Reece Lawton, Nottingham University Socialist Students
Coronavirus is laying bare the callous nature and inefficiency of capitalism. Universities are ostensibly centres where knowledge is pursued for love of knowledge, yet even education is driven by the relentless pursuit for profit. This is becoming more and more apparent as this epidemic continues.
Sackings are taking place in universities across the country because of the anticipated funding shortfall linked to coronavirus. The University of London laid off agency bar workers outrageously through a text and a Facebook post. There were no meetings, no discussions with staff or unions- just immediate sacking of already low paid and precarious workers.
Hundreds of lecturers, researchers and student support workers employed on fixed term contracts have already been told that their employment will or may be ended prematurely, or will not be renewed in the future. With an estimated 70% of researchers in universities employed on temporary contracts, many more university workers will be fearful for the security of their jobs.
These are a few examples of how universities are acting under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they are part of a larger pattern of behaviour of universities caring little for staff. That’s why members of the University and Colleges Union, which organises teaching staff in universities, were recently forced to take strike action across 79 universities over the issues of casualisation, unequal pay, and unpaid overtime, as well as management attacks on pensions.
This happens while the Vice-Chancellors and Chancellors are paid (often by themselves) an average of £256,000 a year!
The silver lining is that, like in numerous other workplaces across the country, university workers are getting organised and fighting back. Sacked bar staff at the University of London have begun organising through their local trade union and are demanding full pay.
Students are also getting organised. In Glasgow for example students have gone on rent strike.
Socialist Students demands not a single cut or redundancy is carried out on the university campuses under the excuse of the coronavirus crisis. If management are threatening cuts, then they should open the books to democratic inspection by trade unions and democratically elected committees of students so that we can see where the money has gone.
And if we find there really isn’t enough money, then we need to fight the Tories for the funding our universities desperately need! Students and workers should not be made to pay for this crisis. Instead, Socialist Students fights for free education – a Higher Education system which is publicly owned and funded, and run under democratic control and management of trade unions and students.