Workers express frustration in run-up to action involving 50,000 staff at 74 campuses

University staff who are due to start 14 days of strike action at 74 campuses across the UK have expressed their anger and frustration at what they see as employers’ failure to address their concerns over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Up to 50,000 lecturers, technicians, librarians and other academic and support staff plan to start industrial action on Thursday, potentially affecting 1.2 million students, many of whom have already lost weeks of tuition because of previous strikes.

It is the third time since 2018 that university staff have found themselves on the picket lines, but responses to a call-out to Guardian readers who work and study in higher education suggest there is still widespread – though not unanimous – support for the action.

“Going on strike is financially and emotionally draining. No one wants it but I don’t feel like I have a choice,” said Anh Le, who teaches political theory at Manchester University.

“This is the third big strike in three years. My work, research and teaching are disrupted. My students are angry but they understand we’re doing this not just for ourselves but for the future of British education as well.”

Some university staff expressed anger at the amount of money being spent on new university buildings and vice-chancellor salaries, rather than on improving staff pay and conditions.

Students, meanwhile, were upset and bewildered about the loss of tuition and the impact on their degrees, but many blamed university management rather than their lecturers.

“I work very hard to give my students the best education I can, so I feel an element of guilt that they will be adversely affected,” said an academic at Heriot Watt University. “However, the assault on pay and conditions in universities has been going on too long, and eventually you just can’t ignore that and have to look after yourself.

“I am fed up hearing how my university – and others – can’t afford a decent increase in staff pay when I continually see new buildings, vanity projects in many cases, being constructed on campus.”

Andrea Graf, a lecturer in psychology at Roehampton University, said she would also go on strike: “It stresses me to strike, but this is less stressful than not striking … the university is not a place of education and learning and at times it feels like it is a sausage factory. It is absolutely necessary, but I will struggle financially by taking part.”

An international student, Eric Vu, studying design management and cultures at University of the Arts London, said the strike action meant he would lose a third of of his contact time with tutors, which he estimated was worth £200 a week.

Vu said he supported the strike, and criticised money being spent on renovations and “utilities such as fancy catering and new buildings” rather than investing in teaching and research.

Not everyone who contacted the Guardian supported the strike, however. One lecturer in the politics department at the University of Edinburgh, calling it misguided.

“A very large proportion of my department is intending to strike but I feel strongly that I should not strike. Although I would certainly not mind being paid more, lecturers have comfortable salaries.

“And while I cannot speak to others’ circumstances, my workload is not oppressive in the least – I used to work at a university in the States where demands were much greater. There are those of us staff who believe strongly that the rationale for the strike is misguided.”

Earlier this week, university employers said they had moved a long way to address staff concerns but union demands on pensions, pay and conditions were unaffordable and would put vulnerable institutions that were already in deficit at even greater risk.

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Vice-chancellors have had months to come up with serious offers to avoid widespread disruption on UK campuses. Their failings are clear for all to see today and the blame for the disruption caused by the strikes lays squarely at their door.”

Source: The Guardian

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