Angry about strikes? We need to support our picketing lecturers and here’s why

Their teaching conditions are our learning conditions

If you didn’t already know, there have been teaching strikes taking place nationwide for 10 days over the last few weeks.

Following two years of interrupted teaching due to the pandemic, I get why some students might feel angry about strikes. We only just began to return to fully in-person teaching and Covid-19 has hugely impacted the uni experience at large.

But, despite this, I believe students need to support their striking lecturers – and here’s why:

Simply put, our lecturers demands are fair ones

The UCU (university and college union) are protesting over two issues. The first reason is pensions, which could be slashed by up to 35 percent, according to pension modelling that the UCU calls “flawed”.

The second issue is often referred to as the four fights dispute, where the UCU are campaigning to close the gender, ethnic and disability pay gap, end casualisation and job insecurity, tackle the rising workloads for teaching staff and secure a pay rise for staff.

86 per cent of staff surveyed sought mental health support due to intense workloads

Since 2009, university staff pay has seen near a 20 per cent decline against inflation and casual contracts remain a point of insecurity for many workers, with 3000 staff members being made redundant during the pandemic, UCU research has shown. As a result of these numerous pressures, a UCU survey found that 86 per cent of staff surveyed have had to seek mental health support due to their workload.

Casual contracts for staff lead to job and income insecurity

Many staff across the sector are employed on short-term and casual contracts, meaning they have income and job insecurity, the UCU says. Being on these temporary, often low paid contracts can make it difficult for them to plan for the future or apply for things like mortgages.

At its worst, casualisation can mean that staff are unable to make ends meet. Take for example Aimée Lê, a postgraduate teacher at another university who literally lived in a tent for two years after learning she couldn’t afford a flat and cover her costs on her research and teaching income.

The higher education sector has a pay gap problem

There’s a 15 per cent pay gap between male and female staff, a 17 per cent gap between black and white staff and a 9 per cent disability pay gap across the higher education sector, according to the UCU.

The pay gaps are unacceptable and our university management need to address them and be held accountable for the fact that they’re not effectively addressing this issue.

Their teaching conditions are our learning conditions

Another crucial reason why students should support these strikes is that staff working conditions are directly linked to student learning conditions. With so many staff struggling with their workload and consequently their mental health, it impacts on their ability to teach to the best that they can.

We need to demand that UoN do better

Students are not getting their money’s worth, and we need to demand that UoN do better.

Staff working conditions and student learning conditions are intrinsically linked and if the university committed to improving the working conditions of their staff, then students would be ensured the best quality of teaching – education that’s worth £9K a year.

If you want to stop the strikes, support them

It’s crucial that we support teaching staff if we want this industrial action to cease. If universities do not begin to meet UCU’s requests after these strikes, it’s likely that they will continue to organise industrial action. Staff won’t and shouldn’t give up their reasonable fight to secure decent working conditions and job security.

I get that students might be angry. But I think it important to remember that strikes are a last resort for staff who are trying their best to deliver our education under difficult circumstances. We shouldn’t be getting angry at them. Rather, we should be pointing the blame the university and sector’s management at large.

We need to show our support for our lecturers. We can email our Vice Chancellor Shearer West. We can voice our support by signing petitions. Let’s get out on the picket line.

A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: “We are sorry for any disruption caused to students during the current period of industrial action by members of the University and College Union, and will account for this by rescheduling sessions, providing resources through Moodle, extending deadlines where helpful and ensuring that assessments reflect the learning that has taken place.

“Without reforms to the pension scheme, staff would face increases in how much they pay into the pension of 12 per cent in April and a further 17 per cent in October 2022 – an extra £858 in pension costs over the first twelve months for someone earning £40,000 – with contributions set to rise further every six months until 2025.

“We work within national-level pay arrangements but at Nottingham we also make additional pay increments which mean that a significant proportion of our staff received pay increases in August of between 3.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent. Currently, we invest more than half of our cost base in staff pay which is consistently higher than the Russell Group average.

“We have also been reducing our gender and ethnicity pay gaps, with a task group dedicated to reducing these further. For colleagues employed on casual contracts, we intend next year to replace these with formal contracts for Graduate Teaching Assistants, and are already piloting their use in a school this year.”

The UoN UCU have been approached for comment but are yet to provide a response.