University students could soon be experiencing several changes in the classroom as the University and College Union (UCU) has warned of strikes happening before Christmastime if staff vote to do so.
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said, “The university workforce is at breaking point. Pay has been cut by 17%, a typical member’s pension has been slashed by £240,000, and left-right-and-centre staff are being exploited by casualised contracts, which remain the dirty secret of our sector.”
She also emphasised the dire nature of the potential strikes, stating, “There is a sense that we are at a breaking point and a sense that this is a sector that needs saving. I don't think I can over-articulate that enough.”
She added, "The idea that staff would want to go out on strike again could not be further from the truth."
Despite this statement, on Monday, 18 October 2021 strike ballots opened at 152 UK universities with demands of “a £2.5k pay increase; an end to race and gender pay injustice; a framework eliminate the use of precarious contracts, such as zero-hours employment; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads” according to the UCU website.
The University of St Andrews is one of the universities being balloted.
Of the opening of the strike ballots, Grady said, “Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) came out in support of the strike ballots, with NUS National President Larissa Kennedy saying, “Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve. Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff. If they don't, students will hold employers responsible.”
The ballot closes on 4 November 2021.