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 has recently confirmed that it will not deliver the additional £20m which had been promised to the university sector. This decision will only add to the financial pressures faced in the higher education sector.
Students are facing yet more disruption as a result of this dispute and many will feel that the hard work and effort they have put into coursework and assessment is not being recognised. Beyond this, in many cases those who were expecting to graduate will have job offers or opportunities for further study which are contingent on the classification they receive. Those students who are graduating this year have already had a profoundly disrupted university experience because of the pandemic and it is deeply regrettable that this is once again the case as their courses come to an end.
My colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy, Scottish Labour Spokesperson for Education, has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, emphasising our support for the workers who have been forced to take action, and our opposition to any response from employers which undermines workers and their right to organize and take legal strike action, or makes a resolution more unlikely to be found. Students are graduating without knowing their degree classification, and it is important that all sides in this dispute come together to find a solution which will enable the marking boycott to end.
In April 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. It is vital that employers continue to engage constructively with union representatives to deliver a resolution to this dispute which gives workers in higher education the settlement they deserve.