By Nidhi Bhavsar (She/Her)
The University and College Union (UCU) are striking in a nationwide university staff demand for fair pay. The strikes, which started in 2018, came back in full force last year in response to the cost-of-living crisis.
Strikes disrupted freshers week in universities across the UK, leading to picketing on campuses and cancelled lectures. The strikes over the past year also affected graduates, due to marking assessment boycotts and potential delayed graduation and even the lack of an official degree classification on certification.
Union workers have been demanding the reversal of pension deductions, a pay rise of inflation plus 2%, closing pay gaps in gender, ethnicity, disabilities etc., an end to insecure contracts and an end to excessive workloads and unpaid work.
Since an extremely difficult two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and a consequent cost-of-living crisis, staff have been going hungry, suffering from heavy workloads, poor mental health and a lack of fair compensation or living wage for their work. The strikes continue due to the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) refusing to meet the demands of UCU members, despite an increase in annual fees for some students.
A UCU analysis this year said that universities in the UK earned £44.6 billion in 2022, a £3.5 billion increase from the previous year, and a £2.6 billion surplus. Meanwhile, staff expenditure remains at 51% of income, a ‘record low’. Meanwhile, staff pay has decreased by about 20% since 2009, with £41,000 as an average salary of lecturers; £51,590 for a senior lecturer; £64,356 for an associate professor, and £90,891 for a professor.
Industrial action may continue into 2024 if demands aren’t fully met. Strikes at Strathclyde have been put on hold after the Strathclyde UCU accepted an offer on the marking assessment boycott, waiving the pay check deductions that staff suffered. All demands, however, have not been met.