‘We’re encouraged to think of students as customers’: We spoke to Lancs lecturers about why they’re striking
And why you should be supporting them
It has become common knowledge that many staff members at Lancaster University who are members of the UCU trade union will take part in industrial action, including strike action, this week. This dispute has been affecting 60 universities across the UK.
The immediate cause of the strike relates to proposed changes to pensions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.
However, this is only part of the reason that many lecturers have chosen to go on strike. There are other concerns about the marketisation of higher education, seminars taking place up to a week after lectures, limited timetable flexibility and lectures at Lancs taking place as late as 6 o'clock.
The action which is taking place is not limited simply to strike action. Aside from the eight-day strike beginning on the 25th of November, members of the union will begin 'action short of a strike'. This involves working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
A lecturer from the university, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Lancaster Tab that they would be going on strike for the first time due to the proposed changes to pensions.
He said: " On the changes that were proposed last year, the typical lecturer was set to lose about £10,000 per year — with many early-career academics losing even more." In this particular case this would involve the lecturer losing 1/3 of their pension.
"The offer on pensions has improved — but it still results in the typical academic paying more into their pension, but receiving almost £200,000 less over the course of their retirement because of changes introduced since 2011. This is combined with the fact that our pay falls every year against inflation."
The lecturer also expressed his concerns regarding the marketisation of higher education and the knock on effects on the university community as a whole: "A university is a community — a community of staff and students who come together to pursue scholarship, teaching and learning. I think we’re in danger of losing sight of that vision.
"We’re becoming reliant on part-time staff on insecure contracts who aren’t given the research time that’s necessary for good teaching at university level. Increased numbers without adequate planning means that we’re asked to teach and learn at times and in spaces that are unsuitable.
"This is impacting the sense of academic community at Lancaster as a whole. The increase in workloads for lecturers make it much harder for lecturers to form a more personal relationship with students and get to know them.
"It often feels that we’re encouraged to think of them as customers rather than individuals with academic interests of their own."
Lancaster University claim to already be undertaking some positive work relating to these issues including:
A Gender Pay Gap Group established in May 2018 to understand the specific challenges faced in relation to our gender pay gap, and it reports through to the Senior Leadership Team.
The Gender Pay Gap Report 2018 (published in March 2019) includes ongoing and planned activity to improve gender equality and reduce our gender pay gap, including around recruitment, progression, data and training.
Ongoing work in partnership with trade unions to develop a clear policy around casual working and fixed-term contracts, and a wellbeing policy.
Working with Able Futures to improve mental health support for colleagues across the University, as well as providing development sessions and a toolkit to help managers better understand mental health issues.