Many students will suffer today as university and college members of staff take strike action regarding pay and conditions. The three main university unions, Unite, Unison and the University and College Union have decided to order their members on strike following the measly 1% pay rise offered to staff.
The unions insist that, taking in to account the sharp rise in the cost of living alongside inflation, the wages of staff have decreased by 13% in real terms. It is not just lecturers' pay in question but also that of technicians, librarians, administrators, teaching assistants, cleaners and all others that ensure the day-to-day running of our universities.
Added to this is the fact that staff must observe senior management receiving pay rises exceeding the rate of inflation. This is shameful as UK universities have an excellent international reputation and offering fair levels of pay for staff is imperative in maintaining these high standards.
The university sector in the UK as a whole now sits on a surplus exceeding £1 billion - significantly due to the recent hiking of tuition fees. This episode is a sorry example of the transformation of higher education from an all engaging service into a commodity.
Education should not be something that follows the principles of ordinary business. While it is common sense that universities should generate money towards the running costs, this should not be abused. Universities are fast becoming centres for profit for the few at the top and that is wrong. It is about investing in the future of the younger generation, not sapping what you can from the institution.
Not only is the wages of staff in dispute, but unions are also making a stand against the increasing number of zero-hours contracts being offered to junior academics as well as technicians.
In effect, students are being asked to contribute more towards our tuition fees without seeing anything in return. The money isn't trickling all the way down the institutional hierarchy; it is stopping at the pockets of the most senior members.
Money needs to be reinvested into the quality of education, and an important aspect of this is a level of pay that will attract excellence in teaching. It is all part of the same problem: how can a threefold increase in tuition fees be justified if there is no evidence of that money improving the higher education service?
This saga comes a matter of weeks after Clegg 'reassured' us that tuition fees would not rise to £16,000. How much maltreatment can UK higher education withstand before it is badly tarnished? With many avenues closed off to young people at present, university should be a place we can have faith in, standing beyond the desperate clutches of greedy profit-mongers.
Hopefully, if enough resistance to poorly judged and unconsidered plans like this takes place, we can avoid the slow deterioration of our institutions. Students and staff are the ones that prop our universities up and we should have the loudest voice against measures that are damaging higher education.
Here's to the future of our great universities. And my full support goes to the members of staff that are taking part in today's strike.