London academics joined colleagues throughout the UK for a second day of strikes today as 1,000 examiners quit their roles in protest over poor pay and conditions.
The strikes, planned by University and College Union (UCU), are protesting the casualisation of academic contracts, gender pay inequality and the loss in value of pay. Malia Bouattia, the president-elect of the NUS, visited and showed support for soft picket lines at university buildings around Bloomsbury.
The action comes after talks to resolve a dispute over the 1.1% pay offer for university staff collapsed last week.
Dr Eastwood, a fractional staff member at SOAS forced to work two extra jobs, said universities were “more concerned with flashy buildings and manager’s pay than the thing that makes a university what it is, teaching.”
Despite official pay often looking good, once unpaid hours are factored in, invigilating exams pays better than teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA).
Considering the highly skilled nature of GTA work, many are feeling badly exploited. Research conducted by UCU estimates that 48.7% of university staff across the UK are employed on some form of casual contract.
Since 2009 staff have seen a real term loss to pay of 14.5%. The UCU’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, described a 1.1% pay offer as “an insult”, especially compared to the 5.1% increase in pay and benefits enjoyed by university vice-chancellors last year.
“Universities need to answer some hard questions about how they will continue to attract and retain the best talent when pay is being held down and hardworking staff are receiving such poor reward for their efforts,” she said.
Strikers argue that the casualisation of university teaching should not just be a concern for the staff but for all students, and that an erosion of staff working conditions will lead to an erosion in students’ quality of education. Despite this, many students chose to cross the picket lines.
The London strikers converged on Conway Hall yesterday for a panel discussion that emphasised on the gender pay gap in higher education. Despite it being almost 50 years since the 1970 Equal Pay Act, male staff members are still paid 12.6% more than their female counterparts.
Racial discrimination is also reported with a TUC report showing that people of colour disproportionately employed in insecure casual contracts.