Information for Students on Industrial Action: a student-staff issue.
We write to you with some important information.
You may or may not be aware that UCU (the union that represents your lecturers and professional staff) is entering into a period of industrial action with the Senior Management at Roehampton.
For some of you, you will have studied through a period of industrial action before; for others, perhaps this is your first time. We want to outline for you, firstly, what exactly this means for you, and how we – lecturers and students – can work together to achieve a positive outcome.
Why are your lecturers undertaking strike action?
In 2019, your lecturers voted for strike action in regards to a number of issues; many of them took to the picket line outside the university gate and refused to return to work until Senior Management made considerable adjustments to staff’s workloads, the pay inequality between men and women, white and BAME colleagues, and the treatment of casual staff members (i.e. those normally younger members of staff who are not given job security or the benefits of a proper contract, pension etc.).
Senior Management promised a resolve to these issues; but, since 2019, work and pay conditions have deteriorated further. There has been no resolution to these issues, and many of your lecturers are having to contend with unmanageable workloads and job insecurity, as a result.
In November 2021, lecturers at universities across the whole country – not just Roehampton – voted for further industrial action in response to worsening conditions. This helpful infographic outlines the main issues over workloads, gender and race pay inequality, casualisation, and general pay that we are facing.
What are your lecturers asking Senior Management for?
The reasons your lecturers are undertaking industrial action are as follows:
1) We want management to engage in a meaningful overhaul of unsafe and unmanageable workloads. At the moment, a sizeable number of Roehampton staff have been signed off work for workload stresses, and many more have reported that they are not coping. After a year of staff stepping up and putting in longer hours to support you – our students – over the pandemic, many colleagues are at breaking point. If our staff are not supported through the implementation of a healthy workload model, then the result is that you and your peers are not getting the very best we, as staff, have to offer. We want to be the best we can be to teach you and to engage you in your learning, but with unmanageable workloads many staff are buckling; and the result is that students aren’t getting the best out of their education. We want management to agree to better workload conditions so that we can get on with our jobs of teaching students; we want them to take our health and wellbeing as seriously as they take yours.
2) We want management to pay women and people of colour the same as men. The Vice-Chancellor recently claimed that the gender pay gap at Roehampton is close to zero; but, only very recently, in 2020-21, it was at 5.2%. UCU have not seen any evidence of this apparent change. This means that at each level of the University men are earning more than their female and POC colleagues – though the VC did not mention anything about the race pay gap. We think it is fundamentally unfair that men should be paid more than women and people of colour for doing the same job. We want pay equality, and in 2021 we don’t think that is too much to ask for our female and POC colleagues to be paid the same as our male ones.
3) We want management to end the exploitation of part-time and junior staff who are currently on casual contracts. There are many cases of lecturers and teachers being put on temporary contracts over a long period of time. Some colleagues who were promised to be made permanent have been told, just before the start of term, that their contract is not being renewed, which has put them in the position of trying to find work at the last minute. UCU was told by management in 2018 that the university would be suspending these kinds of casual contracts, but that promise was never delivered on. This is nothing less than the exploitation of younger/newer members of staff. The result of this is that students’ education is disrupted as there is a continuous cycle of casual labour who are not given the same safety and benefits as their permanent colleagues. We want management to take more care of our newer/younger colleagues.
4) We want management to pay staff fairly. Several members of the senior management team are earning in excess of £100,000 annually (and our Vice-Chancellor earns over £250,000), while the pay given to teaching staff has decreased by 20% in real terms over the last ten years. This means that pay of those at the very top of the university remains high while those lecturers and professional staff working with you, the students, are expected to work longer hours for less pay. We believe that we should be paid fairly for the jobs we do, and we want an increase of £2,500 pounds in payment (not a lot, relative to the VC’s salary, for instance) for each member of staff to make up for our falling wages the last decade.
Why should this matter to you, the students?
Some of you may remember that, prior to the pandemic, Roehampton’s Student Union debated and students voted in support of the campaign outlined above. We – your lecturers, teachers, supervisors – are very much hoping that you will support us again.
To be clear: your lecturers and teachers do not want to strike, because often it is you – the students – who bear the burden of this (i.e. disruption to your education). But colleagues are so desperate for a change that we are willing to risk our loss of income in the hopes of something better. (i.e. when we strike, we do not get paid). That’s how bad things are for us at the moment.
Because of staff’s impossible workloads, for one, the people who suffer are you: the students. If staff are exhausted from unmanageable workloads (as many of them are), students also suffer because we do not have the energy to support you in the way you should be supported.
We feel that the best value for your money (as you are all paying high fees!) is to ensure that the people teaching you are treated fairly and appropriately by the university’s management so that they can get on with teaching you.
We are fighting not just for our own wellbeing but for the students’ successes, too; we want to work with our students – and for our students – to understand where we are coming from and to know that we are working with and for them.
What does Senior Management say?
Many in Senior Management and those who oppose the strike action claim to do so because of the mental health effects it will have on you, the students. Some have suggested that UCU are disregarding students’ mental health, their academic study, their wellbeing etc. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Actually, we contend that students are suffering from adverse mental health effects already (and not because of the strike action), but because many of you are having to pay high fees and work whilst studying; because you are being pressurised into thinking about your future careers rather than being able to enjoy the actual act of learning and being a student; because of underfunded student support services. If our management really cared about you, the students, then they would invest in the very people who support them and actually know them: your lecturers.
Going forward, the Government looks likely to cut your student fees – which on the face of it may sound good. But if this happens then the University’s money will also be cut. This is likely to result in further staff being cut and courses being closed, giving students less subject choice and less support, thereby resulting in greater adverse mental health conditions for students.
UCU supports the return to free education for all students. If Senior Management felt the same, rather than fighting UCU they would lobby politicians on behalf of you, our students, to reverse this system that pits student against staff and places us all at a much higher risk of mental health issues.
In the end staff and students are just two sides of the same coin, so when we fight it’s for the future of our sector. It’s for our students too.
What can you do to help?
As a student union, a large of body of Roehampton students, you have power. Roehampton’s Senior Management listen to you in a way they do not listen to their staff. If they listened to us, we wouldn’t be resorting to such drastic measures as strike action in the first place.
In order to ensure that Senior Management hear what you have to say, we ask that you write to the following individuals on behalf of your lecturers demanding a meaningful resolution to the strike action:
- Vice-Chancellor Prof. Jean-Noel Ezengeard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof. Anna Gough-Yates (anna.gough-Yates@roehampton.ac.uk)
- Chief Operating Officer Tom Rowson (email@example.com)
- Director of HR Andy Lamb (firstname.lastname@example.org)
You may want to express yourself as you see fit; your voice is a powerful one, and your lecturers always support you in using it. However, you may also wish to use the below template (click here to download it). You can adapt this as you see fit.
Dear Vice-Chancellor Prof. Jean-Noel Ezingeard;
Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof. Anna Gough-Yates;
Chief Operating Officer Tom Rowson;
Director of HR Andy Lamb
I am writing to express how appalled I am at Senior Management’s disdainful treatment of our lecturers and teaching staff, and how the issues over which staff took industrial action in 2019 have still not been resolved by you.
- Can you explain to me very clearly why it is my lecturers’ workloads are so unmanageable that many staff members are forced to take sick leave to recover from the stress and overload?
- Can you explain to me how exactly you are going to engage with staff meaningfully about an appropriate overhaul of the workload that takes into account the real-time hours required for their tasks in a sustainable, healthy, and appropriate way?
- Can you explain to me why you take your staff’s health and wellbeing less seriously than the students’? We are the students, but we depend on our lecturers in order to get the best from our education. By mistreating our lecturers, you are mistreating our education – and, by extension, us.
- Can you explain to me why, in 2021, women and POC are, on the whole, paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same jobs?
- Can you explain to me why you continue to exploit many VL staff who are on casual contracts? Again, if you are not investing seriously in your staff, then – by extension – you are telling us, the students, that you don’t really care about our education.
- Can you tell me why Senior Management earn exorbitant sums of money while our lecturers – the staff on the ground – continue to lose wages in real terms and have seen no increase in pay? Once again, by refusing to invest in your staff you are telling us students that our education does not matter to you.
- Finally – and most importantly – can you explain to me the steps you are going to take to stop this industrial action? I would like a clear statement of intent as to your proposals in resolving this dispute that demonstrates a meaningful response to my questions and to the issues our lecturers are campaigning for.
I understand that the Chair of UCU, Linda Cronin, has informed the Student Union that she will happily debate the Vice-Chancellor over the above issues at a public student meeting. Will Vice-Chancellor Ezingeard be willing to discuss these issues with the branch Chair? If not, why not? And what does he say in response? I would very much like to hear from the Vice-Chancellor as to why the above issues have not been resolved and how he intends to resolve them.
I stand beside my lecturers in solidarity, and I request not simply a cut-and-pasted acknowledgement of this email but a meaningful response in answer to my questions.
Please do support your lecturers. Please talk to your friends and peers about these issues. And please to Senior Management and make your voice heard.
This is a student and staff community welfare issue. This is a student and staff education issue. We want to work with our students to make it right, and we very much want our students to work with us, too.
If you have any questions, please do ask UCU: email@example.com
Kinds regards, and thanks,