DUSA must take a stance on the deprecation of our education – for our student body and its own sake.
We spent a whole twenty-four hours, precariously in between a pile of backpacks, placards and art supplies in a corridor in the Tower Building on a random Thursday in March. That corridor was frequented by the University’s Executive Group (UEG) – we saw our Principal, our University Secretary, our Vice-Principal of Education and a quite embarrassingly stompy Academic & Corporate Governance Director.
We put up flags, pictures of inspiring women, made signs supporting our academic-related staff to hang in the windows of the occupied area. We held reading groups of revolutionary texts and engaged in discussions about what the future of our education should look like. This was a reclaimed space – inspired by those who had come and done this before us in 2018 and those across the country doing the same. Everyone was welcome and many came.
Look, I get it – pensions aren’t the first concern of a students’ association. Pensions definitely aren’t my first concern as a 20-something hedonistic Philosophy student. What we must understand is that the buck doesn’t start with pensions and it certainly doesn’t stop there. Our education is being casualised, commercialised and de-ethicised. Those are great buzzwords, but what do they mean?
We have a unique relationship with our lecturers. They wedge the door open for us to access the knowledge which we’re at this university to seek. Their ability to keep that door wedged open is faltering and they aren’t the ones to blame. Many who have recently joined academia face short term contracts, with financial insecurity and the inability to develop strong relationships in the institutions and cities that they temporarily inhabit.
This is casualisation – the tenured professorships of the past are no longer a job-for-life. Make no mistake either, this is not an issue of access. In the New Combined School at Dundee, those retiring from long-standing positions are not being replaced. Our lecturers live in precarious conditions with the fear, and often reality, of poverty at every turn. This is something that Professor Blair Grubb, Vice-Principal for Education, tried to discredit to us occupiers by saying that “[his] definition of poverty was different to ours”.
Those who have been working here for a long time are not being rewarded for their servitude. Universities UK (UUK), the representative body for higher education providers, pushed through a draconian pension evaluation in 2020 which will in turn now see staff pensions cut by up to 35%. Since 2009, staff pay has been cut by 20% in the university sector. Meanwhile, many of the UEG take six figure salaries and spend millions on bogus vanity projects like the SEATS App.
Our lecturers, their support staff and all working at the University are under great stress. This is not just financially, but mentally and physically. The Principal admits that the current workload system is unsustainable. It shoddily distributes in a way that leaves staff on low wages being exploited for their labour. How can we expect to achieve learning excellence in an environment under which the staff teaching and supporting us cannot function as human beings? Their working conditions are our learning conditions.
Those of us affected by the New Combined School, or School Merger in casual speech, will face module cuts, staff cuts and chaotic interdisciplinary management. We will be the first generation of students to deal with this school’s new nonsense, all at the expense of our education and staff’s ability to teach. These are cost-cutting methods not interested in providing a sustainable future, but a ferocious stinginess which seeks to conform to an education system that devalues certain subjects in favour of others.
What I’ve alluded to is that the schools affected by this merger, of course, are the ones whose research and teaching are not directly related to the University’s present economic output. Again, the buck starts with the UEG here but does not stop there. It is a global trend for subjects such as the humanities, social sciences, education and social work to be seen as providing no economic value in the eyes of money-hungry politicians and corporations.
Universities are becoming de-ethicised job factories which seek to offer no benefit to the communities around them and to de-value certain subjects which are not incentivised by the free market’s dependency on STEM. There is a place for social workers, social scientists, historians, philosophers, artists and educators in an economy. It’s just that this profiteering education system refuses to view them in that light, instead as an object to be cut and slashed when other disciplines need the cash.
Why then does DUSA refuse to take a stand in this plight? President Dimitris Vidakis states that DUSA has taken no position in the fight for our educators’ pensions, pay, job security and mental/ physical health. The truth of the matter is that taking no stance now is taking the stance of the oppressor. DUSA’s President claims that the organisation cannot take a stance on the issue – why then have the National Union of Students and Edinburgh’s Student Union, to name a few, publicly supported the strikes? These are questions that must be answered.
A stance must be taken – the future of our university community depends on it.