Thursday, 8 March 2018

Guest post: Message from an EU Colleague

I do this quite often at Depressed Academics, but this is the first time I have had a guest post on my personal blog. Since I have spoken so vocally about various aspects of the ongoing USS pensions dispute, this person asked me to post this anonymously. All I will tell you is that the person writing this is an EU colleague of mine at this University. Following text unedited that they sent me:

As an instructor and academic at St Andrews I have never put money over  my students or my work. I've sacrificed much of my personal time for the quality of my lectures, practicals and supervision, often working off hours and weekends. In my calculation, I've (happily) overworked to the tune of about 10 to 20 extra hours a week on average, and systematically failed to take all my holidays. I'm not alone here, a large proportion of my colleagues do the same, helping deal with the increasing work load that we have been observing in the last few years.

But the University and UUK now seem to be asking us to, besides the years of increased load ("we have to do more with less", as put by the Head of School) and of lower-than-inflation increases, put in jeopardy a reasonable retirement and make us take most of the risk, without any compensation for that loss, and with weak arguments as to the whys or hows of the situation. Just the fact that UUK has allowed the industrial action to happen, forcing us to go on strike is, in itself, a great disappointment and it has been even more disappointing to see that St Andrews has been one of the institutions vocally defending this position.

The previous principal, Louise Richardson, put it quite eloquently at one of the meetings I attended when she was the principal. She expressed that if she had to make a career decision at the current time (a few years ago) regarding being an early career academic, she would probably do something else. Well, for me it is becoming more clear that, were I to accept the new retirement plan, I would simply be accepting the chance that my retirement would not be enough for me and my family to sustain a decent life in the mid and long term (I'm not talking about luxury here). I cannot accept that risk on top of a salary that, quite frankly, is quite low compared to colleagues of similar standing in similar countries, and an increased workload.

I realise that this is not only the fault of the University or UUK. Successive governments and the overall direction of the country all seem to be conspiring towards transforming this country's higher education sector into a money making machine at the cost of the employees' financial security in old age. But instead of trying to ameliorate the effects, the University and UUK seem to have other priorities and be ready to pass on this enormous cost to us.

I love my job, I love my colleagues, I like St Andrews as an institution. St Andrews has been welcoming to me and offered much opportunity, contributing to my professional development. I am ready "Ever to Excel". I am ready to continue the virtuous cycle of good will and keep putting into the job my 130% percent, but not if I feel short-changed by the institution's management and a fair pension is not prioritised. Perhaps the University of St Andrews has overlooked our situation and taken for granted this good will, from my colleagues and I, that is most likely one of the factors that keep the university in such high regard and at the top of the rankings.

Many of us have other options. I want to stay and this is why I am on strike. However, without a reasonable pension that will help me sustain my family I will just try to go elsewhere where the best and brightest of my colleagues are going, especially in these Brexit times, and where I can have better prospects for a retirement remotely comparable to the kind of retirement that my most senior colleagues are getting now.

Postscript: Many thanks to this person. Two quick reactions. 

First, just as with those who post on Depressed Academics or talk to me in person, I am deeply honoured and moved by the trust that people place in me. Things like this are not always easy to say and the fact that people believe I am the kind of person they can say them to means an awful lot to me. Academia is about lots of things but it is at its best when it is about companionship and collegiality.

Second, I find it almost as sad that people feel the need to put this kind of comment out anonymously. My personal opinion is that, at this University, no harm would befall them for speaking out. But I quite understand the fact that the culture here is not encouraging enough of criticism to ensure that everyone knows that criticism is welcome. And even if my optimistic view is right, I am very sad about the failure to make it clear that unpleasant truths are welcome, 

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