The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has voiced its support for the decision made by the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK to strike on the grounds of insufficient pay and inadequate working conditions if necessary.
With its UCU Rising campaign, the UCU, which represents over 120,000 academics and university staff in the UK, is calling for a pay increase of 12% for third-level workers, citing the cost of living crisis and a real-terms pay decrease over recent years.
They union chose this figure as it is the Retail Price Index, a measurement of inflation often used in Britain, plus 2%. This decision was voted for by over 80% of UCU members.
The UCU Rising campaign also seeks to address the casualisation of work in higher education, as well as the devaluation of pensions, and to force employers to tackle the gender and ethnicity pay gaps that exist in the sector.
In a public statement, USI voiced its support for the campaign, saying that “the working conditions in colleges and universities are the learning conditions for our members in Northern Ireland”.
The statement added: “USI sends solidarity to UCU members and will support any industrial action they are forced to take.”
This decision from the UCU was made 3three months after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he would radically reform the third-level education system.
Sunak’s plans include phasing out university degrees that do not “improve their earning potential”. This is on top of changes to the student loans system, lengthening the repayment period and decreasing the salary requirements to begin this repayment.
One second year Trinity student, from Co. Down, described it as “all a bit sudden. I feel like it’s just the government looking to extract that little bit more money out of students”.
The statement of solidarity follows the USI Student Walkout on October 13, when tens of thousands of students across the country left their lectures at 11.11 in protest against the cost of living crisis and the student accommodation shortage.
An estimated 3,500 Trinity students took part in the walkout, which received the implicit support of the provost, who guaranteed that no academic penalty would apply to those who left their lectures or seminars.