At the end of October, the University and College Union (UCU) called for strike action during the weeks of November 25th and December 2nd in the hopes of enacting change in two legal disputes. Teachers across almost 60 UK universities have been charged to take up this call to action that will greatly disrupt the lives of students, and hopefully put pressure on their respective universities to resolve these issues.
Industrial action is being taken in response to the detrimental changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which regulates pensions, as well as the ever decreasing pay allocated to staff. Since 2011, there has been a sharp increase in the portion of staff salaries contributed to their pensions, from 6.35% in 2011 to the most recent increase to 9.6% in September of 2019, according the UCU website. The decrease in pay has happened over the same period of time and has been a constant issue pushed by the UCU.
UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, stated: “The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pensions and declining pay and conditions.”
Many in St. Andrews, now third and fourth years, will remember when strikes hit the university in March of 2018. Students in all schools of the university felt the impact of the strikes, having lecturers and tutors absent from classes for days and weeks at a time, not to mention the public demonstrations that could be seen around several university buildings, including not only teachers and administrative staff, but students as well.
Regardless of the whether you support these issues or not, as most seem to, these strikes in the past have proven incredibly frustrating for a number of reasons. Although not having class may seem amazing in the moment, students ultimately are not getting the education that we are all here for and more importantly, most pay for. The university in the past, as now, is very open to the changes the UCU had called for, wishing to support their staff as much as possible. The issue with this is that St. Andrews is not the only university that must agree to any amendments, it requires a measure of general consensus. A consensus was found in 2018, but it was clearly not enough to satisfy the UCU sufficiently, as the same issues are cropping up yet again.
Industrial action will not end following the conclusion of the strikes during the first week of December. After the strikes conclude, members of the UCU are encouraged to continue ‘actions short of strike’ which means staff will only be working to contract, not taking on any other responsibilities such as covering for absent colleagues or rescheduling lectures or classes due to strike.
Pension and pay are incredibly important issues to resolve for the sake of the university staff who work tirelessly to share their hard-earned knowledge with students, but, in the end, it is the students that are left high and dry. Luckily for the students of St. Andrews, Sally Mapstone and her team are working with the UCU to hopefully bring these strikes to a speedy conclusion.