Lecturers’ strike damaging students

Ali Allam voices his concerns over the recent industrial action

University lecturers’ ongoing industrial action is putting students’ futures on the line as we are being drawn into a protracted dispute between staff and the Vice-chancellor over pay issues.

Thousands of students’ are being threatened yet this point is being neglected in the discussions. Moreover, current concerns are being allowed to outweigh future financial considerations.

The Association of University Teachers (AUT) representing 720 out of 1000 academic staff at the University of York want a twenty per cent pay rise, potentially taking a third of the scheduled extra £3.5 billion entering the sector through top-up fees. With a projected eleven per cent rise in student numbers, much of this money will have to be distributed evenly to tackle workload problems, research, student bursaries as well as the introduction of a new pay structure for all staff members.

Ideally these increased funds could contribute to the general financial health of the University. However any rushed decision on how the money is spent could jeopardise the value of education provided to new students, who will have paid the extra top-up fees. Yet, if the dispute continues then the AUT’s promise of a ‘boycott of all assessment and examination activity’ could put thousands of current students in the dark over their futures.

Initial sympathy could lie with the academics at York who have seen their real wages drop by about 40 per cent over the last 30 years, when compared to other professions. Their work here is crucial to society in developing a new breed of hungry graduates every year.

But the AUT cannot afford to alienate the support of students, nor the attention of the media on their grievances. 2006 is an important year for a consistently underfunded sector. This year alone universities will be receiving £6.5 billion including additional income from top-up fees, and there will other such significant boosts of revenue over the coming years. The potential for academics to receive what they are truly owed has never been greater. Students in turn should demand the same equal recognition and respect.