Thank you for contacting me about the ongoing industrial action by higher education staff at universities in Scotland and across the UK.
Scottish Labour supports the right of staff working in the higher education sector to engage in industrial action over their pay, pensions and working conditions. There are several factors which have driven the need for industrial action in Scottish higher education. There has been no increase in the amount of money paid by the SNP government to educate Scottish university students for 13 years. This has driven a 25% pay cut for UCU members since 2009, and reductions of 35% to the Universities Guaranteed pension income. The increased workload being faced by staff in the sector is detrimental to their wellbeing, and to the experience of students.
Academic staff play a key role in delivering a high-quality educational experience for students in Scotland and equipping young people with the skills they need. These staff have, and will continue to be, essential to young people’s recovery from the impact of Covid-19 on their education. It is unacceptable that they are facing an ever-increasing workload and continued fall in the value of their wages.
Workers in both further and higher education sectors have felt the impact of the government’s repeated cuts to further and higher education in recent years. The Scottish Government’s 2023/24 draft budget included a modest 1.1% rise in combined university resource and capital funding, however in reality this represented a significant real-terms cut, and will do little to ease the financial pressures higher education faces.
Last year my colleague Michael Marra MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament supporting the strike action taken by higher education staff, underlining the impact of cuts on the sector in recent years, especially on employee pay and pensions, and calling for a resolution which will offer fair pay and conditions for staff. This motion was supported by a number of Scottish Labour colleagues, including Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education. We will continue to support workers in universities across Scotland as they fight for better pay and conditions, and to challenge the Scottish Government on the wider issue of higher education funding.
Earlier this month the UCU successfully renewed their strike mandate for a further 6 months in both the pay and working conditions ballot and the pensions ballot, with an increased “yes” vote in both. According to UCU, the approach taken by the union has led to progress being made in every area of dispute and consultation with members on a new proposal from employers is ongoing. It is vital that employers to continue to engage constructively with union representatives to deliver a resolution to this dispute which gives workers in higher education the settlement they deserve.