5.0 / 5
We are entering the final week of a 14-day nationwide strike being undertaken by university lecturers and staff, who are part of UCU (University and College Union) regarding a national dispute over proposed changes to the current pension scheme in place for university teaching staff. As part of this revised scheme for staff pensions, academics are faced with no longer having a guaranteed level of income in retirement.
With these proposed changes, some staff members are set to have their pensions cut by almost 60%; cutting income to potentially only £10,000 a year in retirement (the London living wage is currently around £21,000). To put things into perspective, after a dedicated career as a lecturer or researcher at a university, you will retire on a pension that is worth less than the student maintenance loan given to students studying in London to live on.
Within the last week, UUK (Universities UK) have gone back to the negotiating table with UCU to come up with a better pension plan for teaching staff but if the dispute is not settled soon, there have been talks of the industrial action continuing, even throughout exam season during May and June until a fair agreement is reached. Once again, we are seeing an attack on higher education within the UK. Home and EU students are paying £9250 a year in tuition fees and international students are paying almost twice that amount.
These potential adjustments to the pension plan don’t just affect those who are currently working in universities, but also those of us who plan to stay within academia, whether that be entering research or teaching. We cannot justify staying in a career that will dramatically impact our quality of life in retirement, many of us won’t even be able to retire on the proposed pension scheme. The government and UUK are showing us once again that our education and the quality of life of academics (who contribute their research to wider society and public policy, I might add) is not valued. Our lecturers and staff should not be punished for choosing education as a career, for wanting to educate the next generation and wanting to research and contribute to society through academia and collaboration with other academics.
Where is our money going? The government cannot continue to privatise higher education, increase tuition fees and tell us how much our education is worth, then take that money and tell us that it is actually worth much less by refusing to provide our lecturers and tutors with fair and adequate pensions. Education and academia should not be solely for those who can afford it; we cannot continue to commodify education in this country. The continued marketization of education enforces the idea of students as consumers of education, a private commodity rather than as engaging with education, a public good. Furthermore, students need to stand side by side in solidarity with their academics for fair pensions, just like academics did in opposing the rise in tuition fees.
‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.’ – Frederick Douglass