Back in February I wrote on the upcoming strike action which escalated each week over a 4-week period between 20th February and 13th March. This was in addition to a period of action short of the strike, which continues until the end of April 2020. The strike action has been significantly overshadowed by the current pandemic and any significant further action has been put on hold, especially with the closure of all UK universities. University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, Jo Grady, sent an email to union members stating that “We are willing to temporarily refrain from escalating our disputes in light of this pandemic—but we will not abandon them. ”The UCU announced that this had been the “biggest ever wave of strikes on university campuses…as UCU members at 74 universities begin 14 days of strikes”.
University academics across the UK took strike action in response to falling pay levels, the gender and ethnic pay gaps, spiralling workloads and precarious contracts, as well as rising workloads and the devaluation of pensions. While these issues cannot be dealt with in the midst of the pandemic, they will not go without attention. Jo Grady tells LBC news that the “current crisis has exposed the problems the current system where universities rely on fees”. “The government should now agree to underwrite funding for higher education to ensure that all institutions are properly protected”.
A total of 4 weeks teaching time was affected by strike action and for COVID-19 to follow so quickly after, students are likely to be disgruntled at so many hours lost. Eleanor Busby, the Independent’s Education Correspondent, reported that “universities have handed out nearly 3 million to students for lost teaching hours from strikes in recent years”. If strikers’ demands continue to be ignored, economic implications could be immense.
For now, Covid-19 has postponed the results of the strike action. For more information on the strikes, the UCU website at https://www.ucu.org.uk is particularly useful for regular news updates.