‘The future is bleak for academics’: Manchester Uni staff on why they’re striking

‘Academics are financially, physically and mentally stressed’

University staff in the UCU trade union at the University of Manchester are now in their second week of strikes this term.

Back in December 2021, uni staff went on strike over the same issues of fair pay and working conditions. The Manchester Tab spoke to staff about why they’re striking:

Professor Christopher Jackson – ‘Academics are financially, physically and mentally stressed’

“The workforce is already financially, physically, and mentally stressed and are being asked to teach to a higher standard, whilst having their pay cut and with pension schemes potentially impoverishing them upon retirement.

“If universities fail to act, passionate, committed, talented staff will potentially leave for other jobs, or they will not be able (or willing) to provide the absolute best educational experience that students so deserve and the nation needs.

“This is the fault of our employers and to a not inconsiderable extent, the government, who regularly and negatively interfere with many aspects of higher education.”

Dr Anna Strowe – ‘The future is increasingly bleak for all academics’

“There is increasingly poor treatment of staff as well as students, in the interests of a profit-driven idea of what education should be. Our universities seem to be increasingly run to increase the already high salaries of Vice Chancellors and for corporate interests.

“I’m striking because I love teaching and doing research, but I am increasingly unable to do either to the level that I want, because of ever-expanding workloads. The future is increasingly bleak for all academics.

“Without a decent pension along with decent pay, academia becomes an impossibility for many people. This makes the pool of people able to afford careers in academia LESS diverse as pay gaps are actually get worse, not better, for women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

“Institutional priorities seem to have entirely shifted towards profit. What’s needed is a huge attitude shift. We need to re-commit to education, and to students and staff.

“We need government support for education to be strengthened again, a reorientation of institutional priorities, and for managements to actually pay attention to staff concerns.

“The employer representatives, UCEA, aren’t even willing to talk, so there is currently no negotiation at all happening. This would change if senior administration put pressure on them to go back to the table and gave them authorisation to actually negotiate.”

Morgan Powell – ‘I can’t see any future for myself in Higher Education’

“I’m on strike because, as things stand, I can’t see any future for myself in HE. I simply don’t think that I can survive in a sector where we are expected to move all over the country every few months chasing insecure contracts for stagnant pay.

“At Manchester, our pay is regularly delayed and we aren’t entitled to sick pay. The working conditions here are worse than in any of the call centres I worked for to fund my PhD!

“On top of that, the amount of unpaid work that is expected of academics would be impossible for me to manage, because I’m a carer for my disabled partner.

“Working class people, disabled people and people with caring responsibilities are being forced out of the sector by these conditions, even though we are all passionate about teaching and research. The quality of students’ education is going to suffer badly as a result.

“Managers who are on six figure salaries are basically saying that they don’t care about their staff. All they care about is making more profit. Strikes are the only way that we can force them to listen.”

Dr Simeon Gill, branch member for UoM UCU – ‘This strike action is being taken for students’

“University management are never sated, never satisfied with their profits. The University have £61million in surplus but they keep increasing the surplus they want to make each year.

“There are repercussions for staff speaking out, including being monitored and discussed by the senior administration, although they claim that everyone has a right to discuss these issues. These staff are not only disempowered, but also targeted.

“This strike action is being taken for students because a poor work environment leads to a poor learning environment. I owe it to my kids to make things better for them.

“The senior management won’t admit that they can change things. They could be very easily dealing with these problems on a local level and making the situation better.

“But they do not act as they see themselves as better than ordinary workers and above the university staff. Academics carried the university through the pandemic, only to be told they don’t really matter.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “It is deeply regrettable that the UCU are taking industrial action and some members within that Union are sharing what can only be described as erroneous and deliberate misinformation on the issues raised.

“At the University, we absolutely recognise how important pay and employment conditions are to colleagues and we take those views very seriously. However, inevitably any kind of industrial action causes serious disruption for all our community, particularly our students.

“As we always have, we will continue to have an open, honest and transparent dialogue with trade unions and their representatives where possible. But again we repeat that annual pay awards are negotiated nationally by UCEA and UUK respectively, so we are unable to make any changes at a local, Manchester level.

“We continue to work hard to address other aspects of employment which were raised in the ballot such as the nature of contracts and gender and ethnicity pay gaps. We’d like to reassure our students that we will do everything we can to minimise any impact on their teaching, learning and wider experience.”

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