Our education is under attack from all angles: we’ve seen our tuition fees tripled, grants cut for the poorest students, and now the security of University workers’ futures are under threat. The future of our education is at stake, and we as students must unite with workers to stop this downwards trajectory and these savage attacks.
The University and College Union (UCU), the trade union representing academic workers across the country, have announced they will be taking strike action starting on 22 February, increasing each week until the conflict is resolved. This means that, on strike days, your lectures and seminars won’t be taking place if your lecturer or seminar tutor is taking part.
Whilst this will have an impact on students’ learning in the short-term, it comes after months of negotiations with little progress. They’ve been forced to do this because of disastrous changes that Universities UK (UUK) have made to their pensions scheme, the ‘Universities Superannuation Scheme’ (USS). Throughout their careers, staff pay into this scheme in order to receive a stable pension once they retire. The proposals threaten to change this pension payout from a stable one based on how much staff pay in, to one which is gambled on the stock-market. This risks a loss of up to 50%, effectively ending the pensions scheme as we know it.
This is a huge change, and the level of planned strike action reflects the sheer scale of damage such a proposal would cause. The proposals will be most damaging to those at the start of their working journey, who will be paying into this new scheme for the whole of their careers.
But this is about more than just pensions, it’s part of a fundamental attack on our education as we know it. As we’ve seen in places like Royal Mail, when institutions are privatised and marketised, pensions are often one of the first things to be cut. The forces that threaten the conditions of University workers are the same ones cutting maintenance grants, driving up tuition fees and discontinuing less ‘profitable’ courses and services.
Both students and workers are suffering the consequences of marketisation, and a multifaceted attack demands a united resistance. The interests of students and workers are fundamentally aligned, because their working conditions are our learning conditions. UCU have consistently supported students’ struggles against tuition fees and marketisation, and now is the time for us to stand in solidarity with them.
There’s so much you can do to support staff in this. You can show solidarity by not attending your lectures and seminars, share messages of support on social media, sign our open letter, or join us on the picket lines on the days of the strikes. One of the most valuable things you can do, though, is tell your tutors you support them and encourage fellow students to do the same.
Sign the open letter: sheffieldsu.com/SaveStaffPensions