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Fury of the low-pay academics

Lecturers walk out of classrooms over pensions, workload and salary disputes

29 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch and Nick Ferris

Staff protests outside City University as the walkout continues

LECTURERS walked out of their classrooms at City University to protest low pay and their pensions this week.

There were three separate pickets made up of lecturers, trade unionists and students at the university in Angel with plans for the protests to go on until next Wednesday.

Sophie Lind, a senior psychology lecturer who was on strike, said: “There’s a pension issue. We went on strike last year and thought it was resolved but it hasn’t been. Experts need to come in and re-evaluate our pensions. Record numbers voted to go on strike.”

She added: “Our pay has gone down by 20 per cent and it hasn’t kept up with inflation. We have a gender pay gap and an ethnicity pay gap too.”

The strike was organised by the University and Colleges Union and affects around half of all universities in the UK.

Another protester, who asked for her name not to be included in print, said she had not been paid for her work as a seminar lecturer since she joined the university in September.

The PhD student said: “I should have had £1,600 but haven’t seen anything. There’s not been a lot of support from HR in my case. I’m against the casualisation of work, we should be valued more.”

Lecturer Rachel Cohen, a vice president at the University and Colleges Union, said: “There are two disputes, one is an ongoing one about pensions and how they are valued.”

She added: “We also have disputes about the insecurity of our jobs, workload and pay. They go together. In higher education the sector is casualised with lecturers paid hourly on insecure contracts. Relying on people on casualised contracts to teach undergraduates at a high level means you put at risk students as well. You also can’t afford to do research led teaching.”

Passing students said they supported their lecturers.

Atticus Blick, 22, who studies postgraduate law, said he is missing out on half of his tutorials and lectures this week but added: “It’s OK as this is quite a useful time to catch up. I support the strike as the pension system is a mess.”

Emma Snell, 23, who is also doing a postgraduate law course, said: “Obviously, from a personal perspective, I’d rather be having my ­lectures and tutorials as usual, but I see this as ultimately the fault of the university and not the striking lecturers themselves.”

A spokeswoman for City University said: “We understand how important these issues are for colleagues and fully respect the right of trade union members to take this action.  Our primary concerns are for the well-being of everyone at City – both our staff and our students.  We have been working to do all that we can to minimise the effect of the industrial action on students’ education and their wider university experience.”

She added: “We would encourage any member of staff with concerns about their individual situation to get in touch with the university directly.”

City is one of 60 universities where industrial action is taking place.

A university spokeswoman said: “The action relates to both the sector-wide pay settlement from earlier in the year and changes to the contribution level for City’s main pension scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme [USS]. The USS is not governed by City but by a separate, independent body.

“Work continues across the sector to find a sustainable solution in relation to the pensions scheme.”

She added that the Joint Expert Panel’s report on pensions was due before the end of the year and that the university hoped that it would include a way forward for staff.

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