Why staff and students came together to strike on October 31, 2013.
Strike day was incredible: the spirit of solidarity, the excitement, the chanting, the feeling that the staff can win their pay dispute. Some, though, were critical of the staffâ€™s decision to strike, labelling it â€œdisruptiveâ€ and an â€œinconvenienceâ€.
Higher Education staff have had their pay slashed 13% in real terms in the last five years. This, in the words of Will Hutton of The Observer, is â€œthe most sustained cut in wages suffered by any profession since the Second World War.â€ Union Unison estimates that this has cost individual members of staff between Â£600 and Â£1,200 a year.
But the strike was not solely about pay. Higher Education is now second only to catering as the sector which employs the most casualised workers. This is largely a result of universities focusing on research over teaching because it is more profitable – itself symptomatic of the wider issue of the marketisation of education.
Ultimately, even the Governmentâ€™s economic case fails. The Tory-led coalition pontificates about the need for austerity, the need to â€œlive within our meansâ€. There is a budget surplus of Â£1 billion in the education sector, enough to fund a pay-rise well above inflation for every member of staff. Further, we are not â€œall in this togetherâ€, most principals are on salaries of over Â£240,000.
Another facet of the dispute is the gender pay gap, which in Higher Education stands at 16.5% – above average. The average pay of a full-time male employee is Â£19.80 an hour, compared to Â£16.53 for a full-time female employee.
We need a serious discussion about the funding of higher education, a discussion that this fiercely ideological Government seeks to avoid.
After all, this is the same fight as the one fought against the increase in tuition fees. It is a fight for the very idea of a publicly funded education system. And it is a fight that, if we stand together, we can win.