Staff gathered at noon on Wellington Square to support the University and College Union (UCU) in their bid to improve current lecturer salaries.
The national bargaining body of the “Higher Education employers recently offered the UCU a 1% pay rise, but the union argues that this is not enough. A spokesperson for the UCU said: “the present offer is the latest in a series […] which have meant a real-terms pay cut of 13% for university staff since 2009.
Speaking to this newspaper, a postgraduate student from St Cross College who was at the protest said: “This [the recent offer] is not about a shortage of cash but is a question of the priorities of the university, which is increasing the pay of those who are already the highest paid, and not of those who make the university successful.”
The Times Higher Education has revealed that the Vice-Chancellors of the Russell Group enjoyed an average rise of 8% in 2012-2013, notably with a 61.1% for Craig Calhoun from LSE. Oxford’s Andrew Hamilton claims a more modest 2.4%, from £371,000 to £380,000.
Former UCU president and recently retired Fellow at St Peter’s, Terry Hoad, said that the University staff are “vital for keeping the wheels turning, they are necessary to make things happen”.
“Most universities have large reserves for rainy days but these are used to increase the vice-chancellor’s salaries”.
When asked about further measures if strikes were unsuccessful, he claimed that “it is not the UCU’s aim to harm the student, though they may indeed lose one or two lectures”. The possibility of a “marking freeze” was also raised by protesters.
Hoad stressed that students “understand the importance of these movements for the future of university […] making society a good place, healthier, where we’re not at each other’s throats all the time.”
A University employee in the IT services identified only as Yvonne said: “These cuts are unfeasible when facing the rising living costs in Oxford. Vice-Chancellors are awarding themselves silly money and increments have gone from 1000 to 600 pounds.”
She emphasised the need for radicalism in tackling the cuts: “These strikes have been going on for years and yet the pay is still down […] evidently the tactic is not working.”
Yet a shortened form of strike is in fact a novelty amongst the Higher Education trade unions, where strikes usually last one day.
Hoad said that “there has been some confusion surrounding the strike. Universities such as Brookes have threatened with striking for the whole pay day rather than just two hours”.
In a statement UCU disagreed with such a tactic: “The strikers are willing to work for the rest of the day”. Meanwhile the UCU is pursuing legal avenues to pressure employers into accepting the demanded improvements in pay.