Dr Simon Parker, Vice-President, York AUT
I’m grateful to Nouse for allowing me some column inches to explain why most lectures and seminars were cancelled last Tuesday and why as part of action short of a strike many lecturers will not be marking assessments or exams until further notice.
We in the Association of University Teachers (AUT) believe the current action could have been avoided if Vice-Chancellors had responded positively to last October’s pay claim which asked them to honour their pledge to devote at least a third of new money coming into the sector to staff salaries. Instead of responding with a serious offer, in January we were told that we had to give up our right to take industrial action and that we had to link our pay claim to that of the non-academic unions who still have yet to announce one. This is an old ruse of the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA)—which has consistently sought to pit union against union, and to drag out negotiations until late into the summer when university budgets have already been set and when any action is likely to have minimal impact.
More than £3.4 billion pounds from fees and government grants will flood into universities in the next few years, and a proportion of that money we argue should be used to close the 40% pay gap that has grown up between university academics and equivalent professionals in the public sector such as senior teachers, civil servants, and doctors. Few people realise that many of the university staff that are paid to train nurses are paid less than the nurses themselves, or that an Economics graduate with a modest degree can expect to start on a City salary paying several thousand pounds more than a new lecturer with a Ph.D. Meanwhile, pay has stagnated over the last thirty years, staff-student ratios have climbed from an average of 1 in 9 to 1 in 23—an increase of 133%. The growing demands of teaching and administration are such that increasingly lecturers are forced to conduct their research outside of working hours. A recent TUC survey calculated that academics work nearly two and half months of overtime ‘for free’ each year.
Vice-Chancellors do not have to stand on rain soaked picket lines to get the salaries they feel they deserve. They have specially appointed remuneration committees which put together attractive packages to recruit and retain ‘chief executives of complex, multi-million pound organisations’. The Times Higher Education Supplement revealed this week that these ‘chief executives’ increased their salary by an average of 25% in the past three years, taking some above the £200,000 mark and many above the pay of the Prime Minister. AUT’s claim (which the University of York describes as ‘substantial’) is for just over 20% spread over three years. As the THES writes: ‘Until the leaders of higher education show the same restraint they are demanding from the unions, disputes like the current one are bound to be well supported