UCU Strikes: “Soul-destroying” to have to continue striking every year

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Staff and lecturers at the University of Stirling joined over 70,000 striking staff across the UK over pay, pensions and working conditions. 

The three-day strike action, taking place across 150 universities, has been deemed the “biggest in the history of higher education” by the University and College Union (UCU).

Industrial action, which began on November 23, included working-to-rule, refusal to make up for work lost due to the strikes and refusing to cover for absent colleagues.  

The staff are striking on November 24, 25 and 30, after nearly 400 University of Stirling UCU members voted in a ballot in favour of the strike action. 

Staff and students spoke to Brig, explaining why they were joining the picket lines.

Image Credit : Ludovico Caminati

What are the staff saying?

“These disputes have been ongoing for all the time I’ve worked in academia,” said Dr. Ariane Critchley, a lecturer at the university. 

She added that “despite [previous strikes], we haven’t resolved any of the fights that have been on the table over that time.  

“I voted for strike action as I felt like it was the right thing to do and hope this targeted approach will have some impact.” 

Sara Hitchin, a senior lecturer in Social Work, stated that “it is a little bit soul-destroying [to still strike]” as “it feels as though we’ve been on strike every year for as many years as I can remember.”

Image Credit: Ludovico Caminati

“What I would really like is to get a message out that it’s not just about pay and pensions, that’s only part of it. It’s also about unrealistic workloads.

“At the moment, not being able to manage the workload that I have and being completely exhausted – I can’t keep going like that.”

According to a UCU report, two-thirds of university staff consider leaving the sector due to pensions and working conditions. 

When asked about whether low income prevents people from going into teaching jobs, Hitchin noted that “money isn’t the main thing,” rather it is that “people see coming into academia as a progression in their jobs and their career” but without incentives, they feel discouraged from entering the teaching field. 

What are students’ thoughts?

“It is quite depressing – very depressing – that we’ve kind of come to this stage,” said Jamie, a student at the University of Stirling. He has been on the picket line “to demonstrate our solidarity with our lecturers and our teachers.”

He said: “Their teaching conditions can be our learning conditions. Teachers and lecturers both play such a massive part in our society, so it’s important to show our solidarity with them.”

To show support, Jamie said: “The obvious thing to do is get bodies in the street and show your support on the picket line,” as well as to “inform your lecturers and demonstrate to the uni that students are standing with lecturers; that they’re not isolated on their own.”

Jamie at the picket line. Image Credit: Julia Benko

Another student at the university, Lauren Harper, said: “Students need to support the strikes. Our lecturers are facing burnout, they can’t effectively teach us. 

“If we don’t meet their demands, then we’re not going to have a university sector in Scotland. All of this is just symptomatic of the marketisation of higher education.”

Ludovico Caminati, one of University of Stirling’s NUS delegates, also thinks that “students need to take more action” by “supporting the lecturers and contacting the uni, saying that ‘we are dissatisfied with the behaviour you have towards our lecturers, we think that you should give them better conditions, better pay, better pension, so that they can work better for us too.’ 

“I think that will have much more impact and that students should be very vocal about how they feel.”

Caminati added: “[Often] students direct their anger towards the professor for not being quick in responding or not being quick enough when they give you feedback, but I think that a lot of that is unfortunately the problem with the constraints that are given by their contracts.”

However, he noted that it is “amazing that the [university staff] are taking action because it puts a lot more pressure on the management of every university all over the UK.”

The last day of the strike action will be on Wednesday, November 30.

Featured Image Credit: UCU Stirling on Twitter

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