UK: Union dismisses employers’ hypocrisy over damage to students’ education

published 20 January 2014 updated 20 January 2014

The University and College Union (UCU), one of EI’s national affiliates in the UK, has announced plans for a series of two-hour strikes beginning on 23 January aimed at disrupting teaching at universities as part of a row over pay. Education unionists have also condemned that claim by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), representing the university employers, that the UCU was putting students’ education at risk.

“Staff will not be lectured on damage to students' educational experience from people who backed trebling fees to £9,000 [€10,800] a year, have whacked up student rents by 11 per cent in three years and award themselves large pay rises while keeping down the pay of their staff,” UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said. “Any kind of disruption is always a last resort but, after five years of pay suppression with members 13 per cent worse off in real terms, we want a fair deal.”

UCU said that recent embarrassing stories about vice-chancellors' pay, while staff receive real terms pay cuts, just added to the rank hypocrisy from university bosses. UCU members are involved in a dispute over pay with universities. They rejected a one per cent pay increase in 2014 that would have seen their pay drop by 13 per cent in real terms in the past five years.

UCEA change their tune

UCEA’s previous public line has been to try to play down the impact of the strikes. For example, on 29 October, ahead of the first day of strike action, UCEA’s spokesman said that the one-day strike of all the campus unions would have “a low level impact on students”. This was echoed after the strike, when they claimed that the strike had had a minimal impact. The same line was used ahead of and in the wake of the 3 December strike.

On 15 January, the day that UCU announced its wave of two-hour strikes, UCEA stated that “employers have expressed disappointment at UCU’s latest tactic to disrupt higher education institutions, this time targeting students”.

The line now seems focused on attempting to divide students and staff, something that UCU will resist to the full.

Hunt underlined that “UCU will be working hard with Students’ Unions to preserve their constructive relationship and at a time when universities are charging students £9000 a year, raising the rents for student accommodation and seem intent on thinking of as many ways as possible to part students and their families from their money, Vice Chancellors may struggle to convince students that they genuinely have their interests at heart”.

The first three two-hour stoppages will take place at these times:

  • Thursday, 23 January, 11am-1pm
  • Tuesday, 28 January, 2pm-4pm
  • Monday, 10 February, 9am-11am

EI: Vital that government listen to unions

“We firmly condemn the employers’ move to break the strong existing relation between students and UK higher education colleagues,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We urge competent public authorities to urgently listen to organisations representing students and education professionals, at all levels. They must understand that this is the only way for them to ensure quality education for all in their country, for which they hold responsibility.”