Following a month of negotiation and deliberation about pay, the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite unions have taken the decision to stage a one-day national strike across the country's universities. While the strike is in support of the university employees as opposed to its students, there is a call for young people to support their institutions by protesting alongside their lecturers or to simply refuse to cross the picket line. Although to many people a day of missed lectures represents a loss, there are bigger issues at play here than attending an hour-long seminar. Here are five reasons for why students should stand with staff and support the strike.
Our money should go to our educators.
In 2012, fees for degree courses tripled around the country. Despite this spike in finances ostensibly going towards more funding for the universities, the people who have benefitted most are not those who put in the day-to-day work. Salaries of university vice-chancellors have risen to £250,000 on average, meaning that they earn up to fifteen times as much as the lowest-paid education staff. While the running of a university is no doubt a difficult and stressful job, it is disrespectful to both staff and students of those in charge to have rewarded themselves above those who fill the lecture halls, particularly in a time of national austerity.
Lecturers have taken one of the most sustained cuts in wages since WWII.
Staff have been offered a pay rise of just 1% this year, meaning that in real terms, they have suffered a 13% pay cut since October 2008. The price of attending university is making it seem more of a luxury than ever, but the wages that staff are paid are not reflecting this at all. Teaching is an important and necessary vocation, and the failure of those high-up in universities to recognise this is a failure to understand what it is students go to university for. With Durham University going so far as to advertise for unpaid PhD teaching positions, and some of the top universities in the country issuing their employees with zero-hour contracts, we as students should stand up and assert that our education is worth more than this.
They supported us.
The 2010 protests against the increase in university fees marked a resurgence in student activism, but the crowds that marched in the streets were not made up of students alone. A striking number of academic staff offered their support, releasing a statement that refused to condemn the students for their actions. Entitled 'The Defence of Post-Education Great Start, and No to Victimisation', the document released by some members of the UCU stated 'we must not encourage divisions amongst those opposed to the privatisation of education... the victimisation of individuals for acts of resistance is something that our movement has a proud record of opposing.' As the people who are paying more for the speciality knowledge of the people who are getting paid less to divulge it, we owe it to our lecturers to support their causes as they supported ours.
It's only for a day - but you'll notice.
When hearing the phrase 'university staff', the people that come to mind tend to be lecturers, but the vast burden of everyday functioning lies not on those teaching, but on the non-academic employees. While the day-in day-out running of a university campus may seem secondary to the education sought within it, the truth is that without culinary staff, librarians, maintenance staff and many others, these institutions would simply cease to operate. You may not miss it until it's gone, but the work put in by people who reap little credit for it is crucial to any university, and their decision to strike is one that should be acknowledged and respected - particularly as they have given a day's pay to support one another in their cause.
Protest is important in itself.
In a time of increasing despondency and political apathy, it is important as young people not to forget either our right to protest or its power and effect. As someone who has never been old enough at election time to vote but has been affected by the measures brought in by people I could not prevent coming to power, the appeal of a form of communication that is rooted in personal conviction rather than electoral limitations is appealing. While I may lack the power to rise university staff's pay myself, the act of refusing to cross a picket line and joining the protest is a show of solidarity. The right to protest is one that we should protect and honour in the name of democracy, and standing with our university employees instead of ignoring their voices is to both acknowledge and respect their right to voice dissatisfaction with the community that we are both a part of.