USS Strikes and Brexit

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The current wave of industrial action, in which academics across the UK’s higher education sector are striking in order to defend their pensions, has, to use the words of our Vice Chancellor, acted as ‘a lightning rod’, exposing a range of concerns around the ‘marketization of higher education’. It has shown that academic citizenship and engagement is alive and well. Colleagues care intensely about the direction of travel in universities and are resistant to commodification, in its many guises.

The UCU, in particular the Bristol branch, has done fantastic work. Many students have made common cause with academics and members of support staff, creating new spaces for collegiality and solidarity. This feels like an important moment. Senior management must respond to the concerns which are being aired, and support the creation of appropriate democratic forums which allow universities better to reflect the views (and there is no doubt that those views will be some or all of the following: inchoate, based on partial understandings and information, mutual incompatible, and impractical) of those who work and study within them.

The dispute has also seen an outpouring of creativity. All the evidence suggests that the university staff is overworked. When we have time on their hands the results are both unexpected and impressive. Within the Law School alone, we have made banners, composed limericks, made cakes, brownies and industrial quantities of sausages, arranged teach-outs, and participation in the student-staff solidarity group. We have marched, picketed, chanted, and made lots of noise with repurposed kitchen equipment. We have explored the legal status of UUK, and sought to inform ourselves and others about the powers and responsibilities of the USS trustees and the pensions regulator. Emails threads have become long and unwieldy. We have lobbied the VC, UUK, students and alumni, engaged in new ways with the UCU, and sought to reach out to non-striking staff.

On a more personal note, I have, rather glibly, said on more than one occasion that one of the unexpected benefits of the strike is that it has allowed me to spend some time thinking about things other than Brexit. But, on reflection, and to judge by the length of this, it is more true to say that the USS strikes have allowed me to see the Brexit process through a new lens. There are, it turns out, all too many connections between the two battles (the one, to defend fair pensions; the other, to shape and prevent and/or attenuate the adverse economic and socio-political effects of Brexit). Some are significant, others no doubt less so. As I’m not working today, I thought I’d compile a few of them. I’m hoping to generate some pause for thought and, perhaps, to entertain. The register is, but only in places, somewhere close to academic. But it is a strike day, and I don’t feel the need to maintain that register throughout. Obviously these are personal reflections. I would be very interested to hear what, if anything, others think of all this.
Original languageEnglish
Place of
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2018

Structured keywords

  • Brexit


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