Why Are We Striking?

British higher education is being destroyed by marketisation. Students suffer vast fee increases and higher living costs, forcing many to work virtually full-time jobs to survive. On campus, they encounter packed seminar rooms and overcrowded libraries, with overworked, stressed-out staff struggling to provide the help that students need. Staff pay and pensions are continually eroded, while workloads spiral out of control. University workers are increasingly on precarious, short-term contracts, while grotesque inequalities are uncovered affecting women, ethnic minorities and disabled staff, and bullying and harassment are rife. A mental health epidemic is ravaging students and staff alike.

The system is near breaking point. We cannot go on like this.

Over a decade… (2007/8 to 2017/18)

  • QMUL’s income increased 86%, with income from tuition fees soaring by 125%.
  • Income per staff member increased by 40%, and QMUL’s surplus (profit) increased by 452%, to £12.7m.
  • But the proportion of expenditure on staff fell, from 58% to 56%.

Staff suffer massive real-terms pay and pensions cuts

  • Since 2009, university staff’s pay has fallen by 20.8% in real terms. That’s calculated using the national Retail Price Index; in London, soaring living costs make the real-terms cut even deeper – closer to 25%.
  • Taking into account deductions for pensions, student loans, and tax, and the reality of massive workloads, a starting lecturer now takes home just £10.44 for every hour worked.
  • Members of the USS pension scheme have also seen their pensions cut three times since 2011. With the latest proposed change, an average lecturer would lose £240,000 during their retirement, leaving many impoverished in their old age.
  • Yet, meanwhile, the QMUL Principal’s pay and benefits kept pace with inflation, increasing by 32%, from £246,287 to £324,276 (2007/8 to 2017/18). Principal Colin Bailey’s basic salary is now 68% higher than the prime minister’s.

Discrimination and job insecurity are widespread

  • Women are paid 13.7% less than men at QMUL.
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff at QMUL are paid 21.9% less than white staff. The gap between BAME women and white men was 31% in 2019. Former Diversity and Inclusion Manager Sandra Brown calls QMUL “institutionally racist”.
  • 62.9% of QMUL academic staff are on “temporary or ‘atypical’ contracts”. They are hourly-paid, or on fixed-term contracts, with no job security.

Chronic overwork destroys educational quality and staff health

  • Vast increases in student numbers, without commensurate increases in staffing, lead to lecturers having more students to teach, meaning less time to spend on each. From 2007/8 to 2017/18, the number of students at QMUL rose by 66%, from 14,327 to 23,792. But academic/ educational staff numbers rose by only 33%, from 1,469 to 1,967. Many of these staff are researchers and don’t teach students. But even including them, the number of students per staff member increased from 9.8 to 12.1. This year, the ratio was 13.1; in some Schools it was as bad as 21.4 students per staff member.
  • Unsurprisingly, staff are forced to work longer hours. The average academic is contracted to work 35 hours per week but actually works 51 hours – that’s two extra days per week unpaid. 29% of academics work over 55 hours per week. The same proportion say their workload is unmanageable most of the time, while two-thirds say it’s unmanageable more than half the time. At QMUL, 41% of staff say they can’t exercise reasonable control over their workloads, 43% say they can’t strike a good work/life balance, and just 64% say there aren’t effective policies in place to relieve workload pressures.
  • These unsafe workloads are making university staff mentally and physically ill. Nationwide from 2009-15, staff referrals to psychiatric counselling services increased by 77%, while referrals to occupational health services rose by 64%. QMUL did not disclose local data. 43% of university staff exhibit symptoms of at least a mild mental disorder – twice the rate of the general population. Rates of stress are higher than for police or medics.

Instead of helping, bullying QMUL managers are making the situation worse

  • While management host superficial “wellbeing fairs” and claim to value staff, 44% of employees at QMUL report witnessing bullying or harassment in the past year. Just 51% feel confident that if they reported discrimination or harassment, it would be taken seriously. Half feel that QMUL doesn’t respect or encourage varied viewpoints, suggesting an increasingly authoritarian climate.

Another university is possible, and we can afford it

  • In 2017/18, Queen Mary generated £44.3m in cash from operations. This is the amount of real money left over after day to day expenses have been paid.
  • We have a choice about how to spend that money. We can choose to spend it on fair pay for all, more staff to improve student experience and reduce workload, secure jobs for younger colleagues, pay that keeps up with inflation, and keeping pension promises. With £44m a year we can have those things, and still have some new buildings. 

Help us fix this rotten system

See https://qmucu.org/strike for more information and how you can help.

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