UK University Faculty are on Strike – We Covered Day One in Durham

Although missing the first page of most news outlets outside of the England, today was the first of three weeks of strikes at 61 universities in the UK. That number includes Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham, and over a million students from all over the country. There has not been a strike of this magnitude in the history of UK higher education, and students, administrators, and faculty are preparing for major disruptions to the academic calendar. Exams may be called off or, as some fear, “dumbed down” due to the possibility of three weeks (or worst case, up to five months) of lost teaching days.

The problem is simple: Universities UK, the organization that handles higher educators’ pension fund monies, has decided to change from a flat-rate system, where pension amounts are pre-set, to a plan that is tied into the stock market. The teacher’s union, UCU, is fighting back, claiming that educators face a £10,000 reduction per year in retirement monies. That equates to £200,000 in lost pension monies for the average academic.

Or does it? While walking the picket lines today, I engaged a number of academics on the issue. Although the amount of money academics stand to lose seems high, it is after all an estimate. What if, I asked, the stock market does well? Won’t pension payouts then go up, rather than decreasing by the claimed £10k per year? Most admitted that yes, that could happen.

But there is a legitimate fear amongst academics that money paid into a retirement account over one’s entire career may not end up equalling money paid out. And with the ever-decreasing pay for lecturers in the UK, especially in the humanities (which includes biblical studies and theology), the ability to recruit the best and brightest talent from the UK or overseas is doubtful. Indeed, the future existence of these disciplines in secular, higher education is called into question.

The strike may gain more traction in international news coverage in the coming days and weeks. But for now, here are some pictures from the first day of the strike here in Durham, brought to you exclusively by theLAB:

Faculty strike outside of the Durham University library on 22 February, 2018.
Tea is distributed to striking faculty at the Science Site at Durham University on day one of the UCU strike.
Science faculty on strike outside of Palatine Centre, Durham University’s administration building.
A striking faculty member walks her dog along Stockton Road.
Faculty from the law department on strike.
Most faculty were stocked with pamphlets and banners.
The weather was near-zero, but faculty turned out in strong numbers in Durham.
Signs and armbands marked out faculty on strike.
Students were also involved in the strike, showing solidarity with faculty.
A faculty member hands out pamphlets explaining their complaint to passing students.
Despite the near-zero degree temps, hundreds of faculty turned up for the strike.
The mood was generally positive and hopeful for a change.
Whilst some students stopped to chat, others avoided direct engagement with the faculty on strike.
Locals not part of the university were stopping to understand why faculty were striking.
A postgraduate student joins the protesting faculty near Bryson Library.
Faculty stand en masse along the main intersection at Stockton Road and Church Road in Durham.
Faculty hailed from all across the university in support of the strike measures.
Staff also supported the faculty’s efforts.
Pickets signs lay waiting for transport to Newcastle for a combined rally with other university faculty in North England.

For more of the UK University strikes, visit https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss
Pictures by Tavis Bohlinger
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Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger
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