‘My workload is unmanageable’: UoN lecturer speaks out on why they’re striking this week

They hope students understand the need for strikes

This week, many staff members at UoN will be going on strike. Some students will see their contact hours significantly reduce whilst for others, these hours will be gone entirely.

For some students, this may be a frustrating outcome, following 22 days of industrial action in 2019 and 2020.

We spoke to a UoN lecturer to understand more about why they are striking and what they hope to achieve. Here’s what we found out.

‘There is a constant pressure for us to be taking on more work’

Rebecca, who works within the Faculty of Arts at UoN, asked for her name to be changed in order to speak freely. She says the workload she’s continually given is “unmanageable.”

She believes universities aren’t finding solutions to this excessive workload as effectively as they claim and that this is taking a toll on academics’ mental health:

“Most universities claim they are addressing this with the use of workload planners (WLPs) which assign a certain amount of time to every aspect of our job. But in reality these WLPs systematically and drastically underestimate the amount of time everything takes, and sometimes omit core elements of our job entirely. There is constant pressure for us to be taking on more.”

‘It could take a lecturer a week to research and write a lecture, but they only get paid for the one hour in which they deliver it’

For Rebecca, concerns over pay as well as working conditions exist.

“In teaching-only roles, over 40 per cent of staff are on hourly paid contracts,” she says. “This means they only get paid for the hours they teach. It could take them a week to research and write a lecture, but they only get paid for the one hour in which they deliver it.”

“I’ve seen first-hand the emotional, psychological, and financial toll this unpaid labour takes on the staff affected. It’s just wrong and it should be illegal,” she said.

‘Attempts to address workload issues have been superficial’

When asked what she hopes such industrial action will bring forth, Rebecca is clear in her answer: “A sincere attempt to address workload issues.”

“It’s not that there haven’t been any efforts to address this, but all of them have been superficial and designed to create the appearance of addressing the problem whilst actually doing other things that increase our workload,” she claims.

“The UCU put forward an alternative financial strategy to the University Management Board this year that would have permitted more spending on staff and less on capital projects, thereby reducing our workloads and giving us more time for students too. The Board refused to discuss it,” she says.

‘I hope students who are understandably upset direct their complaints to universities for putting staff in this position’

Rebecca emphasises “a lot of students are quite unaware” of the issues she claims to have seen and hopes they won’t hold it against staff who are striking. Instead, she’d find it more conducive for these students to direct their anger towards different people.

“I know it’s hard for students to support a strike because they are paying to stay here. But I think when people strike in any sector, it’s important to remember they are choosing not to get paid for as long as the strike goes on, and also to incur some degree of hostility from others,” she says.

“I hope students who are understandably upset to miss out on teaching will direct their complaints to universities for putting staff in this position. It’s actually much more likely that our employers will listen to students than to their own staff.”

A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: “We deeply regret any industrial action, particularly at a time when students are re-engaging with life on campus which is so important for their education and wellbeing after the turbulence of the past 18 months.

“We are already taking action on the areas under dispute. A significant proportion of University staff received combined national and local pay increases of between 3.5% and 4.5% in August. The University is already piloting a model of Graduate Teaching Assistants to end the use of so-called casual contracts and last year introduced the new Principles for Working with Teaching Affiliates, to ensure fair and equitable pay across the University.

“The USS pension has a £15 billion gap between its current funds and its promises to future pensioners. The proposals to reform it are backed up by an additional £1.3 billion support from universities and would keep it affordable for members while retaining benefits rarely seen in other schemes. Without reform, staff would face increases in how much they pay into the pension every six months until 2025.

“The University will remain open throughout the industrial action and the vast majority of teaching and learning will proceed as usual. Students should assume that lectures, seminars and classes will take place unless notified otherwise. Schools will explore options to reschedule any sessions affected by industrial action, provide learning resources, extend deadlines where helpful and ensure that assessments reflect the learning that has taken place.”

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