The University Privatization: Why Do UK Higher Education Institutions Go on Strike?

Strikes usually affect the comfortable life of a city or country not in the best way. They tend to have an impact on transportation, access to the main facilities, etc. However, the good thing about strikes is that they definitely result in some actions from the government or other parties concerned.

It is quite unusual, though, to see academics on strike. Their labor unions work continuously to ensure that these people get as much as they deserve for their contributions. This relates to salary, benefits, and other work conditions. However, sometimes, significant action is needed.

A recent wave of strikes among academic people in the US has set the world’s agenda. The UK elite went on strike that lasted from Nov 25 to Dec 4. They expressed concern and frustration over changes in their pension plans. However, the nature of the problem is much more comprehensive.

Let’s dive right into the issue.

The University Privatization: Why Do UK Higher Education Institutions Go on Strike

What Is Going On?

The eight-day strike took over 40,000 lecturers, librarians, technicians, and other staff to the streets. The rally was organized and claimed to make a statement to the government and respective bodies. The message was simple – unilateral changes in salaries, pensions, benefits, and other work conditions will not go smoothly.

Educators believe that the money is directed elsewhere, leaving their pension pot nearly empty. Meanwhile, it is obvious that the UK universities are also making business, investing money in real estate or renting space to different restaurants that function within campuses. 

Many people find it hard to believe that such a reputable and long-standing universities cannot find money to pay pensions to their recognized staff.

]Academics claim that they do not mind that the money that universities make is invested in some profitable projects. However, they also demand that their employers invest some in their staff.

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Why Is It Going On?

In general, over 140 universities experienced cuts in pay and conditions, while around 70 other institutions had to accept changes in the USS pension schemes. This could not but call for public outrage.

The suggested pension scheme is called ‘defined contribution’ that requires an employee to pay around 10% of their salary to the fund. It is a much more drastic scheme compared to the previous one, ‘defined benefit.’ That one was based on salary and the number of years an employee has worked for a particular employer.

The respective authority Universities UK explains that under current conditions, a ‘defined benefit’ scheme is no longer financially viable. The change has to be made because otherwise, people risk not getting their money at all. 

However, according to the recent calculations made by a Joint Expert Panel, figures like 9.6% and 8.8% of salary are too high for contributions scheme. They believe that it can be kept at 8% maximum.

Many employees also complain that they face unfair and poor working conditions. Apart from being on short-term contracts that cannot be sufficient enough for credit lines and mortgages, overworking and working late hours are getting extremely frequent among academic people. They often have to sacrifice time with their family for work, which is neither subsidized nor compensated later.

What Is the Broader Scope?

When students’ problems can be easily solved with the help of academic writing companies like EssayPro, educators have to fight for being treated right and fair. They got used to occupying a special place in British society, where education was always valued and appreciated. However, the expansion of higher education has recently stopped.

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The problem is that increased participation and a more educated workforce seriously fueled competition between institutions. They all started offering some extracurricular benefits to meet increasing customer demands. In other words, in an effort to get more learners enrolled, universities began investing in infrastructure and other things that are far from being related to education.

Such a hunt for students changed the nature of the relationship between a lecturer and a student. It has shifted closer to the one between a service provider and a customer. 

Marketization and commercialization of education have slowly turned universities into trading markets. Currently, much depends on the prestige and benefits the university can offer.

Academics are concerned about such changes. They know education as an intangible and non-material experience. Students can really enjoy its benefits later when they get to work and start earning. However, marketization pushes education into a visible and instrumentally driven domain. Thus, quality suffers.

In the future, if the commercialization and marketization trend continues, strikes will most likely happen more frequently. Such technical issues as salaries or pension schemes will serve as a trigger for numerous organized academic protest movements.

What Do Students Do?

Surprisingly, students who are accused of taking education as a tangible good, fully support educators in their search for justice. In the last strike, many students continued studying through distance learning platforms. Some came to sit-ins and teach-ins to demonstrate their support. 

Academic people are not used to striking because they understand that if they go on a picket, they steal the most precious time from their students. Yet, in this case, they understood that strike is necessary. If the industry continues its slide into privatization, students will be those who suffer most.

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What’s Next?

Today, the sector is preparing for another major hit which is Brexit. No one knows for sure how the separation from the Union will affect the education industry and other related fields. The questions concerning foreign staff and wages are already heard across the country.

It is most likely that if or when Brexit happens, the UK will experience a serious shortage of academicians. Today, a large share of them are citizens of countries other than the UK. 

There is no mechanism developed yet that will confirm their legal status. Moreover, if salary and pension cuts continue, both immigrant and native teaching staff will search for a job elsewhere rather than in the UK. They will not be able to maintain normal standards of living.

Given the fact that many native UK educators leave the country to work in Europe because of a cheaper cost of living, the problem of the legal status and unresolved dual taxation issues are going to produce another reason for major strikes and protests on the streets of the UK.

Final Words

Since strikes similar to the recent one are usually relatively successful, this is a new weapon that the teaching staff has against the obstinacy of the authorities. They provide educators with the feeling of confidence and collective action that is needed to claim for a major change.

However, this confidence soon fades and is later substituted with a feeling of frustration and lack of progress. If academics call for consensus, but the authorities mildly threaten with new university assessments, further strikes are most likely to come.

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