As you may have seen recently, university lecturers and other teaching staff around the country have backed strikes over pensions, pay, and working conditions; this includes the majority of voting UCU members here in York.
These have been a regular occurrence over the last couple of years, with industrial action occurring in my first year in 2019-20, and I wholeheartedly believe that we should be supporting our striking lecturers. I’m aware it’s a very controversial opinion, but it’s one I firmly believe in.
I’m sure we all agree that the last couple of years haven’t been easy: not on us as students, but also not on our lecturers.
Teaching staff have had to take reactive approaches at every step with changing COVID-19 restrictions: moving all learning online, changing course content so it can be done remotely, and in some cases completely changing the assessment because it’s not possible without a certain bit of lab equipment (I know this happened with my modules last year!).
So, after such an uncertain, tumultuous time, I believe we should be standing with our lecturers in their fight for better pay and working conditions.
I also believe that the cuts to lecturers’ pensions gives us another reason to stand with them. The UCU claim that staff pension contributions could rise by 35% and the UCU have said that: “The changes that have already taken effect between 2011 and 2019 will make a typical member of staff £240,000 worse off over the course of their career and retirement.”
However, another important perspective is that our lecturers are also striking over casualisation and inequality. Not only are two-thirds of academics on non-fixed term contracts according to the UCU website, but the statistics also state “the mean gender pay gap is 15.1%” and that, currently, “it will not be closed for another 22 years”.
The UCU also says that the disability pay gap is 9%, and the pay gap between black and white staff members is a staggering 17%. I think these numbers show a burning injustice that must be addressed for our teaching staff.
We shouldn’t show any animosity or frustration towards lecturers – it’s not their fault. I would also argue that the fact that many lecturers feel that they have no option but to strike clearly shows the urgency of the situation.
The £9,250 yearly tuition fees aren’t going directly to our lecturers, they go to the University. If we are going to be frustrated, we should direct those frustrations where they’re needed: towards those cutting our lecturers’ pensions, controlling their working conditions, and influencing pay.
The least our lecturers deserve is our support.