Yesterday's strike by members of the University and College Union reflects the temperature on British campuses as universities begin to make cuts in anticipation of tough times ahead. All the signs are that universities are in for a good deal of pain as a result of future reductions in public spending. The UCU wants to make clear that universities can't cut without expecting trouble – and it is receiving a good deal of support from its members. At Sussex, a ballot for strike action received more than 80 per cent support, and a similar vote at King's received the support of 70 per cent of staff. The academics at King's claim to have achieved significant concessions plus a reduction in redundancies sought.
So, we could be in for a summer of discontent on university campuses. If things get nasty, students at King's and Sussex, which are experiencing the most militancy, could find the action affecting their courses and possibly even their exams.
On the pay front, the union has put in a claim for a 4 per cent rise next year; the universities have offered a mere 0.25 per cent. What the union really wants is a national agreement on job security. The university employers say they can't give that because of institutional autonomy. So we will get the same old impasse as last year.