Why Are Your Lecturers Striking?
What is the strike about? Newcastle University’s management wants to make a massive change to the pension scheme for all academic staff and academic-related staff (e.g. librarians, student counsellors, IT staff, etc.).
What is a pension? A pension is deferred pay for one’s retirement. Previously, lecturers put in 8% of their salaries, and the employer put in 18%. Lecturers would get a pension related to the average salary earned over one’s career. Academics spend far more time in education before getting a job with a pension – usually in one’s mid-30s – so we pay a lot now to make sure we just have enough to live on when we retire.
What’s the problem with the pension offer at the moment? Since 2009, academic pay has NOT kept pace with inflation, so your lecturers’ real wages have declined by close to 15%. Newcastle University management (along with many other Russell Group institutions) want to change the USS pension scheme so there is no guarantee of how much we will get: the change is likely to reduce the value of your lecturers’ pensions to below subsistence levels. This is a huge blow to our futures – but more importantly, to the value of the work that we, as teachers and researchers, and you, as students, are doing together.
Why should you care? We know that you have incurred a large debt to attend university. Many of us fought against tuition fees. The tuition fees you pay are not used to pay those teaching you (which was promised) nor has it been going into pensions.
How has UCU responded to these proposed changes? The UCU (University and College Union) opposes the pension changes and has called a strike. The UCU is the bargaining agent for pensions for academics and academic-related staff at Newcastle University, whether they are members or not. The UCU has presented alternatives to the employers’ plans (suggesting that staff contribute a bit more, employers contribute a bit more, and staff get a bit less). The employers have refused to budge an inch and the UCU held a ballot for industrial action: at Newcastle University, 62.1% of our members voted. 90% of us voted in favour of a strike. Read more here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss.
How does industrial action affect you? We love teaching and working with students. We do not take strike action lightly. The UCU has called for 14 days of strike action across 4 weeks, starting 22 & 23 Feb.
- During this time, UCU members won’t be: teaching, holding office hours, marking, answering emails,
- The work missed in this period, including teaching, will not be rescheduled—it will just be gone.
- Action short of a strike begins 22 Feb: this means working to contract, i.e., only working the 40 hours per week in our contracts (most academics work 60+ hours because they love teaching and researching).
- There is the possibility of a marking boycott.
How can students help? We will set up an alternative programme of talks where we can together discuss and argue about fees, pay and radical ideas in the modern university. We want you to be part of these debates. If YOU want to help us stop these hugely damaging changes to higher education, here are some ideas:
- Talk to your lecturers about it (and if they’re not in the UCU, suggest they join!)
- Discuss it with your family & friends (here’s a flyer: http://newcastle.web.ucu.org.uk/USS-students)
- Contact our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Day, on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact the President & Chair of Universities UK, Professor Dame Janet Beer, on email@example.com
- Tweet a selfie of yourself with this flyer & the hashtag #USS to @StudentsNCL @UniversitiesUK @samgyimah @ucu @UCUNorthern
- Contact USS board members via https://www.uss.co.uk/how-uss-is-run/your-trustee/people/the-board
- Contact the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Go visit your MP at a local surgery: https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
- Volunteer to help Newcastle University UCU with the campaign (ask a lecturer to put you in touch with a rep, or contact the office directly at email@example.com).