In your article ‘My students never knew’: the lecturer who lived in a tent (30 October) several workers in higher education share their stories of extreme precarity, including a young woman who had so little money she had to live in a tent while doing her PhD.
Instead of expressing empathy and a commitment to address the brutal reality of insecure work, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) responded by downplaying the amount of casualisation in this sector, and attacking the University and College Union (UCU) with the claim that we have “repeatedly reject[ed] opportunities to work with employers in this important area”. This disappointing response reveals the dismissive attitude that the employers’ representatives bring to collective bargaining.
Since the UCU was created, we have campaigned and reported on the shameful stain of precarity in higher education: currently, 68% of research-only academics are on fixed-term contracts, as are 44% of teaching-only staff, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
We have always striven to work with employers in this area, via collective bargaining. When they feel ready to join us to discuss serious proposals, they will have our full attention. And if strike action is what it takes to get them to do so, then we will stand up for our members, and all higher education workers.
Vicky Blake UCU President, Robyn Orfitelli UCU HE negotiator
In the early 1990s, on returning to this country, my husband was an unemployed academic for six years, having had tenure both in the UK and New Zealand. For two years he taught supervisions for various Cambridge colleges from a mobile home in Waterbeach. I remember his embarrassment when an undergrad turned up at our door with an overdue essay. So much for the image of bookish gentility in a comfortable college room. He was informed of these teaching opportunities by the husband of a leading Conservative thinktanker.
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