2019 lecturer strikes: there has to be another way

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of InQuire Media

Picture courtesy of Kent Online

Between 25 November and 4 December 2019, 60 Universities within the UK took industrial action. Organised by the University and College Union (UCU), the action aimed to tackle the 15% gender pay gap, workloads, pay cuts and a reduction in pensions. Stated by Jo Grady, general secretary of UCU, 43,600 members were involved throughout the strikes.

But, was there enough people involved to make a change?

In 2018, there was another UCU strike involving 65 universities. The previous strike had similar, if not identical, motives to the latest action taken. That one clearly had no impact, shown by further actions needed in 2019. It’s fair to assume, looking at the figures, that the 2018 strike had more support. With 65 universities voting for action, compared to the latest 60.

So, if the 2018 strike achieved minimal, surely the latest strike achieved even less, due to fewer supporters?

Focusing on what happened post-strike, nothing has drastically changed from the top-down. However, from the bottom-up, actions are being taken. For example, my last modern culture lecture in week 12 was cancelled; not because of illness, but to demonstrate that the lectures will not be participating in extra activities which are not in their contracts.

But it makes me question is my money spent well?

£9,250 a year is a steep price to pay for education, especially as I was still paying for the 9 days industrial action. If lecturers are to be believed, they do not get paid during the strike. So, where is my money going?

The truth is we don’t know. I could guess. Perhaps it’s going to the vice chancellor, who earns more than the prime minister. That’s right, more than ‘public school boy’, Boris Johnson.

As much as I support the motives behind the strike, I can’t help but to feel that there may be a better alternative.

It’s no secret that the University of Kent has dropped in the university rankings. The Times Higher Education ranks the University 42nd in the UK, still better than Christchurch. But before 2017, the university was top 25 in the UK. It’s more than obvious that the University of Kent is no ‘Oxbridge’. But, in defence of the striking lecturers, Oxford and Cambridge were both striking as well. Which makes me personally feel better about the situation we are in.

However, the strikes will not have helped the University of Kent’s rankings. The strikes will cause more student dissatisfaction, with lessons not being taught. Ultimately, dragging the university further down in the rankings. But, as students, there’s not much we could have done about the strikes. Next time, we can get involved on the picketing lines or maybe contact the vice chancellor to express our concerns. But, I’m sure the majority of students will do the same as me; publicly moan about the situation and continue studying.

In all seriousness, we should completely sympathise with all lecturers. They are overwhelmingly underpaid, evidently exhausted and pained about not being able to teach what they are passionate about. It’s shameful that the lecturers are drained to this extent. It shouldn’t have gotten to this stage, and I hope a lot in the coming months can be achieved from the November strike. Which means sacrifices must be made to give academia a future.

Something which I would like to bring attention to, which many may not know about, is lecturers on visas. Some lecturers that come from abroad were not able to strike. Their visas have a quota on how many hours they have to work. If they do not fill the quoted hours, they risk being deported. This is not only unfair, but reduces their freedom of speech, not being able to peacefully protest about something which deeply affects them. The strike highlights many flaws within universities and academia as a whole.

As a university we should unite. Even though the strikes are over, pressure should still be applied on the university, to give academia a future.