With the UCU having announced a three day strike this December, and plans for more next semester, third year student Alice Nott explains why she supports the lecturers’ striking.
I am not pro-strike. Strikes have real consequences. However, the threats to our education are so great that lecturers must take such action. Evidence shows that the quality of higher education in this country is in decline – and this must be stopped.
If you want the strikes to end, you need to put pressure on those who could make the changes to stop them
Strikes are frustrating and after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic it may seem like they are only going to harm your education. However, the working conditions of staff inevitably become our learning conditions. If you want the strikes to end, you need to put pressure on those who could make the changes to stop them.
Strikes are a last resort and if University management do not address the lecturers’ concerns, they are likely to continue. With each ballot, turnout is going up, with 62.6% of lecturers voting this time compared to 53.6% in 2019. Furthermore, with the threshold to strike being 50% turnout, it is likely that another ballot will produce a majority.
The concerns of staff may seem complex and are often not well communicated to students. Although a look closer shows very reasonable demands, many of which could easily be agreed to by management.
Pay gaps are also significant with staff who are BAME earning 11.7% less than their white counterparts
A major demand of the UCU and one supported by the Universities’ own reporting is an ending of inequality in pay and opportunity.
The University’s EDI report shows 54% of staff identify as women, but they only make up 43% of ‘Research and Teaching’ Staff and whilst 25% of male staff at Nottingham are part of the top two levels of employment, only 12% of women are.
Additionally, BAME staff are 10% more likely to be on fixed term contracts, where they will not gain the benefits of permanent employment or guarantee of future employment past their contract date.
This poses questions about the culture fostered at Nottingham. It has been slow to respond to concerns, with The Ethnicity and Gender Pay Gap Task Group only beginning 2020, despite reporting showing these issues beginning in 2018.
This has led to a feeling among some staff that the University is not taking the issue seriously and is undervaluing its marginalised staff.
The Office for Students reported in 2020 that there is a reluctance among staff to assist in programs that breakdown barriers for marginalised groups “due to academic staff discomfort and lack of knowledge around…talking about topics like race”.
This is despite these programmes being shown to benefit all students – with higher grades, ability to progress, and levels of confidence.
As an institution that is meant to represent the ideals for learning in society, it is important that is reflected in the culture created
This explains why equality is one of the UCU’s four fights. As an institution that is meant to represent the ideals for learning in society, it is important that is reflected in the culture created.
Another issue concerning pay is the ‘national pay award’. The national pay framework forms part of the pay award and its grading has served as the basis for academics’ salaries across the country for over a decade.
Academics at the same ‘grade’ are paid the same baseline salary whether they are here or in Edinburgh.
Whilst academics can still benefit from giving talks and writing books, it has effectively stopped Universities pricing each other out of expertise.
Proposed changes would end this system. Whilst on the surface this may seem to benefit academics, who can go to the highest paying University, the reality could be quite different. Research that generates the most profit would see Universities putting significant sums of money to try and get the ‘best’ academic in this area.
where value was once placed on knowledge, profit has now become the incentive
Areas that are not deemed financially profitable, such as the Arts and Social Sciences, would see their academics’ pay cut as universities concentrate on more lucrative subjects.
This last point gets to the route of concerns that higher education is being marketised and where value was once placed on knowledge, profit has now become the incentive.
Casualisation of younger academics is an example of such a policy; universities implement zero-hour contacts or fire and rehire practices that prevent younger workers from gaining the benefits of full employment.
Pensions may seem remote to your learning, but it does affect who is teaching you. In 2020, the percentage of staff senior in age (55-64 and 65-74) leaving the University effectively doubled. This means that staff who have the most experience are leaving the University at a higher rate.
The pension changes are leading to younger academics leaving. Changes proposed by USS would lead to researchers losing a quarter of their pensions, which is the equivalent of between £200,000-£300,000. For younger lecturers, this means they could go on strike for years and still not lose the amount they will under the USS’s changes.
At the same time, contributions are going up, leading to younger academics leaving the pre-1992 institutions where the changes effect.
The University’s own EDI report shows 27% of staff who were 25–34-year-olds leaving the University in 2020, down from a high of 35% the previous year. With the average age of a PhD graduate being 26-27 it means we are not just losing experienced staff but also those were most likely to create the future of academic research in this country.
This is a particular concern for Universities like Nottingham as the proposed changes would not affect post-1992 Universities (the old Polytechnics). The consequence being younger staff will move to these Universities taking their expertise with them.
In the long term, a degree from the University of Nottingham may seem less prestigious so the work you did to first get here and then whilst you were here may not be valued as highly.
Whilst these concerns may seem abstract and are often not communicated effectively to students, the implications are huge. If Universities continue down this path, it is likely that the whole higher education system in this country will devalue knowledge for profit.
view the strike as a short-term disruption that if supported properly will lead to a long-term gain
With interest groups such as the fossil fuel industry, willing to pour money into beneficial research the implication on the academy could be dire. Shell alone has spent £60millon in a single year funding Universities.
If a city is built on knowledge, then like any foundation this knowledge must be strong, rigorous, and substantive, else just like a house we could subside.
Neither me or the UCU are asking you to strike, and academics will try and help if you ask. It is better to view the strike as a short-term disruption that if supported properly will lead to a long-term gain.
If you want to get involved, there will be students on the picket line with letters and petitions to sign.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.