If previous strikes are anything to go by, no doubt some will accuse academics of trying to line their own pockets at the expense of their academic responsibilities.
For the third time since 2011, lecturers are set to go on strike. What the University would probably like us to do is ignore the strike action; this would help break the strike and save them from a real PR headache. However, even a casual look at the current pensions situation would reveal that lecturers are not overreacting; estimates from First Actuarial suggest a typical lecturer would lose £208,000 under the UUK’s proposals. By comparison, a staff member enrolled in the government-backed Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the comparative scheme for the post-1992 universities, would be £400,000 better off.
If previous strikes are anything to go by, no doubt some will accuse academics of trying to line their own pockets at the expense of their academic responsibilities. But many academic staff at Glasgow are already struggling financially, with almost half on insecure temporary contracts for most university staff who haven’t had an appreciable pay rise in ten years. This seems ludicrous as Glasgow University has more six-figure salaried staff than any other Scottish university and is sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds in funds. Why ask lecturers to take such a huge hit to their pensions, when it would be more straightforward to dip into the Western Infirmary development fund? The idea that Senior Management should prioritise academics, researchers and support staff rather than buildings does not seem to occur to them. The removal of the last decent component of their pay package is a step too far.
For lecturers, there’s always going to be a moral quandary involved when it comes to striking – they are motivated to cause the maximum amount of disruption necessary, while trying not to derail our education. This is not an easy balance to find and I don’t think it’s a responsibility that academics take lightly. But it should be noted that the UCU has decided to strike just after the midterm assessment deadline – which at least shows some consideration to our academic commitments. If the initial strike days are unsuccessful, the strikes will become increasingly disruptive, culminating in a five-day strike from Monday 12 to Friday 16 March. While I, and I suspect most other students, won’t be thrilled, as students we have a responsibility to support our tutors and lecturers. If we don’t, we risk undermining our own chances of securing a decent pension later in our careers.
As a rule, lecturers love their jobs. This is perhaps why the University has gotten away for so long with exploitative employment practices. The fact that lecturers are striking over this issue suggests they’ve finally been pushed too far. Just as academic staff have a duty to support us day in and day out, we have a duty to stand behind our lecturers and support them.
The system depends on staff’s goodwill, and if the University loses that, there will be an inevitable decline in the quality of teaching for most if not all students. The financial toll will doubtlessly affect morale and result in a permanent decrease in the quality of teaching. What’s required of us now is that we stand behind our academic staff, tutors and lecturers who put so much time in, day in and day out, to help us, and give some of that time and offer our solidarity back to them in return.
Will I be a bit annoyed if some of my seminars get cancelled on 22 February? Sure, a little bit. I wish the opportunity for further negotiation had been properly explored so that this strike action could have been avoided. But will I be more annoyed if I’m sitting at the desk of a cushy editing job office (fingers crossed) five years from now, reading the newspaper and seeing that these issues are still being discussed? Yes, a lot.