on Strike in UK
education draws nationwide protests
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
proclaims demands of protesters on the gate of a UK university.
by Giovanni Tapang
GLASGOW, Scotland - The issue of the commercialization of education is not
unique to the Philippines. University academics and students in the United
Kingdom also hold pickets and walkouts to protest pay cuts and student fees.
For days last week, students, academics and academic-related staff held strikes
across the UK. Academics started their strikes Feb. 23 in Wales and coincided on
Wednesday with the National Union of Students (NUS) initiated boycott of
Following a national ballot, members of the UK Association of University
Teachers (AUT) voted to strike for two days – February 25-26 - over
negotiations on proposed pay structures. The NUS called for a walkout from
classes on to protest the new policy for top-up fees in Britain.
AUT negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA)
that started in July last year collapsed in December last year with the refusal
of employers to enter serious discussions on the new pay and grading deal.
Regional pay = Lower pay
AUT’s leaders say that the new salary structures would lead to the abandonment
of national wage-bargaining; increased pay increments, with lower salary rises
for each point on the pay scale; widespread downgrading of staff; and
substantial pay losses across the sector. AUT is the union representing
academics, academic related staff, librarians and research staff in the UK.
The strike is a reflection of AUT members’ anger over the employers’
proposals that would lead to many lecturers losing £6,300 (around PhP 630,000)
over eight years, researchers losing £17,300 over nine years and senior support
staff losing £47,000 over 21 years.
Pay for academics during the last 20 years has declined by 40% in comparison to
the rest of the UK workforce and it was seen that the new pay grades would make
matters worse for many.
the proposed package, academics and senior support staff would get paid
according to where they work, not what they do. Mentors accuse employers of
trying to break down national pay-bargaining by insisting that individual
universities decide salaries instead of the current national system.
Student support against “marketization” of higher education
The strike action is being coordinated with Wednesday’s student’s walkout
against the introduction of variable top-up fees being organized by the NUS.
Both unions say that top-up fees and new pay grades are linked and will lead to
the "marketization" of higher education.
The strike appeared to be successful in its first day in Wales when strikers
brought higher education in the region to a standstill. Hundreds of pickets
across big academic institutions in Wales were held with over 50 pickets in
Cardiff according to Matt Waddup, Matt Waddup, AUT Assistant general secretary.
Brain drain has been hitting UK universities in the past years. Prime Minister
Tony Blair has even suggested that in 2002 around 1,000 academics have left
Students say that the introduction of variable top-up fees for Britain allowing
to universities to charge up to £3000 (PhP 300,000) in tuition fees will
encourage university entrants to choose universities based on their projected
school debt rather than its academic value. Top-up fees was passed in Parliament
last January after a close five votes victory for the government.*
More students would be driven to forego university education by the rising cost
with most of them leaving university laden with around £30,000 debt. With the
introduction of top-up fees, the average cost of a degree could rise to £
33,708 by 2010 from its current average of £20,000.
At the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, AUT members picketed near Collins
gallery as light snow started falling nearing lunch time. Only a few students
were seen milling around and the usually busy coffee shops filled with students
from lecture sessions were unusually empty Wednesday morning. Classrooms and
reading rooms were also silent and bare.
Thursday was expected to be the second Scottish strike day with further boycotts
and other action by students. NUS Scotland was to stage street theatres and
would end at a lunchtime rally at the Sheraton Hotel, Lothian Road in Edinburgh.
AUT plans to continue to have action short of a strike by refusing to mark
student works and participating in other forms of protests starting March 1
until the UCEA sits down over the pay issue.
Prospects for higher education
Quoted in the Guardian, Alan Johnson, the higher education secretary, called the
NUS and AUT’s complaints over the top-up fees and pay as “contradictory”
and claiming that “the pay dispute to the HE Bill [that introduced top-up
fees] … will inject around an extra £1bn per year into the university system
and will mean that there is more money available for university employees'
This was disputed by NUS president, Mandy Telford, saying that top-up fees and
pay regarding is part of a “marketization” of education in the UK and the
NUS are standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the academics over their pay
The Philippines is also facing similar issues with the yearly reduction of
government support to state colleges and universities and education in general.
The University of the Philippines seeks to have its charter revised to allow it
financial independence which militant students and teachers claim would water
down the state character of the premier university and open it up to
privatization and commercialization. Bulatlat.com
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