The English universities’ shambles

University students’ studies disrupted because their lecturers face pension rip-off.

Over the next few weeks, university students will face disruption in their studies. Their lecturers are taking strike action in a conflict which the university authorities could rightly be accused of provoking.

The strikers are not fighting to increase their income or enhance their terms and conditions; their struggle is to retain what they have already paid for and earnt: a guaranteed pension.

Lecturers’ dispute could damage graduation prospects

Universities are replacing their staff’s contributory scheme with a system dependent on the performance of the stock exchange. The University and College Union estimate this could reduce their members’ pensions by £10,000 a year. The university authorities are refusing any meaningful discussions to settle this dispute.

There has been overwhelming support from students supporting their lecturers, while at the same time they are petitioning for universities to compensate them for disrupted lectures. Since they are paying what Prime Minister Theresa May admits are among the highest fees in the world, this reaction is not surprising.

Support for the strike action by UCU members has been astounding. The strike ballot was held under the new rules; these demand that for a strike to be legal there must be a majority of the entire membership voting, and not just a simple majority. Nevertheless, 88% of their members backed strike action.

Endorsement has come from some surprising sources. The Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University said that he “absolutely supported the staffs decision to strike,” adding, “what else could they do?”

The Vice Chancellor of Loughborough University has been photographed cooking food for the strikers on the picket line grill.

Although the UCU is not affiliated to the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have spoken supporting the lecturers.

UCL’s General Secretary, Sally Hunt, says that our universities “risk being seen as out of touch and isolated from reality in their ivory towers, refusing to listen to their staff or students.” She claims that the present dispute only reinforces this view.

Today our universities have all the features of a major industry, which is exactly what they are.  British universities generate £95bn for the economy and support nearly a million jobs according to a study by Oxford Economics.

They also have all the unsavoury characteristics of modern industry. They are self-governing, charge the maximum the market can stand and yearly widen the earning gap between those at the top and the rest of the employees. A survey by the Times Higher Education revealed that in 2016/17, vice-chancellor’s total earnings, including pension contributions, averaged £289,756 – an increase of £10,180 on the previous year.

Thirteen universities are paying their leaders more than £400,000, and 64 more than £300,000.

Need any more be written to justify the lecturers’ outrage?

If you have a child or grandchild at university, the UCU is asking you to write to their vice-chancellor, asking for meaningful negotiations with the union to begin immediately.

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