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Students could face further disruption to their studies

Students could face further disruption to their studies if lecturers vote to go on strike before the end of term.

This comes after a national dispute with employers over money and working conditions.

University staff are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer ‘all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady

When are strike ballots opening?

The University College Union (UCU), which represents 130,000 staff across the UK, confirmed on the 21st of September, that strike ballots will open at UK universities, including Canterbury Christ Church University, on Monday 18 October.

What is fuelling the fire?

Nationally, the row centres on Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions and pay, workloads, casualisation and equality failings. At Christ Church, members will not be balloted on pensions.

The union’s higher education committee confirmed the timetable for a ballot of 152 institutions in total. Seven institutions will be balloted on USS pensions only, 83 are to be balloted over pay and working conditions, with another 62 institutions facing two ballots over both USS and pay and working conditions. 

UCU say they expect employers to return to negotiations with better offers in both disputes or face action that will disrupt the end of term and continue into the next one.

The National Union of Students has offered its support for staff planning to take action, saying ‘students will hold employers responsible’ if vice-chancellors and employers do not come to ‘a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff.

‘The national ballots will run until Thursday the 4th of November, unless employers resolve the dispute beforehand. UCU’s higher education committee will meet to consider the results of the ballot on November 8th with action expected to take place before the end of the year.

Facts and stats

Nationally, pay for university staff fell by around 20% between 2009 and 2019. Since then employers have made a series of below inflation offers, despite university income from tuition fees growing by a third in the last five years alone. 

The latest pay offer from University and Colleges Employers Association, which represents the sector, was an increase of just 1.5%.

The gender pay gap sits at 15.5% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, under a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black.

The UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase; an end to race and gender pay injustice; a framework to eliminate precarious contracts, such as zero-hours employment; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads. 

How are university staff losing out?

The staff groups being balloted in both sets of action by UCU include academic and academic-related staff.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said university staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic. She added that they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer ‘all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.’

The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady

Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady

NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said students regularly witnessed how staff and student conditions are intertwined. She said: “University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic – these aren’t the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.”

Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully-funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve. 

She highlighted that until these issues are dealt with, it is down to the vice-chancellors and employers “to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff.” She added, “if they don’t, students will hold employers responsible.”

Canterbury Christ Church University have been contacted for comment.

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