In case you’ve been living under a rock, there are major strikes happening in St Andrews. These strikes have polarized student opinions, whilst the overwhelming majority of professors and University staff members are supporting them. Students against the strike – mostly internationals – are arguing that having paid for their education, they are entitled to receive it, even at the expense of their professors’ pensions and therefore, their very livelihoods. Professors and staff members are not striking simply because they feel like it; the strike is a last resort in response to the University’s continued unwillingness to communicate or negotiate. As workers, it is their right to strike and therefore express their opinion. And opinions such as these cannot stay in the shadows while everyday life goes on as normal. They are meant to disrupt, to pose questions and, ultimately, to cause action.
Many of the students I have spoken to who were against the strikes blamed professors and University staff members for the suspension of their education during the strikes. They are mistaken; we should be looking higher up, at the University management and the governing bodies. They are central actors in the continued privatisation of education, which is spreading like a cancer through educational bodies. St Andrews is as guilty of this, if not more so, than other educational bodies. We cannot let public bodies of education fall into the inequality and oppression that privatisation represents, already visible through vastly increased tuitions (from £1000 to £9000 between 1997 and 2010). While the University Principal Sally Mapstone claims to “run a very tight budget,” money was somehow found to build a £10 million oceanography lab, a £14 million sports centre refurbishment program, and a £8 million music centre. These projects all contribute to the advancement of the student experience, and that is certainly good, but it is unacceptable if done at the expense of staff members. The University cannot exploit its staff while claiming with impunity to be doing the best for everyone.
Education is a right, not a service, and especially not a commodity. It should, and it must be provided freely and non-discriminately for everyone. No society can call itself equal that does not provide accessible education to all of its members. Similarly, no society can call itself equal that does not provide fair wages and life opportunities for all of its members, whether they be professors, PhD students, tutors, part-time staff, or any other person paid for their hard work by the University. How can our Proctor and Senior Vice-Principal, Professor Lorna Milne, claim that St Andrews cares deeply about members of staff while still refusing to offer them the right to a fair wage and a decent pension, especially as we see that “the real wages of professors and staff have been cut by almost 20% in the last decade”? How can a University that claims to be “doing all [it] can to ensure that staff continue to have access to an attractive, affordable and well-managed pension scheme” decide to not negotiate about the pensions in question, allowing each staff member lose an average of £10,000 per year? How is losing £10,000 a year “attractive” for a lecturer who earns an average of £33,943 per year?
The University of St Andrews cannot claim to want to cherish its staff while mutely agreeing to cut pensions as a cost-cutting measure. The culture of greed has gone too far and it is time to strike and voice our opinion against this cancer, I cannot stand by while this University exploits its members. The fight for an equal society is underway, and we must let nothing pass short of equality. Support the staff and join me on the picket lines!
The time for action is now.