Update: the first three Sussex strike days
The University of Sussex is one of 61 universities across the UK to begin 14 days of striking which started on the 22nd of February.
Members of the University and College Union are striking because changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme will leave lecturers around £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
According to the Union, younger academics could lose almost half of their total retirement income.
On the first day of the strike, a lecturer who wished to remain anonymous, told The Badger: “Students blocked buses from coming onto campus, which is great because the bus drivers actually support the striking lecturers”.
“We’re finding out that a lot of students are crossing the picket line because their lecturers aren’t on strike. It interests us why lecturers wouldn’t go on strike to defend their pensions, so we’ve been asking students where they feel comfortable to ask their lecturers why they’re not on strike”.
When asked if he thought it would be helpful if students spoke to their teachers about this, he replied: “That would be good as we believe really strongly that they’re doing nothing but betraying us and abandoning us.
“Full-time lecturers who cross the picket line and are teaching today, are knowingly crossing the picket line on their paycheque teaching students while we’re standing here in the freezing cold and fighting for them, that’s appalling.
“Why on earth are you betraying your colleagues by crossing the picket line yourself? Lecturers still working knowing that they’re going to benefit from us if we win, should be ashamed of themselves.
“What sort of example are you setting to your own students when you’re visibly betraying your own co-workers? I’m disgusted with any faculty member who knowingly crosses the picket line. They’re leeches.”
When asked if the strike would more likely to be successful if fewer students crossed the picket line and attended classes, he replied: “Yes, students who go to class are enabling management. We’re advising students to email lecturers directly saying that they’re not going to class as they don’t want to cross the picket line and that they support striking staff. End of story, absence notified.
“Students really need to understand that there’s a connection between student fees and this robbing of pensions. In 2014 they lifted the cap on students so universities can take in as many students as they want to, so in order to draw in more students they make decisions, let’s not invest in our faculty and staff but into shiny new buildings. Management is using you to undermine us, in the most perverse way”.
“Everyone out here is working really hard to keep the pensions we were promised in the first place and we also see this as intimately connected to the tuition fees that’s been imposed on you guys (students).
“It’s no coincidence that the fees were hiked in 2010, our working conditions steadily deteriorated in terms of things like pensions. In essence, they are robbing lecturers of the pensions they were promised”.
Another professor, who also wished to remain anonymous, told The Badger: “If we win this I doubt they’re going to opt into the defined contributions pensions so why reap the benefits of anything we can win for them?
“It’s bad enough that over the last 10 years there’s been a 17% cut in lecturers pay, a real terms pay cut. Across the 10 years, I’ve seen my salary face a cut, living somewhere like Brighton, that really matters.”
When asked what he thought the strikes meant for the future of higher education, the professor said: “It makes a significant impact because as a lecturer you basically have to live like a student until you’re in your 30’s because that’s how long it takes to get a Ph.D.
“The thing that keeps us going is not just the hope that we get to do all these wonderful things like work with people like you, teach and write about things we love, we also are willing to make that sacrifice because we were guaranteed (pensions). We don’t make a great salary, but we were told that our working conditions would be great and that at the end of it, our pension will be relatively good.
“They’ve taken that away from us and at the same time our salaries have gone down when considered against inflation. Simultaneously, salaries for Vice-Chancellors have gone up stratospherically. How does that work?
“This is especially appalling when our own Vice-Chancellor acknowledges that there is a surplus of £10 million at Sussex alone.
“Our Vice-Chancellor could defend his own faculty, but he’s not doing that because he’d rather keep that money and invest in a shiny new building or upgrade the gym, so we’re not investments anymore, we’re just people who come in every day and do their work and then go home.
“It’s an increasingly alienated vision. We are much better things to invest in than grand proposals for new buildings.”
In regards to comments by the general secretary of the UCU Sally Hunt, both lecturers commented that the strikes could continue into the summer and that they’d know how likely this would be very soon, but that it could be likely.
Lewes Backon who studies an MA in Global Political Economy was protesting on the picket lines with fellow students and staff members. He told The Badger: “The average staff member will lose £200,000 across their 20-year retirement.
“We’re also being made to pay in more, we think that this is really bad, everyone deserves a decent pension when they retire.
“Many of us will work in academia and will want a pension, so we’re standing with them.
“In terms of what the average student can do: the average student can join the picket lines outside the campus on strike days, and not attend non-assessed lectures and seminars.
“They can refrain from using university facilities and they can sign the many petitions that are out at the moment and email their own lecturers saying that they support the strike action being taken. They can email the Vice-Chancellor to urge Universities UK (UUK) to come back around the table with UCU to re-enter into negotiations or they can send an email directly to UUK asking them to cede to the UCU’s demand.”
The Times Higher Education reported that 15 Vice-Chancellors have agreed to talks with the lecturers’ union, UCU. Sussex’s Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell was exempt from this list.
The Badger contacted a number of lecturers at the University of Sussex who are not on strike but were declined for comment.
Furthermore, In a recent interview with Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell, he informed The Badger that he made no pension contributions to the USS. However, an extract from a financial report suggests that the Vice-Chancellor was still receiving employer payments of £9000 to USS on his behalf.
The University has been contacted for comment.