When it comes to challenges in higher education, unions make a difference

"The austerity in public sector budgets, the decline in salaries, the threats to academic freedom, the increasingly precarious nature of work stability, the expansion of privatization, and the reduction in unionised academic staff, are some of the main challenges faced by teachers in higher education”, Nelly Stromquist, an expert in international educational policy, explained in Mexico.

The expert from the University of Maryland in the United States put this forward at the conference entitled Entre los derechos del profesorado de educación superior y los desafíos del presente(The rights of higher education teaching personnel and the challenges of the present day), organized by the Mexican Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), which included the participation of Education International (EI).

Stromquist stressed that these challenges are not new, because more than 20 years ago UNESCO issued the "Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel", which set out the rights and duties ensuring the protection of these professionals.

She pointed out that these guidelines have not yet been implemented in their entirety and the information evidencing this is to be found in her research entitled "Twenty years later: International efforts to protect the rights of higher education teaching personnel remain insufficient".

She warned that the UNESCO Recommendation, the only international standard concerning the conditions of staff working at this level of education, is little known across the world and this was demonstrated in a survey carried out by EI with academics, teachers, trade union leaders and staff in various organizations involved with education.

The four pillars on which the rights of those who work in higher education rest are: freedom to teach, freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof, freedom to participate in representative academic organizations or professional bodies, and freedom to exercise their civil liberties without discrimination of any kind and without fear of reprisal or institutional censorship.

Meanwhile, Howard Stevenson, Director of Research at the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, England, stressed the importance of trade unions and unity: "When we work individually we cannot achieve change, but when we work collectively, yes we can. Unity is the key. Through personal experience, together we have the power to change things. This union has that opportunity. Now is the time to remember that unity is strength".

On behalf of SNTE, Professor Juana Imelda Infant Arratia reiterated that there is a need to improve the working conditions of higher education teaching personnel, including teacher training colleges, and highlighted the subject of unionisation: "This is the way to support teaching staff at this level so that that they can exercise their rights as academics, rely on academic freedom, and also enjoy rights as workers with the benefits established in law".

Attending were also Nikola Wachter and Martin Henry from the Education International Research Unit and Ina Eriksson from the Teachers' Union of Sweden.

More information about the conference available here 

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