It seems the threat of more strike action of the kind that left thousands of students fearing for their degree and future job prospects at the end of last year has not fully subsided. This comes after a politics lecturer at the University of Nottingham described the settlement reached between the University and College Union and the employers’ group UCEA as “more of a ceasefire than a peace.”
In March, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) urged its members to stop marking assessed work in an attempt to force universities to address the issues of higher pay and job security. They argued that a rising student-to-teacher ratio had made their job more difficult and that they had not received any substantial real term pay rise in the last two decades. Furthermore figures from the Trades Unions Congress revealed that if lecturers were paid for the unpaid overtime that they put in, they would earn an extra £10,216 per year.
With numerous exams cancelled and coursework left unmarked, a last minute deal was struck. The UCU, the new superunion to come from the merger of the AUT and Nafthe in June suspended industrial action thanks to a deal worth 10.37% over the following two years with an independent review the following year. This was a far cry from the 23% increase initially demanded. Indeed Sally Hunt, the joint-general secretary of the UCU, has written to union members making it clear that the deal is “not enough”, and is just a “start”.
Philip Cowley, a lecturer from the politics school of the University of Nottingham has argued that “the face-saver which allowed the union to back down and accept an offer that [previously] was considered miserly is the idea of an independent review in the third year of top-up fees, with the right to reopen negotiations then.” He believes that “the idea that any such review is going to discover vast pots of gold being hoarded…is just fanciful, as is the idea that the employers will then suddenly agree to up the pay deal.”
It therefore appears to some that if lecturers continue to feel underpaid and thus undervalued, and universities cannot finance the level of pay award demanded, tensions could rise again sooner rather than later. Moreover the merging of the two unions, the AUT and Nafthe, into the UCU has strengthened its position. With over 1,000 lecturers and researchers who are members of the UCU at Nottingham, Cowley ominously wrote: “Pity those entering university this September. In 2009, after three years study, and just as they approach graduation, I’m willing to bet the same misery [as in June] will be visited on them”. Only time will tell the extent to which this will come true.