Workers, including lecturers, librarians and researchers, across 150 universities are joining the industrial strike action in protest over their pay, working conditions and pensions.
Up to 2.5 million students may be affected as strikes hit the country on Thursday, Friday and next Wednesday, as the University and College Union (UCU) expect to bring “the whole sector to a standstill”.
Pre-empting the criticism strikers will face, computer scientist Kate Devlin wrote a Twitter thread, dismantling the main arguments against the protests.
She claimed the media would portray them as “Schrodinger’s Academics”, a reference to the famous thought experiment about being two mutually exclusive things at once.
She explained: “Simultaneously workshy and lazy but also causing huge upheaval to students by withdrawing our labour.”
She continued: “Media tropes of university staff as dilettantes who teach five hours a week and get long summers off is so far from true.”
Devlin pointed out that staff work to keep universities up and running all year round, and so “deserve good employment”.
Devlin also attacked the argument that, as students pay fees of at least £9,250 per year, university workers are well-paid.
“The money does not go directly into our pocket, in the same that if you buy a coffee, the barista doesn’t take the cash for themselves,” Devlin explained.
“We want students to get the best experience, which they can’t if we’re drowning.”
UCU also claims that the dispute has “the mass support of students because they know their learning conditions are our members’ working conditions”.
Devlin’s Twitter thread pointed out: “There is nothing selfish about wanting fair play and good employment conditions. Striking is a last resort: we are losing much-needed wages on the picket line.
“And others may have worse working conditions but it is not a race to the bottom: EVERYONE deserves better.”
UCU’s requests include a pay rise to recognise the current cost of living crisis (as inflation has soared to a 41-year-high), the end of insecure job contracts, and for the reversal of cuts which affected pensions.
The industrial walkout is just the latest disruption to the UK economy, as workers – particularly in the rail sector – call for better conditions after years of austerity.
The minister for higher education Robert Halfon said the protests were “hugely disappointing”, especially as students had already struggled throughout the pandemic.
He added: “I urged all sides to work together so that students do not suffer with further learning loss, and I encourage any student worried about the impact of strikes on their education to raise this with their university.”
According to UCU, the sector generated a record income of £41.1billion in 2021, with vice chancellors of universities “collectively earning an estimated £45 million” – which the union says means the sector can afford to meet staff’s pay demands.