Simon Booth works in the Information Services department of the University of Stirling, where he and the team he works in ensure that all online learning systems like Canvas, the University app, and the Portal run smoothly.
It is not only lecturers and researchers who are members of the University and College Union (UCU), people working in Professional Services make up a great part of it too. Without people like Booth, who support the academic staff, there could be no research or teaching.
But for Booth, it seems like the working conditions get worse every year, and your salary never goes as far as previously: “I’ve been struck by sort of chatting to people on the picket line saying, you know, it’s just enough to live on now. Can’t save anything in this kind of approach.” The UCU estimates that university staff pay has fallen by 20% adjusted for inflation since 2009.
Booth is on strike for his working conditions as much as he is for the conditions of everyone else. He considers himself lucky because he lives in a two-income household with a mortgage that’s been paid off and he’s never suffered from precarious contracts.
Still, the pay has been going down in real terms for Booth too, and the workload has only appeared to be increasing: “There are new things that come along but nobody ever says, oh, but we’re taking those away, you don’t need to do that anymore, that’s gone.”
When the pandemic hit, the University needed to switch to fully online learning virtually overnight. This transition was a lot of work for lecturers and admin staff, who required a great amount of support. “It was crazy to use a technical term,” recalls Booth.
Building online classes was “enormously time-consuming”, Booth explains: “It’s not just lobbing your PowerPoints up in some folder and putting links to them because there is no structure there. How does this fit together?”
“Dodgy” pension cuts
What Booth is the angriest about though is the loss of pension since the “dodgy” valuation of the USS pension scheme in March 2020, when global markets were crashing due to the pandemic.
The USS argues that “even before the pandemic, the scheme was facing very challenging conditions” and they still expect the investments to produce less income than was assumed in the past.
However, the UCU highlights a report from earlier this year which said that the growth in the assets has outstripped the debt, and so the UCU is urging the USS to revoke the cuts made.
“With the pensions, to some extent, you can make up any number of course. You look at somebody that’s 63 and a half they’re not going to lose terribly much because you’ve got no time to lose it,” said Booth, adding that some people can lose around 30% of the final pension.
Cuts to pensions and increased workloads are leading staff to leave Higher Education to get a better work-life balance, Booth thinks. This applies equally to professional services and academic staff, he says, and it must also be leading to recruit difficulties across the sector.
Featured Image Credit: Twitter / UCU Stirling