UCU Strikes: Why I’m Backing the Lecturers

Ivan Edwards

As the University and College Union strike enters its third week, thousands of lectures will continue to be cancelled across 61 universities. I hate to see this kind of disruption – I’m working hard and paying big money for my degree.

But I’m backing my lecturers who are going on strike.

These strikes were called in a dispute over pensions, as changes by the universities threaten to leave lecturers nearly £10,000 a year worse off in their retirement.

As students, we have to ask ourselves whose side are we on – the lecturers who work hard to help us get our degrees, or the university bosses?

Many of our lecturers are already on insecure, one-year contracts. It is not the easy path to riches or a cushy job that it’s sometimes imagined to be.

And in my experience, they have always gone above and beyond to help us, the students. They will meet us in their lunch breaks to help us with our problems and answer our late-night emails.

There should be enough money in the system to pay their pensions. Tuition fees for UK and EU students went up from £3,000 to £9,000 per year in 2012, and up again to £9,250 last year. In 2015, the cap on student numbers was lifted, meaning more people are going to university and paying their fees than ever before.

But according to Exeter Vice Chancellor, Steve Smith, “the scheme’s current funding arrangements cannot support the cost of funding future pension benefits to members. Despite changes being made in 2011 and 2016, the scheme deficit has increased to approximately £7.5 billion.”

They agreed to this pension deal only two years ago, and now they’ve just realised they can’t pay it? Where has all the extra money from the tuition fees gone?

Smith gets paid £315,000 per year. That’s more than double the Prime Minister’s salary. And when you include bonuses and pensions, his overall package goes up to a whopping £426,000, making him the fifth highest paid vice chancellor in the country.

He also sits on the committee which decides his own wages. The chances are that he can look forward to a comfortable retirement – while our lecturers now face extra insecurity.

After weeks of disruption and anxiety for students, not least those graduating this summer, the universities have belatedly decided to get around the negotiating table again. Whatever happens there, the universities allowed this situation to get out of hand. I think it’s them you should blame for cancelled lectures.