On Thursday the 31st of October members of the University and Colleges Union took industrial action against English universities to demand a living wage for academic staff, a reversal of the downward pressure on wages, and a redress to the current pay inequalities between male and female staff members. We are not staff members, but we joined the picket lines because we believe that the cause for which the staff of our university are fighting affects each and every member of our community.
The extent to which this pay dispute affects us amounts to far more than a day of missed lectures. In recent years we have seen our fees rise sharply. At the same time, as UCU have demonstrated, the percentage of university income spent on teaching has fallen. The university is taking more but giving less.
Where is this money going? Although the number of private institutions has been rising exponentially since 2010, the majority of universities in England are public institutions, and therefore do not directly pass a profit onto anyone. Behind this veneer, however, universities are increasingly a lucrative source of income for private individuals and groups. Outrageous pay scales for VCs have made the news in this country, but beyond this vulgar and short-sighted venality, the biggest risk to our institutions come from parasitical outsourcing companies that are taking every means possible to tap the life-blood of our universities. It is no accident that the amount of money that universities spend on management is increasing by twice the amount that it is increasing for academic staff. It is no accident that teachers and researchers, the heart of any real university, are being squeezed at the same time that management costs rise.
Apathy is easy, but it harms us; while we defer on our responsibilities with the claim that we are not political, we allow the interests of others control over our lives and the communities we belong to. The only thing that can check these interests is our assumption of self-responsibility. To this end, we must not allow the same forces that are desiccating our institutions to pit us against our lecturers and staff. It is the same market ideology that depresses their wages, and drives up our fees. If we and the communities we belong to are to enjoy the benefits of a free and vigorous university sector then students and staff must find common cause against the myopic self interest that is harming all of us.
The draining of university resources by ever increasing management costs is forcing down the integrity of our education, our research, and ultimately our society. The logic of private enterprise is at odds with what we believe to be a site for the production and distribution of a public good. As students we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with those who educate us. As members of broader society we have a responsibility to fight for the integrity of institutions that place the public good above private interests. We must stand with all of those who have the courage to take a stand for what is just and right.
PPU pledge our continued support to the staff of this university and urge our fellow students to do the same.
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