Goldsmiths lecturers formed a picket line outside their university today, joining the University and College Union (UCU) strike, alongside thousands more around the country.
The strike was triggered by a dispute between the lecturer’s union and university employers involving stagnating wages, gender inequality and job insecurity.
Around 40 members of staff picketed the entrance to Goldsmiths, holding placards outlining key issues in the dispute, before gathering outside the library for a rally and discussion.
Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths, said: “There’s been a recent pay offer of 1.1 per cent, but we’ve had a reduction in real terms of over 14 per cent since 2009.
“These sorts of things are morally wrong, they’re really bad for the sector and bad for teaching.”
Strikers were also protesting the problem of the gender pay gap in universities, with male staff paid an average of 12.6 per cent more than their female counterparts, as well as the “casualisation” of staff contracts. Many members of staff have seen their contracted hours fall, leading to a decrease in job security, with over 21,000 staff on zero-hour contracts and 75,000 on contracts which fall short of the typical 37 hours per week.
Lecturers took the opportunity to highlight the issue of privatisation in higher education, following the government issued 2016 white paper for Higher Education.
Fenton said: “The paper puts a lot of pressure on the sector, it talks about privatisation which will drive salaries down yet further, and at the same time student fees will go up.
“We believe students get a very bad deal when they are paying so much money. If they are not putting it into staff salaries, where is it going? It’s going towards what universities think will draw people to them, which means prettier campuses essentially, but worse teaching.”
Staff at the picket line handed out “The Gold Paper,” a manifesto created as a response to the 2016 white paper, which seeks to “reclaim a vision of the public university which is disappearing from view.”
The UCU and striking lecturers have also responded to concerns about the effect of the strike on teaching.
A statement from the UCU appealing to students said: “As tuition fees continue to rise you may rightly wonder where your money is going. The sector has over £1 billion in operating surpluses. Universities are spending lots of money on buildings and increasing revenues. They are not investing in their staff.”
Fenton added: “We are taking every effort to make sure students don’t miss out, this is not the intention.
“However, in order to draw attention to the university, who now treat students as consumers. If the consumers are upset, then [the employers are] more likely to do something.
“We think we should be putting our foot down and saying this has to stop.”
Words by Joanna Turner. Video by Sophianne Morrissey and Joanna Turner.