‘This feels like the final pillar crumbling beneath us’: We speak to Sussex lecturers about upcoming strikes

Seeing the strikes as students losing money is ‘backwards’

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Many students will be well aware of the upcoming strikes beginning on February 22. While many students have been open with whether they support or are against the strikes, we spoke to our lecturers to see what they want us to know about the strikes.

We found that those most sympathetic to the industrial action are PhD students, many of whom will be taking part in the upcoming strikes. PhD students have told us that, as the next generation of academics, they will be hurt the most by pension charges. One PhD student told The Tab Sussex that the changes could be a ‘slippery slope’, concerned with what their pensions would look like even 40-50 years down the line.

One doctor told The Tab Sussex that she ‘hates’ the idea of striking as she was put in this position to teach and for research. The lecturer then went on to say that students will eventually go on into their own careers with their own working conditions and their own pensions; she hopes that by taking a stand against these changes, staff will inspire students to go on to do the same if they faced the same trouble.

Some lecturers were very happy to discuss why they were striking and what it means to them. One senior lecturer told us that they see the pension changes and the lack of compromise purely motivated by political and ideological stimuli. While many argue that the existing pensions scheme is too expensive, she dismisses this, calling it an “attack on public services and the dedicated people who work in them”.

She reiterated that no one truly wants to go on strike, but that their hands have been forced by “an intransigent, ideologically driven and uncaring executive”. This lecturer urged students to write to their Vice-Chancellor to show solidarity and stand in the picket line with them. She also stated that there have been many different alternatives provided by the UCU to UUK.

Another lecturer suggested that these changes show that they are being less and less appreciated for the work they do:

“To have all of our futures written in precarious terms once again -as the changes to the pension scheme suggest- feels like an absolute disregard for the purpose of this profession and an absolute disregard for your learning process.” 

He then went on to say that this will affect PhD students the most and will deter others to go into academia, possibly pushing them into the commercial sector where researchers are already paid far more.

Speaking to another senior lecturer, it was understood that some students may not understand or even care about these strikes and what they mean. After all, why would students now care about lecturers once they have graduated? He commented:

“It might be tough for students to support (or even understand) this industrial action. After all, pensions are not something I thought about when I was 18. But the proposed cuts will devalue the people teaching students today. It will hamper the recruitment of great faculty from across the world. And it will have a demoralising effect on everyone.”

Another lecturer that spoke to The Tab Sussex suggested that the way students are seeing these strikes is completely backward. Many students have claimed to calculate how much time and money they’ll use due to the strikes, with some students calling to be refunded for the hours they will miss. This lecturer tells us:

What I find less helpful is when students attempt to quantify in pounds and pence how much they are losing from their education because of the strike – such calculations are arbitrary and don’t capture the real issue, which is that your education as a whole has to be valued, and that fair conditions, pay, and pensions for academic staff is a big part of that.

“Many of us faculty members see it the other way around. It is our job to support students in their growth and development both academically and personally, and we put our hearts into this effort.”

In addition, this lecturer wanted to reiterate that many faculty and academics marched with students to fight against the rising tuition fees.

For some of the lecturers, the upcoming strikes will be more disruptive for them and their general flow of teaching than first thought. One lecturer told us:

“I am not striking because I want the disruptions (I love teaching and I -as most of the people I know who are teaching you- try to go above and beyond to think of ways of making your learning smoother) or because I can afford to take a pay cut (which for those of us participating in the strike will be a hard reality, come the end of the month). I am striking because I belong to a community of academics for whom the conditions in this country have gradually but steadfastly worsened.”

So what did we gather from speaking to Sussex faculty?

Speaking to staff members, it is clear how passionate and concerned lecturers and tutors are for their future, and understandably so. After working in and contributing to their industry for many years, lecturers on average could be losing out on ten thousand pounds a year during retirement, as estimated by the UCU.

There certainly is a split among students about whether they support the strikes or not. It is understandable that students are less sympathetic toward the strikes as they’re set to lose valuable contact time, with strikes furthering the existing tensions between students and academia thanks to high tuition fees and living costs. However, there are students who support the strikes who might be spurred on by ideological desire rather than a genuine care for the cause, because let’s face it, they will graduate and forget all about their lecturers soon after.

What do you think?