As UCU (University College Union) strikes approach, I want to make it clear to both staff and students how the issue of staff pension cuts is inextricably linked to the Vice Chancellor and University Council, and will be left at-best temporarily solved if both issues are not addressed together. Here you can find updated and useful information and, crucially, some practical suggestions on not just stopping the impending cuts, but preventing them happening again altogether. Here I will explain not just why we should all support the strikes, but what students and staff are striking for, and how we can move to new forms of democratic universities.
- The Issues – Cuts, austerity, and bureaucracy
Here’s all you need to know:
- The current Vice Chancellor Sir Christopher Snowden chairs the University Senate, sits on the University Council (UC), is responsible for securing sufficient funding, and represents the university externally. The University Executive Board (UEB) advise him, comprising of 15 academic staff members. Their decisions are governed by The University Council (UC) of which the VC is one of the 18 members and SUSU president Flora Noble, the only student member.
- The VC was a member of the remuneration committee that awarded his pay increase from £352,000 in 2015 to £433,000 from 2016-17. VC pay has increased by 56.2% in the last decade according to the UCU who recently discovered that 95% of university leaders are either members of their remuneration committee or entitled to attend meetings that decide their salary, even though recent guidelines from the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) made clear that VCs should not sit on these committees and play no part in the decision-making process. However, critics complained these guidelines were merely voluntary. The Education, Research and Enterprise (ERE) as well as the Management, Specialist and Administrative (MSA) Pathways receive a separate level 7 pay scale up to £125,000. In contrast, the average UoS lecturer pay is £45,859, reaching a maximum of £61,775 on the level 1-6 scale. The excessive pay of management became more controversial when the VC announced between 50 and 75 academic positions would be cut in 6 subjects, as faculties merge from 8 to 5 and compulsory redundancies will be required if savings cannot be met or funding found elsewhere.
- Our VC has a background of similar austerity cuts. He previously held VC position at the University of Surrey. He attracted controversy in a 2015 ‘operational review’, announcing that even though the university had a £4.1 million surplus in 2013/14, it was not enough to maintain and develop the institute so 100 positions would be cut in response. One proposal said politics department members should be reduced from 14 to 5, and UCU members voted to strike over compulsory redundancies.
- 88% of UCU voters supported strike action after talks with the university employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK), ended without agreement and UUK’s plans for the USS (Universities Superannuation [Pensions] Scheme) were forced through by the chair’s casting vote. The proposals will end guaranteed pension benefits, meaning the typical lecturer will lose £10,000 a year in retirement. In response, 61 universities are striking across 4 weeks. Planned dates begin February 22nd and 23rd (see here for details)
2. Solutions – Democracy
The VC has the most influence over the largely unelected and unaccountable university governing bodies, and could have chosen to publicly refuse the cuts, working with other universities, UCU, and central government to secure funding. Instead, most VCs chose to run universities like businesses over essential services, where the majority (teachers, students, caretaking staff) work to run institutions that benefit a minority (VCs, Management, Private Investors, like the weapons manufacturer BAE systems) while living under threats of austerity and insecurity. VCs work hard but so do staff and students; unnecessarily high pay should be reduced and funding sought before cuts are considered. Our VC has a history of austerity measures and cannot be trusted even if he negotiates with the UCU, as he or another VC will likely attempt cuts again just like our previous VC if there are no measures enacted that prevent them. So that our struggles are not in vain, staff and student strikes must widen their demands to a different university structure.
Here are some suggestions:
- Planned and agreed resignation of President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden.
- Reduction and capping of VC pay at £80k, abolishment of level 7 pay scales of ERE, MSA, and other management staff, reducing these pay scales to maximum £70k – subject to a democratic all-student-staff vote.
- Students elected through SUSU given membership on the remuneration committee that oversees VC pay (even UCU general secretary Sally Hunt agrees), and the University Council with equal voting power and in greater number than non-student members.
- An Independent joint Student and Lecturer Management Committee (elected through SUSU/ staff unions), having the irrevocable power by majority consensus of either Committee to call all-student-staff votes and by majority result overturn at any time, past, present, and future decisions of UoS management (the VC and UC) if they are deemed to harm the education, finances, or welfare of students or staff. This same irrevocable power is to be assured for the mass of ordinary students, who at any time can call an all-student-staff vote through SUSU on any issue related to UoS management, preventing corruption of any committees or persons.
- VC and Management staff expenses only permitted for university related items (office supplies, academic material, and research). All other expenses paid from wages.
- Immediate reversal, abandonment, and public apology from the VC, UEB, and UC over plans to cut 75 staff positions and lecturer pensions. Lecturers must be guaranteed pension benefits to the same or greater extent than before the proposed cuts.
- Suggest demands must be fully met by July 2018, with written confirmation publicly accessible online by March 31st, 2018.