Students should show solidarity with striking staff

Joanna Taylor 29 May 2016

Staff affiliated with the UCU teaching union staged a two-day walkout last week, bringing supervisions and lectures across the country to a grinding halt, whilst thousands of external examiners resigned en masse, signalling that this year’s exam season would be anything but ‘business as usual’. In light of the derisory pay offer from universities and the persistent gender pay gap, it is unsurprising that academics are rightly declaring that enough is enough.

Many university staff, who provide the quality of education and research undertaken within any institution, are seeing the gross inequality riddling the profession. Whilst the average university leader saw their pay rise by more than three percent in the last year, other professional staff are being asked to swallow a meagre one percent rise – and this after years of real terms cuts in pay. With the cost of living continuing to rise, especially in cities like Cambridge, it is deeply saddening to see universities continually fail to reward, support, and value the staff who contribute to making the UK one of the world’s greatest hubs for higher education.

At the same time, the gender pay gap has failed to narrow, with analysis from the Times Higher Education publication revealing the average salary for female full-time academic staff in Cambridge to be more than £8,000 below that of their male peers. Unions have called for practical action to bridge the divide by boosting those staff – disproportionately female – at the bottom of the pay scale. Some 46 years after the Equal Pay Act it’s depressing to see so many individuals who are dedicated to their job fail to receive a fair wage.  

So whilst the short term disruption may be regrettable, industrial action is inevitable and necessary. Nobody wants to see our education delivered by lecturers who are underpaid and whose employment is precarious in an industry which offers no hope or future for those in the profession or wish to join it. We should accept and support the strike and acknowledge that – for our education as much as their pay – university staff are right to speak up and walk out.