The goal of the UC system, per its own mission statement, is to educate Californians in order to benefit the California economy by creating an educated workforce. It comes as a shock, then, that the UC system has become the first American public university to outsource some of its information technology (IT) jobs to another country. Since last year, the UC system has been firing its IT staff and replacing them with workers from other countries (primarily India), who are brought to the U.S. on work visas.
This action, while motivated by a need to cut costs — with the UC system’s budget being as strained as it is — sends a devastating message to many of the UC’s students. When there are students studying right now to become software engineers, it is tantamount to betrayal for the UC system to threaten their future jobs by sending those jobs overseas. Many potential job opportunities for these students are being destroyed, and the cruel nature of economics means that once these jobs are taken by workers who get paid less, they will never return for people who must command higher wages.
One could even argue that the UC is sending a vote of no confidence in its own ability to educate, if it sees hired foreign workers as a better set of employees than people trained in this state. Of course there are economic reasons for the UC system to outsource these jobs, but such an action implies that the workers they are hiring can do as good a job as those trained in California, which certainly does no favors for the supposed prestige of these universities.
By opting to outsource jobs with the intention of saving money, the UC system is showing a business-like interest in its finances, which is dangerous for an educational institution to have. When the schools of the UC system are ultimately and primarily funded through the state, the schools themselves have no business trying to make efforts to maximize their funds. Even though the UC system has run short on funding in recent years, that is no excuse for the sort of ruthless cost-cutting one would expect of a company in search of profits. Such an attitude paints the UC as greedy and exploitative, not as being economical.
Not only does the UC’s choice to fire American IT personnel create problems in state, it also raises ethical issues regarding the foreign labor that becomes involved. These workers do not have to be paid nearly as much as their American counterparts would be, nor do they receive benefits (not being citizens of this country), and have overall less favorable working conditions. The UC system is essentially allowing a special version of sweatshop labor for foreign college graduates.
A further issue is that there is no chance of the American Dream for these foreign IT workers. While they are here on an H-1B visa (the visa program through which these people are imported to this country), such workers can apply for citizenship, but they can always be returned to India before they qualify for residence here. The end result, then, is that these temporary employees end up taking nothing home but some subpar paychecks (which also means taking money out of the U.S. economy), all the while making California dependent on further generations of imported labor — initiating this cycle of exploitation once more.
Since the UC system is experiencing economic troubles, there is a need to either reduce the UC’s expenses, or increase its budget. Obviously, each university may have its own places where cutting costs — material costs, not personnel costs — can occur, but this is not likely to be a standard action across the system. As for increasing the UC’s operating budget, the main options are simple: Either the state raises taxes or otherwise allocates more funds to the universities, or the system raises tuition to fund itself. Whether either of these things will happen, of course, is not so simple to predict.
Regardless of what the UC system (or the state) does in the long term to improve the UC’s financial status, there needs to be quicker action taken to remedy their firing of IT personnel. If the UC system needs knowledgeable people to do their IT work and does not want to pay full salaries, why not create internships that employ student software engineers to do it? This not only gets the UC’s necessary work done, but it also provides valuable experience for these students in the field they are likely to work in. Plus, there would be no need to use imported labor; the training provided by these internships would go toward people who will use their knowledge and experience in this country, where they will, in all likelihood, make a real living.
The University of California system should not condone the kind of profit-driven outsourcing of jobs that often defines businesses today, not when there are qualified individuals here who can do the job. When these universities are meant to train Californians to take part in the modern economy, there can be no justifying the termination of the sorts of jobs these students will take.