UCU members at 69 universities will begin a boycott on marking assessments today. This post, written by a University tutor, explains the reasons for this action and why students should support them.
Attacks on workers and our higher education system continue, with current attempts to change the pension scheme – Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The proposed changes will result in some members of staff losing thousands of pounds upon retirement. Staff rely on their pensions, as do their dependents, and their finances have been calculated around receiving the pension they have been paying into their entire career. These pension changes might seem far off and irrelevant for students and tutors, but these are our colleagues and lecturers whose livelihoods are under attack. I stand with them because they are being messed around and not listened to by management and Universities UK. But I also have the foresight to understand that someday if I manage to get a permanent contract and begin to pay into a pension, I will have much worse deal if we all don’t fight today.
These changes are not happening in isolation, they follow last year’s industrial action seeking a pay rise to avoid a 13% cut in pay in real terms since 2008 (i.e. inflation rising faster than wages so pay is worth less). We managed to get a 2% pay rise, which was insufficient.
In addition, universities are increasingly using casual staff on lower pay grades, precarious zero-hours or low guaranteed hours contracts, and not paying staff for the hours that they work. The University of Edinburgh was publically shamed into changing their zero-hours or hours-to-be-notified contracts to guaranteed hours, but this has not addressed the underlying issues of these contracts for casual staff.
Marking boycotts are one of the only effective methods of challenging university management in order to negotiate a reasonable deal for workers. This must be the beginning of a united fightback against a university system that routinely exploits its workers, asking for more and giving us less.
(Órla Murray, Sociology PhD student, tutor, and UCU Edinburgh Postgraduate Representative)