A UNIVERSITY lecturer currently taking strike action has warned that there will not be a “functional higher education sector” in the future if union members’ demands aren’t met.

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri, a senior lecturer in English at St Andrews and a member of the University and College Union (UCU), said if their dispute over pay and pensions is not resolved then it will put off future generations entering the higher education sector.

Around 70,000 UCU members have taken strike action which will affect an estimated 2.5 million students.

“It’s incredibly frustrating not least because our demands aren’t particularly outrageous”, Raychaudhuri told The National.

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“A, it hasn’t been resolved for a few years now and B, so many of our demands are reasonable but management across the nation just refuse to put their money where their mouth is and back up the claim that staff are valued.”

Raychaudhuri said the guaranteed element of lecturer and university staff’s pension scheme has been cut by 35% while, since 2009, pay has been cut by 25% in real terms.

He added: “The best offer we’ve had is 3% when inflation is in double digits. We are demanding no cuts to our pensions and a 2% plus inflation pay rise because that’s the least we deserve.

“We also want definite commitments and movement on the gender pay gap, the race pay gap, the disability pay gap and on workloads.

“It’s the old cliché, but our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions and the two are absolutely connected.”

Asked if he had a message for students, he said: “Students are worried. They should be worried. This is causing disruption to their education and it will continue to do so.

“My message is two-fold – the first is the responsibility for the disruption should be with the universities."

Lecturer strikes come amid industrial action in several other sectors including teaching, Royal Mail and rail workers.

Raychaudhuri said: “I think the other action helps. There is now a general recognition that as the cost of living goes up, as inflation goes up, it’s getting harder.

“In that sense it helps, what I would say is that it shouldn’t have come to this.”

Asked if he had a message for students, he said: “Be angry at the universities. Many of my students are looking at higher education as a possible career option and if things go on as they are then we will not have a functional higher education sector by the time it comes for their turn to enter it as employees.

The National: Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri was on the picket line on Thursday morning Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri was on the picket line on Thursday morning (Image: Anindya Raychaudhuri)

“We are absolutely mindful of the disruption the strike is causing but the alternative would be much, much worse.”

He added that St Andrews has seen a double-digit increase in union membership in recent days.

“We are not just sustaining the movement; we are building the movement.

“We are not going anywhere. Through the rain, snow and anything else the Scottish weather has to throw at us, we’ll be here till we get a fair deal for the next generation of academics and university staff.”

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association's chief executive Raj Jethwa said: “Despite the initial feedback from HE institutions suggesting low and isolated impact on students, it is saddening if even a single student misses out on a lecture because of industrial action, especially when UCEA is consulting on an early start to the 2023-24 pay negotiations to address cost-of-living concerns.

“Strike action will do nothing to support students, staff or the many HE institutions working hard to avoid redundancies or maintain staffing levels. Our member institutions delivered the August pay uplift despite unprecedented financial challenges.

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“Although likely to be limited with such a small percentage of staff voting in favour, HE institutions are fully prepared to address the impact of this industrial action. Institutions are proving that they have effective mitigations in place to minimise any interruption of learning or services to students and staff.

"HE institutions are particularly disappointed that UCU is encouraging its members to target students who have endured so many recent disruptions.”

Jethwa added that the pay demand of 2% plus inflation would cost universities in the region of £1.5 billion and called on UCU leaders to “provide its members with a realistic and fair assessment of what is achievable”.

An email sent to all St Andrews staff and students read: "These are national disputes which can only be resolved by negotiation at a national level. Universities cannot negotiate their own settlements locally.

"In St Andrews, we have consistently called for national settlements which are fair to staff and sustainable for institutions, and this will continue to be our position. We acknowledge the right of UCU members to take industrial action, their concerns about pay and pensions, and the fact that those who choose to take action in St Andrews will do so with a heavy heart.

"Not all St Andrews staff are UCU members and not all UCU members in St Andrews will necessarily take industrial action. The University has more than 2000 staff, approximately 600 of whom are members of UCU.

"In St Andrews, we are a community which cares deeply about our students as well as our staff and naturally we hope that disruption to you, our students, will be minimised. The briefing below provides updates on how teaching and assessment may be affected, and the steps that will be taken to mitigate the impact on you and your education."