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Maddie Colledge

postgraduate education
m.colledge@uea.ac.uk

Students on the picket line

You may have heard that academics at UEA will soon be taking part in a national period of industrial action regarding changes to pensions. I recently wrote a blog detailing why this is happening which you can read here.  

In the current pension scheme academics know that once they’ve retired, regardless of how long they live, each year they’ll have enough to live on. The proposed changes would see the average lecturer loosing £200,000 over their retirement and their pension payments being subject to the whims of the market. Academics are taking this action to protect not only their futures, but the futures of students who will go on to work in academia. 

61 Universities, including UEA, voted in favour of industrial action. The strike will go ahead on the 22nd of February and, depending on whether an agreement is reached or not, will continue in subsequent weeks. The dates are: 

Week 1: 

Thursday 22nd (picket line day) and Friday 23rd 

Week 2:  

Monday 26th February, Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th 

Week 3: 

Monday 5th March, Tuesday 6th Wednesday 7th Thursday 8th  

Week 4: 

All week - 12th- 15th March  

The University will notify you on the day if your teaching will be affected and keep you updated.  

No union takes industrial action lightly and as a students' union, we voted to support the academics forced into taking this course of action. What should also be noted is that a number of Postgraduate students will be going on strike, at personal cost to themselves. Our PhD Associate Tutors, who have faced a number of challenges of their own are eligible to join the strike and have our full support. 

Some of them have told me why they're joining the industrial action: 

"I am a current Associate Tutor and this is my third year of doing this kind of work. I have taught at all levels of the university from foundation year to masters. I am a UCU member and will be joining the industrial action over pensions. This is not a choice I have made lightly. Participating in the strike will cost me my wage and it will also have an impact on my students. As someone who cares deeply for the education I help deliver, the success and enjoyment of my students, and relies on their teaching income to put food on the table; participating in the industrial action hurts me. Why am I joining the strike then? Because higher education is on the precipice of total casualisation and marketisation, this strike can begin the process of rolling this back. Because I am a union member and stand in solidarity with those who also sell their time to the university, this strike is an expression of that. Mostly importantly I will be striking because this is a disastrous, noxious change to pensions that didn’t need to happen. Universities do not need to be run this way and it is time we staff and students recognize that."  

"This strike is important because a university depends on motivated and dedicated staff to function. No amount of promotional videos, university branding or 6 figure Vice Chancellor pay packets can replace our lecturers who could see their pensions dropping by up to £200,000 under the new proposals. No one wants the disruption of a strike, but a demotivated and unhappy workforce will be far more damaging to students and the university in the long run." 

“I was here back in 2014 as an undergraduate when UCU engaged in industrial action, and I now find myself having to engage in industrial action as an Associate Tutor. I’ve been both the student affected by strike action, and the one engaging in it. The most important thing to remember is that by supporting your academic staff, you give them a stronger hand in negotiation. We ultimately all want the same thing, for higher education to be sustainable and students to be able to engage in the exchange of knowledge with staff who are adequately supported. For me, this strike action isn’t just about an attack on pensions, it is about the changing treatment of staff and students in HE today.”    

Students whose teaching is affected will no doubt be concerned about their learning and how the strike will affect their academic outcomes. With Higher Education now being marketised, students have also expressed concerns about money – there is the sense that you are paying for a degree and losing out on teaching time you have paid for. This is completely understandable: you're worried about your education and your academics are too. It's important to remember that your academic staff are not in favour of the amount you have to pay in tuition fees and actively stood against the rise. We must not allow a situation where people desperate about pensions and people desperate about tuition fee rates are pitted against each other. You can join your academics and divert energy towards the University management, who have the ability to come out in support of UCU. The UEA branch of UCU are calling on the Vice Chancellor to as their representative at UUK to publicly back the scheme and pledge that UEA will take the necessary steps to defend pensions. 

It is important that we back academic staff to give them as strong a hand as possible in negotiations. Turning on the strikers, rather than university management, allows students to be used as leverage to worsen conditions for staff. 

We have a FAQs page on our website for anyone who needs more details about strike action itself, which can be found here. If you have any academic concerns, advice(su) are able to offer advice and point you in the direction of support. If you'd like to discuss the strike you can get in contact with me at m.colledge@uea.ac.uk  

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