Today, university staff across the country are on strike. Two tutors from Edinburgh University have kindly shared their thoughts with us on why they are striking, and why you should support them.
Órla Ní Mhuirí – Sociology tutor
I’m joining the strike on Thursday because the UK university system is under threat. As part of a larger campaign of government cuts to public services, university staff are suffering pay cuts of 13% in real terms. But this isn’t just about a pay dispute, this is part of a larger fight for a fair and well-funded university system for everyone. When the University of Edinburgh doesn’t do well in the ratings, pressure is put on the lowest pay grade level staff: those on the most precarious contracts, those who earn the least, those who are not paid for the hours that they work. But this isn’t just about academics, this is about all university staff, this is about workers. When society treats public services like businesses, we become consumers to extract a profit from and workers to exploit. We must support the strike, we must fightback, we must protect our public services and support our fellow workers.
Kieran Curran – English Literature tutor
The strike is important for two reasons. Firstly, the freeze on pay in higher education has further cut rates of pay for the most under-funded of university teachers – the hours-to-be-notified, hourly paid tutors. Paying tutors much less than the hours they work – in terms of teaching, contact hours with students, marking, preparation – results in an alienated, and widely disenchanted work-force. This effects those who are often the most dedicated and sincerely caring of teachers – why should they work so hard, and give so much of their time, if the university consistently undervalues and under-appreciates them? This obviously hurts teachers and students alike. Secondly, and equally importantly, is the underlying and sinister idea that education is apparently no longer a beneficial, social good, but rather simply yet another commodity to be exploited for as much profit as possible. Thus, university bosses see themselves as jet-setting quasi-CEOs, pushing the “brand” of their institution around the world, whilst existing lecturers are over-worked, early career academics need to double as management consultants, and tutors struggle to pay the rent. Universities may need ‘reform’, but not in the sense of ‘reform’ meant by its current usage, as a byword for an increase in management jobs and/or privatisation. It means encouraging innovative research, both that which has an impact, and that which isn’t necessarily the most immediately profitable. It means creating a space for more, properly paid teaching. It means making students and staff alike feel less like cogs in a larger, impersonal machine. It means attempting to encourage a wholistic education, not an early 21st century murder machine.