As lecturers go on strike again, are students standing with them on the picket line?

This Thursday, 74 universities saw their lecturers walk out on strike. For some students, this will be the third time that the lecturers have decided to walk out. Although some worry about the effect this may have on students, most seem to support their lecturer’s decision.

The University and College Union (UCU) say that over 50,000 of their members will be going on strike from 20th February to 13th March. Lecturers are striking for a multitude of different reasons. The main reasons appear to be the 15% gender pay gap in universities, changes to lecturers’ pensions and unfavourable contracts.

Lecturers are now expected to pay more into their pensions, raising from 8% to 9.6%, with universities fail to help. This change could mean that lecturers are £240,000 worse off in retirement, while professors stand to lose up to £730,000 in pension funds.

The UCU is also unhappy about the contracts being offered. 39% of lecturers are on short term contracts, 13% are paid by the hour and over 4,000 lecturers are on zero-hour contracts.

The universities have yet to strike a deal with the unions, meaning the strikes could occur again next semester. The one positive the unions can take is that students appear to be on the side of the lecturers.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

The suffering of striking staff concerns us all – Labour Article

As the higher education sector weathers a third wave of strikes, many might be weary. The dispute, initially over pensions but now about much more, is entering its third year. For my generation of students, strikes are just as much a part of uni life as taking quizzes on the Tab. (Don’t lie. We’ve all done it). 

Facing this, it might be tempting to channel the anger over missed tutorials and lost tuition fees towards those on the picket lines. But that would be a mistake. 

No one wants to give up weeks of paid work, yet hundreds of thousands of UCU members have done – not once, but three times. Why would anyone do this without a serious provocation? All the educational staff who support students, day in and day out, have a crucial message for us. 

They’re telling us that they have had enough. 

They’re telling us they’ve had enough of stagnating wages. Pay in the sector has taken a 20% hit in real-terms (when compared to inflation) since 2009. Private companies are all too ready to steal staff away. Crippling ‘brain drain’ of universities will be the result if action isn’t taken. 

They’re telling us they’ve had enough of deep inequalities in the sector. It’s bad enough that average staff pay is sinking and jobs are cut as vice-chancellors and other senior managers have seen their wages get fatter. It’s worse still that the gender pay gap in the sector is so wide, reaching nearly twice the national average. 

And they’re telling us they can’t survive the endemic uncertainty. Staff are set to lose up to £200,000 from their pensions. Younger academics are likely to be even worse off. No more ivory tower isolation; the future in the sector is looking grim indeed. 

Any one of these grievances would be cause for concern. But all of them together?

So it’s not an exaggeration to say there’s a lot at stake here. The academic staff are bravely standing up once again for their future. 

They’re also standing up for the future of our universities, whose place as world-leading institutions will be seriously threatened if staff continue to be treated as disposable (something which post-Brexit Britain cannot afford). 

This strike action, the most serious to ever take place in tertiary education, reflects deep fault lines in the economy of Britain today. Wage inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads, pay deflation – the UCU calls these the ‘four fights’. Whether or not you’ve ever stepped foot on a university campus, you will have felt the chafing of these chains that shackle Britain’s workers. 

Do these sound like the demands of radicals? Or do they reflect the dignity and respect we all expect in the workplace? Whatever happens next will set the tone for industrial relations for the next five years under this government. 

So when my lecturer stands up and says enough is enough, I believe them. The Labour Party believes them. And so should you.

Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders

Point of Information

The right mindset, the wrong execution? – a Liberal response

After reading Mr Saunders’ article, I could see the passion in his take of the topic. It is clear that he truly believes in the UCU and their demands, which I am in support of. However, as I finished the article, I felt as if I was reading a socialist manifesto.

Although I agree that lecturers should not take cuts whilst the top dogs enjoy a nice trip to the Amalfi Coast, his attack on their role perhaps lacks understanding of their importance? Despite not being an expert in the field of being the Vice-Chancellor of a university, I imagine it comes with a lot of responsibility.

Mr Saunders’ anger concerning the brain-drain is an issue that needs to be addressed. If employees of the public sector are facing cuts, why would university students, who have experienced the impact of strikes, want to join them? In December 2012, the private consisted of over 80% of the employment share. Although a dated number, what reason is there for this number to change?

In addition, the speculation of Brexit is another worrying factor. If the UK cannot agree on a beneficial deal in terms of labour, there is potentially a lot of foreign students that will choose to not study or work in the UK. Why would members of the UCU who feel neglected choose to stay in the UK where they face cuts rather than teach at private universities across the globe where their expertise is appreciated?

As a whole I believe that Mr Saunders is on the right track. These strikes have been at the centre of higher education systems for a long time now – how long will we let this go on? When will it reach the boiling point where it escalates out of control?

Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael

Government funding not always the answer – a Conservative response

Mr Saunders clearly values the work of lecturers and their importance in society, which I am totally on board with. However, I think we lack agreement on how to fund this. The government does have a responsibility to partly fund universities, but only to a certain extent.

The article implies that the government should have a larger role in subsidising wage rises for university lecturers. This would be of a huge cost to any government and would surely just add to the UK’s debt. Austerity may be over, but it hardly means there is the money available for this.

It is easy for the Labour Party to tell us that they would sort it because they are in opposition. I question their economic plan to do so, other than further borrowing I struggle to see any other way. We cannot afford this. 

Instead, I suggest that universities invest in long-term money-making projects, those that can be hired out for public use. Maximise the use of the university facilities in order to sustainably fund wage rises for lecturers. This makes much more economic sense.

I agree with Mr Saunders that lecturers do deserve more but the government cannot always be the answer to all our problems.

Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps

Lecturers deserve better but strikes are hindering students too much – Conservative Article

“I spent at least 8 years before I could be in a position to apply for this job. I have a PhD and have competed against hundreds of people, yet a handful of you in this room pay for my yearly wage. There are few other jobs that have such competition and requirements that earn such a low wage. I hate that I have to strike but I feel there is no other way.”

These words above, those spoken by one of my lecturers this year before the first set of strikes took place, are equally important now as the second strikes begin. It is a view of many lecturers throughout the country who simply feel they have no choice. These are the people that are educating the next generation of leaders. Yet, they are not paid like so.

In saying this, the strikes are disruptive and are having a catastrophic effect on students in their final years. The majority of students have come to university to learn and improve their knowledge of a subject of interest. Three consecutive weeks’ worth of strikes is ruining syllabuses.

If you bought a bar of chocolate and it was only three-quarters full, you would be unhappy and return it, this is no different. A solution needs to arrive quickly.

The student body (at Exeter) recently declared that over 80% support the cause, not the action. The UCU should use student bodies to pressure universities instead of striking because over time students are getting more frustrated and this will turn onto lecturers the longer it goes on.

I can understand that universities are very expensive to run however, this does not mean that we should undervalue the staff. Universities need to find a way of earning more money to fund wages.

Personally, I believe there are a couple of options, resisting raising fees. Firstly, there could be a reduction in the pay packages of the vice-chancellors at universities and distribute this between the staff.

As a conservative editor, this may be something you would not expect me to write. However, I have no justification for some of the extortionate wages that get paid. Steve Smith, VC at Exeter is due a pay package of over £800,000 at the end of the year. Other than the occasional email, I have no idea what he does to deserve this.

More importantly, universities are businesses and therefore must act like one. There should be an increased investment into long-term money-making projects that can be hired out to the general public in order to raise more funding that can be transferred to extra wages.

An example of this is the University of Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, regularly hired out and used by the community, as is the sports park. Investments such as these are potentially the reason why the university was one of three to offer any rise in wages during negotiations. Other universities must follow suit in order to raise tutor’s wages to an acceptable level and thereafter rises in inflation.

The situation is tough for both the university and the lecturers however the effects of strikes are too much. There is going to have to be concessions on both sides or risk sacrificing students’ degrees further.

The bigger issue is one I have discussed; the financial restrictions on universities that are stopping the higher wages being handed out. More projects are needed that the public can buy into to create more capital that can be used by lecturers.

Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps

Point of Information

You’ve diagnosed the symptoms but don’t see the disease – a Labour response

It’s equal parts gratifying and frustrating to read the above article. To see such a sympathetic and supportive account of the strikes shows how much all of us appreciate our academic staff. It shows their message is coming through.

Redistributing vice-chancellor pay, I wholeheartedly agree. If Mr Kipps keeps writing like this, I will not need to respond much.

I do want to quickly note that safeguards exist to manage bloated wages. The Office for Students can interrogate the pay of upper management, but has it used this power?

But as a result, it’s even more frustrating to see the other proposed suggestions. Students are already playing a part in the movement. What more could they do, besides go on strike themselves (which just might defeat the point?)

Also, Universities are not companies, no matter how much we dress them up. They are institutions for the public good, hence their taxpayer funding.

That is why I am opposed to tuition fee increases and further marketisation of the university sector is absolutely not the answer. Trying to run our education system like a business is exactly what has led to the UCU strikes in the first place. Forcing universities to bleed ‘economic value’ out of employees betrays the spirit of education.

Seeing the suggestion for diversifying revenue streams is commendable but will not be enough. The aggressive competition of the current system only pushes organisations to the edge.

One quarter of all universities now run a deficit: a ticking time bomb of a statistic. Even if one were to go bust, imagine what we would risk losing. The government needs to stop turning a blind eye to the failures of marketisation and propose a new system that properly respects education – starting with those who provide it.

Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders

Although it may be unpopular, privatisation may be the future – a Liberal response

Mr Kipps has written an excellent piece here. All three editors agree that the UCU has the right to higher pay and more equality among its distribution. It is tough to see the Vice-Chancellor receive an absurd amount of money, whilst the lecturers who actually teach the students who pay to attend university fall through the system. However, this does bring about the question of hierarchy and positional power, as you see in businesses around the world.

Privatisation is a risky method. As we see across the United States, private universities have had both positive and negative effects. The key benefit of privatisation would be the ability to receive more private funding. However, privatisation can lead to higher tuition fees; something I am not willing to pay.

In the US, in 2016/17, the average annual tuition fee for a private, four year degree in the US costs over $40,000 USD. That is an absurd amount of money; a figure I believe that many students would not be willing to pay. If privatisation is the future, it would have to ensure that funding rises, but student fees either stay the same or fall.

I am glad to see that all editors in this week believe that the UCU deserve more. Mr Kipps acknowledges that the student body is aligned with their cause, however, he is frustrated.

We do lose a lot of contact time and we lose potentially vital parts of our education. However as Mr Saunders put in his response, I’m not sure there is much more students can do. At the end of the day, we are there to learn, not protest. It is a tough subject because although it is not our pay that is affected, it is our education and future.

Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael

UCU strikes; I’m ready to strike for a refund – Liberal Article

As a second year student, I am no beginner when it comes to UCU strikes. Having already had strikes last November and December, the dispute between the union and universities are clearly far off being settled.

As a whole, I do believe that the union are striking for a good cause. The UCU has stated that current strikes are based off the failure by universities to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

Having spoken to my lecturers, there is some disagreement concerning the strikes. Some lecturers believe that they have to fight for it now, or it will never change. On the other hand, some believe that the union are potentially asking for too much.

However, one thing that can be agreed upon is; student dissatisfaction. Whilst speaking to friends and course mates, it is easy to see how annoying strikes are. Although some may argue its “extra holiday”, in reality, it makes our lives harder.

The UCU stated that the November-December strikes affected roughly one million students. Although slightly dated, in 2017/18 there were approximately 2.3 million students in the UK. That means that approximately half of all students in the UK were affected by the strikes. It cannot go on like this. Students are forced to miss lectures, and therefore have to learn the missed content in another manner.

As students, we are forced to pay the price for the strikes. Although the lecturers care for the wellbeing and the development of students, they cannot allow the university to cut corners wherever, whenever.

I believe that the student body deserves compensation. We pay approximately £27,000 for a three year undergraduate degree. How can it be justified to pay so much when over three weeks of dedicated learning hours are potentially taken without a say?

In addition to physical compensation, I believe the student body deserve more transparency. Although the current disputes are between the UCU and the university, we deserve to know how both sides are trying to find a possible solution. We deserve to know how are fees are spent and potentially have a say as to whether we believe they are being spent correctly.

As a whole, as frustrating as the strikes are, I stand with the UCU’s cause. Although it creates a significant disruption in my life, I don’t want to see the lecturers who put a lot of time and effort into teaching be cheated.

Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael

Point of Information

I’m with you – a Conservative response

Although the likelihood of compensation is very little, I agree with Mr Papamicheal entirely. These strikes are hindering, not helping students. I accept that most of the lecturers are doing their utmost to help ease the disruption, but this is not enough.

Removing questions from exam papers due to missed content may sound great but it also limits the options, potentially missing out a student’s stronger topic. To add to this, most modules link to more advanced modules in later years, if you are missing key concepts it could have major effects later on.

For many students university is not just about the qualification, it is so much more. The chance to dive deeper into a subject of interest in order to further your knowledge, and hopefully, aid you in the future.

I don’t pay over £9,000 a year to miss out on a month’s worth of work. If you purchase a faulty product you are refunded. This should not be any different!

Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps

Let’s turn stymied studying into solidarity – a Labour response

There’s no question that students are facing difficulties as a result of the strikes. Lost contact time, missing results, disruption to our degrees – none of these experiences reflects the exceptional quality expected in our education system.

But as frustrating as it is to have our education stymied, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. I’m glad the Liberal response recognises this, even if it is with a degree of reluctance. All of the above should serve to help us better appreciate the struggles facing academic staff.

In many ways, our lecturers, learning assistants and library staff (and many more) are fighting for us just as much as for themselves. As I noted in my piece, the issues in question will affect us all as we enter the world of work.

Strikes are not the only tool available, but they are by far the most effective. Withholding labour is meant to show all parties precisely the value of that work. As students and universities are quickly learning, it’s irreplaceable.

Pursuing compensation is another fantastic measure. From a student perspective, it perfectly reflects our rights in this marketised system. And in terms of the wider debate, it will highlight to universities how costly their failure to negotiate is. Let’s hope they’re taking notes.

Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders

Charlie Papamichael
Co-head social media marketing at | Website

I am a second year student currently reading International Relations and Modern Languages at the University of Exeter.

Fletcher Kipps
Chief Conservative political writer at | Website

I am an incoming third year undergraduate currently studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. I am socially liberal, fiscally conservative editor here at POI. I have been fascinated by politics for many years, from PMQs to late night election results all which has led to the desire to study this at university.

Evan Saunders
Chief Labour Writer at | Website

I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).

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