thank you for your email asking me if I could help out with the Students’ Union’s University Challenge effort this year. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the show and would love to see our students do well.
However, I feel I must decline your request. As you know, academic staff took strike action yesterday and are working to contract. This is because our salaries have reverted to their 2008 level, with further real-terms reductions projected some years into the future. As a hard-working, committed, conscientious academic, I support students well beyond my contractual duties, as any of them will tell you. My colleagues in the library, the cleaning staff, the caterers and security guards all do their best for students, in public and in a thousand little ways which might never be noticed. This university is rightly proud of the ‘student experience’, but it never acknowledges that its success is dependent on the good will and free labour provided by staff who go the extra mile, not for money, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Yesterday, I stood on the picket line, in the cold, for hours. Between explaining to strike-breaking colleagues and passing students why I wasn’t in a nice warm classroom – which is my natural and favourite environment – I followed the Twitter feeds of fellow academics and students across the country. I saw Students’ Unions at Warwick, Birmingham, Sussex and many other places joining their friends on the picket lines, or occupying their universities.
|What you won't see at The Dark Place|
They know that to attract and retain good teachers, cooks, cleaners and other workers who make the ‘student experience’ so good, universities need to stop squeezing their standard of living.
What did your Students’ Union do? As far as I can tell, the Student Council has no policy on this matter. The Executive decided to make policy in breach of its own constitution, and decided to remain ‘neutral’ as you put it to me. I and my UCU colleagues are not ‘neutral’. Nor are you fellow student leaders in the NUS and across the country. They know that good staff make life good for students. I am desperately sorry that the Dark Place’s Students’ Union is ‘neutral’ when faced with declining living standards.
I’m sorry I can’t help with University Challenge and wish you well. But it’s just a giggle in the end. What will really help students is solidarity in our fight to make sure that this institution can attract and retain motivated, secure staff, whatever their jobs: some of them are or will be your members. We support your members every day: when it came to the crunch, you failed to support us. Until this changes, I won’t be taking on additional duties, however much I enjoyed them.