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The University and College Union (UCU), which mainly represents academic staff at the University of Southampton, have recently voted to take 14 days of strike action over the coming weeks. For many students, this will mean disruption to lectures and seminars, so why should we support these strikes?
Firstly, we should understand why UCU have decided to take strike action. University management is proposing changes to the USS pension scheme, changes which will cause a typical lecturer to lose £10,000 per year when they retire. In addition to ruining staff’s retirement, these changes will likely further demoralize and demotivate staff, directly harming our education. Moreover, in the long term, this will make it more difficult for us to attract and retain high-quality staff, which will lower the quality of education even further.
This is just the latest in a long series of attacks on staff pay and conditions. Over the last few years, many members of staff have seen their wages stagnate while their workload increases. Cuts to both front-line and support staff have increased the stress levels of remaining staff, and have made their jobs more difficult, reducing their ability to provide a high-quality education. The attacks on their pensions are, for many, the final straw.
While staff and education are facing cuts, senior managers throughout the UK continue to enjoy exorbitant pay packages. Our Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, has drawn media attention for his ridiculous £433,000 yearly salary. Until recently, he was a member of the committee that decided on his salary – something which the University Council were caught lying about. In addition to this, our tuition fees pay for Sir Christopher to enjoy substantial job benefits – including the use of a university chauffeur and a rent-free house!
In the recent all-student vote, over 90% of students who responded thought Sir Christopher should take a pay cut. Instead of respecting student opinion, university management has decided to further attack university staff – the people who actually provide our education!
Our staff work incredibly hard to provide us with a high-quality education and enjoyable university experience, but they cannot do so if they are under attack from a university management team more interested in lining their own pockets than educating students. These strikes could still be avoided if management agrees to stop the changes to the pension scheme.
It is also important to remember that strikes are a last resort. Our academic staff do not want to harm our education – or lose 14 days of pay – they would much rather get on with their jobs and teach us, but they feel they are under attack and have no other option. UCU have spent months attempting to negotiate with university management, to no avail.
It remains to be seen whether SUSU has the guts to follow the NUS’s lead. However, individual students can still contribute by doing the following:
- Tell your lecturers you support their fight (they will really appreciate the support).
- Complain to the Vice-Chancellor, and make it clear that you hold university management responsible for the disruption. A draft email can be found here.
- Don’t attend lectures on strike days – come to the picket lines instead!
- If you are a postgraduate, consider joining UCU – it’s free for student members! https://www.ucu.org.uk/free
Current confirmed strike days are:
Week 1: Thursday 22 February, Friday 23 February
Week 2: Monday 26 February to Wednesday 28 February
Week 3: Monday 5 March to Thursday 8 March
Week 4: Monday 12 March to Friday 16 March