Why I’m striking

Brighton UCU pickett line Photo: Glenn Kelly

Brighton UCU pickett line Photo: Glenn Kelly   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Kat, striking UCU member

Starting on 1 December, University and College Union (UCU) members at 54 universities will strike for three days. I am currently a third-year PhD researcher who is also employed as a postgraduate tutor, delivering teaching to undergraduate students. As a UCU member, I’ll be joining them.

Why am I striking? I love teaching, it’s often the best part of my week. I love getting to talk with students about a subject that I care about deeply, and to see them begin to discover what I love for the first time. My PhD, which is funded, has also allowed me to continue researching my interests and keep a roof over my head.

But it’s easy to look through rose-tinted glasses and ignore the systemic issues, largely a part of the marketisation of universities, that are at the heart of higher education, and impacting those who work there.

Casualisation of workers is rife at universities. Most academic staff are employed on short-term contracts or even hourly like me, with no job security, and yet are expected to deliver ‘world-class’ education to undergraduate students. Other issues of pay discrimination, and pay cuts due to inflation, remain key issues for UCU members and higher education workers.

Growing the number of students, without employing more staff to compensate, has led to dangerous workload increases (53% of university staff are showing signs of depression due to excessive workloads). Yet still university management has done nothing to address this – beyond the mandatory wellbeing email. These are serious concerns for strike action before even addressing the issue of pensions.

As a PhD researcher, I am also concerned with universities’ growing exploitation of postgraduates. Despite producing new research and producing original data for these universities, we are not afforded ownership over it. We also make up large portions of the academic workforce, yet are often relegated to student status rather than recognised as staff with the rights, protections, and pay that come along with this.

This denies us access to state pensions, benefits and childcare despite working the same hours (and frequently more) as a traditional full-time job.

We must take a stand against the degradation of our universities. Trade union struggle and supporting the forthcoming strike action is one concrete way we can take action.