‘Teaching UK undergraduates loses universities money’ says York Vice Chancellor

Charlie Jeffery has spoken on the ‘problem of university strikes’

The University of York’s Vice-Chancellor, Charlie Jeffery, has spoken in the Financial Times on how to solve “the problem of university strikes”.

In the article, he said that the system for funding undergraduate study for British students is “broken”, and that staff and students will suffer until a new system is found.

This follows the news that University of York staff will be striking for 18 days this term as part of an ongoing campaign for better pay and pensions, among other things. The UCU announced the full list of strike dates for February and March yesterday afternoon, which you can see here.

In his article, Jeffrey argues that the current system for funding “home” (British) undergraduate students is the root cause of the issues on pay and pensions that have led to strike action. To explain the problem, he says that the strikers are trying to protect and grow their share of pay and pensions “cakes” which are “getting smaller for reasons unrelated to any of us”.

For Jeffrey, the issue of pay is “easy to identify”, since the money universities get from undergraduate fees has largely stayed the same for a decade, and inflation is quickly reducing the real value of that income. He says that this impacts universities more when their income is more dependent on teaching home undergraduates. Because of this, he says that “teaching UK undergraduates loses universities money”

To solve this, he says that employers and trade unions need to build a case “together” for a more sustainable system to fund undergraduate teaching. He argued this case will be less convincing if they “are stuck in a cycle of industrial conflict”.

He said: “we need a system which rewards, not penalises, universities for teaching home undergraduates” in order to award pay rises which “properly reflect staff efforts and teach home undergraduates without risking our financial stability”.

Until the funding system is fixed, Jeffrey says that the current disputes, which “pile pressure and anxiety on students”, will not end. He also says that it is easy for employers and trade unions to “throw blame”, but that “doesn’t get us very far”.

York has already seen three days of strike action this academic year, and a York Tab survey found that 69 per cent of students supported the strikes.

The UCU says “the clock is ticking” for university bosses to avoid widespread disruption this year. They are campaigning for a significant pay rise to ease the cost of living crisis, the ending of use of insecure contracts, and are demanding unis revoke cuts to pensions and restore benefits.

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