Why I support my lecturers on strike today
The assault on higher education is targeting academics and support staff as much as students
We live in the "Age of the Intern", when bright young students and graduates are expected to enter the world of work and an economy for free, or for very little money; when we no longer anticipate a minimum wage or living standard, and accept the status quo, because we fear the future without it; when this system of inequality and exclusivity has become the norm.
I support my lecturers, my seminar leaders, and all the university staff who are striking today because they are taking a stand against something that is creeping into all areas in our economy and our culture. University staff have suffered one of the biggest cuts to their wages since World War II. According to the University and Colleges Union (UCU), since 2008, wages of staff at universities have diminished by 13 per cent in real terms.
We can try to blame the 2008 recession, poor markets, or culture, but in a realm where university leaders and vice chancellors remain on six-figure salaries, where top universities are encouraging junior academics to work for free, the falling wages of most university staff cannot be justified. According to Unison, over 4,000 members of staff in universities are paid below the living wage.
This sector of our public services is the front line of ideas; it cures illness, solves conflict and invents the future. By cutting wages within it, we restrict who is able and who wants to join it. We cut out ideas that could save or improve lives.
British higher education establishments and the system are an important part of our society. Academia and ground-breaking thought have had a stronghold here for hundreds of years. But if universities and colleges relinquish competitive salaries, we are in jeopardy of losing our enthusiastic and pioneering staff to the private sector, or to institutions abroad that are willing to pay fair wages.
The road to academia is always long and expensive, as many of us who are at its undergraduate junction know. It should thus not also be fruitless at the end. In the UK, current academic staff should not have to struggle to feed their families. Prospective researchers and lecturers should not cast aside the career because it cannot promise security.
The foundations of our academic superstructure - its staff - are under pressure. Without them, the whole system as we currently know it will crumble. None of my lecturers wanted the cost of my education to triple, but I want my fees to go to the people who are teaching me how to think, and not to those who seem intent on discouraging it.
Staff and students from the University of Leeds will be marching from the campus at 11.30 this morning.
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