While I agree with Fiona Whelan on the importance of university support staff to institutions, and concur that universities could do more to appreciate them, I have to disagree with the comments regarding the University and College Union (“USS strike: why aren’t more administrative staff on picket lines?”, Opinion, 28 February, www.timeshigher-education.com).
At my university, the UCU participates in induction and training events and responds to colleagues at all levels in welcoming them to membership.
I am an active member of the UCU and work in an academic-related role. I was on the picket line last week alongside many colleagues whose participation in strike action has far-reaching consequences. If IT staff are on strike, it can lead to cyber-security issues. If finance staff strike, there is the risk of unpaid bills and accounts with providers [being disrupted]. If admin staff do not process grant funding documentation, funding may be delayed or lost.
We should not underestimate the potential disruption from colleagues in support roles as part of the strike action. This strike has aligned staff across the sector towards a common goal of retaining a defined-benefit pension scheme. We remain united under the excellent representation of the UCU.
I agree with Ms Whelan that things need to change and that administrators are “overlooked”. As a “non-academic”, I attended a UCU meeting on the Raising the Bar [initiative] a few years ago. When I asked how I could participate to support action short of a strike, I was told by a lecturer in a rather haughty tone that I “should just support the academics”.
In fairness, our UCU recognises that it needs to work more closely with academic-related support staff and is coming forward to make it happen. I’m sure that things will get better but it could be a little late for the Universities Superannuation Scheme dispute. It isn’t just the “fault” of the UCU though: the culture of universities has changed so much in recent times, with much enforced separation of academics and support staff due to the introduction of modern business practices that have changed all our roles. Many support staff in universities are no longer working closely with their academic colleagues, but are out of sight in what are in effect call-centre environments.