Glasgow lecturers speak out on the picket line

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Credit: Joanne Krus

Joanne Krus
Deputy News Editor

While lecturers are pleased for the high turnout on the picket lines, they are very concerned about the deteriorating working conditions in higher education throughout the UK.

Over 150 UCU members formed picket lines at the University of Glasgow following the beginning of their 8-day strike on Monday.

The pickets formed at the Main Gate, the Botany Gate, Pearce Lodge Gate and South Gate.

University staff are striking over the USS pension scheme and working conditions. Many staff members feel like their workloads are too high and their salaries don’t reflect the amount of time and effort they put into their work.

They are also demanding universities to address the gender and BME pay gap and to end the casualisation of academic work. According to UCU Glasgow, the gender pay gap at the University of Glasgow is 16.2%.

Additionally, over half of workers in the higher education sector only have temporary contracts.

The University Rector, Aamer Anwar, was also present at the picket line to voice his support for the striking staff members.

Anna Chadwick, a law lecturer who has been teaching at the University for over two years, said that although there had been some successful outcomes from the last pensions dispute, she is still concerned over employees’ contributions being too high.

Chadwick also said that fair pensions are very important to encourage academic staff to stay in public professions, instead of going into the private sector where they could earn more money. She said the pension issue and the increased number of staff on temporary contracts “reflect the growing corporatisation of universities”.

Diarmaid Kelliher, a postdoctoral researcher in Geography at the university, echoed this concern. He said that casualisation was the biggest issue facing higher education not just for lecturers but also administrative staff, cleaners and security staff.

“Casualisation is rife throughout the entire sector and Glasgow University is no exception to that,” Kelliher said. “It’s getting worse and we need to do something about that because casualisation has had a huge impact on people’s finances, their overall mental health, their ability to pay rent and their ability to pay bills”.

While UCU members recognise that this is a national issue and affects the entire sector, they feel more can be done at the local level, especially over short-term contracts and the gender pay gap.

Kelliher added: “What we need is both national action on the gender pay gap and work load, but we need local action as well. There’s a lot more Glasgow Uni could be doing”.

Julia McClure, a history lecturer who teaches a class in the global history of poverty was also concerned at how universities were handing out contracts.

“Universities across the UK need to look at how they’re paying staff and tenuring contracts and making sure there’s an equality of worker’s rights,” McClure said.

Poor working conditions and increasingly high workloads are another major issue in academia.

Guillem Colom, a lecturer in modern languages, said that although he felt privileged to be teaching and would rather be in the classroom than on the picket lines, he also felt that striking was necessary to improve both working conditions and student’s learning experience.

“We have very high workloads, we’re working very hard, I’m sure they notice that sometimes we’re exhausted,” Colom said. “We feel lucky to have this job but the conditions need to improve because they have been going for the worst in the last 10 years and things need to change.”

Ian Shaw, a senior lecturer in human geography who has been at the University for eight years, said that Glasgow University was one of the better universities and said that UCU members were grateful that the university had agreed to spread their pay cut over January and February.

Shaw said: “Glasgow University is one of the better employers. I’ve heard horror stories from universities across the UK asking students to spy on their staff but we have a good relationship with the University of Glasgow.”

Lecturers also wanted to be clear that the strike was their last resort and that they did not want to disrupt student learning. Shaw said none of the lecturers take the decision lightly because they love their students, but bad working conditions for staff leads to bad learning conditions for students.

Chadwick said that she understood why some students were unhappy that their lecturers were striking but hoped students could still support them.

“However I hope that students will write to universities to protest the situation and I hope that they will understand that lecturers do not go on strike easily,” she said.

Chadwick added that they were not on strike just for their pension but also for wider issues which they view to be reflecting a “very negative turn in the higher education sector.”