Striking university staff gathered at the Exeter Phoenix to mark the eighth and final day of the nationwide industrial action.
At 11.30am, University and College Union (UCU) members marched from Stocker Road and walked into the city centre.
The march ended at the Exeter Phoenix, where a rally was held. Exeter UCU President Sharon Strawbridge addressed the supporters from the Phoenix steps.
She said “the University is everybody sitting here. It’s not the people sitting in Northcote House, it’s you – who love your students and love your subjects.”
Strawbridge also addressed another key cause of the industrial action: the gender and BME pay gaps, which average at 16 per cent and 14 per cent respectively across UK universities.
She declared: “Gender and BAME pay disparity has no place in higher education.”
After her speech, Strawbridge invited Tom Morgan, a key organiser of the Newman Occupation, to address the crowd. He criticised the “paradigm that education is a product” and received a warm applause.
It’s unjustifiable that senior management are paid so much, yet the people who make the university what it is are paid so little.Exeter Student
Several students were present at the march, holding placards and banners, including members of the Newman occupation. Exeposé spoke to students at the rally, who said they were “hugely impressed” by the speeches given.
One student told Exeposé “It shows the importance of the whole situation, for us to be here at the rally. See – Sir Steve Smith is not here, he hasn’t turned up – it’s unjustifiable that senior management are paid so much, yet the people who make the university what it is are paid so little. So we’re here at least, to show our support and our solidarity for these staff members.”
They also emphasized the necessity of student solidarity, continuing “it’s very encouraging that staff feel that they’ve received positive student interaction as well, and I hope they’ve received enough in terms of student support. It shouldn’t be only them at the picket lines, this doesn’t just affect them. This is just the start – and it’s quite positive.”
Another student explained how “heartening” it was that a divide between staff and student seemed to have broken down.
The student added that they hoped the new “dialogue between staff and students” would continue after the UCU Strike finished.
It’s really inspired me to keep going and keep pushing no matter how tiring or difficult it can be. It is absolutely all worth it.Joe Levy, Green Party candidate for Exeter
Exeposé also spoke to Joe Levy, the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Exeter, who delivered a speech at the rally.
After the rally finished, Levy told Exeposé “I’m here as an administrator who is also a Green Party candidate, because I’m here personally, and I’m here because of my politics as much as anything.
“It’s very easy for people running the University to pit staff and students against each other, but actually when they work together and start having these conversations – it’s really inspired me to keep going and keep pushing no matter how tiring or difficult it can be. It is absolutely all worth it.”
Although the final turnout was smaller than the 2018 rally, the UCU members were positive about the industrial action’s longterm impacts.
One lecturer told Exeposé: “The negotiations are now taking place where they have broken down before, so that’s already an impact.
“I hope it will not be necessary to go out on strike next term, but we need to see a really serious offer from the employers to deal with pay, pensions and to actually have measurable actions and outcomes in terms of the gender pay gap, race pay gap and precarity.”
While the current round of industrial action is over, Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) will continue until April. UCU members are encouraged to refuse to reschedule lost teaching sessions and to only work their contracted hours.
The Exeter UCU are running a hardship fund for staff affected by loss of pay from the industrial action. You can donate to this fund via bank transfer here.
Editors: Pete Syme and Emma Hussain