Academic, administrative and technical staff in their respective unions (UCU, Unison and Unite) are taking strike action on Thursday 31 October in their fight for improved pay across higher education. It’s the first time that all three unions will be taking action together, and reflects a growing anger at what is happening to the sector.
Academics’ real wages have fallen by 13 per cent since 2008, the largest sustained wage cut of any profession since the Second World War. On top of this, higher education has been using zero hours contracts for many years to squeeze the maximum out of hourly-paid lecturing staff.
The reduction of wage levels for administrative and technical staff has been as savage, with thousands on pay levels just above the minimum wage for undertaking a range of skilled roles.
Universities have used the new fees system to build up a cumulative operating surplus in the higher education sector of over £1 billion, and many higher education institutions have built up cash reserves. Meanwhile, overall staff costs in higher education, as a proportion of expenditure, have fallen from 58 per cent in 2001-02 to 55.5 per cent in 2011-12. But the pay of university bosses has soared, with the average vice chancellor paid £250,000 per year and the highest over £400,00O.
Across the sector a light is dawning: “The employer is taking the piss and we won’t stand for it.” The strike day announcement was greeted with the usual “this will hurt the students” response from vice chancellors. But in several institutions students will be wearing badges supporting their staff, and in others joining the picket line. It is time for everyone working in the sector to point out that valuing the staff in the sector is one key step in protecting students. (See last month’s Workers for who is really hurting students). ■