University staff strikes: Should students back them?

Source: Clem Onojeghuo (via Unsplash)
It can feel like a catch-22, but how should students react to the staff strikes next week?

by Adam Clarke

74% of the members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have voted in favour of taking strike action for 8 days starting from Monday 25th November at as many as 60 UK universities, including Cardiff. In addition to the cancelled lectures, classes and seminars, there will also be members of the union not being able to respond to any university emails, while also not publishing learning materials online, for fear of undermining the purpose of the strike. This purpose is said to be the improvement of working conditions, the wellbeing of the staff, as well as a pay rise and all this comes in response to further changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme which have already left some members of university staff up to £240,000 worse off in retirement since 2011’s round of changes.

Being students our initial reactions to any industrial action normally consists of rolling our eyes, internal sighs and thinking how inconvenient it is for us personally. It is completely understandable, when you consider the astronomical sums of money we pay towards our tuition fees to have it affected by industrial action. However, if we take a step back from our own student-centric point of view, we find that the proposed ends of the strike more than ever justifies its’ means. The initial motivation for the strike was indeed the proposed changes to the pension scheme and this comes as no surprise when you consider that UK university staff have seen their pay devalue by approximately 20% since 2009. University staff voted to strike due to pay and pensions issues as recently as 2018 and with universities arguably having reneged on promises made in the resolution of that strike, the present action became somewhat inevitable.

“The strikers have made it clear that industrial action is a last resort in order to force the universities into action”

File:Cardiff University.JPG
Cardiff University staff will be striking this week. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Keeping aside the pension issue, gender equality is also a massive factor in the strike taking place next week. The starkness of the situation cannot be overstated, with women being paid at an hourly rate, 21% lower than that of their male colleagues at Cardiff University. Furthermore, women occupy just 39% of the top-paying jobs yet they have 67% of the lowest-paid at the university. When you consider that Cardiff University currently has well over 200 members of staff on six-figure salaries, and that Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan is earning over a quarter of a million pounds a year, this clear pay gap suggests a real need for serious action. However, Cardiff is not alone and indeed the other 59 universities also taking part in the strike have their own issues with pay inequality on the basis of gender and race; the strikers have made it clear that industrial action is a last resort in order to force the universities into action.

I know it can be inconvenient, and I’m aware that it can seem unfair to have your expensive university education affected by a strike. What is important though, is that we as students stand in support of our lecturers and tutors who are not striking out of a desire for a week off and they certainly aren’t striking in order to disrupt our studies (that is an unfortunate by-product); they are striking to stand up for their rights as employees of a multi-million pound business who have had enough of everything.


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