Studying for a degree, of course, relies on two parties: the students and their teachers. Without the student, there is no need for the teacher – and vice versa. The current dispute about the insecure employment, low pay and gender wage gap of our lecturers and seminar leaders has driven them to take action in the recent UCU strike.
What is the UCU?
The University and College Union (UCU) is a trade union that represents university staff. At the moment, they are involved in a dispute with university employers about issues that directly affect them. This has driven them to strike against them. This continues to have an impact on us as prospective graduates and post-graduates. There is a constant struggle between university employers and their employees, an issue that is also significant in other workplaces.
In the UCU report (published March 2016), statistics show that 75,000 university staff are on ‘casualised’ (precariously insecure) contracts, with over 21,000 staff on zero hour contracts. This means that the majority of university staff work on unstable grounds, in a constant limbo. Due to these casual contracts, staff are left uncertain about the security of their respective position – an extremely troubling prospect. If this isn’t shocking enough, according to UCU data, vice-chancellors are paid 6.4% more than the average member of staff.
Why is this important for us?
The staff and their students make a university, a university. It’s not the gleaming, award winning, attractive pictures of the buildings that appear on the front cover of a prospectus – the extravagant brochures we use when making the crucial decision of which university deserves to be our first choice.
It is made absolutely clear that today’s system does not invest in our university staff and their living wages, but instead invests in revenues and the number of flashy buildings. Despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, women are still paid considerably less than men. Strikingly, according to UCU data, male university staff are earning, on average, 12.6% more than their female counterparts.
What can we do?
The demand for equal pay exists; four decades ago, all workers had reason to believe that there would be fair pay. This is still not the case. The UCU strike serves as a reminder that issues of gender inequality are still prominent. Not only in higher education, but in the majority of workplaces. This problem effects all of us. After we graduate we will, perhaps, go into further study, and soon face the world of work where we may well face these inequalities, thrown into unstable employment situations.
It is important to recognise the reality of the workplace, and refuse to accept things that are excused by the norm. If we research the current issues that directly affect us we will then be empowered to challenge those issues and push for real change. We should not brush off the problems with a nonchalant ‘it is what it is’ things CAN BE CHANGED!
To find out more about the UCU strike, search for #fairpayinHE and #UCUstrike thread in your Twitter search feed.