Why are university staff on strike this week? An open letter from UCU members to students

The letter below is being distributed to students at Queen Mary, University of London by local UCU members who are taking strike action. We republish it here in an effort to inform as many students as possible about the ins and outs of this strike and why students should support it.


 

Dear Queen Mary students

The University College Union (UCU) has called a national strike for 25-26 May, Wednesday and Thursday this week. Many academics and support staff will be cancelling all teaching, administration and office hours on both days. This is a way to put pressure on universities to meet our demands.

Why is the strike happening?

Ultimately the strike is about the future of higher education across the country. In particular, university staff are making three key demands.

  1. A pay rise of 5%, to begin to make up for the erosion of our pay by inflation. The pay of university staff has called by 14.5% in real terms since 2009 (and more for those who work in London). Imagine what you’d do with a 14.5% cut in your loan or your summer job wage. Imagine what friends or family who are working would say to a 14.5% cut. We’re not asking for a real terms raise, just one that keeps pace with the rising cost of living. The universities have offered us just 1.1%!
  2. End the shocking gender pay gap in the profession. Women working in universities earn much less than their male counterparts. Nationally in Higher Education, the pay gap in 12.6%.
  3. Greatly reduce the proportion of staff on insecure contracts like fixed-term posts and zero hours contracts. 75,000 members of university staff nationally are on these sorts of contracts. At QM, 51% of overall staff are on such contracts. It’s very difficult to plan and to live a stable life and perhaps start a family when you have no job security.

Doesn’t a strike just hurt the students?

It is not the intention of those of us taking strike action for it to impact adversely on our students, and we do all we can to ensure this doesn’t happen. Just like the junior doctors, sometimes it is necessary to withdraw our labour temporarily to demonstrate to our employers what an important job we do all day every day. The aim of the strike is to ensure better quality education for all involved, in a university that actually puts gender equality into practice, so that students can be well taught by lecturers who are given adequate time to prepare for classes and receive a fair wage in return.

Lecturers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions!

It’s austerity, everyone’s taking a pay cut

Except they aren’t. At QM there are 116 staff earning over £100,000. While a small number of these may be ‘big shot’ professors in certain areas like medical or scientific research, the vast majority are not academics. The average salary of university Vice-Chancellors is now more than a quarter of a million pounds. Our Principal, Simon Gaskell’s salary was revealed to be £284,000 earlier this year. There is plenty of money on universities’ balance sheets, including Queen Mary’s. They’re just not spending it on academic and support staff!

Where are my fees going?

According to Queen Mary’s own accounts for 105, only slightly more than half (61%) of QM’s expenditure goes to pay for the staff who teach, research, administer your course, run our libraries and keep the computers working. For every £9,000 paid by a student in fees, an astonishing £4,000 is spent on ‘non-staff’ expenditure: buildings, business consultants and bonuses.

What you can do

You can sign this petition, organised by a group of students nationally.

On Wednesday and Thursday the UCU will be asking everybody not to cross the picket line. A picket line is a symbolic barrier. When a picket line is in place your lecturers and support staff (who are on strike) ask you not to make use of university buildings or services. Whether or not to cross a picket line is entirely your decision. We ask you to  make sure, however, that it is an informed decision.

On strikes in previous years, many students joined picket lines as supporters, to show their solidarity with the staff and discuss our mutual goal of securing quality and freely accessible education for all, provided by well-paid and valued staff.

 

In solidarity,

Queen Mary UCU