Teachers and office staff struck on November 28, 29 and 30 for the first time in a private paid higher education institution in the UK. Members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) at University of Sheffield International College (USIC) have voted to reject an additional 1 per cent increase in salary for just four months by the employer study group.

Teachers at the picket line outside Sheffield International University College, Sully Street, November 30, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

It was a total of five days of strike action by 80 USIC workers following a poll in October. Eighty-four percent voted to strike after the study group rejected an offer of more than 5 percent. A rate offer was rejected in a vote returned last Friday, after the union suspended its first two days of work. Julie Kelly, a regional officer at the University of California, called calling off the strike just a day before it was due to begin — a “goodwill gesture,” noting that the study group “could do better.”

USIC is associated with the University of Sheffield and uses its own coat of arms, and offers preparatory courses for international students. 50 universities have been contracted to provide online and face-to-face learning and are one of the largest providers of international education to universities in the UK, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

The striking USIC workers denied allegations that their demands of 12 percent of the wages were “unaffordable”. A homemade banner hung on the picket line this week highlighted the massive pay increases for study group managers. The number of senior managers earning salaries of more than £100,000 has nearly tripled in recent years. Director positions are being advertised with a salary of between £120,000 and £130,000. The starting rate for a full-time lecturer at USIC is around £32,000, well below the national average of £38,131, while office and support staff are recruited at full-time rates just above the minimum wage.

The World Socialist Web site Speak to teachers on the picket line who are calling for a reversal of the gap between low wages for staff and spiraling earnings for study groups during the pandemic. Education staff linked their fight to the retroactive effect of commercialization on higher education.

A full-time lecturer explained: “We’re making history now. Last year we only received a 3 per cent pay increase that wasn’t retroactive. It only covered six months. We were told things would be better after the pandemic. The study group made savings – they didn’t have the same costs.” The estate, to hire facilities to teach due to the shift to online learning. There has to be a fight against the level of harm. The proportion of contract workers to those without any secured work is about 35% to 65%. I don’t want to accept that for my colleagues.”

A short-term contract lecturer added: “A lot of our contracts are very short, up to three months, which of course keeps the staff flexible, but means we are stuck in a cycle constantly reapplying for jobs we have previously done and in my case I move around country and I work in different universities.

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