A briefing on the Higher Education dispute for students (from UCU)

Reposted from UCU’s national website about their fairpay campaign: http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/he-resources/#.Uz_syqJv7Ya

Why are academic and other university professional staff taking industrial action?

The people who teach you, the people who staff your libraries, the people who conduct world-class research in our universities, are having their pay cut. Their pay has fallen by 13% in real terms since 2009 and now staff are angry because their employers are refusing to offer any more than 1% for this year. 1% is way below inflation and as such, is just another pay cut.

This is in spite of the fact that universities are in very good financial shape. Universities are sitting on a collective surplus of more than £1billion plus far bigger reserves. They are congratulating themselves for accumulating these surpluses by awarding their Vice Chancellors an average 6% pay rise. The average Vice Chancellor or Principal now earns £250,000.

What’s happening to academic pay?

Every year, our union, the UCU, tries to negotiate with university employers to ensure that staff get a fair pay rise that enables them to keep pace with the rising cost of living and makes the profession attractive to the brightest and best people.

For four years, our employers have effectively offered us nothing. As a result, academic pay has stagnated in absolute terms (its face value): Median pay for a full-time lecturer rose by only 0.3% in 2013 and in 2011, it fell by 1%!When the rising cost of living is taken into account, the real value of what your lecturer earns has fallen by 13%.

Our members earn less than academics in most of the English-speaking world, including the USA, Canada and Australia.

Why is fair pay for staff important?

Partly because it’s the right thing to do:

Lecturers train for years to become highly skilled professionals. Many of the younger ones coming into the system have student debts to pay off. Many thousands are employed on short-term contracts, some paid only by the hour and these people really struggle to make ends meet or to build a career. Even those fortunate enough to be more established are struggling to make ends meet and support their families as their pay loses value and the bills just get higher.

If pay keeps falling like this, students will suffer too. Before 2006, when UCU was able to win a pay rise for lecturers, pay fell over a long period like this and experts warned that the best people would simply stop coming into the profession. UCU is worried that this is beginning to happen again.

We apologise for the disruption:

We know that the industrial action is causing disruption. We’re very sorry about this. None of our members comes to work wanting to take any kind of action that negatively impacts on students.

Our members are the people who teach and research and provide a world-class education for millions of young people and they are passionate about what they do. But you can’t come to work every day and face a rising workload and, in some cases, a bullying management and then be expected to take home less pay, year after year.

The fact is that every day that University managements are allowing this dispute to roll on is another day that they are damaging the quality of your education. We have tried to persuade them to resolve this dispute through negotiation and through our campaigning but they just won’t listen, so industrial action is all we have left.

What action are we taking:

We are trying everything possible to minimise the disruption to students at this stage. We have begun a series of actions designed to cause disruption over two-hour periods in an attempt to get the universities to talk to us. But this cannot go on forever. If university managements still refuse to talk to us about a fair pay offer, we will have no option but to consider our most serious action, a marking boycott. We really do not want to do this but our members cannot go on taking pay cuts.

University managements have caused this dispute – they can end it today:

The really bitter truth is that this dispute is unnecessary. University managements could end it today if they wanted to because we know that they have the money for a fair pay settlement. Universities are sitting on healthy surpluses and very large reserves but they are refusing to use this money to invest in their staff, the people who make our universities so great.

When you pay £9000 every year for higher education and you take on a debt that will stay with you for a lot of your life, you have a right to know that you can expect high quality teaching and contact time. When you see disruption, it is natural to feel angry at your lecturers or their unions. But we would ask that you look below the surface and direct your anger at the people who are really responsible for this disruption, the people who have single-handedly caused this dispute: the Vice Chancellors with an average salary of £250,000, sitting on big surpluses and huge reserves who are willing to put your education on the line rather than invest in their staff.

University leaders seem to have forgotten that they are not the university, nor does the university belong to them. It is the staff and the students who make a university. Are people who refuse to invest in staff and who actively undermine the quality of education fit for the sector, let alone a bloated salary and a 6% pay rise?

What can you do?

We would ask that you email your Vice Chancellor calling on them to press their national negotiators to make their staff a better offer. Help us to get the universities back round the table and end this damaging dispute before it gets any worse.

Talk to your Students’ Union about how you can get involved. [Editors’ note: UWESU seems to be obstructing so perhaps you can email them, asking what they have been, are and will be doing about this, and cc or bcc this email address: uwe.better.together@gmail.com].

Speak with your lecturers and other university staff and let them know you support them.

To UWE students: An email to send your Vice-Chancellor to stop the forthcoming marking boycott by supporting fair pay!

There is a simple thing you can do to stop the forthcoming marking boycott and support fair pay for your lecturers. Copy/paste this letter and tweak it to fit your situation, then send it to Steven.West@uwe.ac.uk and if possible cc or bcc this address so that we can keep track of the campaign: uwe.better.together@gmail.com.

Better together!

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Subject: I support my staff – please agree to fair pay and stop the marking boycott

Dear Steve West,

I am a student writing to complain about the disruption to my education caused already this year by industrial action over pay, and to express my severe concern about the coming marking boycott. [You may wish to include personal details about the effect that the strikes or the boycott have had/will have on you]

I support the staff who make my education possible in their campaign over pay – against harsh cuts and a sexist gender pay gap, and for the Living Wage. They deserve to be paid decently for their work, and I believe that continued unfair pay will have a damaging effect on our university and the quality of education it can provide to students like me.

The staff have tried every available avenue to raise these concerns. I believe it is unacceptable that the response has been to ignore their legitimate grievances (and in some universities, to victimise them with unreasonable pay deductions), leaving them with no choice but to plan a marking boycott as a last resort to defend themselves. I therefore believe it is your responsibility, and that of other Vice-Chancellors, to end the dispute quickly and positively by supporting fair pay.

Please publicly and privately press UCEA (the University & College Employers’ Association, in which you represent our university) to immediately agree in principle to the whole of the trade unions’ pay claim, and to commit to quick and meaningful negotiations over implementing it. This will be in the interests of students, staff and our university’s academic mission.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name and your course/department]

Calling out all witnesses of ‘UWE arms fair’ on 20 November 2013

On 20 November 2013, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) rented out its Exhibition and Conference Centre to DRPTE, a military business and arms fair key to the UK’s business of death. Protesters, including many UWE students, faced considerable hostility, repression and criminalisation sometimes extending to harassment as well as threatened and outright violence.

UWE was involved against such protests at the highest level since Steve West, UWE’s Vice-Chancellor, was present at the site of the demonstration intimidating protesters (including UWE students) with arrest, and Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen liaising with the police and taking photographic shots of protesters without their consent and without justification. UWE and UWE Students’ Union (UWESU) ignored urgent concerns about protesters safety and democratic rights and UWESU ignored an urgent request to meet at midday to discuss such concerns.

Since then, UWESU has been obstructing attempts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable. The Western Eye, UWE’s Student Newspaper, reported that “students staged ‘impeccable’ protest” [1] but wrote off all the events that raised health and safety as well as fundamental democratic issues even though it committed to “[publish] a full review of the day’s events” [1]. Since then, the WesternEye has also been silencing all these issues.

A group of activists (including former and current UWE students) is currently ramping up a campaign to hold UWE, UWESU, the WesternEye and the police accountable for their actions on 20 November through media, through a demand to hold an independent review [2] and possibly through legal proceedings. Indeed, we are now in touch Imran Khan and Partners, solicitors who are currently supporting students from Birmingham University [3] and University of London [4], cases of university-level repression where university top management has been collaborating with the police to repress students.

We are now calling on your support to share any evidence you may have or to give a witness statement. It is very important that you do so if you can, to make sure UWE can remain a safe space for politically-active people, in solidarity with the most exposed protesters and students, and to also take this opportunity to air the very important points we tried to make on 20 November!

  • If you were involved with the protests at UWE (even if you were only involved on 19 November) and haven’t provided a witness statement, a record of your experience and observations is very important to establish the full picture of what happened. Moreover, observations that may seem ‘minor’ to you may help to ‘consolidate’ the case of other witnesses.
  • If you were not involved with the protests, you may have witnessed, or hold evidence about, the systematic silencing of the arms fair in itself, the protests or the obstruction and silencing before, or since by UWE, UWESU and/or the WesternEye.

Your witness statements will be handled by a specially established legal working group. Data will only be shared with members of the group, with lawyers or with trusted allies under adequate confidentiality and anonymity agreements, unless we have your written consent. Data from those statements may also be used to further media work, in which case it will be anonymised (no-one will be able to say  it came from you).

  • If you can, please email a witness statement as soon as possible.
  • If you want to speak to our solicitors or to a member of our legal team before making your decision, email us and we’ll put you in touch with the relevant person.
  • If you don’t know how to write a witness statement or want some support to complete it, the legal team will be organising a workshop about how to do this next Wednesday (2 April) at 4pm (location TBC). Please let us know if you think about coming and to be informed about the location once it is confirmed.
  • If you don’t have time to write a witness statement now because of deadlines or exams, please let us know when you would have time to write one.
  • If you don’t want to write a witness statement, please let us know so we don’t lose time chasing you up and, if possible, let us know your reasons so we can try to address them for you or for others.

To contact the media and legal team, email: uwe.better.together@riseup.net

Solidarity!

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[1] Defend Education Birmingham (25 March 2014), ALL CHARGES DROPPED AND ALL STUDENTS REINSTATED! http://www.defendeducationbrum.org/all-charges-dropped-and-all-students-reinstated/

[2] Better Together (12 March 2014), Open letter to UWE VC requesting independent review of 20 November 2013 protests against military business and arms fair at UWE, https://network23.org/better-together/2014/03/12/open-letter-to-uwe-vc-requesting-independent-review-of-20-november-2013-protests-against-uwe-military-business-and-arms-fair/

[3] The Western Eye (20 November 2013), Students Stage ‘Impeccable’ Protest, http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/students-stage-impeccable-protest/

[4] The Guardian (5 December 2013), Student protests are changing tack – and facing heavy police repression, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/05/students-protests-police-repression-university-of-london