UEA is in my DNA. From the time I came to the university as a mature student in 1996 to study Politics, before going on to a MA in International Relations. I moved to another university to take my PhD and first academic post before returning as a junior lecturer in 2007. I returned to UEA because there was, and is, something special about the place.
Trying to analyse that special something is not too hard to fathom. It’s not the campus, with its quirky and brutalist architecture, although it is a great place to walk around. Neither is it the stifling bureaucracy and administrative burden which dominates today’s academy. Rather it is the relationship and bonds which exist between lecturers and students, at a university large enough to offer an incredible range of specialisms and yet retain a close working relationship between academics and students.
The strength of this relationship and mutual respect between students and lecturers is reflected in the amazing support by the Students’ Union for the 14 days strike action lecturers have been forced to take in defense of their shrinking pensions. The strike action will be hugely disruptive and means students could lose three weeks’ worth of teaching at a time when third years are completing their degrees. This is something that lecturers have agonised over for weeks as they have weighed up the disruption to the students they went into academia to teach and develop, and the financial implications of receiving no pay for the duration of the dispute and whether they can pay their mortgages or rent.
As Head of one of the largest schools in the university I have reluctantly decided to join the strike action in support of junior colleagues who face the prospect of losing up to £10,000 a year off their pensions. Having already reduced the pension staff can expect on retirement in recent years the employers are now determined to further reduce those benefits and, in keeping with neoliberal management practices, transfer pension liability from employer to employee. This will result in insecurity in retirement for lecturers, and a brain drain of lecturers moving to post 1992 universities with better pensions or out of academia all together.
I deeply regret the inconvenience students will experience and especially for the students I personally have the privilege of working with. I could not bring myself to vote for strike action, knowing the disruption it would cause to the university and students we all care about, but when employers refuse to negotiate and are determined to harm the future security of staff who give their all for students, working hours far beyond what they are contracted to do, it is time to take a stand.
Students can show solidarity with lecturers and help bring the action to an end by writing to the Vice Chancellor and your MP asking for talks to resume.