The University of Leeds is just one of the Universities currently participating in strike action, as members of the University and College Union battle with their employers, Universities UK, over proposed cuts to their pensions. The proposed pension changes will see a change for a secure pension, to one that is subject to change depending on the stock market. These changes are set to cost the average academic £10,000 a year in retirement, which over the average twenty year academic career is a staggering £200,000. The changes would be perhaps an easier pill to swallow if it weren’t for the fact that Vice Chancellors and senior managers enjoyed ever growing salaries, hinting that universities could perhaps afford to offer academic staff more stability if they wanted to. The action is a therefore a total snub to the goodwill of many academics.
Many students have been supportive of their lecturers going on strike despite the noticeable impact it has had to their studies. Strike action has meant the cancellation of lectures, seminars, tutorials, office hours and even a halt in email correspondence. This has come at a very intense period where dissertations for final year students and exams are likely to be effected. Yet students across the country as well as the University of Leeds have stood in solidarity with the university staff and been a great help in spreading the message.
Instead students have directed their anger at the disruption towards the university itself. In some cases this has taken the form of demanding refunds for their £9,250 a year tuition fee payments. Indeed, students who pay fees do have rights under consumer law, although how far these rights apply to industrial disputes is untested. Many students have also taken to emailing their university’s Vice Chancellor, Alan Langlards, though few have seen little response on matters such as compensation or what exactly he is doing to alleviate the situation. Indeed, with his pension unaffected it seems he cares little for those below him.
Instead, the University of Leeds has in fact taken the controversial and punitive decision to dock worker’s pay to just 75% if they fail to reschedule teaching once they are back at work. Leeds is just one of the only universities to stand by these proposed pay deductions that will essentially see striking staff punished twice. Whilst staff expected to have the pay for the days they were on strike withheld, this action would see them expected to work twice as hard for nothing in return. In many cases they would be asked to work up to 60 hours a week! This is a task the university must ultimately understand is impossible and yet they still do not care. Pressure has been put on Alan Langlards to reverse the decision though he is yet to do anything on the matter.
The decision has led to many Leeds alumni furiously withdrawing their donations to the university. They see the docking measures as a bully tactic and attempt to intimidate staff. Many have taken to twitter to voice their disgust and solidarity for the striking staff. Though specific to Leeds, the docking measures also reveal the increasing marketization of the university experience as a whole. Indeed, it has become apparent that the value of students and staff is merely pound signs and the future of higher education and a fulfilling student experience looks bleak.