from their main place of work. We also consider it essential to improve and standardise the system of higher qualifications and of visiting research fellowships (including those abroad).

10. Abolition of the Federal Law “On Education”, passed in December 2012, which attracted sharp criticism from the professional community of teachers and from public opinion generally. We consider that a new law on education should be drafted on the basis of the widest and most open public discussion.

11. The preparation, public discussion and implementation of projects to improve the higher education system in Russia by means of democratisation, genuine modernisation and work towards the highest international standards.

12. Comprehensive support for, and defence of the rights of, students, no matter what country they are citizens of, on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The Inter-regional trade union of higher education employees “University Solidarity” bases its activity on the following general principles:

— Independence: freedom of the trade union from any external force, be it university administrations, organis of state power or political parties;

— Democratism: equal rights for all members of the trade union, the self-management of all trade union organisations, rejection of any leader cult;

— Internationalism: defenc eof the rights of employees in higher education regardless of their nationality or ethnic origin, and resistance to all attempts to divide people along national lines and the incitement of tensions between nationalities in society as a whole.

The Inter-regional trade union of higher education employees “University Solidarity” stands for solidairty with workers in other sectors of the economy, and for this reason will join the all-Russian trade union federation, the Confederation of Labour of Russia. We will pay particular attention to developing cooperation with other trade unions in the social sector (education, health and culture). We see ourselves as part of the international movement of working people for social rights and political freedoms, and for a life lived with dignity.

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