Lecturers and staff at many of London’s Universities have been on strike from the 25th and will stay out until the 4th December in a wide-ranging industrial dispute. At issue, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) says, are questions of pay, including academia’s 15% gender pay gap, and workload for lecturers as well as changes to the pension scheme enjoyed by university staff.
The first of the two formally separate disputes relates to pay and conditions. Lecturers are walking out over an offer from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) of a nominal pay rise of 1.8% which is a real terms pay cut and crucially the rise of casual and contract labour in academia. Lecturers in the UK are increasingly employed on either a short term, insecure contract or simply are paid only for the actual teaching time that they do. This means that lecturers on casual contracts are not paid for time spent preparing or marking, which on average amounts to 45% of the time spent working on a course. Many need to take second or even third jobs to cover basic expenses as a result, a strong factor in the increase in reported levels of stress in the sector.
The second dispute, over pensions, relates to those lecturers and staff who use the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) for their retirement requirements. The UCEA is requesting that the workers covered by this scheme increase their contributions from 8% to 9.6% now and to 11% in 2021. The UCU argues that could leave its members worse off by an average of £240,000 but the UCEA believes that this is a reasonable solution that maintains the viability of the pension scheme. A last minute UCEA compromise offer to limit contribution increases to 9.1% this year was rejected by the UCU on the grounds that it maintained the increase to 11% in 2021.
By and large students have stood in solidarity with staff at their universities with very few crossing the picket lines and many instead choosing to stand on them with their lecturers. Morgan Paulett, a first year student at UCL said ‘I won’t cross the picket because lecturers at UCL are being overworked and haven’t had a pay rise in ten years, and some go several nights without seeing their children because of it’. The scenes in London were replicated nationwide, at the University of Manchester some students went so far as to declare one of their number as acting Vice Chancellor.
The full list of London Universities on strike is: University College London, City University of London, Goldsmiths College, Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway and the University of Roehampton which is involved in pay and conditions dispute only.
Picture courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn