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5:26pm on Thursday, 31st October, 2013:

Strike Out


There's a strike today by members of the University and College Union over pay. Needless to say, it will have no effect on what lecturers are paid, but there are nevertheless plenty of union members out manning picket lines in miserable weather. Knowing I had a 9am class (at which one student was actually present at 9am), I came in early so as to avoid the queues that always form when picketers hand literature to people as they arrive in their cars, then attempt to persuade them to go back home. In fact, as I arrived at 7:20am and the pickets were still setting up for what I guess was a 7:30am start, I didn't get stopped at all.

I'm not in the UCU as I'm only part-time. Even if I were, though, I don't think I would have struck. There is an over-supply of lecturers, in that more people with PhDs want to be lecturers than there are jobs available, so striking is unlikely to do much more than annoy the students. Protest marches would be equally effective (or ineffective).

If lecturers want more pay, then what they should lobby for is to allow universities to set their pay scales individually. Professors do get to negotiate their pay, but everyone else is on a fixed scale (which scale exactly depends on whether their university was a university or a polytechnic in 1990). This freer contract arrangement would mean that universities wishing to improve would be able to attract the better lecturers by offering them more pay, so there'll be a market for jobs like there is in the USA.

OK, so it also means that weaker universities will perhaps offer lower pay, at least in some subject areas, in which case those lecturers will go and work in industry. It's not as if there's a shortage of talent to replace them, though. That said, this may be a reason why the unions are not in favour of individual negotiated teaching contracts. I also accept that academic freedom is a factor, in that if you want to get rid of someone for saying the wrong things, dropping their pay to encourage them to leave shouldn't be allowed.

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).