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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2012

Global Conference Agrees to Deepen Cooperation

CAUT president Wayne Peters (left) with Colombian professor Miguel Angel Beltrán Sept. 27 in Buenos Aires. Dr. Beltrán thanks CAUT for supporting him while wrongly imprisoned & persecuted by Colombian authorities.
CAUT president Wayne Peters (left) with Colombian professor Miguel Angel Beltrán Sept. 27 in Buenos Aires. Dr. Beltrán thanks CAUT for supporting him while wrongly imprisoned & persecuted by Colombian authorities.
Higher education and research personnel across the globe need to work more closely together if they are to successfully tackle the unprecedented challenges they face, concluded a high level meeting of union and association leaders.

More than 120 delegates attended the 8th International Higher Education Research Conference in Buenos Aires last month organized by Education International, the global union federation representing more than 30 million teachers and education workers, and co-hosted by EI’s Argentinian affiliate, Confederación Nacional de Docentes Universitarios.

“From draconian cuts in public funding, benefits and pay to rising student tuition fees and ideologically driven assaults on collective bargaining and trade union rights, higher education and research trade unions around the world are in a fight for their lives,” said EI’s general secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his opening address. “And, in fact, many of these problems are global challenges, requiring global solutions.”

Van Leeuwen added that defending and promoting the rights of academic and general staff is the key to ensuring that higher education can fulfill its role of serving the public interest.

“No academic institution, particularly in a world characterized by increased academic mobility and competition for talent, can ever hope to be successful without a capable and committed professoriate,” he said. “But the academic profession today is under increasing stress from austerity measures that are reducing salaries and working conditions, undermining of trade union rights, and increasing fixed-term, casual, and precarious employment. EI has consistently said in our interventions with UNESCO, the OECD, the World Bank, the G-20 and the IMF that investment in public education, including higher education, is critical to exiting the crisis.”

CAUT president Wayne Peters participated in a panel discussion on research and academic integrity, highlighting recent controversies in Canada in which several universities have inappropriately ceded academic control over programs to external donors.

“In all the cases we’ve encountered, our message has been a simple but powerful one: that universities must serve the public interest, not private ones,” said Peters. “Sadly, we’ve learned that some university administrators are all too willing to sacrifice integrity for money, allowing outside interests to shape what they do and whom they hire in return for funding. It has been CAUT’s experience that organizations and unions like the ones re­presented in this room today are, in the end, the only ones that can and do work to defend the integrity of higher education.”

Delegates also debated and endorsed an EI policy statement on tuition fees that argues for the elimination of fees where they exist.

“I do not for a moment believe that a privately financed higher education system that pushes students and their families deeper into debt is sustainable,” said EI’s van Leeuwen. “It is a sub-prime model of education built on the very same house of cards — or more precisely credit cards — that led to the global financial crisis.”

Recognizing the common threats faced by academics worldwide, leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation, information sharing and best practices around campaigning, organising, collective bargaining, and the promotion of equity within the sector.

A special emphasis was placed on the need to strengthen international solidarity and development cooperation initiatives. As a first step, a letter of solidarity with Colombian professor Miguel Angel Beltrán was issued and signed by participants.

Beltrán attended the conference and described how he was falsely accused by Colombian authorities of supporting terrorism because his academic work was critical of the government. He was jailed for two years without trial and tortured before he was released in 2011 with all charges dropped as a result of international pressure.

Following his release he received death threats and fled the country fearing for his life. The EI letter of solidarity calls on the administration of the Autonomous University of Colombia to extend Beltrán’s sabbatical leave until assurances of safety by the Colombian authorities.

Combertty Rodríguez García, EI’s chief regional coordinator for Latin America, concluded the conference by emphasizing the significance of the global gathering.

“This conference has proven that by standing together, we are stronger and can successfully meet the many challenges faced by higher education and research institutions, trade unions, staff and students,” he noted.