Since 2009, pay in the Further and Higher Education sector has been effectively cut by nearly 20 percent in real terms, while staff are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before. The employers’ own analysis highlights that women and black and minority ethnic staff experience significant pay discrimination. Casual contracts remain entrenched. Yet university employers are refusing to commit themselves to meaningful action on any of these appalling conditions. This has meant that members of the University and College Union (UCU) are currently taking strike action over falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads in what has become known as the “Four Fights” dispute.Socialist Review spoke to activists in the University and College Union (UCU), and members of the UCU Left network, about the escalating crisis in Higher Education and the Four Fights dispute.
SR: How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on Higher Education?
Bee: It’s caused multiple waves of uncertainty and anxiety — from campus closures and hasty moves to online teaching, to navigating the support we need to work at home, to fears of increased workloads or job losses and the challenge of negotiating a safe return to campus. Finding work that isn’t highly precarious was already a big challenge. Now we face hiring freezes or threats to jobs, intensified competition for research funding, and casualised staff will have even less chance of more work in September.