What are the UCU strikes, and why are some classes cancelled? Although a week's worth of lectures vanishing from thin air may quite possibly be the worst thing a student could possibly experience, I’ll briefly cover why the disruption is so important for UCU’s aims.
So, first off, what, or, who is UCU? UCU stands for University and College Union, a trade union which, in essence, protects the rights of workers in education. This can range from maintaining their employment to improving the quality and standards of their jobs. If you haven’t heard of the UCU strikes before, you probably would have done this month. The picket lines of clanging pots and lecturers huddled in scarves on a Tuesday morning probably would have been hard to miss. That and the dozen or so classes which may have been, very tragically, made extinct. Either or, this round of UCU strikes may have been causing quite a bit of disruption, not just in your individual timetables, but also to the nationwide education system.
Just like Thunberg’s ‘Fridays For Future,’ the UCU strikes are getting larger and (hopefully) more impactful with every disruption caused. Although there is no telling what the exact outcome of the strikes can be, it’s important to know the aims of this mass movement:
It may be obvious how much impact the cost of living is having day-to-day, yet the salaries of many teaching staff, and employees in general, isn’t enough to compete with this. There are also longer standing problems with pay, such as a large gender pay gap within some subject specific schools. Information regarding the gender and ethnicity pay gap should be made public within your institution, St Andrews, for example, show a 20% average difference between male and female staff and overtly demonstrate the lack of diverse representation among them (a topic I’ll cover in a future blog- for sure).
With universities maintaining their heavy tuition fees, the UCU states that better payment and pensions is more than feasible. The official website states that “Pay has been cut, pensions have been slashed and tens of thousands of staff are employed on insecure contracts - all in a sector generation tens of billions of pounds each year”.
So, why so much disruption this time around? Well, clearly, the intended outcomes have not been achieved. The UCU website states that, as of the 1st February 2023, 70,000 UCU members are going on strike to save higher education. Strikes have been rife in the first two months of 2023. Nurses. Ambulances. Trains. Airports. And now education. Disruption = (hopefully) difference.
The industrial strike differs from tutor to tutor, with some staff striking on some specific days, a lot of lecturers taking part wholly and others not at all. During these few weeks, it’s probably a good idea to check whether your lectures are still going ahead. That is, unless you want an eerie 9am alone in a lecture theatre vibes.
Is it sustainable, losing this many teaching hours in order to get potentially more improved ones in the distant future? I guess sometimes you have to lose the smaller battles to win the larger ones. Whilst we’re only in the higher education system for a few years (unless we choose to further pursue the arduous academic route) it’s vital to consider the livelihood of those who are in the teaching profession, and the reasons mentioned above. This can be done by showing support in the picket lines, promoting #ucuRISING or writing an email to your School or principal.
Anisha Minocha is studying English and Spanish at the University of St Andrews. She is a passionate writer and poet whose work has been published in anthologies, magazines, blogs and won competitions. Contributing to Sink Magazine, she is keen to utilize the voice of young people and share work through her creative writing blog. As a climate activist, she has combined her love for words and the planet in a performance of spoken word at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 'Letters to the Earth'. She also co-runs Young Friends of the Earth: Manchester and has organised workshops, participated in panels and spoken at Manchester Cathedral.
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